Monday, February 6, 2017

An Evening With "Haathi Mere Saathi"!

I stumbled upon a hit film of yesteryears "Haathi Mere Saathi" (1971) on the telly last night. I have vague memories of having seen it in my childhood. I remember it to be a popular entertainer that most parents took their children to. It was an attractive combo of a circus and a movie rolled into one. Good music, superstar Rajesh Khanna (this is one of his 17 hit films between 1969 and 1971) and the lovely Tanuja added to its appeal.

I watched the film with today's eye that is used to generous doses of technical gimmickry and virtual reality. None of that here. This must have been an ambitious project to undertake at that time because of the extensive use of animals during its making. It is amazing how the numerous scenes have been shot in real time with the four elephants dominating the frames (pun intended!).  In fact, in some scenes you wonder if they were emoting! They walk, run, dance, push and pull a car, cry, perform Ganesha pooja, summon a doctor, engage in amusing tricks and stunts during road shows with their master, and above all; try to save his marriage! Earlier, at the time of his wedding, the feast for the animals was a treat to watch and had me wondering how long it must have taken them to shoot that scene. The elephants, the big cats and others come, take their seats on neatly arranged chairs and enjoy the food served lovingly by their master and his new bride. How cool is that!

I like noticing the actors' makeup, hair and clothes while watching old films. Tanuja with her tight pants and short tops doesn't look outdated at all. In fact, her wardrobe fits well with the current trends. Her hair is another story though. Her makeup could have been better too. Rajesh Khanna wears his trademark guru kurta in some scenes, while in others he wears shirts with a round collar, two rows of buttons and long sleeves without cuffs. Sometimes the shirts are matched with the trousers in bright feminine colours. In one scene he sports a black guru kurta with pink trousers! One can only cringe in horror looking at his wardrobe. In some shots, his shirts are unable to hide his paunch and give away its clear outline showing behind them, a distinct difference from today's actors with well-toned bodies and six-pack abs. The crinkling of the eyes, the bending of the head to one side and shaking it are all very much there. The pimples are unmistakeable (remember the old joke Mummy Dimple, Baby Twinkle, Papa Pimple?) and together with the mannerisms and the wardrobe, make the persona of the much adored superstar.

The film is laced with the usual fare of those days. There is a wicked Munimji, an evil villain, an upright hero with his unusual four-legged friends, a doting dad, and a darling daughter who addresses her father affectionately as "daddy" and asks the hero angrily to "shut up" in their first meeting. The story by producer Sandow M M A Chinnappa Thevar is very predictable, at times jumpy and having loopholes in places. But watching the film more than four decades later, I realize that I didn't notice any of this when I first saw it in a huge cinema hall. I guess, the lure of the big screen, the life-like images of the stars, the dialogue, the music and the ambience of the place was too overwhelming to notice such small details. Also, generally you saw a film only once, so there was no chance of looking at such things later.

The celebrated pair of Salim Javed wrote the screenplay (their first collaboration) but the spark in their talent was yet to appear. Inder Raj Anand's work as dialogue writer is pretty ordinary. Wonder if Salim Javed could have done a better job had they written the dialogue. Laxmikant Pyarelal's music is a winner. All the three duets are sweet and with a lilting tune. For Sun ja aa thandi hawa, they put the lead pair in two hammocks for the entire duration of the song. A novel idea saving them the trouble and the monotony of running around trees. Solos are good too, two happy and a sad one, the evergreen Chal chal chal mere haathi being kids' favourite.

A story has it that Rajesh Khanna used the signing amount that he received for this film to complete the transaction of buying his bungalow "Ashirwad". He did set up his pyaar ki duniya (world of love, also happens to be the name of his zoo in the film) with his family in that bungalow. All those are things of the past now. What remain are such moments that have the power to transport you back to those days!