The 1970s was the period of Bollywood cinema that gave us, among other things, onscreen hippies and drugs, a film that almost took Raj Kapoor, his family and RK Studios into bankruptcy and an epic with one of the longest running times in Indian movie-making.
Mera Naam Joker
One of the late Raj Kapoor's best remembered fims, Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Clown), is thought to be based on his own life. It took six years to make, was released in 1970 and the resulting film, after editing, came to four hours in duration with three intervals, something which had not been heard of before.
Raju, an ageing clown, reminisces about his life and love in three parts. The first part is about his love for a high school teacher and sees him dreaming of becoming a famous clown. The second part concerns his early days in a Russian circus and his first love affair with a trapeze artist. This part ends when Raju's mother, who had not been aware of her son's career path and didn't approve of him joining the circus, finds out that he is a clown, collapses and passes away. 'The show must go on' becomes the theme of the film after this and in the third and final part he befriends a young girl who dresses up as a boy to avoid unwanted male attention. But Raju finds this out and despite being hurt that she did not tell him the truth, falls in love with her. The two are inseparable and make a living by performing on stage together. But she falls in love with a movie director and leaves Raju, who returns to the circus.
This film is considered by many to be Kapoor's Citizen Kane, Ben Hur and Gone With the Wind all rolled into one. The film features the entire Russian State Circus at the time - his way of paying tribute to the Russian people to whom he was a cult figure. He also hired the animals in the film from a local circus. This also had a multicaste cast and crew, who, unlike in any other film before, worked together. The songs and the music of this film are still sung and hummed today. But the film was originally a failure at the box office. Radically, by the film's close the hero is left alone with a trail of love lost behind him, which is not the happy ending the audience would normally expect. The film was costly to make and it nearly bankrupted Kapoor, his family and RK Studios. The film features a very young Rishi Kapoor, father of Ranbir Kapoor, as the young Raju.
During this time, Rajesh Khanna was still a sought after actor and one of his best performances was in the movie, Anand.
Khanna plays Anand Saigal - known to some as 'Jaichand' - who is diagnosed with cancer and, after being told he has six months to live, decides to live his life to the full. He is being treated by Dr Bhaskar Bannerjee, who is upset with the dark reality of poverty and sickness that surrounds her. The doctor, who narrates the story via his diary, talks about meeting Anand. Anand has been bringing happiness to everyone around him, everyone, it transpires, but the doctor, who has a sad secret in his past that he is unwilling to reveal to anyone. The patient and the doctor become friends, but as the time runs out, the doctor realises that there is nothing he can do to save his Anand. In turn, Anand realises that the doctor will not be able to bear his death.
One of the film's most memorable scenes comes at the end, when Dr Bannerjee discovers Anand's body on the bed. He says that he cannot believe that Anand is now silent. The doctor starts weeping but stops when he suddenly hears Anand's voice. Looking up, he sees that Anand's voice is coming from a spool recorder. This scene has almost everyone in the audience in tears, with many thinking, when the voice is heard, that Anand is not really dead.
Anand was a philosophical movie but its success made Rajesh Khanna a household name, while Amitabh Bachchan received the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The lead roles were initially offered to Kishore Kumar and another actor, the comedian Mehmood, but due to a misunderstanding between the director Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Kumar, the roles went to Bachman and Khanna, who also won a Filmfare Award, for Best Actor. One of the lyricists was Gulzar, who would later write the lyrics to 'Jai Ho' for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.
Hare Rama Hare Krishna
The 1970s saw Bollywood's first hippies and drugs in Dev Anand's film Hare Rama Hare Krishna (Praise Rama Praise Krishna). The film also introduced an actress that would go on to become a Bollywood icon: Zeenat Aman.
Hare Rama Hare Krishna was the most successful movie of 1971. Filmed almost entirely in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, the movie explores not only the theme of a broken family, but also a relationship between a brother and a sister, as well as drugs and the hippie movement. Many people assumed the film had been made with the involvement of ISKON, the movement for Krishna consciousness.
The movie begins with scenes of drug use and a dancing woman, who we are told is the narrator's sister. The film then flashes back to the brother and sister playing happily as children, only to hear their parents arguing. This soon leads to a split in the family. The brother goes with the mother and the sister with the father, who re-marries.
