The teacher started out as a reformist, an idealist, a simpleton, who often sang songs to educate his or her students. Nargis sings Ichak Daana Bichak Daana in Shri 420 (1955) and Abhi Bhattacharya teaches history to students through a song Aao bachcho tumhe dikhayein jhaanki hindustan ki in Jaagriti (1954).
The portrayal of a teacher in Bollywood evolved with each decade, adding different dimensions to his or her personality every time. While John Chacha of Boot Polish (1954) teaches self respect to child beggars, the teacher of Anupama (1966) helps a girl find inner happiness. The teachers in the earlier decades of cinema were concerned about the society and helped people around them.
Dilip Kumar in Leader (1964) is courageous enough to go against the parents of his students and support the cause of the kids.
In the later decades, the portrayals become more dramatic. Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabbatein is an idealist, but is also unreasonable and illogical in his approach. In the recent years, some of them even turn into seductresses (Sushmita Sen in Main Hoon Naa and Poonam Pandey in Nasha).
"My earliest recollection of the depiction of a teacher dates back to Baiju Bawra (1952). In the song Man tadpat hari darshan ko aaj, there are lyrics that goes: Bin guru gyan kaha se pau, dijo dan hari gun gau. At that time, the status of a guru or teacher was next to God," recollects Pankaj Vohra, Political Editor, Hindustan Times and a film aficionado.
The face of a teacher in Indian cinema was also shaped by the events in history. While independence transformed India, it also influenced the silver screen classroom. In Jaagriti (1954), Shekhar played by Abhi Bhattacharya tries to transform a problem child by instilling good values in him. He also teaches the child about Mahatma Gandhi and freedom movement. "When we had just become independent, there was a lot of idealism in the film scene. After 60-65 years, the world has become a different place. Now people have become cynical. The value system of people has also undergone a transformation," recounts Vohra.
In Boot Polish (1956), a bootlegger named John Chacha, played by David Abraham) teaches self respect to street children Belu and Bhola. His teachings leave a strong impression on the young minds.
Teachers who were shown as simple and respected people in the films around that time were often strong individuals.
"Girish Karnad played a headmaster in Nishant (1975). He belonged to an era when teachers wore dhoti-kurta and carried an umbrella with them. He avenges a Zamindar along with a priest who kidnapped his wife. These films showed teachers as much-respected people," recounts Shriram Tamrakar, the author of Beete Kal Ke Sitare.
In V Shantaram's Marathi film Pinjra (1972) that tells the story of a school teacher and a dancer, a teacher is shown as an ordinary human being who falls for the dancer, but is still worshipped by villagers to the point where he earns himself a statue because the village folk think he is dead.
Around the same time, Parichay (1972) was released wherein Jeetendra reforms children who are rebels. The teacher here is shown as an ordinary person with extra-ordinary determination to change things around him.
The depiction of teachers as objects of desire became more prevalent in the later decades.
"While in Mera Naam Joker (1970), Simi Garewal plays a young teacher who influences the mind of an adoloscent for whom teacher is an important person, in Masterji (1985) Rajesh Khanna portrays a teacher who's seduced by Sridevi," says Tamrakar. In Andaaz (1994), Karisma Kapoor seduces her much older teacher Anil Kapoor who's in love with Juhi Chawla.
The intense idealism that was an integral part of a teacher's personality melted away with time. The respect that a teacher commanded also came down in the later decades. The same was reflected in the cinema of the time. While in Pinjra, the villagers forgive an erring teacher, and even carve his sculpture, the teacher in Agneepath (1990) faces the wrath of his fellow villagers when the villain traps him.
However, Naseeruddin Shah still commanded the love and respect of his students in Sir (1993). Kuch Kuch Hota Hai showed the teachers in a western light. Be it Anupam Kher or Archana Puran Singh, the teacher got a makeover, thanks to Karan Johar who directed the film.
The portrayal of teachers became more dramatic in 2000s when Amitabh Bachchan played a college principal in Mohabbatein. "There was a lot of drama in the character that made it unreal," opines Tamrakar.
Two films deserve a special mention here - Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Black (2005). The two strikingly different teachers in these films go out of their way to mentor their students who have physical and mental disabilities.
In Main Hoon Na (2004), the glam quotient re-defined a teacher. "Teacher suddenly became too glamorous to digest," says Tamrakar. Poonam Pandey's portrayal of a teacher in 2013 film Nasha is on the same lines.
Munnabhai MBBS (2003) and Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) showed the 'Khadoos' side of teachers. In Munnabhai, Boman Irani is anything but an inspiration. The teacher in Stanley Ka Dabba steals his students' lunch.
From a simpleton to a hottie, the teacher in Bollywood indeed had an eventful journey.
Changing faces of a teacher in Indian cinema
50s: The idealist
Shri 420 (1955): Nargis teaches her students through a song - Ichak daana bichak daana
Boot Polish (1954): John Chacha helps street children gain self respect
Baiju Bawra (1952): Man Tadpat..depicts teachers next to god
Jaagriti (1954): Abhi Bhattacharya transforms a problem child
60s: the reformist
Professor (1962): Shammi Kapoor disguises as an old man to bag the job of a professor
Leader(1964): Dilip Kumar goes against the wishes of the parents of his students to support their cause
Anupama (1966): A teacher helps a girl find inner happiness
70s: the regular guy
Gol Maal (1979): Amol Palekar spins a story to get two jobs - one of a regular office worker and the other a music teacher
Nishant (1975): Teacher avenges his wife's kidnapping.
Parichay (1972): Jeetendra transforms a group of rebels.
Mera Naam Joker (1970): Simi Garewal influences an adoloscent's mind
80s: the romantic
Masterji (1985): Rajesh Khanna is seduced by Sridevi
1990s: the modernist
Agneepath (1990): Teacher is trapped by a druglord and loses his respect
Andaaz (1994): Karisma Kapoor tries to seduce her professor Anil Kapoor
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998): Teachers get modern
Sir (1993): Naseeruddin Shah gains respect of his rebel students
2000s: the pathbreaker
Taare Zameen Par 2007: Aamir Khan helps a dyslexic kid find his true calling
Black (2005): Amitabh Bachchan is determined to teach a special kid
Munnabhai MBBS (2003): The teacher is shown as insensitive
Main hoon na (2004): Sushmita Sen is glamour personified
Mohabbatein (2000): Amitabh Bachchan's over-idealistic nature makes him unpopular among students
2010: the glam side
Stanley Ka Dabba (2011): Teacher is a Khadoos here, who steals his students' tiffin
Aarakshan (2011): Amitabh Bachchan is an idealistic teacher who can go to any extent to teach his students
Nasha (2013): Poonam Pandey, the teacher is shown as a seductress
Songs that educated
Teetar ke do aage teetar - Mera Naam Joker
Ichak daana beechak - Shri 420
Hum laaye hai toofan se kashti nikalke - Jaagriti
Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayen - Jaagriti
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