By Madhav Chavan
Editor’s Note: My last comment about “A song from Rangoon” ended with a brief comment about Bhagwan, his movie “Albela” and how people in the audience used to dance to Bhagwan’s songs. Below is a personal memory of such a moment from Madhav Chavan, a keen observer of Bollywood. Madhav came to the US for his graduate education. After about ten years of studying and teaching chemistry in America, he returned to India. In 1994, he founded an education NGO called Pratham (http://www,pratham.org). Madhav’s reference about Lower Stalls will be the focus of his article in our next blog release.
Master Bhagwan, or Bhagwan Dada was one of the Kings of the Lower Stalls. If you do not know who he was, stop reading this and Google him, watch him on youtube, or better yet get a DVD of Albela and watch it right now. The magic of Geeta Bali combined with the amazing rhythm and comic talent of a not-so-handsome Bhagwan orchestrated by C. Ramchandra never failed to get the crowds going. It was first released in 1951 and had been a smash hit at the box office. This film took Bhagwan from rags to riches. He then tried to repeat the formula and the story turned from riches to rags. In a desperate situation he sold Albela. It was then released again in mid-seventies at the matinée shows in Mumbai. The college crowds went simply mad over a movie that was twenty five years old. I should know, I was in the lower stalls.
I recall that one day a whole bunch of friends from college decided to bunk practicals to watch Albela. How else can you see a matinée show? Someone had already got the tickets. The movie opens with a fantasy song “Mehfil me meri kaun yeh diwana aa gaya”. Nothing great. But, the crowd was already warming up with occasional whistles. The story and the dialogues did not matter. “Shyam dhale.., Mere dil ki ghadi..” tempo was building up. By the time “Bholi Surat Dil ke khote” came on (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVPvqnZu0VI), people were dancing on their seats, dancing in the aisles, some decided they had to be close to the screen and the Mumbai police in their baggy blue shorts and canes were chasing them off as they themselves laughed. It was all a part of the game, of an abstract celebration. They knew it. Coins were flying towards the stage (and no one was bending to pick up the change, in case you are wondering).
As we shouted ourselves hoarse asking for “once more” (who cares that it is impossible), I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and say, “Please sit down, I want to watch the movie”. I turned to see which fool had come to watch the movie… it was my Chemistry demonstrator, himself a Ph.D. student, grinning as he put a hand on his waist and showed he could move too.
Lower Stalls. The folks there know if the movie has “dum”.
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