As time passes, the brother goes in search of his sister and is informed that she no longer lives with the father and that she has moved to Nepal. Here, the brother Prashant not only finds love, but he also finds his sister Jasbir, who calls herself Janice. But he finds out that she has fallen into some bad company and takes drugs to block all memory of her past. With help of Shanti, his love, the brother tries to get his sister away from all this but has to overcome many obstacles as people try to stop him.
During filming, Dev Anand asked Panchamda (the composer RD Burman) to compose something special for this film. Panchamda came back with the composition 'Dum Maro Dum', which became an instant hit.
The movie was ahead of its time with its realistic portrayal of drugs and the hippy movement. The music and songs, especially 'Dum Maro Dum', sung by Asha Bhonsle (who has sung with Boy George) were very popular. The film also rocketed the career of Zeenat Aman, who played the ill-fated sister. She would soon become an icon for teenagers, even though the sister's role was initially offered to another actress, Zaheeda, who rejected in favour of a role as the girlfriend. The role was offered to Aman, who was the daughter of one of the writers of Mughal-E-Azam, Amanullah Khan.
On 11 May, 1973, movie director Prakash Mehra released a film that rejuvinated the career of Amitabh Bachchan. The film was Zanjeer (Chains).
This was a film that also changed the industry as it introduced an angry, young hero, capturing the sense of angst and frustration many young Indian men felt at the time.
In the film, a child named Vijay witnesses his parents being murdered by a faceless killer. As he grows up, he has nightmares about this and keeps seeing the images of a white horse and an emblem on a bracelet. He joins the police force and is an honest officer but then he slowly turns into a vigilante. Vijay befriends a Pathan1 and begins to seek out the murderer and his henchmen.
The film helped to catapult Bachchan, although well-known after Anand, to 'superstardom'. The script writers, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, also became a very well-known partnership. Known as 'Salim-Javed', their successes included Sholay, Deewar, Trishul and Don.
The director, Prakash Mehra, who had four film flops since his debut film Haseena Manjayegi in the late 1960s, chose Bachchan to star, despite him being rejected by some directors for not being well-known enough. The film went on to become a huge success at the box office, and the name Vijay will be forever associated with Bachchan.
Mehra passed away in 2009 and among the stars who attended the funeral were Bachchan, who married Jaya Bhaduri, his co-star in Zanjeer, and his son Abhishek, who is also a film star and is married to Aishwarya Rai.
Amitabh Bachchan was born on 11 October, 1942, in Allahabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, the son of Indian poet Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan. He was initially named Inquilab, inspired by the slogan used during the struggle for Indian independence, 'Iquilab Zindabad', but was re-named Amitabh, meaning 'the light that would never go off'. His mother Teji, a Sikh, had a keen interest in theatre and was also offered acting roles but chose domestic duties instead.
Amitabh, the eldest son - the younger being Ajitabh - studied at Allahabad's Jnana Prabodhini and Boys' High School, followed by Nainital's Sherwood College, where he majored in art. He then went on to study at Kirori Mal College in Delhi where he completed his degree as a Bachelor of Science and also obtained an MA. He started a job as a freight broker in Calcutta, but soon gave this up to pursue a film career.
His first film, Saath Hindustani (Seven Indians), released in 1969, was not a success, even though he received a National Film Award for Best Newcomer. This was followed by Anand. He went on to act in several other less successful films and also made a guest appearance in Guddi, which starred his future wife Jaya Bhaduri, and he also narrated Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Bawaarchi, again starring his future wife as well as Rajesh Khanna. He then appeared in Bombay to Goa with Aruna Irani and the comedian Mehmood. In 1974 he starred in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (Food House and Clothing). Directed by Manoj Kumar, the film addressed honesty in the face of oppression and financial hardship. The film was a commercial success. But it was the later films which enabled Bachchan to consolidate his position in the industry.
In 1982 he suffered a potentially fatal intestinal injury during the filming of a fight scene in Manmohan Desai's Coolie, in which he was performing his own stunts. He was close to death and was in hospital for several months, during which time members of the public gathered outside the hospital to pray for him. In response to the huge publicity that the film received at the time, the director decided to change the ending as the original had the hero, played by Bachchan, dying. The film was eventually released in 1983.
