Bobby or how life looks up when the key’s gone

Published : 9:10 am  August 2, 2018 | No comments so far |  |  (220) reads | 

I sometimes get accused of ignoring Bollywood films and Hindi film songs in my writing. Well, it’s time to confess: I am a big fan of both. I should actually be grateful to that genre for the relatively happy state that I find myself in today, professionally speaking. If I hadn’t cut school so much to see Westerns at the New Olympia and Hindi films at the Crown, Ritz and Lido cinemas, I would have undoubtedly passed more exams to become a boring bureaucrat.   

  • it was seen by over 62 mn. people
  • The music was by that gifted duo, Lakshmikanth & Pyarelal

But I wasn’t tall enough to get into a cinema to see Raj Kapoor’s Bobby (1973). I had to wait for VHS technology to see it. But those mesmeric songs were regularly aired by the SLBC, and available in cassette format and then as CDs, too. Two are exceptionally beautiful – Me Shyar Tho Nahin and Chabi Koi Jaye. It’s the latter that is particularly close to my heart, and this article is about that one. If Shakespeare spoke Hindi he would have undoubtedly placed it somewhere within his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It has all that magical allure and charm.   

But first, a few words about Bobby. It was a runaway success in India and, interestingly enough, in the former Soviet Union, where it was seen by over 62 million people. It remains an exceptional Bollywood creation in more ways than one. For one thing, it was a story of multi-ethnic, multi-religious love, between Raj Nath, a rich businessman’s son from Mumbai, and Bobby Braganza, the daughter of a poor Christian fisherman from Goa.   

Lakshmikanth and Pyarelal preferred the piano accordion. It was Raj Kapoor’s trademark, too, and he used it to great effect in his films ‘Sangam’ and ‘Mera Naam Joker.’ This instrument is used to haunting effect in ‘Chabi Koi Jaye

Rich, Hindu, and all that, versus poor, Christian and all that. And, shiver me timbers, the father catches fish for a living. An unlikely pair for everlasting happiness, but you guessed right. This story has a happy ending. Raj Kapoor’s crammed storyline and gamble — Hindu vs. Christian, multi-ethnic, rich vs poor, plus the sheer exuberance of Bobby’s music, created a very out of Aladdin’s lamp cinematic alchemy which ensured box office success. As for the music, one suspects that it’s music of this kind which has kept the union of India from disintegrating for so long.   

The music was by that gifted duo, Lakshmikanth Pyarelal. In 1973, Bangladesh as a country was just two years old, and Indians smarting under socialist-era controls were dreaming of more reliable Western (i.e Japanese) technology. Indira Gandhi’s eldest son Sanjay was dreaming of building an all-Indian car called Maruti. In cricket, Sunil Gavaskar made his international debut (against the West Indies) in 1971 and Sachin Tendulkar was still in the cradle in 1973 (he was named Sachin in honour of Bollywood composer Sachin Dev Burman). S. D, and his son Rahul Dev, with their love of trumpets turned the 1970s into the baroque era of Bollywood film music.   

Lakshmikanth and Pyarelal preferred the piano accordion. It was Raj Kapoor’s trademark, too, and he used it to great effect in his films ‘Sangam’ and ‘Mera Naam Joker.’ This instrument is used to haunting effect in ‘Chabi Koi Jaye’. The scene shows the two lovers locked up in a room, and the opening lines echo this unenviable situation – ‘Ham tum, ek kamra me bandh ho/Chabi Ko Jaye?’ which means: ‘You and me, we are now locked up in this room; where is the key?’ which sounds like a really good existential question.   

The two lovers were played by two new faces – Raj Kapoor’s son Rishi, and newcomer Dimple Kapadia. Both look too old to be teenagers, even though she was only 16 at the time, but never mind. She disappeared (due to marriage to actor Rajesh Khanna) after winning a Best Actress award for Bobby, and was dubbed a ‘sex symbol’ after her comeback in the 1980s.    

As for the male lead, this was a time when Bollywood actors could be described as pretty rather than handsome. Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and now Rishi all fit the type (Sashi Kapoor with his enigmatic face escapes this casting). If they went to the gym as Bollywood actors must do now if they are to survive, it didn’t show. If their female counterparts were buxom and a bit on the fleshy side, that’s how the audiences liked it.   

So, at the start of the song, we see the couple all dressed up nicely and locked up inside a cosy guest house room. We hear the voice before the music starts. The singers are Shailendra Singh and Lata Mangeskar. If the former was eclipsed by Mohammad Rafi, it certainly wasn’t his fault. He’s a marvellous singer and here, that nuanced melodic beauty so characteristic of Indian singers, which comes from training the voice not just chromatically but in microtones, comes across remarkably, with heart stopping tenderness.   

After her opening lines, Dimple lies down on the bed, and he spreads himself out next to her obligingly.   

But it seems that he has other ideas. He dreams of escape. And so, in the next scene, they are running in the woods, at night, and her dress has got even shorter. He talks about a thakur (bandit), and climbs a creeper. All the time, that haunting opening line (hum tum) keeps recurring, punctuated by the equally haunting accordion melody line of tone-semi tone-tone progression. That nearly killed me when I first heard it, and I still have that feeling after forty odd years.  Now we see them running together along a sunny mountain road. Dimple looks quite a stunner in that white polka dress – no wonder millions of Indian women went crazy over polka dots. But in the next scene, they are back in their locked room, rolling over each other on that comfy bed.   

As for the male lead, this was a time when Bollywood actors could be described as pretty rather than handsome. Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and now Rishi all fit the type (Sashi Kapoor with his enigmatic face escapes this casting)

But the spell is finally broken. We see them back on the bed, and she starts and shakes her head, as if waking up from a dream. Next, they are seen walking out, hand in hand, to the repeated refrain of ‘chabi ko jaye.’  Today, dislike of Christians has been overtaken by hatred of Muslims. Some contemporary Bollywood film makers, such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali, reflect this mood in technically magnificent but artistically compromised films such as Padmavati. If Raj Kapoor could have foreseen this, he would have kept his two teenage lovers locked up in that room forever.