Sunday, September 10, 2006

Once upon a time in Malegaon by Manu Joseph

Long before the friday blasts, this was an unfortunate town. But its young impoverished men used to find hope in a quaint film spoof industry. Malegaon once had its own Amitabh, Aamir, and Shah Rukh. Manu Joseph was there in simpler times.

The Times of India, 10 September 2006 avilable at,curpg-1.cms

This is a piece I thoroughly enjoyed and wish to share it with you. Manu Joseph, a feature writer with the TOI does great behind the scene reportage. Malegaon was the scene of the four 8 September 2006, bomb blasts which killed over 50 people on the eve of the Muslim festival of Shab-e-Baraat. Malegaon is about 300 kms North East of Mumbai and is a major textile producing centre and is famous for its power-looms. Malegaon's 700,000 people belong to India's minority Muslim community. It has a history of communal violence and the town is divided by a nullah (drain) separating the Hindus and the Muslims in their respective ghettos. Nothing captures the spirit of 'India' better than this article, the decaying neglected sense of public order, the periodic societal cleavages eating into the Indian fabric and the creative urges of the largely neglected masses. Hindi films remain a great leveller in most parts of India and this piece on Malegaon spoofs of successful Hindi films is devastatingly appropriate at such 'politically incorrect' times.

Below is what I think is the Zen Image for emptiness.The article begins after the image.

Malegaon is a vast enchanting land with bright green rivulets and undulating pastures where lovers romp as food keeps falling from the sky. But this is from a pig's point of view.

For the human inhabitants of this place whose demarcation from other species is not a municipal success yet, it is a failed town built around melancholic power looms set up by Muslims who had fled after the sepoy mutiny.

With no clear prospects today and nowhere else to go, young men here have a haunting look of being stranded. Fodder for terror, experts says. It was always like this in Malegaon, delicately on the edge, where life unfolds everyday as though something bad is going to happen.

As it did on Friday when bombs went off outside a mosque, disturbing even the sigh of a graveyard. Till a few months ago, Fridays were days of much merriment. Malegaon's own films would release in small video halls. Those were magical moments in the lives of its youth.

When they would emerge from hellish power looms and searing welding sheds, and watch their friends or themselves become part of a parallel cinema that made hilarious spoofs of Hindi films.

From the grime of daily-wage labour rose Malegaon's Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh, Dharmendra, Pran and many others who looked into a mirror and found real or imagined similarities with some men from Bombay, a mythical city believed to be 300 km from their town.

They acted free in Malegaon ke Karan Arjun, Malegaon ka Rangeela and many such films including what is now considered a classic, Malegaon ke Sholay in which Gabbar Singh became Rubber Singh and Basanti became Basmati. These films, against all expectations, became culture.

Shafeeque, a welder who is Malegaon's Amitabh, had even begun to wear sunglasses because he was, "famous". People accosted him on the road and his friends requested him to meet their relatives. But all this ended.

A few months ago, the government banned the video halls in the town because they didn't have licences. Nor did they qualify for the theatre licence. They were considered illegal. They have become clothes stores and restaurants today. Without those primary distribution outlets, Malegaon's unique spoofs died.

This reporter was there about three years ago when they were filming Malegaon ki Lagaan with a budget of about Rs 30,000, an amount that came grudgingly from a lineman with the electricity board after he was promised that his son will be given a role.

The lineman's other demand was that his son and not Malegaon's Aamir should score the winning runs in the film. But the second demand was rejected by director Farogh Jafri, whose red GAP T-shirt was torn at the armpits, "on creative grounds".

This Lagaan was set in 1935 and the story was that an Englishman asks the vegetarian king of Malegaon to swallow an egg. The king refuses and before the Englishman could cut off the power supply to Malegaon, Aamir challenges the white men to a cricket match.

