Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Love in Miniskirts

Bobby (1973)

Fair warning: if I had to pick one favorite soundtrack from the '70s, it would be Laxmikant Pyarelal's soundtrack for Bobby. I can't even begin to pick a favorite song, so I'll cover them as we go...

The film's generation gap theme is laid out almost immediately. Raj (played by Rishi, obviously), sent off for misbehavior to boarding school (where the headmaster ironically exhorts them to be their own men), gets called a "Mama's Boy" within the first five minutes! He's turned into an obedient son, but he has a Hair poster over his desk! Sorry, I'll try to keep those exclamation points in check, but it won't be easy. Anyway, the sense is that the young have been let down and abandoned by their parents, so their obedience to them is misplaced, and they need to make their own way in life.

When Raj retuns home, his first song, "Main Shair To Nahin" ("I'm not a poet") has him performing a poem in front of an audience, an idea we'll get to see more of later in his career. It's a lushly orchestrated ballad, sung by Shailender Singh in a simple, straightforward style -- the artistry of artlessness.

Raj and Bobby (the lovely Dimple Kapadia) meet, and once they decide they like each other -- once the hugging starts -- we get "Mujhe Kuch Kahna Hai" (the catchy and adorable "You first"/"You first" song), and I realize: this is the teen romance I wish I'd had! A lot of people think the relationship in Bobby is too lightweight, too much puppy love, but I think it's well-handled. They've never had such strong feelings before, so it's very momentous to them, but because it's new doesn't mean it isn't real.

The misunderstandings that occur when Raju takes Bobby to a party full of "Richie-Riches" are straight out of a John Hughes movie, but fortunately, it gives him an excuse to first enact broken-heartedness, which he does very well, and then to follow her to Kashmir to prove his love -- which is, again, exactly what you want your first love to do! Some guys don't even want to return your phone calls, for pete's sake. There's no question about whether Raju is that into her or not, what with him traveling all that way on top of a bus. Perhaps most importantly, it's a pretext to hear the beautiful, Sufi-flavored "Beshak Mandir Masjid" song by the fire, which I've always thought really elevates the teenage quarrel to a higher level of emotion.

At this point, I noticed how many of these songs have the common theme of speech and communication. The first song is about how he's not a poet, but can't help expressing his feelings. The next song is also about how they're afraid to tell each other the truth, but can't bear to keep silence. The third is about suffering in silence, with the refrain (ironically spoken) about how the singer won't say a word. Sorry, no conclusions about that yet -- I'll just need to watch it again.

Eventually, circumstances accidentally get the young couple locked in a house together for three hours, leading to "Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Band Ho," with its all-time classic "They Totally Did It" picturization. As the couple embraces on the bed, the scene cuts to various places -- lost in a dark threatening wood; then confronting a tiger, who is tamed by Bobby's willingness to be devoured; and an energetic horse-riding scene, which includes some lyrics about how their innocent frolicking could end in tears: "Who knows what will happen tomorrow/That's worrying me a bit/Think, what if something happens?" What could they mean?

But when the door opens, they stride out confidently, arm-in-arm, lost in each other.

They Totally Did It! Also, I will note that in the house party of misunderstandings, Aruna Irani's Neema told Raj that she was willing to be "lovers," but later, he tells Bobby that he respects Neema and considers her a confidant. The film doesn't show sex as something to be taken lightly (an attitude clearly condemned in Raj's creepy friend), but nor is it judgmental about it. Morality is about being a decent person, not about following the rules, so Neema can sleep with whoever she wants and still be a good person. If Raju and Bobby treat each other with respect, getting physical can make their attachment stronger -- as it clearly does.

"Na Mangun Sona Chandi" shows Raj frolicking with Bobby's father and other festival-goers, as he innocently sets up the meeting between their parents. It's another sweet tune, representing the happy feeling of love. This transitions right into "Jhoot Bole Kauve Kata," which I've already talked about. As Bobby joins the dance, warning him not to lie about his feelings (another of the songs on the communication theme), Raj turns and sees her, and the moment is totally charged with hormones. How could it not -- look at her! Every time I watch it, I wonder how she manages to move like that. Wow. There's a scene in the 1977 Dharmenda/Hema Malini movie Dream Girl, when a TV gets turned on in the midst of some hectic comic shenanigans. "Jhoot Bole" is playing on the set, and the action stops while they all watch Dimple dance for a moment.

