Roundabout: Dream merchants awaken nostalgia for Golden Era of Hindi cinema

ByNirupama Dutt
May 21, 2023 01:24 AM IST

It was at the city’s lone Kiran Cinema that one got to see classics like Mughal-e-Azam, Kohinoor and many more

Recently, a picture of the 1960 superhit film Mughal-e-Azam featuring Salim attempting to wake a slumbering Anarkali up with the words: “Rise Anarkali we are now irrelevant here” was making rounds on social media. This was a dig at communalism in the spirit of that if you can’t beat it, you can at least laugh at it!

GOLDEN PAST: Stills from K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam and Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa and the city’s Kiran Cinema (HT File)
GOLDEN PAST: Stills from K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam and Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa and the city’s Kiran Cinema (HT File)

Laughing, I recalled how I had first seen the film in 1960 at Kiran Cinema as a five-year-old with my mother, sister and sister-in-law. Born to a family where women were hooked to Hindi cinema, while the men watched English films, I literally opened my eyes in the theatre. I was to see it several times later because no one was done with this classic by watching it just once. The same year I recalled watching “Great Expectations”, a screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel. I embarrassed my sister-in-law by sobbing loudly and speaking out in chaste Punjabi ”Ai convict the bacha hun Pip (the young protagonist) hun Pip nu tang karega!”

Mughal-e-Azam of course had me very worried about the beautiful Madhubala who was chained and thrown into the prison. Not just that, she would then be bricked alive as she sang: “tumhari duniya se ja rahe hain, utho hamara salam le lo”. A very scary business indeed and it was only when a few days later I saw the Dilip Kumar-Meena Kumari starrer “Kohinoor”, which had singing, dancing and a lot of fun that my faith in films was restored. The city grew and more cinema halls came, but the childhood trips to Kiran are most vivid in my memory.

Blast from the past

Now, you may want to know what all this nostalgia is in aid of? Could it be fast-approaching senility? No, it is not just poor old me, but many young ones too who have suddenly transported themselves to the Golden Era of Indian cinema from the 50s to 60s when melody was queen and those songs are still hummed.

The fascination with this early era of the Talkies has been revived by the talk-of the town web series, “Jubilee”, which features a great period canvas of Indian cinema, painted with finesse, by talented filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwani.

The series which sets off a little before Partition is somewhat inspired by the Bombay Talkies owned by Himanshu Roy and his wife Devika Rani, who is still remembered as the First Lady of the Indian Screen. At the heart of the story is her love and elopement with co-star Najm-ul-Hasan and how Roy gets her back and replaces the princely hero with his own humble assistant, who in real life was Ashok Kumar and in reel life Aparshakti Khurana. Parallel to this track is the story of the impassioned Jay Khanna, played by an earnest Sidhant Gupta, who wishes to make intense and great cinema telling the stories that matter.

He realises his dreams the hard way and the cost he has to pay is the loss of his cherished love for Nilofer, a courtesan-turned-star, modelled by none other than Madhubala. The role as we all know is played by city girl Wamiqa Gabbi, with rare charm no less.

In the course of the struggles, the viewers are told how a great film like :Mughal-e-Azam” is taking long years to be made, but will be one to remember.

A salute indeed to the filmmaker K. Asif’s epic, which is still a part of public memory and so Salim you and Anarkali will not be outdated, ever. Changing history is not easy.

Jay Khanna’s rise is a salute to Partition and the contribution of the refugees to the Mumbai cinema. His journey is reminiscent of great filmmakers like Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor as well as the oomph of Devanand.

More to follow yet

While the viewers who are humming haunting bilee songs like “tere mere Ishq ka is shaerana a daur tha” or “dil jahan pe le chala” the tidings are: Motwani has got his team to pen a sequel to the series. And actor Ram Kapoor, who plays the delightful Punjabi film financer is uttering his favourite cuss word, something that even Partition could not alter for the Punjabis.

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