Transformers of Bollywood

Writer duo Salim-Javed incepted masala movie idea through Yadon Ki Baaraat in B-town that excelled after emergence of Amitabh Bachchan and his ‘Angry Young Man’ image


A month after Raj Kapoor’s Bobby introduced young romance to Hindi cinema through his 1973 cult classic Bobby, Nassir Hussain pushed the envelope further with arguably India’s first ‘masala’ film, Yaadon Ki Baaraat.

Unlike Bobby, Yaadon Ki Baaraat was an ensemble that could not be slotted into any one genre. It had elements of romance, action, thrill, revenge, musical and family drama. Today, these are considered the ingredients of a quintessential Bollywood potboiler. It was in fact the film that set the ball rolling for the transformation of Hindi cinema into Bollywood. Prior to that, Hindi films either reflected a macro context or borrowed tales from rich folklore and history of the subcontinent. It was only with Yaadon Ki Baaraat that Hindi cinema found a language that was custom-made for its diverse audience.

While Rishi Kapoor, who starred in Bobby, argued that the ‘storm that Amitabh Bachchan was’ never allowed his young romances to be the audience’s primary viewing choice, Nasir’s template of a masala film persisted. Salim-Javed had already introduced Bachchan as the Angry Young Man earlier that year through Prakash Mehra’s crime action drama Zanjeer. He was the lone wolf who was more interested in avenging the wrongs done to him by the system than the proverbial running around the trees.

Salim-Javed painted Bachchan’s Sholay co-star Dharmendra with the same colours in Yaadon Ki Baaraat, a first for an onscreen hero regaled with love letters for his roles as a heartthrob He-Man. As the Bachchan juggernaut hit the 1970s Bollywood with all its might, the Yaadon Ki Baaraat formula held on owing to its appeal that cut across fans of different genres. The film revolved around three brothers who get separated in childhood (four years before Manmohan Shetty’s Amar Akbar Anthony released) and tread different paths, growing up into a criminal (Dharmendra), a servant (Vijay Arora) and a musician (Tariq Khan). While Dharmendra represented the crime, pain and action component, Vijay stood for the young romance, Tariq glued the film together with its music and family quotient.

The premise of brothers getting separated in the childhood only to reunite as adults was not entirely newly even then. But its modern setting set the film apart. The milieu was not a village and the cause of separation was not getting lost in the Kumbh Mela. Their separation episode was key to how their individual lives progressed thereon. Dharmendra was on the lookout of Shakaal, the murderer of his parents, Tariq searched for his abandoned brothers and Vijay, like a hopeless romantic, set out to find love. Colloquial English also made its presence felt in dialogues like “Come on kids” and “Leave me alone” (as opposed to the damsel in distress calls of “Chhod do mujhe”).

Another aspect of the film that proclaimed that it belonged to an era ahead of its time was the music.

RD Burman upped the ante with his sound design, ironing the oscillations and blunting the jags in his composition. Accompanied by seasoned lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri, Burman concocted music that caught the attention of a generation that was gradually gravitating towards Western music. While ‘Yaadon Ki Baaraat’ was the thematic title track, the best of the lot remains ‘Chura Liya’, the iconic smoldering love song that tiptoed on the fine line between coyness and sensuality, just like the actress it was filmed on — Zeenat Aman.

Zeenat blurred the lines between the chaste heroine, who was supposed to romance the hero with zero assertion of her own individuality, and the vamp, which highlighted her sexuality and ‘modern’ outfits through slow dances on seductive songs. She, however, did not ‘don’ negative shades like Helen or Aruna Irani. She merely humanized the heroine and stood out as a glamorous leading lady, which Dimple Kapadia also toyed with in Bobby but not as bold as Zeenat.  All these elements mentioned above constitute a mainstream Bollywood film as we know it today.