Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ask Jeeves: Answers to Hindi Film Questions You Wanted To Know But Did Not Know Whom To Ask

As I had earlier described, I am one of the world's leading repositories of useless knowledge.
If in some faraway land called Jhingalala, you are captured by violent cannibals and they ask you a question ("What is common to Tezaab, The Untouchables and Battleship Potemkin?") on the condition that they will spare your life if you can answer the question, then you know whose number to dial.

Today, I got an SMS from a friend.
"Why does it always rain in the movies when a coffin is lowered into the grave?"
It is a very simple answer, actually. It just means that the director is lazy enough to borrow the famous cliche of the skies crying when a good man leaves. Some director must have thought of it some 105 years ago and the rest of them have been copying it ever since.

Another question that has bothered India for several generations now is the Ghost Question.
"Why do ghosts always wear white and glide around with a candle?"
Think about where it all started. In the olden days, there would be a vast jungle outside the haveli. Biswajeet would be wearing a trench-coat and Stetson hat (in the UP summer) - and he sees a white saree clad ghostess (or do we use a unisex ghost?) in the jungle.
Now, in those days of B&W cinema, is there any other colour which would be visible in the dark expanse of the jungle? Obviously, the ghost had to wear white. And since the film was often dodgy, they made her carry a lighted candle for good measure.

Those bemused with the plethora of songs would be surely be perplexed enough to ask one more question: "How come the hero-heroine change costumes so many times during one 3-minute song?"
Songs in Hindi films have been described as Brechtian Alienation Devices. That is, they are a trick employed by the maker to ensure that the viewer doesn't lose itself in the 'realism' of the film. Why did I say that? Well, I just wanted to sound intellectual by using words with 3 or more syllables.
Actually, the songs which show a rapid change of costumes imply a passage of time. x costumes mean x different days, which signifies the maturing of the relationship so that the parents of the couple can step in and scuttle the affair.

And in the wake of the great autobiography coming out, there is probably a small question gnawing at every one's minds: "Who watches a Dev Anand film?"
Thankfully, I can at least hazard a guess for this question unlike the tougher one - "Who finances a Dev Anand film?". Well, at any given point of time in India (being a country of one billion), there are millions of kids who have bunked college, thousands of couples who are looking for privacy and hundreds of poor villagers who have never seen the inside of an air-cooled cinema hall. Now, a large percentage of these walk into the cinema where a Dev Anand film is playing. Unfortunately, the number of people in the above categories who stay in the vicinity of - let's say - Gaiety/Galaxy theatre are not enough to fill up the hall. Actually, the stalls of the hall. Precisely, one row of the stalls of the hall. So, the movie ends up getting taken off by Monday of Week 1.

For the gastronomically inclined - "Why are all Hindi film heroes fed gaajar ka halwa by the kilo?"
The answer lies here - in the website of University of Wisconsin - Madison. You see, the average Hindi film hero has to see his father getting butchered, follow his mother walking ten flights of stairs with cement on her head, kill the villain and his 42 thugs, resist the amorous advances of the vamp and lift Asha Parekh during the course of at least one of six songs. Obviously, he needs more calorific value per serving than what is offered by Baked Turnip Casserole. Of course, Chocolate Truffle Torte with Cherries Flambe offers even higher than carrot halwa - but imagine Nirupa Roy pronouncing that!

Or the pedantic ones might wonder - "Why are all the Hindi film heroines sixteen?"
Again, I do not know the answer to the corollary question - "Why are all Hindi film heroes seventeen?" but I think the idea is to have a mathematical progression simple enough for the masses to identify!
To get back to the original question, there is a Section 375 in the Indian Penal Code which defines what constitutes rape. The sub-section 6 of the aforementioned section states that sexual intercourse in case the woman is below 16 years of age is rape, irrespective of whether it is consensual or not. Hence, when the heroine sings "Main chauda baras ka..." (pun not intended, I meant 14!) and then they show two flowers touching, then some conscientious lawyer can argue in court that the producers of the film are promoting rape.

So, those are the immediate ones which I could think of. Write in if you have more pressing queries. Our research team is fully equipped and waiting for your questions!

PS: The common element between the three films is the Odessa Steps sequence, in which a child's pram hurtles down a steep flight of stairs in the middle of a commotion.
There, tell that King of Jhingalala to buzz off!
Oh - now he wants to know how to change a fuse? Well, ask her.
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