Open the entertainment listings and you are likely to find action packed, machismo films not just dominating but almost ruling the space. Obviously this genre is most in-demand, leading to media firms even launching television channels dedicated to the cause. Forget television channels. Walk into a toy shop and other than a corner or two devoted to Barbie and her ilk, the shelves are crowded with Terminator and Transformer toys.
Why am I surprised? After all, we live in a world where all we hear is about terrorists storming schools, media offices and shopping centers to shoot and mow down innocents. I do wonder though if a change could be wrought by giving the world a strong dose of romanticism!
I belong to a generation, which was brought up to view life with rose-tinted glasses. I belong to a time where William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Enid Blyton, and Bob Dylan ruled the ether. Fertile, impressionable young minds in my generation imbibed all the imagery the romantics had to offer. Not just from the West. From our Indian roots, we imbibed values through epics such as the Ramayana, folklore published by Amar Chitra Katha, couplets of philosophers such as Kabir, commercial cinema, and the lyrics of film songs. Particularly the last!
Yes, we soon learnt that life was a far cry from the ‘they lived happily ever after’ ending promised by the romance and family sagas we fed on daily. Personally, I even wondered if our disillusionment could have been tempered if we hadn’t been so misled by all the stories we grew up with. But soon, the realization dawned that what the genre of romanticism did was to hold up a value system for human civilization to aspire to.
I have recently been watching quite a few Bollywood movies from the 1960s on YouTube because I badly needed a dose of romanticism myself. I wanted to lose myself in a world where the loyalty of friends was beyond doubt; where lovers pranced in the beautiful meadows of Kashmir to the tune of beautiful melodies; where children respected their parents and elders; where family ties were strong; and where people strived to live up to the golden values of honesty, loyalty and social tolerance.
Remember the Robert Wise directed The Sound of Music? A heartwarming 1965 musical, which held up family and social values! The lyrics of the song ‘Climb every mountain’ echoes and resounds through time to tell us, “Climb every mountain; Search high and low; Follow every byway; Every path you know. Climb every mountain; Ford every stream; Follow every rainbow; ‘Till you find your dream. A dream that will need; All the love you can give; Every day of your life; For as long as you live.”
All the love you can give. In The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family not only find love and laughter within the family again, but also live up to their stated values by resisting the Third Reich. This was cinema that left no eye in the audience dry. This was cinema that made the audience feel determined to climb every mountain and ford every stream to find the wonderful world rendered by Louis Armstrong: “The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky; Are also on the faces of people going by; I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do; But what they’re really saying is I love you.”
Messages of universal love and tolerance. That was the genre commercial cinema focused on in a time gone by. In the 1959 B. R. Chopra produced and Yash Chopra directed Bollywood film Dhool Ka Phool, a Muslim is shown bringing up an illegitimate child of Hindu faith. The song he sings to the child, composed by Datta Naik with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, went onto ruling the radio waves then and is a classic today: “tu hindu banega na musalamaan banega; insaan ki aulaad hai, insaan banega; achchha hai abhi tak tera kuchh naam nahin hai; tujh ko kisi mazhab se koi kaam nahin hain; jis ilm ne insaan ko taqaseem kiya hai; us ilm ka tujh par koi ilzaam nahin hai; tu badale hue waqt ki pahechaan banega; insaan ki aulaad hai, insaan banega.”
For the benefit of non-Hindi speaking readers, the lyrics translate as, “You won’t become a Hindu or a Muslim; You are a child of humanity and a human being you will become; It’s a good thing you have no name yet; nor do you have any link to any religion; That knowledge which has divided humanity; You will be free of that knowledge identifying and accusing you; You will be the face of the changing times; You are a child of humanity and so you will remain.”
From social values to family ones, the era of romanticism upheld the right ones. In the 1966 Bollywood film Daadi Maa*, the storyline follows the sacrifice of the family’s daughter-in-laws to bring together the estranged matriarch and her step children. This is a film with a simple storyline, which will surely test the credulity of modern-day viewers. But every story has something of value if one bothers to look a little more closely. In watching Daadi Maa again recently, I re-discovered a forgotten gem of a song.
With a lilting melody composed by Roshan, and beautifully sung by Manna Dey and Mahendra Kapoor, the lyrics of the song by Majrooh Sultanpuri go: “Usko nahin dekha hamne kabhi; par uski jaroorat kya hogi eh Maa; eh Maa teri surat se alag; Bhagwan ki surat kya hogi kya hogi; usko nahin dekha hamne kabhi.” The song eulogizes the ‘mother’ figure in life, asking, ‘Where is the need to know the face of God when we have you, o Mother. For how different could God’s face be from yours?
In today’s era of realism, I can almost hear the scoffing voices saying, ” Oh, come on, get real”. Such voices miss the point and I pity them. You see, it’s not about what is but what could be. Sure mothers are human with all the attendant flaws, but the ideal of motherhood (gender neutral) is worth aspiring to if parents are to teach their offspring the right values and serve as role models.
And it’s worth recalling, as Shailendra wrote to Shankar Jaikishen’s melody in Raj Kapoor’s Jis Desh Mein Ganga Bahti Hain, “khara pani koi pi na saka, ek pyar ka moti kaam aaya; ek pyar ka moti kaam aaya; hum bhi hai tum bhi ho dono hai amne-samne; dekh lo kya asar kar diya pyar ke naam ne.” Translated that reads, “No one can drink salty water except when a pearl of love (read tear from the eye) makes it palatable; Here I am and there you are in front of me; Together we see the impact of a feeling called love.”
A realization that the world badly needs today. If we are to ever come out of living in a permanent state of lockdown, brought about by divisive forces and rapidly eroding social values.
The featured image in this blog is the Karma Wheel. Motifs in Indian temples often use interconnected shapes and knots to symbolize the link between lives. This can be interpreted as the ties that bind human relationships – universal or personal.
I would like to thank Samar Kagalwalla for suggesting a blog reviewing the film Daadi Maa; a suggestion, which planted the seed for this blog:).
I would also like to thank the following Facebook groups for bringing romanticism back into my life:
- Sandeep Apte and founders of Yeh Mere Geet Jeevan Sangeet
- Samar Kagalwalla, Mayank Thanawala and founders of Bollywood Up Close
- Hemant Kothikar and founders of Amazing Hindi Film Music
*Daadi Maa – a Hindi word for paternal grandmother. The maternal grandmother is called Naani Maa.
You Tube links to songs and movies
The Sound of Music: http://youtu.be/EoCPuhhE6dw
Louis Armstrong What a Wonderful World: http://youtu.be/nYWMhzIRzuU
Dhool Ka Phool: http://youtu.be/ViBDWjB21ds
Daadi Maa: http://youtu.be/3HbmbO0b-Sc