Cinema Marte Dum Tak needs to be watched by every film lover

J. Neelam, Vinod Talwar, Dilip Gulati and Kishan Shah, directors whose pulp movies made magic for over a decade. Photo: Amazon Prime Video. 

If you love Hindi cinema, this is a must-watch!

When the Kashmir pogrom happened, the media saw to it that most of the country remained uninformed. This time, unless you were a regular patron of cinema halls in seedy locations of your city that occasionally screened A-list Hindi movies, you missed (or ignored) this entire subculture of commercial cinema that was deemed C-grade or, very condescendingly, B-grade, for the entire decade-plus phase of its existence!

This docu-web series directed by Vasan Bala focuses overdue attention on what is termed the smutty period of Hindi cinema. Five directors are focused on—and four of them (J. Neelam, probably the first female director ever in at least contemporary Hindi cinema, Vinod Talwar, Dilip Gulati and Kishan Shah) are now offered “comeback” short films by Amazon Prime Video. Kishan’s more illustrious and prolific brother, Kanti Shah, who made a name for himself in that era that spanned, roughly from the late 1980s to the early part of the millennium, also comes in. The filmmakers get to do subjects they are best at, with premieres of these movies at PVR—something they had only dreamed of at their peak!

Yes, I wonder whether we will get to watch those films!

Of these five, Kanti Shah even made managed to make such films with Dharmendra, Mithun Chakraborty and Govinda in his heydays. There is a dual connection here with the superstar—Dharmendra acted in his lean days in Kanti Shah’s Munnibai, Meri Jung Ka Elaan, Jallad No. 1 and Jagira, before a and slow trudge back to A-grade normalcy (He also worked with other directors not discussed here in this category, like Willy-Raja, Shishir Annapurna and Jitendra Chawda who were far less “known” or prolific). And Vinod Talwar is nephew to O.P. Ralhan, whose film Phool Aur Patthar, first made Dharmendra a huge star.

This docu-series even mentions how in one film, Dharmendra shot for an ‘exercise’ scene and his head was morphed and the same sequence was later shown as a ‘sexercise’ with some add-on shots of a woman! Some relatives of the top star  from Punjab who watched this film informed him, and the actor called the maker to his house and thrashed him! It is not revealed, however, whether this maker was Kanti Shah!

These makers made great money as they would make their pulp films in a week or two for a threadbare few lakh rupees and, sometimes, those movies would even make 20 times that figure. This RoI (return on investment) is unequalled even by Sholay, Bahubali2 and the likes! Today, Vinod Talwar, who once had to sell or pawn his cars and jewelry and almost lose his house, owns a Mercedes. Kishan Shah, in best Deewaar mode, says that Kanti Shah has made pots of money but has no family, like he has. Kanti is his estranged brother, and rues that he has money but only alcohol as his buddy. Dilip and Kishan are proud of their children, while J. Neelam has only old companions as her ‘family’ and finds happiness in them.

Yes, in this saga of a high that rapidly withered with the onslaught of multiplexes  and global box-office, but we still get a poignant tale of this largely-hidden page from Indian cinema history—of pulp cinema that thrived on overt sex, spice, horror and violence, including “forbidden” topics like lesbianism in rare cases.

The titles alone from those days indicate what these films were about—Kunwari Chudail, Khooni Panja, Jallad No. 1, Main Hoon Kunwari Dulhan, Tadapti Jawani, Jungle Beauty, Raat Ke Andhere Mein (not to be confused with the 1970s film that boasted of a couple of classic songs) and even Angoor (in a different connotation from the 1982 Gulzar classic).

The filmmakers are unapologetic about the content: it is all about what sells. Whether it is two women battling it out on a wet, muddy ground, a man grabbing a girl swimming in a lake, a woman turning vampire as a man embraces her, or a bunch of cheaply-costumed tribals, they are pretty unambiguous about their work and intentions, despite some regret about not making the A-grade. They are self-respecting businessmen-cum-creators, who even make a very strikingly right case for what today’s web series show being worse than what they could show thanks to censors.

And talking of censor issues, we have Pehlaj Nihalani, producer of films like Aankhen (1993), and ex-Censor chief, spouting criticism on these purveyors of porn-like content with utter disregard to these films’ effects on society and family. We also have a comment on the late ace director Vijay Anand, whose well-conceived idea of having a separate censor grading (like ‘AA’ or maybe ‘AAA’) for such fare was being rubbished by the government, despite his stand that thousands earned their living from such films.

Yes, many of these filmmakers’ distributors (one outlandishly-dressed and flamboyant Hyder Gola is interviewed here) and exhibitors would put in “bits” or “extra portions” (read sex scenes) brazenly into the footage after the censor certificate was given, just to pull in audiences! There is even a remark when the street vendor or rickshawala would know the exact time these scenes were to appear and would walk in for a repeat watch. And a theatre cleaner talks about discarded handkerchiefs that were “soiled” after screenings and discarded in the auditorium.

As it is clearly stated, these films also catered to individuals who would stay away from families and needed outlets for their repressed physical desires. There is a mention of how not everyone visited red-light areas but preferred to find ‘relief’ by watching such movies.

The multiplex era helped ruin this industry and its dependents  alongside spiraling costs and the free access to viewing flesh online. But there were other areas too that were rather personal. Actress Sapna, one of the actors speaking on the show, who was the ‘Sridevi’ of that genre, reveals her traumatic phase as a single mother after a failed marriage.

J. Neelam weeps when she cannot share her joy at the new Amazon assignment with her father, who is no more, Hemant Birje speaks of how he was branded in these kind of films after starting out in the 1985 A-grade hit Tarzan opposite Kimi Katkar, while Kiran Kumar, Harish Patel and Raza Murad, among others, highlight the glories of those days as they straddled both big and pulp movies.

In the last of six episodes, Arjun Kapoor compassionately interviews all four filmmakers together and we also get their perspective on each other. This is one highlight of the series directed expertly by Vasan Bala, whose earlier films, Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota and Monica—O My Darling, also paid homage to a better class of potboiler.

The series could have been written and edited more coherently though, as the same theme or issue is repeated rather than being dicussed at one go, but it all comes together to present a sympathetic look at men and women for whom cinema, albeit not the written-about kind, remains something to live for—marte dum tak (till death)! And Sneha Khanwalkar’s title-song and Vayu’s funky lyrics add to the allure.

Rating: ****



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