Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Watching Amitabh Bachchan's movie Coolie, 30 years after its release

Thirty years ago Amitabh Bachchan had got critically injured while shooting for his movie Coolie.

For months he remained in hospital and there were prayers across the country. It was a miracle that he survived.

I still remember the period as newspapers daily published reports about his condition.

In that era, even the children's magazines that rarely dwelt on films, printed special issues with the superstar's photograph on the front pages.

Coolie was released in 1983 [Bachchan was injured in mid-1982]. I was a kid when I saw it. I remembered a few scenes and nothing more. 

In fact, I couldn't even recall the story line. Recently, I again got to see the movie--after a gap of 30 years.

It was a typical formula film of the era. It was still the pre-liberalisation era, when the hero was not a 'Raj Malhotra', who is son of business tycoon.

Today it is unimaginable to have a coolie as a hero in our movies. But this is also a fact that the story line used to be too fantastic.

Perhaps, it was Amitabh's magic, his persona, that he could carry such roles, where the movie absolutely revolved around him.

The criminal, Zafar, comes out of jail and find that the woman, Salma, he wanted to marry, is wedded to one, Aslam Khan. Zafar forcibly takes her away, in process letting dam water flood the locality.

Everyone is marooned in process. Salma who has lost her memory, goes with Zafar [role played by Kader Khan]. Her son Iqbal [Amitabh Bachchan] is also separated from her mother and father.

He grows up on the railway station, working as a porter [coolie].

It was the formula of the seventies and the eighties.

The Angry Young Man grows up with his Hindu uncle, offers Namaz and also leads the Ganpati procession.

There is romance, songs and drama. Also, comedy scenes like making the omelette while hearing recipe on radio.

Rati Agnihotri keeps swapping radio stations--one airing yoga and the other omelette recipe. Like many other movies of the era, Rishi Kapoor is here the side hero, playing the role of a photographer-journalist.

A typical Manmohan Desai movie, it has all the ingredients of the old Mumbai movies.

The 'baaz' [falcon] comes from nowhere every time to save Iqbal or his uncle or the side hero.

There is emphasis on religious identities and the communal harmony among the Hindu-Muslim-Christian characters.

Then, the Coolie's badge, 786, which protects him. Divine intervention also comes when it is needed the most.

From the wish to go to Ajmer, the famous song 'Mubarak ho tumko haj ka mahina...'while the ship taking pilgrims goes for Haj and the green chadar that saves Iqbal, there is a lot of stuff.

Today we call it the 'old formula' but in those days, it worked wonders. A potpourri of all emotions, everything went well at the end.

People getting united because of a tattoo or an old photograph.

The movie stops when the scene when Amitabh had got injured, comes on the screen.

Coolie is a kind of a 'Muslim social' though it is not counted in this genre, as it was basically a masala movie.

Quite a long movie, it represents an era in the Bollywood movies. Critically you can find faults with a lot but this sort of movie can't be made anywhere else, except India.

Here lies the uniqueness of Indian cinema. After a long time, I have rediscovered my interest in movies. Hence, a few more posts may be in the offing on this blog in near future.

[The movie turned out to be super-hit. The first photograph shows the frame when movie was stopped to show the scene where Amitabh had got injured]