Fair boys from the town played Englishmen and fair girls, sometimes sourced from Mumbai at a rate of Rs 5,000 for three days, played white girls. "They are respectfully treated with Bisleri," said Malegaon's Dharmendra while commenting on his film industry, "and sent back with honour."

When we were there in Malegaon, there were no girls and the local male cast had not assembled on the sets yet. "Those fools wouldn't come for the shoot on some days. But everybody would be here on the day the girls come," the lineman producer said angrily.

However, as the hours passed, the cast of Malegaon ki Lagaan, all of them welders, powerloom workers or unemployed boys, slowly assembled outside a decrepit palace which was locked and the man who had the keys was missing.

When Aamir Khan finally arrived, Farogh remembered one of his misfortunes. He slapped his forehead and said, "My Aamir looks like Ajay Devgan." The boy had got the role after investing Rs 4,000 in the project.

He was supposed to bring more money but after a few scenes were canned he had said that he was broke. They could not change the hero. So they changed the producer.

Farogh faced many other problems. Like, his "cinematographer" was a wedding cameraman and would not turn up for the shoot sometimes if he got sudden wedding assignments. When he did come, he would often sit at one end of a bullock cart as crew members pushed down the other end.

This was the crane in Malegaon. Sometimes, the camera was placed on a bicycle and carted around the characters since Malegaon obviously had no money to hire a trolley to pan the camera.

A scrawny feeble man in a shirt that used be white, who was a standby for the role of Kachra in the film, asked us if we had seen Hema Malini. He said she often appeared in his dreams, "to place my head on her lap and put me to sleep." The enticement of cinema was all too evident in Malegaon.

They were very serious about acting. Some paid money to get significant roles. Some came for the free food. But there was this unmistakable joy on the sets. They were in a movie, and that mattered.

Many of them discussed their future projects which included an ambitious Malegaon ka Rambo and a special effects film called Malegaon ka Dinosaur. We hear that those films could not be made.

And possibly will never be made. Some still make films but these are not glorious spoofs. They are short films with social messages. Those hurried comedies and their grand Friday releases in Malegaon's quaint video halls are all over. Once, in Malegaon, there was art.


aya said...

I really liked the piece..basmati, treated with bisreli and honour, torn up GAP T-shirt(arm pit)....I loved it.

My freind once told me that he likes Indian bhaiyers (not sure about spelling) or lower middle class guys the most. I kind of understand it. When I see the dabha guy wearing goo goo doll T-shirt, I cannot contain mixed up feeling of bit of affection and laugh...

My landlord despite those people just because they are from lower class (which I could never able to understand).
But isn't it wonderful to keep themselves entartain with what they have?

Probably that kind of attitude is what I should learn. Not to look at what i do not have but think about what I can do with what I have.

aya said...

hey, I found lots of gramatical mistakes in my comment....pretty embarrassed. sorry.

xanjukta said...

what a wonderful manner of amusement... spoofs made in earnest, watched in earnest and raking in earnest money...

Dee Spake Trash Anyway... said...

thank u for drawing my attn to this piece... art with a capital A gets its potency from a 'digression' like this...can't help feeling a euphoria and then the death of that euporia as that cinema loses its outlets...

xanjukta said...

yaar...aage bhi kuch likh do....
am back from the trek... i'll call and tell you all about it later...

Abhigyan said...

finally i get my chance to put up comments freely...does what manu write actually happened?? awesome, and once again goes on to prove why our blogs are so fixated with cinema as a mass-movement. guess we ourselves were influenced by it in different ways.

dreamrunner said...

This is one of my favourite articles too. Enjoyed it again.He is one of those few journalists in the Indian print media who does well on the broad canvas.
Nice blog too. Heard about it from Desmond and Farah, and most recently from Peter Dulvy. Keep it coming.
Robin Koshy

PS: Incidentally, Manu was a journalism student at MCC, Chennai when i was doing my graduate degree. He used to be a good speaker too, despite being wound up a lot on his 'door creaking voice'.