This piece was written in October 2010, at the request of a newspaper (probably for their Sunday supplement). Udaan was making waves at that time. So was Kanti Shah since it was his movie (Angoor) with which Udaan took flight. Since I have not heard about the fate of this piece from the paper, I am posting it here.
Kanti Shah’s movies, for me, have a strange association – the stench of urine.
They never seemed to release in cinemas where toilets were cleaned. Hell, they never seemed to release in cinemas that were cleaned. Some people even say that they did not release in cinemas. Going through his prolific output on IMDb, I realize that may well be true. For I have hardly heard – let alone seen – most of his films.
But the few of his films that I do know of seemed to release in rather schizophrenic establishments. They were not sure if they were cinemas with bars attached or bars with cinemas.
There were more lungis than trousers in the audience. More banians than shirts (no AC, remember?). More whistles than popcorn. And if there were any women in the audience, they seemed to be auditioning for a part in Kanti Shah’s next!
As we grew up with Phoolan Hasina Ramkali, Veer, Loha and yet-to-be-legendary Gunda, there was a sense of embarrassment. When writing this piece, I was asked if I had any VCDs of his films with me – that can be scanned for the pictures. And I realized that it had come a full circle where people felt it was okay to have Kanti Shah movies at home. When I was in college, you would have had to tear off my fingernails one by one to get me to confess that I even know Kanti Shah’s name, let alone seen his films.
All that has changed.
His films have started being hailed as ‘cult classics’. Like Francois Truffaut’s admiration of Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino’s lionization of the American grindhouse genre led to a surge of interest in them, we suddenly have a whole lot of Kanti Shah-watchers who have become successful. And they are confident enough not to feel guilty about ‘guilty pleasures’ – which probably comes closest to describing Kanti Shah’s area of expertise.
“Naam hain mera Bulla, rakhta hoon main khulla” – a line like that (apart from being untranslatable) sent out frissons of excitement and hails of coins & whistles every time it is said on screen. A decade on, people are starting to re-discover and re-enjoy the political incorrectness and the manic levels to which disbelief could be suspended with many lines like this!
When we were in school / college, it was at best a gang of four (remember Udaan!) in a class of hundred who needed to take in movies like addicts inject heroine. And Kanti Shah’s films came handy when it was the only film running in the vicinity and it was always in theatres with affordable (read: dirt cheap) tickets.
The heady excitement of heaving bosoms, bulging eyeballs, ripped bodices and thunderous voices – that too, for only Rs 15 – was unbelievably economical and a little embarrassing afterwards. Discussing such films – that too in culturally evolved Calcutta – was a strict no-no. In any case, where would you find more people who watched – or admitted to watching – Duplicate Sholay?
Now, with the aggregation and anonymity of the Internet, Kanti Shah and his magnum opus Gunda are popping up with increasing frequency in message boards, movie sites and Facebook. And they have found not only a vocal following, but devotees. After all, the Gunda page on Orkut is reverentially listed under ‘Religion & Beliefs’.
Movie critics and fans across the world always rate the quality of a film on a linear scale. For those who have grown up with Kanti Shah and his ilk rate films on a circular scale – which makes a 0.1 perilously close to 9.9 and films are often so bad that they are good. Kanti Shah walked on the sharp edge of this scale with every single film of his. He was unapologetic, aggressive and bloody entertaining in a primitive hunter-gatherer sort of way.
And he played the linear scale really well too! On the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com), fans of Gunda have given the film an average rating of 7.7. Sholay is 7.6.
Note: The last line is no longer true. In the last 7 months, Sholay has risen to a rating of 8.1 while Gunda has dropped to 7.6.