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Independence Day in India: AP Photo from

As I wake up this 14 of August to merry music outside and talented high-pitched voices coming from a street sound system at 6am, there is no doubt. Festivities have been launched to celebrate India's independence.

Later, as the day subsides, evening streets are filled with people, honking vehicles, colored lanterns and sweet smelling flower garlands hanging from every imaginable corner and at every roundabout. The air smells of delicious fried snacks, spice, incense, smoke and excitement. Fleeting fireworks thunder here and there and the thumping of the latest movie hits sweeps through the trees. Movie soundtracks are such an integral part of the Independence Day celebration that I am compelled to draw a parallel between the nation's freedom and it's cinema's “independent” essence. Indian cinema to me has long represented that which has dared to create larger than life or over the top scenes or characters that have become legendary symbols... The temptation to do a recap of Indian cinema's unique and independent character is too pressing!
Here is my (albeit very) humble and brief attempt, looking back at legendary scenes, films and characters:

Pyaasa is an ageless watercolor of emotional depths and a social critique that is highly universal though it stands out for its distinct depiction of love. A poet's pining for recognition finds consolation only in the posthumal dedication of a prostitute who believes in him. True love is seldom portrayed in cinema. Pyaasa's is a selfless and ethereal love that has no expectations or queries. As such, the story of Vijay and Gulabo starts this list, marking Indian cinema's difference from the most common and usually passionate, possessive or insecure love that is usually portrayed throughout mainstream cinema.

Another Vijay enters this list through Amitabh Bachchan. The angry young man in an India caught by the disarray caused by the 70s crisis is the incarnation of revenge in Yash Chopra's Deewar. His character became emblematic for an entire generation and beyond as the quintessential Indian rebel, filled with stylish courage and aggressiveness despite having lived through poverty and injustice and thus, Bachchan became the most profound representative of young India at the time. But Amitabhji's uniqueness did not stop there. He was, together with Dharmendra the icon of everyone's favorite Indian film: G.P.Sippy's Sholay, which has just turned 37 years old today: a tale that has nothing to envy to Western cowboy classics or Italian westerns such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It even brings more to the entertainment buffet with the sensually brave but painful dance performed by Basanti (Hema Malini) to save Jai (Dharmendra) and the fun and utterly unrealistic song-driving sequence for “Yeh Dosti". 

One of the most impressive scenes I always go back to in Indian cinema to show friends or to reel in non-converts is the Chaiyya Chaiyya song in film Dil Se. How can one not be seduced or at least impressed by the dance sequence on top of a train rolling through amazing landscapes? Words seem too vane:

Another wonderfully independent and unique cliché of Indian cinema is fiery declarations of singing love in the snow, rolling on it, screaming "Yahoo!" in it, sliding on it, dancing on it, you mention it... The first scene that comes to mind is of course Junglee, with Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu running around in an elegant salwar kameez and a coat. When filming snowy scenes shifted out of Kashmir, Yash Chopra immortalized the Swiss Alps with saree or minidress-clad heroines rolling down the snow, Kajol being, in my opinion the modern lady who I have seen doing the most memorable of these scenes in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge for example. But let us go back in time to Shammi's avalanche causing "Yahoo!"

Another movie line that became a legend was Amrish Puri's simple statement "Mogambo khush hua" in the equally celebrated Mr. India, elevating his villain character to a cult status. Making such a simple line legendary owes it all to Amrish Puri's pitch-perfect performance and the film's scripting, giving Indian cinema one of its most iconic characters.

Speaking of iconic characters, usually the silent but persistent character that gives substance to many an Indian film is the Indian mother. She came to the center of a plot however in the much acclaimed Mother India through Nargis, who celebrated  the quintessential, sacrificing, patient, dedicated and courageous Indian mother through her applauded and prize-winning performance. Seldom other filmed epics have encompassed or purely concentrated on what a mother's role signifies in a given culture and Mother India is a trophy to the Indian woman in more ways than one.

Mother India is India's most celebrated epic outside its borders but epic has also been the filming of two of my favorite Indian films: the groundbreaking Lagaan, which even generated a film about the film (Madness in the Desert) thanks to the long and infrahuman task of finding funding and then filming the script in an inhospitable desert. However, the most incredible determination to make a film is in my opinion that of the luxurious Mughal-e-Azam. From its idea in the early 1940s to its release in 1960, from the determination to make it grand to the actual exorbitant production cost and work, from the ofscreen coldness existing between the two main actors and the passion portrayed by their main characters on screen... the film has many reasons to be in this list, celebrating Indian cinema's uniqueness.

Indian cinema has also produced many stars who are producers, directors, film marketers and actors themselves, becoming cinema powerhouses and developing a body of work that often surpasses that of actors in other countries. One of the most celebrated of these actors in India and abroad is Raj Kapoor. From Andaz to Awaara and beyond, the patriotic Charlie Chaplin of India definitely figures in my Indian cinema's hall of fame. 

Last but not least and moving fast through time, my mind sets on an airport scene. Yes, the visited and revisited airport scene gets a complete modern Bollywood twist in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Marking its independence from other Bolly scenes in which the hero breaks into a song and dance sequence, lip-synching a melodious declaration of love, Imran Khan rushes on a white horse through quiet and empty surburban night streets to my oh so familiar Bombay airport while his father's framed image dances victory. Imran escapes airport security by hiding in an X-ray luggage strip, is chased and is finally caught at gunpoint while he repeatedly screams MEOW! as if his life depended on it and finally sings a love song to his sweetheart in his own voice. No violins, no seductively perfect pitch singing. The scene is almost impossible to imagine in Hollywood or world cinema but it is different from the classic Bollywood ending too.

So much more can be mentioned here: the talent of countless actors and directors, the stars that appear in more than 100 films, the unrealistic action sequences, the song and dance frames, unique is the word for Indian cinema.

Happy Independence Day, India!


Bikram said...

wowow awesome songssssssssssssssss ...

Sholay now that is a classic ..


Unknown said...

Bikram, how are you? For Sholay I hesitated between the Yeh dosti song and the one in which Hema Malini dances for the bad guys... Loved the film and still do!

Unknown said...

What a terrific review! I simply loved the first para where I can myself visualize the complete roundabouts of Independence Day! I stayed at home and enjoyed kites in the sky. Kids were shouting, flying and dancing on their fav tracks!

Fantastic choice of movies. PYAASA- well nobody can ever BEAT this fantastic movie. I simply adored the character of Guru Dutt. This movie made me sentimental. I saw Shaheed on this day. It was aired on Zee Premiere. Enjoyed watching it thoroughly. I would like to share some lines from this movie:-

Bada hi gehra daag hai yaaron, jis ghulami naam hai
Uska jeena bhi kya jeena, jiska desh ghulam hai!

Visit me at

Keep penning always:)

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