My good friend Baradwaj Rangan, who is a nostalgia specialist like me, called this afternoon. "Are you at home? Just watch Star Utsav. Right now."
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Just watch it, right now," he said and hung up.
I switched on the TV and found the channel. Mithun Chakraborthy on the drums, and Salma Agha on the dance floor. She is writhing to Yeh raat mein jo nasha hai... Memories went back to school days. I had seen this movie, Kasam Paida Karne Waale Ki, on video. The 'video' was new those days. Some enterprising bunch of guys in the neighbourhood, called bhaiyyas, would hire the VHS tape of the latest movie and hold a screening, in a specially erected pandal. Anybody could watch it, paying Re 1.
I was seeing the movie again now, after 20 years. The songs gets over and Mithun and Salma Agha walk out of the nightclub. She takes off on her bicycle but gets waylaid by goons. Mithunda appears. He takes care of the baddies and then offers to drop her home in the bicycle. "What if we get challaned?" she asks coyly. "Big deal," he replies, "At the most they will deflate the tyres." Shyly, she sits on the bar and off they are. The cycle ride in the silent night, with a whistle playing the backgroud, is the beginning of their romance.
Today, the scene looked so hilarious. Rather ridiculous. But twenty years ago, no one would have laughed. On the contrary, thousands might have been inspired to drop their girls in a similar fashion. Perhaps we are no longer innocent. Those days, even the accidental touching of hands deserved a close-up shot, and even in real life, the touching of hands was considered a milestone in the long road to romance.
But then, there are movies made at the same time, and even before, such as Silsila, Kabhie Kabhie and Trishul (and of course all of Guru Dutt films), where the romance does not seem outdated or does not look like a joke as in this case. Why so?
The answer, in my opinion, lies in the craft of filmmaking. Silsila is A-grade, a classy movie where the nuances of romance are conveyed in a sophisticated manner. Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, on the other hand, is a B-grade movie. There is no chemistry between Mithun and Salma Agha, they merely seemed to be donning 'romantic' expressions on their faces at the instance of the director. In any case there isn't any scope for chemistry in that scene. The close-ups merely show each one's 'romantic' face in isolation: Mithun or Salma could be standing on a balcony or on the beach instead of being on a bicycle. They are shown riding together only from a distance, and there you cannot tell whether they are the actors or extras.
But then, this is one of those movies where romance is by-the-way, where the director wants to make the audience wait for the final confrontation between the hero and the villain. Come to think of it, most of our movies are like that, aren't they? But the songs they have are all about romance. Maybe because music can be made only out of romance. Romance, after all, is another name for melody. And vice-versa.