Odd as that is, it is also perfectly understandable.

In retrospect, one of the things I like best about the song is its placement in the story. With its obviously sexual charge (including that mock spanking!), a lot of directors might have made it the moment of their feelings being made clear. But because it's after "Hum Tum," it's not an awakening -- it's a continuation. Also, because it occurs in a public place, right in front of her father, it helps represent the idea that the young people's feelings are more or less inevitable, so they're being transitioned into the larger society. That is, the idea that if they want to get married, their parents should just let them get married, is under the surface.

That usually should seem obvious. But sadly, the meeting between their parents goes horribly wrong, and by the time it's over, both their fathers forbid them to see each other. (The song that illustrates their separation, "Ankhiyon Ko Rahne De," is the only song in the film that I'm not wildly enthused with: it's a nice little sad number, but nothing too special. Sorry, Laxmikant Pyaralel, but you've still got a pretty good track record here).

Bobby gets sent out of town, and Raj's father immediately finds him a bride-to-be, which clearly horrifies Neema. Aruna Irani is fantastic throughout as the vampy "older woman" who's seductive toward Raj, but she proves that she has his and Bobby's best interests at heart, encouraging him to run away while he still can. Of course, because she's a self-respecting vamp, she reveals this in the crazy cabaret number "Ae -- Ae -- Ae -- Ae -- Phansa!" while wearing a shiny orange minidress. And I want to have a New Year's Eve party full of freaky, enormous paper mache monsters! Fortunately, there's still time to plan.

Yesterday I described Rishi's Raj as a nerd, and that's clearly how he starts. But the course of true love gives him a makeover:

Black Leather Baby Face! Still squeaky-clean, though.

Luckily for my tear ducts, the angry fathers, who've been trading insults and threats, eventually learn that their enmity only endangers the lives of their own children. Talk about a theme even more eternal than Laila Majnu/Romeo and Juliet. Supposedly, the film was originally intended to end unhappily, but for once, it almost seems more radical to give it a happy ending. Raj's impassioned speech about how children aren't their parents' property, and they have the right to their own lives, makes it kind of an anti-Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, especially to someone who saw that latter film first. Sometimes you have to go back further to find the less conservative messages.


Amrita said...

This is possibly the best analysis of Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Band Ho I've ever come across. I must have seen this movie a million time and I never thought They Did It but now I revise my opinion because I see They Totally Did It!

To me this is the movie in which Raj Kapoor managed to keep a handle on his slide into lecherous old man cinema, so thats all good. and who can stop themselves from emitting at least a small "aww" when they see Rishi's glowing little face. It glows, y'all!

And you're right on the money about Dimple! I once tried to dance like that and nearly dislocated my ribs. I wonder why she never danced in anything like that again? She clearly had the skillz.

Anarchivist said...

Amrita: Ha ha to They Totally Did It!

Agreed on lecherous Raj, too: I was thinking, there are a lot of comments online, like on the IMDB, about how Raj (Sr.) objectified Dimple in this, with her in the bikini, etc. But I when I watch it, it doesn't rub me the wrong way at all. Maybe it's because it's kept so age-appropriate. And also the sexiness is part of how much they like each other, so it doesn't seem creepy.

As for Dimple's dancing, I'm taking bellydance classes right now, and I tell ya, there aren't enough rib isolations in the WORLD to help me dance like her.

memsaab said...

I remember liking this a lot but haven't rewatched it...must change that :) Lovely review!

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Pitu said...

Lovely review and what a fabulous analysis of 'Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Band Ho'! I agree with Amrita, I totally think they did it :) You should do more song symbolism analyses for people like me who get confused. Everytime I see an incongruent image I go WTF! and just throw up my arms in the air ;D

Anarchivist said...

Thanks for the comments! I'm going to try and write more about song picturizations in the future -- I have a degree in poetry, so WTF is second nature to me. (As soon as I said that, I realized, that's the new "About Me"!) I see symbolism all over the place, but it never occurred to me that it might come in handy for people.