Later Amitabh was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, which made him feel weak mentally and physically. He decided to retire from films and join politics and support his long-time friend, the late Rajiv Gandhi, elder son of Mrs Indira Gandhi and the grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. However, this was short-lived and in 1987, he resigned after a scandal after a newspaper mentioned his name in connection with the 'Bofors Scandal'2. As a consequence there was legal action and his name was eventually cleared.
In 1988 the superstar returned to acting and went on to set up his own company, ABCL.
The year 1973 saw the release of another film that would go on to become a smash hit, and one that would virtually set the template for the Bollywood 'love story'.
Previously introduced in his father's film Mera Naam Joker, Bobby was the movie that rocketed Rishi Kapoor to fame. The movie sees a young rich man Raj, neglected by his parents, returning home from boarding school to celebrate his 18th birthday. During the party, he sees a girl and is instantly infatuated by her but later learns that she is the granddaughter of a woman who was once his nanny. The girl's name is Bobby, a Goan, Catholic and daughter of a fisherman. The two meet and the infatuation soon turns into fully blossoming love. The troubles for the young lovers really start when Raj's parents find out. However, the young lovers opt to die rather than be separated and plunge a raging river. But they are saved - Bobby by Raj's father and Rag by Bobby's father. They resolve their differences and the film has a happy ending.
After the disaster of Mera Naam Joker, Raj Kapoor had faced serious financial problems and this film became his life line. The film demonstrated not just teenage love and sexuality, but also what Indian parents have to do to keep their kids happy. It also dealt with intercaste love and made the audience think - although it was not shown in the film, the lovers later get married. The songs - especially 'Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Band Ho' (You and I Are Locked in a Room), which showed some sexuality, and 'Eh Phase' (You Are Stuck) - proved to be very popular with audiences, many of whom danced and whistled in the cinema stalls. The movie also introduced a new male playback singer, Shailendra Singh. But what also made the film more interesting was the conflict between Raj's father and Bobby's father and the way that they resolved their differences.
Due to the financial difficulties that Raj Kapoor faced, the actors Pran, a good friend of Raj Kapoor's, and Premnath, Raj Kapoor's brother-in-law, who played the roles of Raj's and Bobby's fathers respectively, worked for free.
In the mid-1970s two more films were released that would raise the levels of Indian film-making - and both films starred Amitabh Bachchan.
The first of these was Sholay. Sholay means 'fire' and this is what this movie had. Directed by Ramesh Sippy, it was inspired by Akiro Kurusawa's Seven Samurai and its Hollywood remake, The Magnificent Seven.
A land owner and a former decorated police officer hire two small-time criminals, Jai and Veeru, to hunt down Gabbar Singh, a dacoit3. It's after their first encounter with the dacoit that Jai and Veeru find out that almost all of the former police officer's family had been killed by the dacoit. When the officer arrested them a long time ago, he had also arrested Gabbar Singh, but when the dacoit escaped he sought revenge by killing most of the members of the police officer's family. However, his daughter-in-law survives. The police officer chases Gabbar Singh but is trapped and has his hands cut off. Jai and Veeru decide not take the money the landowner has paid them, instead promising him that they will bring Gabbar Singh in - alive. In the end, Jai is killed in action. Veeru is about to take revenge for his friend's death when he is reminded of the promise made by the former, handless police officer, who decides to deal with the matter in his own way with some spiky shoes.
The film had a disastrous opening week and Ramesh Sippy called an emergency meeting with the writers Salim-Javed and Bachchan, who played Jai, to discuss pulling the film from the cinemas to re-edit it. But it was not to be as, the following week, people began flooding to the cinema. By the end of the month, the film was getting full houses. In 1980 Sholay was still being shown in cinemas and had gone on to break Mughal-E-Azam's record. In the 1990s one cinema in Mumbai was still showing it to full houses. People remembered the dialogue, the scenes, the songs and the villain Gabbar Singh, played by the late Amjad Khan. Sholay went on to break all box office records and set up a challenge for many other movies of the same genre.
