Thursday, November 22, 2007

The best of Manoj Kumar

Veteran actor Manoj Kumar – he who turned the trembling lower lip, the twitching eyebrow and the martyred expression into an art form – is upset about how he was parodied in Om Shanti Om. Now we can’t have a veteran actor (much less one who by his own admission is a living embodiment of patriotism) feeling humiliated, so here, by way of compensation for Shah Rukh Khan and Farah Khan’s insensitivity, are a few of my favourite moments from Manoj Kumar’s films:
- From Kranti: this multi-starrer has countless fabulous setpieces, including the timeless song sequence “Zindagi ki na toote ladi” where a slithering Hema Malini donates her cleavage to the revolutionary cause. But my favourite scene is the one where Manoj Kumar and Dilip Kumar have been captured by the British and made to stand precariously, nooses tied around their necks, on two ends of a weighing scale-like instrument. With their lives and the future of their country thus at stake, our heroes unexpectedly begin singing a song that includes the lyrics: “Mera channa hai apni marzee ka” (rough translation: “My chickpea has a mind of its own”). Perhaps it’s because the scale makes them feel like legumes in a bazaar, though I’d be more inclined to think of two giant chunks of ham.

- From Purab aur Paschim: The upright Mr Bharat visits decadent London (it’s a – shudder! Lip tremble! – Western city) and is shocked by how Indians abroad have forgotten the values of their motherland. Particularly the haughty Saira Banu, who smokes cigarettes (!) and wears a mini-skirt (!!). Bharat is dismayed, though the twitching of Manoj Kumar's thespian eyebrows as he looks down at her uncovered legs suggests that this isn’t the only emotion he’s feeling. Eventually he converts her to the pallu-covered Good Indian Girl, but not before taking a few more peeks beneath the pallu.

Note: contrast Kumar’s approach in this film with that of Dev Anand, who coincidentally was also parodied in Om Shanti Om. In Des Pardes, which Anand directed and starred in, his character actively encourages Tina Munim to strip, saying the equivalent of “When in Rome, wear what the Romans do!” Manoj Kumar would have covered his face and looked away. (To paraphrase Tolstoy, "Every Bollywood legend is a legend in his own way, and they can all be parodied regardless.")

- From Gumnaam: in this 1960s thriller based on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (alternative title: Mr Bharat and Nine Other Indians), there’s a blink-and-miss moment when the alluring Miss Kitty (Helen) comes a little too close to the dashing pilot played by Manoj Kumar. Watch how he recoils; it’s like he’s been bitten by a cobra! (This lends credence to the belief that Kumar preferred not to get too close to women onscreen because Priapism and Patriotism don’t mix well.) Later he tells heroine Nanda not to drink alcohol because then she will be no different from Kitty (whose only fault, as far as we can see, has been to dance about in a swimsuit). This film was made before Kumar’s patriotic ventures, but he was already primed for a career in fending off the depraved westernised woman.

- From Kalyug aur Ramayan: In a case of inspired casting, Manoj Kumar plays a monkey in this latter-day film - a safari-suited modern-day incarnation of Hanuman-ji, returned to earth to check out what’s been happening since the Treta Yuga; are discos still in vogue, for example? During a prayer meeting a pandit alternatively shouts “Jai Shri Ram!” and “Jai Hanuman!”, but the Kumar character joins in the chorus only when the name of Lord Rama is being hailed (he does this by covering his face with one hand – presumably to conceal his orgiastic glee – and pumping the other fist in the air). When the cry of “Jai Hanuman!” goes up, he remains silent (he does this by covering his face with one hand – presumably to conceal his orgiastic humility – and keeping the other hand down). Because you see, being Hanuman himself, how can he participate in self-worship?

Perhaps the real-life Mr Bharat should have taken a cue from the above scene.

“Dogs produce pups, but a lioness delivers cubs.”(Manoj Kumar, when asked why he didn’t direct films more often)


  1. Absolutely, it was totally in bad taste, Manoj Kumar taking offense.
    Just because he portrayed himself as patriotic(his kind of patriotism) in his films, he thinks he has achieved divine status and that he cannot be parodied.
    Oh wait! Who said the divine cannot be parodied either?

  2. Jai: Your best ever. Without doubt. I think you've 'climaxed'.

  3. I didn' watch the entire Hema Malini song, that too with no headphones, but looks like Bharat Kumar was more interested in checking out Hema's contribution to the cause than trying to escape, probably because she was not Westernized, or maybe he was just a bad actor. Oh crap, no Mr. Kumar, please don't get angry, I didn't mean that, err, I mean Jai Hind!

  4. Puranjoy: seriously speaking, the whole affair is somewhat sad too - the old Norma Desmond cliche of the aging star, long past his heyday, craving respect and reaffirmation. And this sort of thing can become a right royal mess in a country like India where 1) the communal element, i.e. the Khans vs the patriotic Hindu, comes in, and 2) respect for elders/various sacred cows is expected to override any form of humour.

