Saturday, May 1, 2010

Iconic Pairings in Hindi Cinema

Amongst all the trashy movies I have been junking on recently, I had the opportunity to finally watch On the Waterfront today. An absolutely stunning movie by Elia Kazan, it featured a great performance by a young Marlon Brando and the cinematic and cultural significance of the film makes it a must watch. It also got me thinking: like Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan, there have been several iconic partnerships at the movies. Some have provided us with some great movies while few others have changed the way we see movies forever. While such pairings are well documented in Hollywood, here are some I thought were significant for Hindi movies:

Gulzar and Sanjeev Kumar: One of the few director-actor pairings that consistently provided us with some unforgettable films. Gulzar, I think, had a very significant role in bringing out the versatility of Sanjeev Kumar, an actor for all ages. In Koshish, Gulzar gave us a sensitive story about a deaf-mute couple trying to raise a family against all odds. In Aandhi, he gave us the great political epic of Indian cinema inspired from the life and love of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India and her husband, Feroze. There, as J.K., Sanjeev Kumar brought a dignity to the portrayal of his character that no other actor could match. Of course, then there was Mausam where the boundaries of relationships with the dynamics between Sanjeev Kumar, playing an aged wealthy man and Sharmila Tagore, playing the daughter of the woman he loved once. Together, Gulzar and Sanjeev Kumar were a perfect match and they brought a sensitivity to their films in their respective capacities as actor and director. The result is for all to see.

V.K. Murthy and Guru Dutt: A cinematographer is responsible for bringing the director’s dream to life. Through his camera, he brings together the work put in by all the actors and technicians and, at 24 frames per second, presents their labour for all to see. No pairing in Bollywood quite signifies this relationship more beautifully than V.K. Murthy and Guru Dutt. Together, they created visuals that dreams were made of. They pushed the boundaries of black and white cinema further than anyone had ever before. The melancholic impact of classics like Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool is considerably heightened by the cinematography in several scenes. Take, for instance, the filming of “Waqt ne kiya…” in Kaagaz Ke Phool. The doomed love between Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman, both on and, in retrospect, off screen, seems to resonate deeply through each frame of film there. That was the power of cinema and these two maestros were responsible for bringing it to us.

Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman: No, they weren’t the most romantic onscreen pair in Hindi cinema. However, rarely has a pairing of an artist and his muse had such a dramatic impact on the way cinema is made. It was his love for Waheeda Rehman that inspired him to make some of his best works. Today, Kaagaz Ke Phool, very much inspired by their love affair, is regarded as one of the greatest films of all times in any language. The doomed affair may have been one of the many factors to drive Guru Dutt into depression and subsequently, his death. However, it also may have contributed to some of the finest work in cinema.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar: What would Hindi cinema be without their collaboration? A director-writer combination, their collaborations led to superb films like the hilarious Chupke Chupke & Khubsoorat, the emotional Anand, the adorable Guddi and the idealistic Namak Haraam. Gulzar knew how to sketch out beautiful characters and Hrishida had mastered the art of bringing them to life on screen with a warmth and vibrancy matched by few others. Together they brought beautiful stories to life which came from every nook and corner of life: the rich, the poor and everyone in the middle.

Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar: Better known as the duo, Salim-Javed, the two people together wrote approximately 16 movies together over a span of 11 years. However, these are the masala movies that came to define Hindi cinema after the 1970s. Their works include classics like Sholay, Trishul, Shakti and Deewaar. They are responsible for some of the most unforgettable lines of Hindi cinema from “Kitne aadmi the?” to “Mogambo, khush hua!” Hindi cinema would be far less colourful had it not been for these two writers. They gave us iconic characters like Gabbar Singh, Shakaal and almost single-handedly immortalised Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man image. 

Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar: In a span of 15 years beginning with Maachis, Bharadwaj and Gulzar’s collaboration has manifested itself in several forms. They have done music and lyrics together in several films (Maachis, Satya, Maqbool, Omkara and most recently, Ishqiya being the prominent ones). Bharadwaj is also one of the few directors that Gulzar continues to work with. Together, they have created a distinct sound which is very uniquely their own. There have been other music directors like Shantanu Moitra who have a similar style. Yet, they remain on top of their game giving us some of the finest musical gems in recent years.

Yash Chopra and Shiv-Hari: While the pairing of Gulzar and Bharadwaj produced a unique sound that remains distinct even today, the collaboration of Shiv-Hari and Yash Chopra resulted in music that inspired a generation of music and film directors. Their blend of the santoor, the violin and the saxophone; the huge orchestras and background singers resulted in the romantic music that came to define an important segment of movies in the 1990s. Musicians like Jatin-Lalit, Uttam Singh and others were clearly inspired by their style of music. The defined musical conventions and cliches.  Consequently, their music remains powerful till today.

Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan: It’s corny I know. But more often than not, audiences like corny. They are looking for corny. Hindi cinema has had several actor pairings: Dharmendra and Hema, Amitabh and Rekha, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. However, no pair seems to match up to the magic created by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. In their collaboration over 6 films (Baazigar, Karan Arjun, DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and My Name is Khan), they have given us some of the most romantic moments in contemporary Hindi cinema, be it catching a train together in DDLJ or dancing in the rain in Kuch Kuch. I think what really works for the two is that although neither is conventionally good looking, they both have great spunk and confidence and are absolutely unapologetic about who they are. They make you believe that love is possible against all odds even when one of them is a Muslim in post 9/11 America suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. No couple in Bollywood has gone through so many transformations and yet, complimented each other every step of the way. They are the stuff that dreams are made of.

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