Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Random Movies I Like: Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi

I watched Gangaa Jamunaa Sarawathi in a town called Dibrugarh in Assam, where my grandparents stayed and I have only happy memories of. My aunt, who took it upon herself to keep me deliriously entertained during my summer vacations, took me to watch the film one matinee show in Aurora Cinema.
GJS - directed by Manmohan Desai and produced by S Ramanathan - was a potboiler in the truest sense of the word.

Ganga (Prasad) is the son of a benevolent thakur and Nirupa Roy, who grows up in an idyllic palace (complete with a amphitheatre) where the only jarring note is a bald Amrish Puri's shining cranium.
Amrish has a crocodile farm and is up to no good. When news of his wrondoings reach the benevolent thakur, the thakur gives him hell and he promptly throws the thakur in the croc-pit. After this, he usurps the throne and starts wrestling as a hobby (spread over a screen-time of 3 minutes). When Ganga and Mom reach the amphitheatre to protest against the killing, he slaps the little boy around and breaks a tooth of his (Note: important plot point).

Thrown out of their palace, Ganga & Mom set up home in a nearby village.

Years pass and we cut to a mujra performed by tawaif Saraswati (played by Jaya Prada). Talk about out-of-place names.
When she is about to be molested by a drunk viewer, her screams reach a truck on a faraway highway that rushes over farms & ponds to crash into the kotha.
THIS TRUCK IS DRIVEN BY THE ADULT GANGA, PLAYED BY AMITABH BACHCHAN!
Needless to say, Saraswati is smitten by Ganga's daredevilry and falls in love with him man hi man mein. Ganga - again needless to say, unaware of the impact he has on soon-to-be-molested-tawaifs - points to Phir Milenge message on the back of his truck and zooms off.

Very soon, Ganga meets Jamuna (played by Meenakshi Sheshadri) and promptly falls in love with her. When he is not romancing her, he uses the spare time to beat up the Thakur's goons, save hapless gaon-walons and dance a mean Disco Bhangra (to the tune of Anu Malik)!
He also makes friends with Shankar - a famous qawwal, with a heart of gold and deadly dance moves (played by Mithun 'Who Else' Chakraborty).
By the virtue of a song the duo sing ("Ek ek ho jaye, phir ghar chale jaana") and the innumerable glasses of liquor they consume (the aforementioned ek ek glasses), they are certified Best Friends by the Desai Institute of Camaraderie.

To move the story forward and in a plot point borrowed from Desai's earlier hit - Aa Gale Lag Jaa (where else in the world do they make films with names that translate as 'Come Hug Me'!) - Jamuna falls into a frozen lake and is about to freeze to death when Ganga decides to physically transmit warmth from his own body. This process is a very complicated one and always involves transfer of other bodily fluids as well! Despite Ganga's respect for Jamuna's chastity and because of the lack of morning-after pills, she is impregnated immediately.
Somehow, this sequence is sounding far less credible when I am writing it than when it was enacted on screen. I guess, a masterful suspension of reality is what autuers bring to the table.

Immediately after this, Ganga is sentenced to a few years in prison, ostensibly for killing some of the Thakur's goons but really for letting the scriptwriter to take a breather and think of additional complications!

Anyway, Ganga is released from jail soon enough and as he meets his Jamuna and a bonny son (whom you can call a tributary!), you are lulled into a sense of complacence that the evil Thakur will probably get his just desserts now and all will be well with the world.
That - my friends - is the hallmark of lesser filmmakers and not a master storyteller like Manmohan Desai.
The truck in which Ganga, Jamuna and Gangaputra are travelling overturns - depositing Ganga & Son on one bank of the river and Jamuna bang in the middle of it. Ganga - who normally, thinks nothing of hopscotching over the river on a lark - plays along with the storyline and remains steadfastly unable to find his beloved wife.

Jamuna, however, loses her memory (!) and is rescued by a good Samaritan whom we have met earlier in the film as Shankar Qawwal!
Ladies and gentlemen - what pathos, I say! What Athos, Porthos and Aramis, you may add!
Shankar rescues and falls in love with his best friend's wife. The amnesiac wife, of course, has a strange feeling but is unable to resist the charms of the country's premier disco dancer - sorry, qawwali singer.

