Of love and longing in the Sixties
For me, the 1960s was the defining decade of the last century – the Swinging Sixties
as I always like to call them. The decade was part of my growing-up years and, now looking back, I feel privileged to have been so much an intrinsic part of it.
So what makes the Sixties special? Art, music and fashion flourished like never before. Miniskirts were in vogue. There was a certain kind of sexual liberation. Hare Rama Hare Krishna, that cult Hindi film of 1971, exemplified this feel a few years later, portraying the decadence of the hippie culture.
The Sixties was the age of music, perhaps the kind you had never quite heard before. On the international stage, the Beatles formed a cult rock band in 1960 leading on to Beatlemania three years later. The Fab Four had fans drooling over them, from Love Me Do to Abbey Road and for years later, making them possibly the best-selling musical band in history.
There was the Rolling Stones who came together for the first time in 1962 and, like the Beatles, reflected the youthfulness and counterculture of the Sixties. Rooted more in the traditional rhythm-and-blues sort of music, the Stones had a great run through the late Sixties up until the early Seventies, starting with Their Satanic Majesties Request on to Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. There was Cliff Richard, too, who became a huge star in the UK, only to be overtaken by the Beatles.
And, of course, there was Elvis Presley who, despite taking a long break during the decade, remained in public consciousness, thanks to his making a foray into Hollywood films and doing the soundtrack albums in them. And 1968-73 heralded his comeback years. Who can forget From Elvis in Memphis, which was released in 1969? Two years later, he would meet US President Richard Nixon at the White House. And, just like Dev Anand tried to do with Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Presley would decry the hippie cult.
For me, the 1960s bring vivid memories of Calcutta, of going to school in a hand-pulled rickshaw, waiting for mother to come and pick me up, forging friendships with some of the boys in class and, later, falling secretly in love with a teacher or two and studying hard to remain at the top of the class.
Most evenings, sister and I would tune in to AIR’s Jayamala to listen to Hindi film songs and on weekend afternoons to Lunchtime Variety and Musical Bandbox. Jim Reeves was a favourite, especially his Welcome to My World, I Love You Because, I Won’t Forget You, and his Christmas songs.
However, most of the songs I remember listening to often on the radio during the period and which have grown on me over the years were all from Hindi films. It’s impossible to name all of them but here is a flavour.
How can I forget the peppy bar bar dekho, hazaar bar dekho from a little-known film called China Town? Sung with verve and panache by who else but Mohammed Rafi, I find myself still humming the song sometimes. Shammi Kapoor is on the dance floor, guitar in hand, and as he grooves in his typical style with the young men and women of the generation, it is the feeling of the yearning for freedom and exuberance that the song exemplifies, so reflective of those years.
Shammi Kapoor was the dapper dancing hero of the Sixties who, more than any other actor, exemplified the carefree spirit of those years. There are so many of his films you itch to mention, but Brahmachari is a film that I love watching every time it appears on some television channel. The film won for Kapoor the Filmfare Best Actor Award; it also bagged the Filmfare Best Film Award for 1968.
Awards apart, it is the songs in the film that give you goosebumps – songs of love, of feelings seemingly unrequited but not quite, all a reflection of the era of love and longing and a breath fresh air. Dil ke jharokhe mein tujhko bithakar is a Rafi classic that tugs at your heart strings; chakke mein chakka, chakke pe gaadi has Kapoor taking a group of small children, all orphans, around the streets of Bombay in an open convertible, possibly a Ford; and aajkal tere mere pyar ke charche har jubaan par has a vintage Kapoor and a young Mumtaz keeping pace with the magic of Shankar-Jaikishen and Rafi.
There were two other actors of the Sixties who caught the audience’s imagination. One was Joy Mukherjee and the other, Biswajeet Chatterjee. Neither was in the league of Shammi Kapoor, but both of them were lucky to have starred in several hit films and to have been part of the songs (mostly sung by Rafi) in them, which have stayed for generations. To be fair, they carved a niche for themselves and warmed the cockles of many a heart.
A couple of songs from Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, banda parwar tham lo jigar and lakhon hein nigah mein, zindagi ki rah mein, stand out. It’s a Nasir Hussain film starring his muse, Asha Parekh, and a remake of I’ve Come Back with the Same Heart, an English film. In lakhon hein, shot in parts on the Dal Lake and in Gulmarg, the handsome Mukherjee is looking for a woman to fall in love. He bumps into many women all over the place but can’t find the one he wants. And, finally, in banda parwar, he finds Parekh to be the perfect woman for him and woos her ever so effectively.
Some of Biswajeet’s memorable films include Bees Sal Baad, Kohra, Mere Sanam, Kismet and Do Kaliyan. One of the classic songs, sung by Rafi to O.P. Nayyar’s irresistible beat, which has Biswajeet playing the eligible-boy-next-door kind of role he enjoyed, is pukaarta chala hoon mein from Mere Sanam. The scene is reminiscent of the mood of the Sixties. A group of girls on a holiday, not a care in world, cycling along a picturesque avenue, with an eligible bachelor following in an open jeep, a song on his lips to entice the woman he has eyes for.
The words of the song roughly translated go like this: I am out seeking love... seeking you in every lane, in the time of spring... I can now feel the comforting shade of your tresses... and can see your loving look... it’s comforting to know somebody takes care to turn back and look at me... even the clouds seem to have descended to earth and if I keep up with such passion am sure I’ll succeed in having an effect on you. Biswajit’s efforts do bring the desired effect. Parekh later wonders where could he go now that he is so smitten by her love – Asha Bhole’s jaiye aap kahan jayenge giving her a leg-up.
Three years later came Do Kaliyan. The film may have bombed at the box office, but not without giving us a magical song – tumhari nazar kyon khafa ho gayi. It was one of the first songs I grew to love listening to. Biswajeet here has the comely Mala Sinha for company. But, frankly, it’s the singers and Ravi’s heady music that make the song so infectious. Saza hi sahi, aaj kuch toh mila hai... saza mein bhi ek pyar ka silsila hai… mohabbat ka ab kuch bhi anjaam ho... mulaqaat ki ibtida ho gayi... (punishment yes, I’ve received at least something today... there is love in punishment too... no matter where love leads me... at least I’ve got to meet you).
This piece will be incomplete without bringing Shammi Kapoor back into the picture and mentioning the serenading deewana hua badal, sawan ki ghata chayi from Kashmir ki Kali. It’s a bit of a raw Sharmila Tagore you see. Even she cannot but help get into the groove as Kapoor pursues her in Kashmir, heaven on earth. The clouds have gone crazy, he says, because I wasn’t destined to meet somebody like you… my heart’s gone mad with joy and why shouldn’t it? Tagore reciprocates, saying her mind is in a whirl and feels her heart flutter.
Such were the hopes and aspirations of the people of that generation, after what they might have called years of emptiness. Andsuch were the songs and films that broadened horizons and provided new hope, hope that spring will always come.
So, that then was just a flavour of the Swinging Sixties. Beckoning were the Seventies. On the horizon shone another star the like of which the Indian film industry has quite not seen, before or after. He is a called a phenomenon by some. And he was. But that’s another story.
*This article had earlier appeared in Provoke Lifestyle