Friday, December 16, 2005

Sikandar aur Aristo

Enticed by Madhu Jain’s averment that Prithviraj Kapoor had great legs, I stayed behind after the Kapoors book launch and watched 10-15 minutes of the 1939 Sikandar, which was being screened at the same venue. Excellent fun. Greek people talking in shudh Hindi with, for whatever reason, French subtitles occupying the lower third of the screen. The exchanges between Alexander and his “guru” Aristotle were marvelous. “Agar tum duniya ko jeetna chahte ho, toh tumhe aurat se door rehna hoga,” (“If you wish to conquer the world, you will have to stay away from women”) said Aristotle – who I suspect was gay – to his dashing young ward. Prithviraj scowled handsomely and declaimed various things which I didn’t fully understand.

Aristotle wore a shimmering velvety robe and scampered up and down stairways in a manner that belied his age. He tricked Sikandar’s young lady friend Rukhsana into treating him like a horse and then told the young emperor, “If she can fool an old and wise man like me, imagine what she can do to you.” Or words to that effect. Point proved. Woman dispensed with. World now ripe for conquering.

Must obtain DVD and watch at length. By the way, one of the interesting things mentioned in the book is that in the 1940s some history textbooks carried photos of Prithviraj K playing Sikandar in the chapter on Alexander the Great – much to the mortification of Shammi and Shashi, who were in school at the time. Twenty years later, stills from Mughal-e-Azam were carried in chapters on Akbar.


  1. Greek people talking in shudh Hindi

    LOL. It is quite fun to listen to Prithviraj and Sohrab Modi use high-falutin Urdu in those films. And the use of Arabic/Persian names for the Greek is kinda great too!

    Aflatoon, Arastu!

  2. All thanks to the shrill aesthetics of Parsi theatre, of which Sohrab Modi was the most well-known exponent. Check out "Ghar Ho To Aisa" for Kader Khan's hilarious take on Sohrab Modi's booming voice with a slight hissing edge :).

    Quizman, the Arabic/Persian versions of Greek names are as legitimate as the English versions. In Greek:

    Alexander = Alexandros
    Aristotle = Aristoteli
    Plato = Platon
    Macedonia = Makedon
    Alexander the Great = Alexandros o Megas

    The worst of course is when English speakers mangle the pronunciation of letters of the Greek alphabet!

  3. I was subjected to that film in film school...and like many other films of that era, it was quite funny 'cos everyone seemed so "affected". And Aristotle definitely was gay, but since gay men are still not considered normal in Bollywood, they made him a misogynist (which is still ok than the current representation of gay men in our films).
    There was another film I'd seen (forgetting the name, and feeling deeply irritated abt it)where there was a reference to Marcus Aurelius and him being a misogynist and he was s'posed to be married too!
    But, did Prithviraj Kapoor have great legs? U didnt mention and i dont remember :p

  4. Thalassa:

    So true, especially since they rescued the Greek works from oblivion.

    Didn't know the original Greek names. Thanks for those versions.

  5. Jabberwock,

    Meanwhile, The Man's famous comedy has been dubbed as Babua Khiladi Dadua Anadi. Would make a nice quiz question.

  6. Aristotle was not gay. Nor was Alexander.

    Sex between men was the most common things in ancient greek in which all men participated. In fact, men were actually married off to other males during their youth, and they married women only once they reached 3o years of age. It was considered perfectly normal and manly to stay away from women, although reproduction was considered to be a manly duty of men.

    Men were seen as objects of sexual desire as well as romance/ love, while women were just for reproduction.

    Does it mean they were all gay? Of course not. Gay may be defined as "man who is sexually attracted to men" by the modern west, but it is a (deliberately) misleading definition, that is certainly not applicable for men in the the ancient times, nor in present day non-western countries, including India.

    Be very clear, 'gay' has connotations of third-sex. The very concept of homosexuality is based on transgendered males who like men, in early modern America. The west doesn't recognise the concept of a third gender (or woman inside man) and so it was easy for them to misleading the society, by associating the 'difference' or 'queerness' of these effeminate males with their sexual desire for men. In other words, they said, it is their sexual desire for men that makes them different, hence they named this 'abnormality' homosexuality and those people 'homosexual'.

    But to this day, whether its the west or a country like India only members of the third sex, or at best meterosexual males (men with a strong femininity) are comfortable with the 'gay' identity.

    It can definitely not be applied on a masculine warrior, philosopher like Aristotle or Sikander.

    The closest word for 'gay' in the times of Alexander is the "catamite" -- and these were the effeminate males who sought receptive anal sex from men. the desire for receiving anal sex from men.

    So, when you say Aristotle was gay, do you mean he was a Catamite. Certainly not. If you were in his times and called him a Catamite, he would chop off your head in seconds, and the society will appreciate his deed as an act of honour.

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  9. To call men like Aristotle or Alexander gay is akin to calling them "hijra" or "chakka". So, please show them some respect. We may be living in times where man-man love has been defeated and extremely discredited (actually equated with the third gender), but still, these are ancient heroes. Spare them.

    Also, to ask men to keep away from women sexually is not being misogynists. Men had to resort to it, especially becasue sex with women was imposed on them through the route of manhood, in order to ensure their participation in reproduction, when in nature only a small percentage of men, at any given time, participate in sex with women.

    And then again, to want to safeguard men's spaces also does not amount to misogyny. All macho spaces in the past, including our own Hanuman, stayed away from women, but can you call them misogynists -- certainly not. Hanuman respected women, and saw them as mothers and sisters. It only meant keeping away from them sexually. But, when the society started thrusting sex with women on men, and it was not possible for men to say they don't want to have sex with women, then men had to keep away from women altogether, because, otherwise women would demand sex from them, which they did not want to give, but at the same time were disempowered to say 'no'.