Ganga - on the other hand - ended up with a son for his troubles but not a wife.
Re-enter Saraswathi!
The prostitute with a heart of gold (and ghagras to match) lands up at Ganga's doorstep, at the moment he is shot near-fatally. In true Bollywoodian logic (which beats Cartesian Logic hollow!), Ganga's mother decides that if a proper suhaagan wears shaadi ke juraa and observes karvaa chauth while singing songs, her son would be saved.
I can hear some of you sniggering at this point and some of you even wondering who shot Ganga. Let me assure you that disbelievers are hereby excused from this post and they would do well to browse Washington Post for facts. The rest of you stay back for some good ol' fashioned storytelling!

When Ganga emerges from his coma (thanks to the bullet in his colon), he is fully stopped by his mother. Nirupa Roy ordained that any woman capable of bringing back a man from the brink is destined to marry him and mother his motherless son.
Shankar's father - equally impressed by Jamuna's beauty and sense of duty - do a similar matchmaking for her and his son.
After this, Ganga's mother and Shankar's father also remember the times they sang 'Aao twist karein' in college and decide to get married as well! Actually, no - not that one.

Very soon, we have both the pairs heading demurely towards a mandir to get married.
And of the two, Ganga and Saraswati actually get married.
If Shankar and Jamuna had gotten married as well, we could have all gone home at that point and Amrish Puri would have been saved a gory death.
But here, a very important Law of Social Physics (as accepted by Bollywood) kicks in which states - A woman once married (read: had sex) may not marry (read: have a suhaag raat) again, without dying a horrible death. And some of Shankar Qawwal's old enemies turn up to enact this Law. Mithun - true to form - usually despatches goons of such piddly stature with his left toenail but even he is rather powerless in front of a script writer. He dies (sigh!) but not before bringing back Jamuna's memory (the usual treatment of a well-timed whack on the head!) and delivering a poignant death speech.

Reminded of her past love, Jamuna heads towards Ganga's gaon and in a true Manmohanesque scene, she travels in a train compartment right adjacent to the one in which Ganga and Saraswati are also travelling. Poignant scenes abound. Jamuna sings love songs. Ganga finds the voice vaguely familiar. When he looks for the singer, she is in a position where he can't see him. And vice versa.

Anyway to cut a long story short (and thanks to Amrish Puri the Thakur in no small measure), we soon have Ganga hanging upside down above the croc-pit in which his father met a bloody end, Ganga's son sitting perilously atop a parapet (waiting to be pushed by Amrish) unless Jamuna dances in front of the gaon-walon.
Re-re-enter Saraswati! When did she exit, you ask? Shut up and listen, you pedants!
She saves Jamuna the 'ignominy' of dancing like a nautch girl (since she is a bade ghar ka bahu) and dances while hiding in an elaborate ghunghat (since she is a tawaif anyway, remember?). Now, I have completely forgotten how Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati are collectively captured by Amrish. You will have to excuse me for that but I saw this movie only once and that too some 20 years ago!

Now, concentrate. Drink a glass of water if it helps. Take a deep breath as you read the next 2 sentences.
Amitabh Bachchan (who plays Ganga) takes the help of a snake to gain leverage and untie himself.
He enters the amphitheatre, with a gun in one hand and a CROCODILE tied to his back.
In the final battle, he knocks out Amrish's teeth (all 32 nos) and when Amrish tries to shoot him in the back, the crocodile chomps him up!
Go back to the beginning: Amitabh's father was killed by crocs and his milk tooth was uprooted by Amrish. To take revenge of BOTH these actions, only the climax described above was possible.
As I write these lines 20+ years after the film, I am finding it a little comical. But I swear that when the scene played out in the hall, the tension could have been cut with a knife. I know of no other filmstar in this world who can bring so much seriousness to such utterly ludicrous acts.

This is why I like this film (and several others of those times) so much. It features Amitabh Bachchan the Star.
To appreciate Amitabh the actor, you have to see his earlier films - Anand, Zanjeer, Deewaar, Trishul, Kaala Patthar.
But only when you have to see the clangers - Nastik, Desh Premee, Namak Halaal, Toofan - you realise what a consummate professional the man is. He brought such smouldering intensity to the roles that you couldn't help but be mesmerised by them.

You still want to know how GJS ended?
Look, I have made my point. Go and buy a DVD of the film.
You may not get my point but at least, you will know the ending.
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