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An Age Of Heroes

By Sahil Mehta

The 70s were a tough decade for India. We were still grappling with the fact that Nehruvian socialism had led us astray. Lethargy gripped the Indian economy and pervaded through every section of Indian society right down to the common man. With internal conflicts, and the rise of Indira Gandhi and dynasty politics, despair had spread like wildfire through the people. The dreams of independent India lay shattered by the roadside. The India of the 70s needed a hero. Enter Bollywood!

The 70s were not the golden era of Indian cinema. They were the period immediately after when every aspect of Indian cinema was at its peak. It was the era when we finally moved from socialist and neo-realist cinema to commercial movies. It was the era when movies stopped depicting real life and started setting the trend for common people. Colour had just made its way to Indian cinemas in the late 1960s but it was only in 70s that it broke through the monotony of daily Indian lives with its bright, sparkly and often awful coloured sets and costumes. But look beyond the obvious, the large floral prints, the oversized shades, the longish manes of our hero-dearest, the bun on top of our damsels in distress; beyond the dance sequence around trees to groovy RD Burman tracks and beyond the poor boy-rich girl love story. Look beyond and you’ll find an abundance of stellar individual performances and a decade full of evergreen Indian movies.

The story of the 70s is so long that you could fill volumes with it. I will stick to the parts which I believe deserve special mention and those to which I can do justice. 

If you ever ask people which is the most iconic Indian film ever, the answer would be obvious; Sholay! But if you look for the second favorite, a very popular answer and mine too would be Anand. This 1971, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh starrer is a heart-wrenching tale of a terminally ill cancer patient who spends the last few days of his life spreading joy in others. While Amitabh perfectly fit the bill of a no-nonsense doctor who befriends this patient and then helplessly watches him die, Rajesh Khanna stole the show as the terminally ill Anand. The dialogue at the climax of the movie shall remain engrained in Indian cinema forever. 

The 70s were known for their rom-coms and masala movies. And what’s a masala movie without tragedy, right? It was tragedy for Indian cinema in 1972 when one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the silver screen passed away. Meena Kumari may have been “The Tragedy Queen” in both reel and real life but she was also a fine actress. And she portrayed with her role as a Luckhnow tawaif in her final film Pakeezah. This movie took 16 years to complete and was based on her own love story with the director the movie and two time husband Kamal Amrohi. Also starring Raaj Kumar, this movie is a cult classic. 

This was also the decade when Raj Kapoor, the showman of Indian cinema, slowly ended his acting career but not before delivering the blockbuster super-star studded Mera Naam Joker (1970). Soon a new Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor his grandson, alongside the scintillating Dimple Kapadia became the heartthrobs of the Indian public with Bobby (1973). There was also Roti Kapda Aur Makaan by Manoj Kumar which we cannot but mention. 

But the real star of the decade was the year 1975 which saw arguably the three biggest movies ever. Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen starrer Aandhi was a wonderful film which was unfortunately banned for a couple of years due to its similarity to Indira Gandhi’s Life. The songs of this movie are still hummed by people and played on the radio in the nights. But the showstopper of this decade was Amitabh Bachchan and with Deewar and Sholay (both 1975) he firmly established himself as the leading man of Indian cinema. If you haven’t heard or seen of these two movies, all I can say is “Tera kya hoga re kalia?” 

The 70s were the Big B’s decade as he churned out one hit after the other in Kabhie Kabhie (1976), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Don (78) etc. His angry young man persona and star status persist to this day. Not far behind was India’s first “action hero” Dharamendra. Then there was Rajesh Khanna with his lover boy image. Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor all gave numerous hits in this decade. It was also the time of directors like Hrushikesha Mujherji and Manmohan Desai and of course Raj Kapoor. 
The story of the 70s has almost reached its climax but it would be incomplete without talking about the leading ladies of our movies. While dream girl Hema Malini and the ever graceful Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh and Jaya Bachchan enchanted Indian public and inspired women to be more fashionable, a new breed of actresses like Dimple Kapadia, Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman finally made Indian women a sex symbol. Their boldness on screen helped changed the way Indian women all around perceived themselves. It is truly unfortunate that the boldness of these women has now given way to vulgarity among present day actresses.

Only one final ingredient remains for our story. The song and dance sequence. Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle all lent their voices to the music of composers like RD Burman, Anandji Kalyanji during this decade. So just pick any legend and “Dum Maaro Dum” to their tunes. 

The 70s were not path breaking in terms of genre. They were mostly rom-coms and later a few action movies. But by Jove, they had it all; the comedy, the drama, the music, the panache, the action, the big mustached villain and the happy ending (mostly :P ). The plots were similar but atleast they knew how to make movies then and not just rip ‘em off like they do now. There was originality in expression and a poetic feel to the dialogues. It’s no wonder then that our present day directors keep going back to the 70s in search for a hit formula or just remake some film :P


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