Despite a punishing work schedule, if you ever want to know how activist turned Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal remains such a major movie-buff - Twitter folk often look forward to his weekly film reviews before anyone else's - you only have to step into Kejriwal's alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (IIT KGP). It's a 2,100 acre campus housing 22,000 students - a self-sufficient city, with no civilization bordering it for as long as you can walk outside its main gates.
I did spot a Domino's somewhere, driving down to a dimly lit dhaba, several kilometres ahead, that served drinks on charpoys, where boys primarily mixed with other boys. What's the high point of one's social life in such a monastery, surrounded by young celibates, given a severely unfair gender ratio? Movies, obviously - downloaded, pirated, shared, all day, all night. This is probably why IIT KGP had invited me over to deliver a TEDx talk - on movies, of course.
On my way, fellows on social media had already alerted me about how the nation's oldest IIT was pretty much the 'gadh' or fortress for a film called Gunda (1998) - a stress buster discovered on the local area networks of the campus in the early 2000s - that everyone had watched several times over, having mugged up dialogues of the Kanti Shah gem, which is entirely in verse, while the totally nutso Mithun starrer is set in an alternate universe where rape is the national sport.
I began my talk with a censored clip from Gunda. With the audience on my side, I spoke briefly about why Bollywood makes bad movies. Why does it, really? Because we love watching 'bad' movies. Quote-unquote very much underlined, since there is no such thing as a bad movie-only what we make of it.
What does one make of the IITian's (and several male engineering students') love for Gunda? Well, maybe the fact that there are multiple reasons why we love a movie. They could be anything-the fact that we simply love the hero/ heroine on screen, or the songs in the film, or where the film is shot (location), or what people wear in it (fashion). How incredibly bizarre is a movie (with a world view so separate from our own) could equally be worth a return ticket to escape from the mundane. Movies talk to us in different (and unexpected) ways. Critical acclaim, or reviewers' ratings, in that sense, is rather overrated: Which is to take away nothing from the value of scripts, or stories being told. Religions, mythologies, are essentially stories that a society repeatedly tells itself. Films are evidently no different. Do we thoroughly enjoy movies that are only different in their sameness? Yes, in the same way that we reread the Bible, Koran, or listen to the same pravachan (discourse) from the Ramayan, or watch the Ram Leela year after year.
In the context of films, I suspect, this is how cults get formed. Box-office figures merely report the number of people who watched a movie upon its release. What they don't reveal is how many of them actually loved the movie, when they left the theatre. Furthermore, they don't predict or register how the film will survive the passage of time, finding newer devotees along the way, who would watch the same film again, and again, building a minor religion of sorts, eventually.
Andaz Apna Apna (1994), or Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), made no money for their producers. Very few people got to see them in theatres. Decades down, there are enough followers of the two cults, who can recite both films backwards, almost verbatim. Sholay (1975) shattered box-office records. RGV Ki aag (2007), director Ram Gopal Varma's version of Sholay, also starring Amitabh Bachchan, remains the biggest box-office flop ever. And yet, both Sholay and Aag, by the looks of it, appear to be cult films. In fact, if the number of people who talk about Aag had actually bothered to see it in theatres, it would have also been one of the greatest hits ever!
But discussing is really at the heart of what makes viewing movies so joyful in the first place. It helps grow halos over them. Some of the stuff in movies attains the glory of legends, and folklore, or at any rate family secrets shared among the close few. It could be Ashok Kumar marching to the tune of Indian National Army's anthem 'Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja' while palpitating during a cardiac arrest in Clerk (1989). Or it could be ham-star Joginder dancing with iota before his potty in Teen Ikkey (1980).
This is what I don't get about people who walk out of theatres mid-way, because they don't quite like a movie. So what if your mind's switched off from the main plot; hey, there's so much else to observe, embellish, exaggerate, and chat about forever. Having said that, I believe a picture should be either great (cult-good), or totally trashy (cult-bad); it's the middle ones, essentially attempting to be the former that are utterly boring. Nothing you watch still is a waste of time. You just never know.
Films are a religion in India, there are no two ways about it. It's full of myths and legends, stars are worshipped as demi-gods, we chant film dialogues with unflinching devotion, and people defend their favourites with deep aggression and resolve. Also, our abiding obsession with hits and misses - if today it's the Crores Clubs, back in the day it was Jubilees. In fact, so intense was our preoccupation with films completing Silver and Golden and Diamond Jubilees, a celebrated sixties' hero derived a moniker out of the term.
