There was a time (those sweet days) when we used to associate words with faces. Friends? Jai and Veeru, Mother? Nirupa Roy, Alcohol? Keshto Mukharjee, Laughing? Mehmood, Crying? Meena Kumari, Villain? Gabbar Singh. Those were the days when the concepts of silver jubilee & golden jubilee still existed and the concepts like multiplexes and 100-CR club hadn’t been invented. This sweet time persisted for a long-long time. There was a reason why this time was sweet. The movies may not have been as posh and chic as they are now, but they had tremendous life in them. Like how we sit in a trendy Bandra restaurant and are reminded of the time when our mother used to feed with her own hands those soft mushy bites of the home-cooked food.
Mr. India, for me, is that mother’s hand-fed and home-cooked bite, the taste of which still lingers in my mouth. I was seven, the only movie I loved was ‘Seeta aur Geeta’, and when my dad bought the tickets for ‘some new movie for kids’, I was sarcastic. Dad and I went alone, but the cinema hall was ‘packed’. I didn’t understand why? There wasn’t Hema Malini in it. And then the movie started… as if just to answer my doubts.
What I didn’t do while watching that film? I was jubilant seeing so many ‘naughty’ kids running around, I was laughing my lungs out (I remember tickling my dad in that moment of euphoria), I cried when the little girl died, I gritted my teeth when the ‘bad guys’ did something bad, and I fell in love… for the first time in my life, I fell in love… with that weirdly bumbling gorgeous heroine!
It wasn’t just me. It was the whole generation. The generation that still holds Mr. India in a very special place in their hearts – the film that turned into a phenomenon, a legend… a cultural icon.
Fairy-tale kind of story where a penniless-but-bighearted violin player shelters orphan kids in his big-but-empty house. An overseas villain (not a mafia, not a don, just a villain) who lives on an island full of gadgets and aspires to conquer whole India (not a business, not a town, the whole India) and has a fancy network and infrastructure to carry out his evil plans. Then there is a bumbling reporter who comes in the lives of the violin player and the kids. Then there is a gadget that makes a person invisible. And then there is a lot of fun, singing, dancing, snooping, kidnapping, threatening, fighting, blasting, and what not.
The story may now sound caricaturish, overtly dramatic, & childish (may be even stupid) but it all worked for this film, because this ‘stupidity’ was a master-craft!
Written by the great writer-duo (in their last collaboration) Salim-Javed, directed by Shekhar Kapur, and performed by Amrish Puri, Sridevi, Anil Kapoor, and a gang of lovable kids, this film was entertaining in every bit of it. Salim-Javed had a knack of immortalizing their characters, plots, and dialogues, which is exactly what they did.
There are some interesting facts behind the making of this film. Big mavericks like Rajesh Khanna turned down the lead role because they didn’t see any potential in the hero who is invisible. Anil Kapoor, who wasn’t a big name, had no big hits (except Karma and Meri Jung) behind his name, and in fact was doing not very good at the time, accepted the role. It was Mr. India’s invisible hero who transformed Anil Kapoor into the ‘most visible’ stars of the time.
Mogambo, the most iconic character in the film, and one of the two most iconic villains in the Hindi cinema (the other one Gabbar Singh) is the highlight of the film. But did you know the character wasn’t ready, even on the script level, when the shooting started? One day Javed Akhtar came on the sets and told Shekhar Kapur that ‘he had cracked it’. Shekhar Kapur wasn’t convinced and ‘Okayed’ the character out of sheer faith in this iconic writer who once wrote ‘Mere pass maa hai’. Amrish Puri asked Shekhar Kapur how did he want him to interpret the character? Shekhar Kapur told him, “Imagine you’re playing Shakespeare to a nine-year-old, who has no idea who Shakespeare is.” Mogambo got it and gave us an iconic villain of all time. Mogambo’s first scene shows him revealing a tank filled with acid that can even melt metal and then asking three of his ‘soldiers’ to jump in it. The soldiers, without thinking, jump. When we watch it today, we cannot help but compare this with today’s brainwashed jihadi recruited by Al Qaida, ISIS… the modern Mogambos.
Shekhar Kapur is still hounded by a question, “Why did you have to kill that little adorable girl?” The director still feels guilty over it, but he had his reasons. It was necessary to stop the film from turning into a farce and he needed something strong to ‘ground’ the film… so he killed Tina – the moment that traumatized little kids at that time (including me). Nevertheless, he has a funny story, let’s say to make it even for all the waterworks he caused us. The scene, in which Tina’s body is placed in a coffin and everyone comes to put a flower. It was ‘supposed to be’ a very emotional scene. However, the little ‘dead’ Tina couldn’t stop giggling & cackling every time someone put a flower on her. This went on for a phenomenal time, even the producer had to intervene, but Tina wouldn’t stop ‘being alive and happy’. Finally, after consulting with Tina’s (real) mother Shekhar Kapur gave Tina a tiny spoonful of ‘something’ that made her sleep. Although seeing this gorgeous kid sleep so peacefully (and imagining that she is dead) made the rest of the actors (including Sridevi) burst into ‘real’ tears. Talk of tasting your own medicine! 😀
Mr. India was the biggest hit of 1987; it was the last film, in which Kishore Kumar sang (if we don’t consider ‘Shehenshah’ (1988), in which he sang one song), it was the first film that gave Kavita Krishnamurthy stardom, it was the film that revived and boosted Anil Kapoor’s career in such way that he became an overnight sensation, and Sridevi…
Sridevi…! It’s because of films like Mr. India Sridevi literally became a ‘Devi’. Mr. India blew her stardom-balloon so big that it shadowed every other star in the starry galaxy called Bollywood. She became such a huge sensation that some critics even mentioned the movie should have been titled ‘Mrs. India’. Even today her comic performance is compared with that of Jim Carry’s. Sridevi got multiple names, like Mrs. India, Hawa Hawaii, a goddess in a blue sari, etc. Her imitation of Charlie Chaplin in the casino scene is considered one of the iconic comic performances in the Hindi cinema. So much so that in 2013 Sridevi was given a ‘special’ Filmfare award for her performance in Mr. India. (Filmfare award function didn’t take place in 1987). ‘Kate nahi katate ye din ye raat’ is considered to be the Top-10 sexy songs of Hindi cinema, while ‘Hawa Hawaii’ is considered to be the most unforgettable numbers of Sridevi.
There is literally no end to how deep we could dig into this movie and find new wonders every time. It’s better we leave it to you.
Go, make Mogambo happy!
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