In Hindi cinema, the 1960s was a decade of unbounded hedonism, of livewire romance epitomised by Shammi Kapoor, of the permanently snow-clad Shimla, bouffant-sporting heroines and the emergence of a previously unseen modernity. If the 1950s Bollywood expressed the angst and aspiration of a newly Independent India and was largely a nation-building exercise, the 1960s revelled in colour, optimism and flamboyance. The carefree freedom and devil-may-care attitude of the Swinging Sixties gave many young and talented filmmakers a platform to experiment and put themselves out there. Whether it was Vijay Anand’s Hitchcockian noirs, Shakti Samanta’s travel-fuelled romcoms (before Rajesh Khanna happened to him) or Nasir Hussain’s frothy cappuccinos, the general mood in the 1960s was light and breezy.
The decade had no place for Guru Dutt’s misanthropy and suffering. Note how in less than ten years, Pyaasa’s (1957) poetic diatribe against the modern consumerist world had become out-dated, as Bollywood moved to the hill stations with a singing and dancing hero who had shopped his own costume during his European sojourn and a Western-leaning heroine, usually a product of affluence. It is telling that the decade began with K Asif’s historical behemoth Mughal-E-Azam and ended with Aradhana, marking Rajesh Khanna’s superstardom. From Dilip Kumar to Rajesh Khanna, the Hindi film hero had travelled a great distance.
In the second of our essay series ‘Hindi classics that defined the decade,’ The Indian Express looks back at the 1960s listing down 10 revolutionary classics from a decade that was youthful and buoyant in tone with no time for anything bleak.
K Asif’s grand epic Mughal-E-Azam is the ultimate tale of doomed love. Prithviraj Kapoor plays Emperor Akbar who uses all his might to suppress the “illicit love” between his son, heir-to-the-Mughal-throne Prince Salim (Dilip Kumar) and a lowly courtesan called Anarkali (Madhubala). Anarkali’s fearless defiance of Akbar gives Mughal-E-Azam some of its most iconic confrontational moments. Dilip Kumar underplays methodically, making the poetic Prince Salim a perfect foil to Prithviraj Kapoor’s theatrical pitch and a love-struck Madhubala’s passionate performance that has made Mughal-E-Azam her crowning glory. “Mughal-e-Azam is a tribute to the imagination, hard work and lavishness of its maker,” Filmfare wrote in a review of the film. The same could be said about its unrivalled star cast and Naushad’s stellar music.
Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960)
The last of Guru Dutt’s great works, Chaudhvin Ka Chand is a lavishly mounted Muslim social drama set in Lucknow. Two best friends fall in love with a veiled beauty – Jameela played exquisitely by Waheeda Rehman. On surface, that looks like boilerplate. Author and Guru Dutt expert Nasreen Munni Kabir even described Chaudhvin Ka Chand as Dutt’s “most conventional” story and treatment. But what if we told you that one man falls in love with his best friend’s wife? Though Guru Dutt didn’t officially direct Chaudhvin Ka Chand, the frames bear his unmistakable stamp. The film’s title song is used even today to describe Waheeda Rehman’s classic beauty and feminine grace.
Did modernity arrive in Hindi cinema at the exact moment when an Elvis Presley-esque Shammi Kapoor slid down the snow-capped hills of Shimla roaring “Yaahoo”? The answer may not veer towards the affirmative but Junglee was definitely a cry for freedom not seen in Hindi cinema before. In Junglee, Kapoor, perhaps Bollywood’s first dancing star, broke the shackles of his domineering mother to venture out to find love and freedom. For Kapoor who brought joie de vivre into the cinema of the 1960s, a simple interpretation of Junglee could be – this man’s going to break all rules. And he did.
Gunga Jumna (1961)
When Amitabh Bachchan claims that he has learnt more about acting from this Dilip Kumar classic than any other film it makes you wonder about the place that Gunga Jumna occupies in Hindi cinema. For starters, Bachchan’s obsession with Gunga Jumna has more to do with Kumar’s near-perfect mastery of the Awadhi dialect. A self-confessed fan of the thespian, the UP-born Bachchan has expressed awe and surprise as to how “a man who’s not from Allahabad and Uttar Pradesh” could get all the nuances of Awadhi so right. Bachchan may be talking purely as a fan, about a film and performance that has spoken personally to him, but Gunga Jumna’s real influence can be felt on writers Salim-Javed who actually took that inspiration right into the heart of their scripts. The result? Deewaar and Trishul.