    I found Kumar's interviews after SRK called him up to "apologise" quite poignant - it clearly meant so much to his ego that the present-day superstar had given him this much importance, and he needed to let the media know as soon as possible.

    Shamya: but I'm still so young! Does this mean my legacy is safe and I can fall off a boat like Shelley or someone?

    ArSENik: No, that's just his naturally brooding expression, downcast eyes, etc - in ANY scene with a heroine it's possible to imagine that he's checking her out. But he's really only being patriotic and seeing the woman as an embodiment of the matrubhoomi, nothing more.

  5. paraphrase Tolstoy?


  6. Great Stuff Jai! The humour is brilliant! I certainly was amused when Kumar decided to get angry on being parodied in OSO. However I was also surprised that Rajesh Khanna was graceful enough to admit that he did not find anything offensive in his character's depiction in the movie.

    I always thought that the Old brigade is a trifle touchy when it comes to laughing at themselves . However I also believe that the medium or the quality of humour in OSO was too loud and over the top. If a senior actor takes umbrage ,then probably you can understand why he is feeling miffed.

    SRK repeated the old cliche about a 'Nation's ability to laugh on itself'. All this sermonising is OK only if he also doesn't think of himself as a demigod being worshipped by the multitude.

    When Mr. Shetty from BCCI said that he should stop promoting his films through cricket matches , the great Khan took it as an insult to his ego. Please ask the man , how come he has developed so much interest in cricket when one never saw him in a stadium for nearly fifteen years? SRK and his brand of musketeers go the whole hog in gathering any type of hype and publicity , however have little humour themselves when cannons are directed towards them.

    I only wish if MR. Shetty had a funny bone and had said 'we will promote OSO'but the overseas distribution rights would rest with the BCCI and we promise to take the film to Australia along with the team for the tour down under. We will help Bollywood in going global.

  7. You have missed 'Clerk' in the list of Manoj Kumar's Mostest Patriotic Moments.
    His father in the film - Ashok Kumar - has a heart attack but poor MK cannot even afford a doctor (presumably, they have foreign degrees!).
    So, he puts on the song 'kadam kadam badhaye jaa' on the stereo! Logic: dad was in Bose's army and this is what galvanises him.
    Sure enough, in three lines of the song, Ashok Kumar starts doing the march past (!) while still lying down on the bed (!!)... And of course, he survives the attack.

  8. Dipta: oh dear, oh dear. I never saw Clerk - clearly my life is devoid of all meaning. Poor Dada Moni - as if playing Manoj Kumar's dad isn't a terrible enough fate, to then have to do a horizontal march-past as well. (Makes it even more ironical, btw, that MK is now so concerned about senior actors not being shown respect!)

  9. I watched the first half of Roti Kapda & Makaan twice and the second half four times. Was stuck in Etawah where it was the only movie showing and the only place for inter-gender interaction was the movie-hall.
    By day three, I was looking lustfully at the Behenjees who giggled bashfully from behind their pallus, as the local males twirled their moustaches proudly. It gave me a deep insight into North Indian libidos.
    Anyway, people would generally watch the first half and then exit selling their tickets for half-price.

    There is this unforgettable sequence when Bharat watches Zeenie mouthing "Kitne Sawaaan beet Gaayey, Baithi hoo arse lagaye" and suiting her actions to the words.
    Instead of saying "arf arf" like every sex-starved viewer, the twit promptly fucks off and gets drunk. Apparently that is more patriotic.
    Go figure!

  10. DD: ow! I wish I had seen RKAM recently enough to have remembered these details. I sort of remember Amitabh, Shashi Kapoor and some anonymous chap lying bound on a train track while Twitchy scrambles about trying to do something to rescue them.

    For some reason your comment also reminds me that "pallus" is just one letter short of "phallus", though I don't know why that's important.

  11. I saw it about 28-30 years ago. But it's acid-etched into my memory.

  12. "Eventually he converts her to the pallu-covered Good Indian Girl, but not before taking a few more peeks beneath the pallu."
    ROTFL! Good stuff!

  13. LOL
    Great piece man. As someone who saw the Hanuman flick, I whole heartedly agree:)

  14. I had to check that Clerk scene for myself...hilarious!

  15. Checking out this really old post after having watched an early Manoj Kumar starrer last week - Dr Vidya

    Not sure if you've seen it.
    It marks the beginning of the making of his screen persona. He plays a village bumpkin who ditches his wife simply because she is well educated unlike him!

    It also features an immortal first-night wedding scene where Manoj Kumar barges into his bedroom and promptly gets into the bed covering his head with a quilt leaving Vyjayanthimala nonplussed.

    A fine film despite all its coarseness and broad melodrama. Unlike most Manoj Kumar films that lambast and misunderstand Western civilization, this one sides with that very civilization and exposes the vacuity and barbarism of country life.