Sooraj Barjatya: How Hum Aapke Hain Koun made Indian weddings big and fat
Every time you think of Bollywood’s rather shy filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya, don’t just think of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Coming from one of the most respectable film families of Bollywood, Sooraj and his family’s flagship -- Rajshri Productions -- have epitomized clean films, bereft of vulgarity and espousing traditional family values. Sooraj, on his part, has taken the brand to dizzy heights, producing some of the biggest blockbusters Indian cinema has known. On his birthday today, we look how Sooraj and his family’s film company had influenced Indian films.
Rajshri Productions has a long and cherished tradition of making wholesome entertainment. Right from the 1960s, they have been behind some of the most iconic films that were known for their themes. Satyen Bose directed Dosti (1964) was a touching tale of the friendship between two boys, one blind and a crippled street singer. Its haunting melody, Chahunga Main Tujhe Saanjh Savere, so feelingly sung by Mohammad Rafi, is still popular. Imagine a story, bereft of any romantic angle or violence, yet becoming a roaring success.
Jeevan Mrityu (1970), starring Dharmendra and Rakhee, was another of their successful productions, which told the story of an honest bank employee, set to marry his sweetheart, who is wrongly framed in theft charges and jailed. On his return, how he plots his ‘revenge’ while seeking out his lady love is what forms the crux of the film. The song, Jhilmil Sitaron Ka Aangan Hoga, is still sung in karaoke sessions in parties.
Chitchor, starring Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab, is another film from their collection, famous not only for its story and characters, but its songs. Remember Gori Tera Gaon Bada Pyara?
Rajshri Productions would, of course, soon develop a certain pattern to their stories and filmmaking style - family values, traditional way of life, deference, collective happiness triumphing over individual desire, emotional response to dealing with situations, stories free of violence and vulgarity. Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaaye (1977) and Nadiya Ke Paar (1982) would fit the bill.
At the height of the ‘angry young man’ phenomenon in the 1970s, Rajshri come up with tearjerkers like Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (1978) and won. In the 1980s, they followed their core values and produced films like Saaransh (1994) that established the careers of not just actor Anupam Kher but director Mahesh Bhatt as well.
Growing up in this tradition, it was not possible that young Sooraj would veer from the path. What’s more is not only did he give a boost to the legendary production company he inherited, Sooraj helped the industry at large with his mega hits.
For people of our generation, our first brush with Barjatya films was Maine Pyar Kiya. Directed by a 24-year old Sooraj, the film was a romance where the principle characters have a class barrier; it had all the elements that defined a Rajshri film. However, there was one major difference - the celebration of Indian family functions, weddings and festivals.
Weddings, child birth (even death in Hinduism where it is considered a moment of mourning followed by a send-off) have been moments of celebrations before as well. After all, it is the very fabric of India. However, never before was it the mainstay of a cinematic experience, like it became with Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! Sooraj’s name is always taken in the same breath as this film, his second work after Maine Pyar Kiya. Indian mainstream cinema is, in many ways, a reflection of modern India-it magnifies her strengths, celebrates her ancient past, celebrates her heroes and demonises her villains but rarely have festivities taken centrestage, pushing the narrative to a secondary position, as Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! did.
A rehash of one of their older films, Nadiya Ke Paar, a story set in UP-Bihar rural set-up, was now dusted and refurbished for an urban audience, re-cast in an affluent north Indian family setting. Telling the story of a pair of lovers, who meet and fall in love during family functions only to sacrifice their love at the altar of duty, the story was barely there. It had enough traction to interest family audiences, but if viewers thronged to the cinema halls after its release, the reason has to be in the manner it was presented. Never before have motifs such as an arranged marriage while a family is on a religious tour (tirth yatra/mela/visiting your family guru during a festival, etc), pre-wedding functions such as engagement, rituals such as ‘jootey chhupaana’ (in north Indian tradition the bride’s sisters exact a princely amount from the bridegroom in exchange of his shoes, which they hide on his arrival at the bride’s door steps), occasions such as child birth and functions before that (goad bharai) and the wedding itself have occupied such an important place in the narrative.
Sooraj did just that. He lavished his barely-there story in rich hues. He cast beautiful people -- Salman’s impish charm and Madhuri’s mischievous assertiveness, together with their budding romance in the film - was a perfect bait to the viewers. The fact that the romance was completely free of any vulgarity - no ‘choli ke peechey’ and ‘sarkaaye liyo khatiya’ please - was an added bonus.
Family was at the centre of his world and the audience loved it. Hence, songs and dances, mainstay in Indian films, got a further boost. With nearly 14-15 songs, at first instance, it was tiring. Audiences, of course, had no such qualms. They lapped it up with gusto. After years, women and children thronged cinema halls.
Cinema halls, across the nation, had to upgrade themselves to keep up with the demand.
Madhuri Dixit’s many charms, thereto, cloaked in Saroj Khan directed steps, were unleashed with all its ‘fury’. Her nearly perfect face (arguably one of the most beautiful faces Indian screen has seen) was picturised to perfection, her playfulness, her seductive ways, her coquetry, her dancing skills and her smile were used to the hilt. If Madhuri picked up loads of female fans, then she could, one would infer, have to thank Sooraj for it.
If Salman, the enfant terrible of Bollywood, enjoys a fan following beyond his core fan base, then he too has to thank Sooraj for it. After all, Salman in Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! is the quintessential ‘good boy’ who may oppose occasionally but will eventually follow his elders’ advice and heed their counsel. What made these films even more memorable was the fact that Salman was silver screen’s Lord Rama but with the mischief of Lord Krishna.
If uncles, aunties, domestic helps, sister-in-laws and family friends are more than cardboard cutouts today, then too Indian cinema is indebted to Sooraj. Just how many times have we seen two ‘samdhis’ (in-laws) getting their place under the sun? Recall how Alok Nath (groom’s fond uncle and mentor) and Reema Lagoo’s (bride’s mother) onscreen playfulness (called chhed chhad in Hindi) played out? In a youth obsessed Bollywood, this was such a welcome change. In many ways, it was a precursor to Amitabh Bachchan-Hema Malini romance in Baghbaan. Besides, Renuka Shahane’s claim to fame is as Salman’s bhabhi and Madhuri’s elder sister!
Like it or not, the influence of Indian epics on Sooraj is unmistakable, Ramayana to be specific. This deference to duty over desire is an example. His Vivaah, Hum Saath Saath Hain and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo all follow the same example.
Sooraj’s influence on later directors is indelible. Karan Johar and Yashraj Films would borrow this template and blend it into their respective storytelling technique with killer effect. Karan has, in fact, on several occasions said so. All the mehendi-sangeet-shaadi-pyaar-bidhai-karwa chauth we so often see in their films, the first instance was definitely Sooraj’s school of filmmaking.
Popular cinema has a way of influencing public behaviour. If Virat and Anushka’s wedding and all the paraphernalia that led to it became a national obsession, then much of the claim (or blame, depending on which side of the argument you are on) will have to be Sooraj’s. If Tamil kalyanams (marriages) have a sangeet and mehendi sessions, then the ‘culprit’ is Sooraj. If every tiny star is busy uploading her/his pre-wedding and post-wedding pictures on Instagram and we are lapping it up, then too the blame is Sooraj’s.
Author tweets @mniveditatweets
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