The 1970s would give Bachchan yet another memorable role - Yash Chopra's Deewar. Meaning 'The Wall', writing duo Salim-Javed were inspired by the life of a real notorious smuggler, Haji Mastan, who later reformed.
Vijay and Ravi, two brothers, react differently to their childhood humiliation and struggle after their father, a union leader who fights for workers rights, is wrongfully branded a thief and accused of surrendering the workers rights. Vijay, who sees his mother struggling after their father leaves them, is forced to have a tattoo on his hand that reads: 'My father is a thief.' As they grow up, Ravi, the younger one, becomes a police officer while Vijay, who stops believing in God, has been working on shipyards and at the docks in Bombay and fights physically for the workers, slowly descending into a world of criminality and becoming a wanted man. Ravi is asked to track down some criminals and finds out that at top of the wanted list is his brother. He then hands a piece of paper over to Vijay, asking him to sign it and to agree to reveal all his contacts. In the end Ravi, chasing his own brother, shoots and Vijay, wounded, walks into the temple, where he had arranged to meet their mother, and dies in her arms.
The movie, directed by Yash Chopra, was an instant success and for many, Bachchan was Vijay. The movie had some very emotional scenes, especially when Vijay and Ravi meet under a bridge they had slept under as children. Vijay, after revealing how much he owns compared to Ravi, asks him: 'What do you have?' The reply he receives is 'I have Mother'. When Ravi asks Vijay to sign the paper with all his contacts on Vijay explodes with anger and tells him: 'First of get those men who branded our father a thief, then get those men who forcefully had my arm tattooed "my father is a thief" and then ask me to sign such papers!'
Although the character of Vijay was inspired by the real smuggler Haji Mastaan, the writers had taken great care to punish the bad guy and denounce him repeatedly, while cleverly using hedonistic criminal life style to add glamour to the movie. This film was released at a delicate time in India's history. The then Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi4, was under attack in the Supreme Court by opposing political forces and retaliated by declaring a national state of emergency. The film received a total of seven Filmfare Awards: Best Director, Best Story, Best Screenplay, Best Dialogue, Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Shashi Kapoor) and Best Sound Recording.
In 1975, as Bachchan was seen on screen beating up villains, a small-budget mythological film, reminding many of the roots of the film industry, was released in cinemas and went on to also be a success. The film was Jai Santoshi Maa.
The year 1976 saw Bachchan in a different sort of role, in Yash Chopra's Kabhi Kabhie. An all-star cast included Shashi Kapoor, Rakhee Gulzar, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Simi Garewall and Parikshit Sahni. But it also saw the return of Waheeda Rehman to the screen. The film was inspired by a poem composed by the lyricist Sahir Ludianvi, a friend of director Chopra.
Amit, a poet, falls in love with Pooja and the two plan to get married. But destiny had other plans for them and Pooja, unable to go against her parent’s wishes, marries another man, Vijay. Amit moves away from his poetry and marries another woman, Anjali, in an attempt to forget Pooja. But then another generation comes along and Pooja and Vijay's son, Vicky, falls in love with Pinky, daughter of Shobha and Dr RP, who are family doctors for Vijay and Pooja. Soon it's time for Cicky and Pooj to get married, when suddenly the story takes a sharp twist and Pinky is informed that she had been adopted when she was a baby.
Pinky, after arguing with her adopted parents and with Vicky, goes to Kashmir to find her mother who, it turns out, is Anjali, married to Amit and has a daughter as well. Vicky, in the meantime, also travels to the region in order to persuade Pinky not to dig up her past but it's too late.
The songs from the movie were released long time before the movie opened, and proved to be very popular. In countries such as Kenya, members of the Indian community would regularly phone local radio stations and request a song from the movie. Even in the UK, almost every Indian family had a vinyl record of the songs and many would play a cassette of this in their car whenever they could.
During the shooting of the film, all the cast stayed together as a family and contributed to every aspect of the film; some even had their families staying with them and they were added in as extras in the wedding scenes. The film received a total of four Filmfare Awards: Best Lyricist, Best Music Director, Best Screenplay and Best Male Playback Singer.
Two other films were released later in the decade - Amar Akbar Anthony in 1977 and Trishul in 1978 - both starring Bachchan. The next decade - the 1980s - would see almost any type of film being produced and released.