BOOK EXCERPT

How Nasir Husain saw the nightclub as a fun spot rather than a vice den

The filmmaker was ‘a champion of modernity’, which is evident in his productions ‘Dil Deke Dekho’, ‘Caravan’ and ‘Teesri Manzil’, says his biographer.

Teesri Manzil’s setting is predominantly Park Hotel, Mussoorie. It is from this place that Roopa has allegedly jumped and committed suicide. It is here that Rocky performs. Roopa’s death, and the subsequent suggestion of murder, reinforces Hindi cinema’s stereotyping of hotels and clubs as places from where vice, evil and sleaze emanate. As Jerry Pinto noted, ‘Almost everyone in the hotel business, according to Hindi cinema, is a murderer or a smuggler at worst; an obsequious and smarmy hanger-on at best … Villains own hotels as a cover for their activities. Lesser fry check into hotel rooms with their suitcases full of gold, diamonds, drugs or cash. The comedians arrive disguised as room service and the maids are thieves or fair game.’ A number of Hindi films like Baazi, Footpath, Taxi Driver, Shree 420, Howrah Bridge, China Town, Phool Aur Patthar (1966), An Evening in Paris and The Train (1970) show the hotel or the club as a place from where the villain operates, or as a space that belongs to the vamp, or as a place where the morality of simple Indian folk will be compromised. Directors like Shakti Samanta and N.A. Ansari exploited this notion to the hilt. Even a Manmohan Desai film like Naseeb (1981) shows the hotel to be owned by the villains, which is why it has to burn down, a bit like Ravana’s Lanka, before righteous men can take it over.

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‘O Haseena Zulfonwali’ from ‘Teesri Manzil’.

Yaadon Ki Baaraat is the clincher in this argument. In this film, ‘Park Hotel’ is a front for Shaakaal’s illicit activities, but that is more a Salim–Javed influence. In a number of Salim–Javed films, most prominent amongst which are Deewaar (1975), Don (1978) and Shakti (1982), the hotel is a world inhabited by the likes of ‘Daawar’, ‘Saamant’, ‘JK’ and ‘Don’ himself. But even in Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Husain established the hotel as a place for the youth to come and enjoy and swing and groove to the longish song sequence beginning with ‘Aap ke kamrey mein koi’. This sequence takes place in Hotel Blue Heaven where Monto (Tariq Khan) is introduced. This is separate from Shaakaal’s world, which is Park Hotel. In Hotel Blue Heaven, Monto, the musician figure, so central to Husain’s narratives, is the ringmaster in that it is he who directs proceedings. Music is at the centre of this universe. In ‘Lekar hum deewaana dil’, which takes place at Park Hotel, Shaakaal’s intermittent appearances in the song clearly establish this space as distinct from Hotel Blue Heaven.

Teesri Manzil too builds up Park Hotel as a place of intrigue, with people constantly spying on each other. This is nothing but a decoy because the actual villain in the piece, Kunwar Mahinder Singh (Prem Nath), isn’t running some kind of crime syndicate from the hotel. He kills Roopa because she has discovered that he killed his own wife. In the process of eliminating Roopa, Kunwar sa’ab chases her down to Park Hotel, where he throws her off from the hotel’s teesri manzil. Besides this, there is nothing else to suggest that Park Hotel is a world inhabited by the morally corrupt. Before this, two of the film’s best songs, ‘O haseena zulfon waali’ and ‘Tumne mujhe dekha’, have been performed in this very place, the latter on the occasion of ‘Yaum-e-Azaadi’. Husain also (by writing it into the script) has Anil and Sunita dance the hysterical ‘Aaja aaja’ at the Rock-’n’-Roll Club, a space mentioned in the film purely for this song sequence. In fact, the biggest testimony to Husain’s unabashed love for the club/hotel space is Dil Deke Dekho, where the film’s narrative shuttles between Deonar Club and Everest Club and Radio Club, with Royal Hotel in Ranikhet also shown as a place which doesn’t offer anything other than song and dance.

This celebration of the club culture, a distinct legacy of the British, and the hotel space, a modern Western phenomenon (as opposed to the serai/musaafirkhaana experience) along with Husain’s comfort with showcasing different languages, their idioms (‘Zameen jumbad, aasmaan jumbad, na jumbad Gul Mohammed’– the earth and the sky may shift, but Gul Mohammed will remain stubborn) and the mobility quotient in his films, established Husain as a champion of modernity.

The presence of clubs and hotels in Husain’s films is significant in another crucial way. While decoding Husain’s formula, it has been mentioned that Husain had an inclination to show only one parental figure for both the hero and the heroine. But as Doraiswamy commented in her paper, ‘…If most Hindi films of the time posited the hotel as a “profane” space, the natural habitat of the villain and the vamp, Nasir Husain, drawing on the hill station milieu, gave us hotels free of all negative valency. Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 is a typical example of this binary positing of space, where the home of the traditional community, even if it is the street, is opposed to the space of the hotel, the hub of Western values and by implication of a corrupted modernity.

‘Nasir Husain set his films in the hill station precisely because those values of a “westernized” modernity that he wished to represent within the space of the hotel or club, could be done here without creating an equal and opposite space of “tradition” or home. The band, the drummer, the music, the body language and verbal language of young people enveloped in the modernity of the rock-’n’-roll generation, could only be adequately represented in the hill station... Husain’s use of the hotel as a non-domestic space further allowed him to present the hero as a musician figure who could give free rein to his West-inspired tunes and dances. ‘Two birds with one stone,’ Doraiswamy concluded.

Excerpted from permission from Music, Masti, Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain, Akshay Manwani, HarperCollins India.

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

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Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.