There are some films, however, whose stories don't end with the box office. Though they are deemed not so successful and fizzle out of the theatres in a heartbeat, these films lead charmed lives - they figure out a way to survive. When it's time, a torrent is leaked online or an old bootlegged DVD or VHS lands up in the right hands. Still better, our old friend YouTube throws a surprise. Before you know it, people are blogging and tweeting about it, and it becomes an Internet phenomenon. The film forms a cult of its own. And then there's The Trash - 'bad' films that we have come to love, even adore. They are called by many names: So Bad It's Good, Trashy Films, Subaltern Films.
This book celebrates these 'cult films' of Hindi cinema, films that didn't exactly set the box office on fire but attained cult status later.
For the purpose of this book, there are three criteria for a film to be termed a 'cult film. First, the films that (a) flopped at release or weren't released at all, or (b) are insufferably trashy but entertaining nonetheless, or (c) were successful but not considered 'mainstream'. Secondly, these films gained a cult following over the years and are often discussed, analysed online and have become a pop culture phenomenon.
This attempt is unique in that it celebrates the underdogs, films that were pulled out of obscurity for some reason and had their time in the sun all over again. A tongue-in-cheek ode to the cult movies of Hindi filmdom, its objective is to entertain, amuse and hopefully, inform.
For most films, I have tried to speak to the artists associated with them. This book contains excerpts from interviews with the likes of Naseeruddin Shah (Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro), Aamir Khan (Andaz Apna Apna, Raakh, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar), Rajkumar Santoshi (Andaz Apna Apna), Tinnu Arland (Shahenshah), Deepti Naval (Chashme Buddoor, Katha), Sai Paranjpye (Chashme Buddoor, Katha), Mansoor Khan (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar), Aditya Bhattacharya (Raakh), Rakesh Bedi (Chashme Buddoor) and Pankaj Kapur (Raakh, Chameli Ki Shaadi), among others. These interviews were conducted between early February 2014 and late March 2015.
Wherever necessary, I have tried my best to provide translations to Hindi songs and dialogues in an (often inadequate) attempt to make this book more enjoyable to Hindi film buffs across the globe, who don't essentially speak the language. When it came to classics like Gunda and Andaz Apna Apna, although it felt like it would be humanly impossible to even venture such an enterprise, I have hazarded it in some instances. Some of the dialogues, however, were left untouched.
Needless to say, any list of cult films cannot claim to be exhaustive. There are titles in the list whose cult status many won't agree with. But those are the kind of discussions the book hopes to spark. Enjoy!
While the author has been named on the cover of the book, he didn't do it alone. He had to fall back on a number of mentors and friends who tirelessly provided direction and feedback at every stage.
Someone whom I'm fortunate to call a mentor and a friend, the affable Diptakirti Chaudhuri, writer of priceless film books like Kitnay Aadmi Thay, Bollybook and Written By Salim Javed.
Ankit Saxena, you are a rock star. Thanks for being a perpetual sounding board and egging me on every bit of the way.
Reema Prasanna for getting me started on this path, making me feel like a bestselling author time and again, and extending an ever-helping hand.
Jitesh Pillai for the immeasurable guidance and support. Oorvazi Irani and Adhiraj Bose for help in reaching out to Naseer.
Madhu D. Roy and Parijat Sen- you guys are lifesavers! Thanks for transcribing some of the interviews.
Mohan Siddharth for the encouragement and part of the transcription.
My wife, Moutushi Roychoudhury for putting up with the thousands of sleepless nights with a movie-crazy maniac.
Ma and Baba - Indrani and Amalkanti Roychoudhury -for unwittingly laying the seeds of my filmophilia from an early age.
Ipsita Roychoudhury Shee for believing in me.
The good folks at Rupa Publications, especially Dharini Bhaskar, Amrita Mukerji, Tanima Saha, Rinita Banerjee and Elina Majumdar for thinking the ramblings of this film-crazy bloke can be put on print.
Finally, the hordes of film buffs from my college days back in Guwahati. You guys can give the greatest film experts in the country a run for their money. Mainak Dutta, Subhamoy Roy, Anik Dasgupta, Sanjit Das, Subhashis Purkayastha, Subhasish Bhattacharjee, Arindam Bhattacharya and SO many others...
Special thanks to Sajid Khan, the greatest Hindi film buff this planet has known, for (unknowingly) providing the impetus for this book, through his impeccable shows 'Kehne Mein Kya Harj Hai and 'Ikke Pe Ikka'.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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