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.

Play
‘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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

Play

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.