Updated: September 22, 2019 6:00:31 am
It goes without saying that, for decades, mainstream Hindi films have fed the fantasy of this nation. No matter how tacky these films might be at times, it is impossible to be left untouched by them. To a child exposed to and kept on a regular diet of Bollywood films, they often become more than just an alternative reality. They become something aspirational, and that too, in quite interesting ways — like how it happened to me when I was a child. For reasons I have been unable to understand — or maybe because I have always valued my surroundings and the spaces that I inhabit — I was completely fascinated by the houses, or, rather, the architecture, in Bollywood films.
One has to agree, that the sets and costumes in mainstream Hindi films are like half — or a substantial fraction of — the battle won in their mission of mind (and, maybe, also box-office) domination. I remember a song from my childhood (a guilty favourite of mine even now, more than 30 years later) whose set design had a weird effect on me.
“Da da dadai dadai pyar ho gaya” is a song from the 1986 film Ilzaam, directed by Shibu Mitra. Alongside stars like Shashi Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha, Ilzaam was also the debut film of Govinda. This particular song had lyrics by Anjaan, music composed by Bappi Lahiri, and was sung by S Janaki. It had Anita Raj bathing under an indoor waterfall, complete with a shin-deep pool (just deep enough for the lead actor and the dancers to sit in and splash around) and artificial rocks and lotuses. I now marvel at the weird fascination I had for waterfalls. I was only three or four years old at the time and I actually tried to create a waterfall on my bed — a symbolic one — using a blue mosquito net which was gossamer enough to pass for flowing water and pillows with brown covers to signify rocks. I might not have accomplished anything but one cannot deny me marks for imagination, creativity and jugaad.
Another fascination I had was with staircases inside the houses shown in Hindi films. Nearly all Hindi films I saw featured big houses with a grand staircase that wound its way up. To me, it symbolised the highest, the most evolved feature of human dwelling. So much so that when my father started building a house in the early 1990s in my hometown Ghatsila, I requested him to have one inside the house exactly like in the films that I loved. My father laughed, but now we do have a seedi inside the house my father built.
While watching Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), I became quite besotted with the idea of having an office inside one’s house. When Suman and her father come to Prem’s house for the first time, his family had just returned from a car race and Suman’s father — quite impressed, just like I was with Prem’s father having an office inside his house — actually comments on how his friend had become such a bada aadmi that he had a daftar in his ghar.
The indoor waterfall, the home office, the staircase inside the house, I realise now, were fads that passed with age. When I look back at those phases of my Bollywood fandom, I laugh at myself. However, there are two film houses that I have admired for more than 20 years now and will continue to do so because they were beautiful and utilitarian — the kind of spaces that I would love to live in.
The first is Amol Palekar’s house in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film, Gol Maal (1979). Ram Prasad Sharma (Palekar) and his younger sister, Ratna (Manju Singh), live in a small house in Mumbai.
They are supposed to be orphans and it is not exactly clear who that house belongs to. Was it an inheritance from their parents? Were the siblings living on rent? Who was paying it since neither seemed to be working? Ram Prasad, in fact, was looking for a job.
Though the questions remained unanswered, the house stole my heart as much as the film did. It was an ideal bachelor pad, with quite a few space-saving techniques — a panel on the wall that could be lowered and turned into a seat or a bed — just the sort of house to be run on limited resources.
The other house that impressed me was Prashant Kumar Srivastava’s (Asrani) kothi from another film by Mukherjee, Chupke Chupke (1975), which was a far cry from Ram Prasad Sharma’s little dwelling in Gol Maal. Breezy is the feeling that comes to my mind whenever I remember that almost-palatial bungalow. The first time we see that house in the film is when Sulekha (Sharmila Tagore) is taken by her elder sister, Sumitra (Usha Kiran), to meet Prashant’s wife, Lata (Lily Chakraborty). The driver of their car is Pyare Mohan Ilahabadi, who is, actually, Prof. Parimal Tripathi (Dharmendra) in disguise. The women are received at the Srivastava house by Lata and her younger sister, Vasudha (Jaya Bachchan), a student of botany, who also turns out to be a fan of professor Tripathi.
The sun-washed veranda, Sharmila Tagore’s sari, and Jaya Bachchan’s dress in that scene are memorable, their clothes giving that scene the breeziness that I remember. That scene is actually quite bright — or was it because the house was painted all white? When Jaya Bachchan walks around the house singing “Chupke chupke chal ri purwaiya”, I felt like walking into the screen and joining her just to see the house up close.
The trivia on Chupke Chupke’s Wikipedia page mentions that some of the scenes in the film were shot at producer NC Sippy’s Juhu bungalow, now owned by Amitabh Bachchan. Was it Srivastava’s house, or was it Jijaji’s (Om Prakash)? Either way, I am not sure I would be welcome there, but there’s no harm in being inspired by a house one remembers long after having seen the film.
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