Screen-Struck India Kushwant Singh

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Screen-Struck India Kushwant Singh - . Weekend Edition Saturday, November 6, 1976...
. Weekend Edition Saturday, November 6, 1976 You Should Read Screen^Struick India By Khushwant Singh BOMBAY INDIA. Late one evening at the .Lamirigton Road police station here, a woman reported that her 15-year old daughter had been missing since morning. The girl had taken the neighbor's children to the-beach and then disappeared in the company of some men. Shortly after midnight, the woman re-' turned to the station with her daughter in tow. The girl said six men had kidnaped her. But when the men were arrested, they told a story diat the girl sheepishly confirmed: At her request, one man had taken her to see a morning movie, then had given her money to see a matinee; a second man had escorted her to the' evening. ' show; all six had itaken her to the late-night show. ' In India, seeing/four movies in one day is considered somewhat unusual. Going twice a day is not, however, nor is seeing the same movie many times. Indians are so cinema-struck that not long ago a headline in The Indian Express trumpeted: '"Movies Are in Their Blood." The story underneath reported that donations at the blood bank soar every time a new film is released starring M. Gopala Ramachandran, a matinee idol in southern India. Poor people queue up overnight to give their , blood and collect the 50 cents that will enable them to see, the film at least four times. - • ••-. • Movies are virtually the only form of entertainment known to the vast majority of India's 600 million people who live in villages and small towns. There are nearly 8,500 cinema houses in the country, and their owners make handsome profits by packing them for four showings every day. Although India is arnong the poorest nations of the world, its inhabitants annually spend more than ^244 million on movie tickets. Last year, India produced more films than any other country in the world, including Japan and the United States — more than 470, in 13 languages. Indian films can be seen in most countries of Asia, Africa and the Asiatic republics of the Soviet Union, though they are intended primarily for consumption at home, where the audience also supports some 300 magazines devoted to • • film —- more than the rest of the world put together'. The best-known Indian films in the West are those of Satyajit Ray, whose vivid portrayals of rural poverty have won international acclaim. But at home, Ray's films'are all but ignored. Indians go to. the movies to escape the poverty around them; they are rewarded with celluloid fantasies that lean heavily on sex, violence and song and dance. In the typical formula picture, rich, boy meets poor girl (or vice versa), runs into family opposition and encounters lots of sex and slambang violence. In the end, traditional values triumph over evil, (usually foreign in origin), all's well and people are singing and dancing. Bad and Worse "INDIAN FILMS can be divided into two categories — the/bad and the very bad," a leading comedian, I.S. Johar, once declared in a speech. "Then there is a third category worse than \ the very bad •— the very dull." Bikram Singh, critic for the most • widely read English-language film journal, Filmfare, agrees: "We ; produce the most and we produce the worst." There are three "Hollywoods" in India: in Bombay, Madras . and Calcutta. Bombay, where most northern-Indian-language pictures are made, is the most prolific production center- Next is Madras, where films in southern Indian,languages¿(including,a' few in Hindi) are produced. Calcutta is a poor third in quantity .—A i though first in quality —- because it makes only Bengali films and . --its impact therefore is limited to a smaller audience. . -. Like the American Hollywood in its heyday, the film- producing communities are centers of outrageously conspicuous opulence — expensive jewelry, big foreign cars, lavish .parties. Though the Government's Guest Control Restriction Order limits gatherings to 25 guests, one recent reception cost $2,225 — enough to feed an Indian for 20 years. Such frills are financed ' largely through "black money," cash paid under the counter to film-industry' people to evade income-tax laws. Authorities, in fact, seldom accept at face value the tax returns of people in the industry but simply.make their own assessment of how much an individual has earned. In recent years, authorities have searched \ the homes of many film stars and imposed stiff fines on them. The glamour and opulence attract a steady stream of star- struck teen-agers. The lucky ones find jobs as extras. Many become hangers-on — chiiniclias, literally "spoons," of film stars. Others wind up as "spot boys" serving tea and snacks in the studios, or as prostitutes. - \ Bombay's biggest and most glamorous production center is R.K. Studios, 1 named after Raj Kapoor, its .founder and chief. Kapoor has long been the leading name in the'Indian film industry: Raj's father, Prithvi Raj, was a prominent actor on both stage and screen; his brother, Shashi, is currently signed up tostar in more than 100 films. Raj Kapoor, who began as a director's^ assistant, has succeeded in virtually every aspect of the business — actor, editor, producer, director. Visit to Studio HIS R.K. STUDIOS nestles.on the side of a hill some 20 miles from downtown Bombay. At the gate are two sentries armed with staves to control the crowd that is always present to watch the comings and goings of stars. Shooting goes on around the clock. I go to see it after dark when R.K. becomes a city of fluorescent .tubes. With me is the gossip columnist Devyani Chaubal, who writes for the film journal Star 8C Style. • Our car pulls,up beside a verandah. Two pairs of sandals, one male, one female, lie outside the door. We take off our shoes' as ( if entering a temple. Devyani Chaubal knocks gently on the door and pushes it open. : : ' ' Raj Kapoor is sprawled on the carpet with a bolster under one armpit. Facing him is Zeenat Aman, the heroine of his current production "Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram (Truth, Good-' ness, Beauty)." She is in a low-cut, white dress that displays her main asset, a be.'.utifully shaped bosom. Raj calls her "Zcenie Baby." "Hi Mutki (Fatso)," Raj greets Devyani. He pulls 'me down beside him and immediately launches on the benefits of air-conditioning. "The only refuge from this hot, humid, smelly, dirty city called Bombay is an air-cooled room. You come to my farm and my new studio near Poona. There the air is 'dry and fragrant." "You have a bad cough and cold," I remark. "All this going in and out from air-cooled rooms doesn't do anyone any good. My doctor told me to give up cigarets. So I smoke cigars instead," he wheezes. I look around the room. The walls are cluttered with ' pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses, Jesus Christ, Jawaharlal Nehru and the lovely heroines of Raj's earlier days: Nargis, Vyjayantimaia and Padmini. Above a built-in stereo set is a placard in Urdu: "Who can put out the flame of truth that has' been lit by God? Who can keep down a man who has God for his friend?" There is a shelf of books in a state of-.untouched preservation. I have been told that Raj Kapoor's favorite reading is comics. On the low. table in-front of him is a bright red telephone, tins of Indian tobacco meant to be chewed with betel leaf; Havana cigars and an octagonal glass vase crammed with gold and silver coins. "I put all the small change I am left with when I return from my foreign tours into this vase. After I am gone, people will know something of where Raj Kapoor has been." —In NEW YORK TIMES

Clipped from The Emporia Gazette06 Nov 1976, SatPage 2

The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas)06 Nov 1976, SatPage 2
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  • Screen-Struck India Kushwant Singh — WP:RX

    nqwk – 08 Dec 2014

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