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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.