Was Bimal Roy a feminist filmmaker? He would certainly be described as one if he were working today. Roy’s powerful ode to freedom, love, ideals and destiny, Bandini is widely hailed as his swansong. Kalyani (Nutan) is a C-class inmate serving a murder term. Against the backdrop of her haunting past, Roy interweaves a parallel story of a prison doctor (an idealistic Dharmendra) who falls in love with Kalyani. Nutan who delivered a career-defining turn in Roy’s Sujata in 1959 outclasses herself here in a performance of such sublime and simple beauty that Bandini is now held as one of the most definitive female roles in Hindi cinema.
Lost and found was invented by Gyan Mukherjee in Kismet (1943), starring Ashok Kumar and perfected three decades later by Manmohan Desai in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). But few can deny that the device was patented by Yash Chopra in Waqt. A multi-starrer at a time when solo hero films dominated the marquee, it is Chopra’s third and one of his most personal films. Led by Balraj Sahni as the patriarch, Waqt is a story of a family destroyed and displaced by an earthquake (some critics have interpreted the natural disaster as a metaphor for Partition, a theme that the Lahore-born Chopra had championed before officially turning into Bollywood’s romance king) and all actors, including stalwarts like Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore and Madan Puri, get noteworthy roles. The big family reunion does occur at the end, leading to a happy ending.
Vijay Anand’s Guide begins with symbolic visuals of Dev Anand heading towards his uncertain future. Raju Guide (Anand) has just been released from jail. As SD Burman’s Wahan kaun hai tera rings in the title, Guide has already made you a promise of a highly philosophical and spiritual journey of this lowly tourist guide, ensnared by the charms of Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), the most unconventional of all Bollywood heroines. Although based on R K Narayan’s Guide the final film isn’t anything like the book. The reason? Vijay Anand’s unique and personal interpretation of the text complete with the superior musical sensibilities of SD Burman and Shailendra.
Teesri Manzil (1966)
Legend has it that after Dev Anand turned down Teesri Manzil, directed by his thriller-specialist brother Vijay Anand (based on a Nasir Hussain script), the film landed miraculously on Shammi Kapoor’s lap. Back in 1957, Dev Anand had turned down another film called Tumsa Nahin Dekha, renowned for making Shammi Kapoor into an overnight star. “I created my biggest rival. With every film I let go, he (Shammi Kapoor) shot to fame,” Anand once quipped, regretting his decision to walk out of Teesri Manzil. A murder mystery, Teesri Manzil has all the classic Vijay Anand hallmarks – fast-paced story, murder, intrigue, whodunit and not to mention, the unforgettable songs.
Jewel Thief (1967)
Vijay Anand’s most Hitchcokian of thrillers, Jewel Thief has all the ingredients of a well-made and engaging thriller – the timely thrills and twists, the drama, intrigue and unpredictable characters. And then, there are the songs, majestically and imaginatively shot the way only Vijay Anand – called the master of song picturisation – could have. The film begins with a montage of news clippings about a notorious jewel thief whose mysterious ways have baffled the police and set panic among the public. From the early scenes, the audience is being made to guess about the identity of the jewel thief and all hints point towards Vinay (Dev Anand), Bombay police commissioner’s son who Shalu (Vyjayantimala) and her elder brother Arjun Singh (Ashok Kumar) accuse of being the duplicitous Amar.
Much before Akshay Kumar, Sunny Deol and the likes wore their nationalistic hearts on their sleeves there was Manoj Kumar aka Mr Bharat. Upkar, a major runaway success, is Kumar’s avowed declaration of his love for India. Inspired by Lal Bahadur Shastri’s famous Jai Jawan Jai Kisan slogan, Upkar is an example of a more muscular brand of nationalism that couldn’t have been out of place in today’s India. With Upkar, Kumar perfected his patriot persona, both on screen and off it.
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)