Mr India has been at the centre of controversy of late. After Bharat director Ali Abbas Zafar confirmed a trilogy (bankrolled by Zee Studios) based on the wildly popular 1987 comedy, Sonam Kapoor, whose father Anil Kapoor played the titular role in what can easily be deemed as Bollywood’s original superhero romp, lashed out at the news on Twitter. Director Shekhar Kapur followed suit. “A lot of people have been asking me about the Mr India remake,” the visibly peeved Sonam tweeted on February 22. Ali Abbas Zafar and gang didn’t even bother to inform Mr India’s original creators, Sonam claimed. “It’s sad because that was a film made with heart and hard work and is very sentimental to my father, beyond commerce and announcements, it’s a part of his legacy.” It is fair to say that not just Anil Kapoor’s legacy, Mr India is also a Bollywood classic that has left an indelible mark on audiences over the decades. For many, it’s a favourite comedy that they revisit over and over again, often catching it up over a relaxed weekend on TV reruns. For others, it’s a nostalgia insulin-shot — a time when Anil Kapoor’s hatted hobo could so seamlessly pass off as a superhero thanks to an unusual gadget that can make him invisible, Mogambo’s den with its ’80s kitschy aesthetics, typewriter-filled newsrooms and last but not the least, the unhurried Bombay life. Mr India’s character is further anachronistic. He’s a winning combination of the classic Raj Kapoor’s tramp-meets-Shammi Kapoor’s Brahmachari-meets-Dev Anand charm. Mr India’s music, too, like RK or Dev Anand’s golden era hits, is full of philosophy but done in an easy-breezy, feel-good way. Helmed by Shekhar Kapur (Dev and Vijay Anand’s nephew who knew a thing or two about catchy music and the art of song picturisation), the Anil Kapoor-Sridevi-Amrish Puri starrer is bolstered by a sparkling soundtrack with lyricist Javed Akhtar, music composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal and singers Kishore Kumar and Kavita Krishnamurti, among others, in fine fettle. All Mr India songs have gone down in history, but if there’s one number that comes closest to being the film’s essential theme it is “Zindagi ki yehi reet hai.”
A Way of Life: Tragedy-beauty go hand in hand
The bittersweet anthem is picturised on Anil Kapoor’s Arun, a common man who runs an orphanage with ten children, one more handful than the next. The way the song is shot, with Arun and kids out on a picnic driving in an old jalopy, as well as the film’s plot, resembles two 1960s children’s musicals, Shammi Kapoor’s Brahmachari and Hollywood’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Javed Akhtar’s lucid lyrics, with lines celebrating life as a full package of sadness, laughter, love, happiness, tears, smiles, tragedy and beauty (‘Zindagi ki yehi reet hai, haar ke baad hi jeet hai/Thode aansun hai, thodi hansi, aaj gham hai to kal hai khushi’) has given us a life anthem that’s a worthy throwback to simple but philosophical songs of Shailendra or Majrooh Sultanpuri. Yet, the song is far from mopey and in fact, goes on to give listeners a glimmer of hope when Akhtar writes, “If the clouds of sadness burst out, we will still smile and keep the lamp of hope burning.” According to Akhtar, this is the way of life. You can bat away the existential blues, the lyricist seems to be suggesting, if only you have the ability to see life as your friend or partner and embrace it with all its bounties and flaws. The importance filmmaker Shekhar Kapur gives to “Zindagi ki yehi reet hai” can be gauged from the fact that it appears at all the crucial points. At first, the happy version reflecting Arun and family’s jocular times, again when Arun is in a funk, and the kids hum it to bring him some cheer and finally, when little Tina dies in a blast.
Sridevi’s Comic Charm
The man behind the blast is Mogambo (Amrish Puri), one of Bollywood’s most iconic on-screen villains. He’s a baddie everyone loves to hate. Every time he is pleased (“Mogambo khush hua”) you know it’ll result in someone else’s misery. That someone is Arun. Poor Arun and his naughty brigade live in a house eyed by local goons, with links to Mogambo but soon it dawns that Arun’s crumbling abode might just be symbolic of something ominous. Mogambo has a more evil plan up his sleeve. He wants to blow up India, home to Arun and millions of ordinary Joes like him. That’s when Arun assumes the mantle of the titular Mr India. Besides Kapoor, the film features one of Sridevi’s most immensely enjoyable performances. As those who have seen the film will know, she plays the smooth-talking crime reporter Seema. She is Arun’s new tenant, but the nosy newspaperwoman can’t keep her curiosity down after witnessing Mr India’s exploits first hand. But to sell this scoop to her harried editor (Annu Kapoor) who’s forever battling “wrong numbers” proves a touch difficult. Fans can recall the hilarious brain-twister she throws at the invisible Mr India: “Aap iss na dikhai dene wale profession mein kab se hain?” Especially, her Chaplin impersonation is one of the film’s funniest gags, a scene that served as a crucial showcase for her comic skills. Mr India’s other popular club song, “Hawa Hawaii,” shot in the baddie’s den, gave Sridevi her famous moniker ‘Ms Hawa Hawaii’. Akhtar himself once confessed that the song was no great shakes: “The situation for the film song in the mid-eighties had deteriorated so much that even such light-hearted songs (“Hawa Hawaii”) started sounding like classical poetry.” Irrespective, the song has become an enduring part of the Sridevi mythology. It is to the late superstar’s credit that while on one hand, she could play the ingenue all so perfectly, on the other, she turned on the heat with the supremely sexy “Kaante nahin kat te”, rain-drenched in a blue chiffon. How can the Madonna and the whore, the pure and child-like and the sultry and smouldering reside in a single person?
Mogambo: Evil Incarnate
The film has other memorable characters that have undoubtedly helped its legacy. Satish Kaushik’s apron-wearing Calendar, Annu Kapoor’s madcap editor, even Bob Christo who gets hammered by Lord Hanuman. Their antics induce belly laughs. But no Mr India character has transcended into the realm of pop culture more than Mogambo. Apparently, Javed Akhtar, who also wrote the script along with Salim Khan (it’s Salim-Javed’s last film credit as a team), did his best to push for Mogambo, the embodiment of evil. Akhtar had a singular faith in the billboard potential of the ‘Mogambo khush hua’ quip. Shekhar Kapur disclosed to Rediff.com, “One day Javed came up to me and told me, ‘Shekharsaab, one day when Kapil Dev hits a six, people will say, ‘Mogambo khush hua.’ And it happened. Kapil Dev did hit a six in Sharjah in a limited over match and a huge banner went up which said, ‘Mogambo khush hua.'” The character required cartoonish theatricality which the versatile Amrish Puri, who passed away in 2005, summoned flawlessly. So key is his performance to the film’s overall appeal that every time someone talks about Mr India remake (which is usually the indefatigable Boney Kapoor) a question arises, “Who will play Mogambo?” Another question will torment the makers of Mr India 2.0 — with Kishore Kumar and Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar no more, how will they recreate the film’s well-loved music?
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