Bollywood of Swinging Seventies

Ashok Ogra
If the song ‘Dum Maro Dum’ captured the counterculture and youth rebellion of the 1970s, the iconic film ZANJEER mirrored the frustration and disillusionment of the common man. Similarly, while ‘Chalte Chalte’ resonated with themes of love, loss, and longing, AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY represented the unity in diversity of India.
Gautam Chintamani offers an insightful take on Bollywood in the 1970s: ‘It was a pivotal point in history that drew from the past, experimented liberally, sometimes falling more gloriously than succeeding, yet steadfastly refused to be shackled by convention.’
THE SWINGING SEVENTIES: Stars, Style and Substance in Hindi Cinema, edited by Nirupama Kotru and Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, is a compelling anthology that captures this transformative decade through incisive critiques and profound observations by noted film critics and storytellers. The admiration for Bollywood united 40 individuals, affectionately termed “chaalees chores” by Shantanu.
Many blockbuster films of the seventies depicted villains as wealthy merchants or corrupt officials, with the police often portrayed as powerless bystanders. Individual heroes who blurred the lines between right and wrong often provided salvation, embodying the frustrations of the masses.
Prakash Mehra’s ZANJEER, with Amitabh Bachchan embodying the fight against corruption within the establishment, marked the birth of the Angry Young Man, representing an outsider challenging the status quo. The character-his voice, his eyes, his aura-was immensely loved by the audience. However, the question that begs greater examination is whether Amitabh was more hurt than angry at the state of affairs in the country.
Jai Arjun Singh grew up listening to audio tapes of dialogues and songs from films like ZANJEER, continuing through NAMAK HALAL. To Raja Sen, it was Amitabh’s performance in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic CHUPKE CHUPKE that stands out as entirely free of self-consciousness and stardom, refreshingly unburdened by the need to be heroic.
It was the dialogue ‘Mere Paas Maa Hai’ (Shashi Kapoor in DEEWAR) that underscored the importance of family and traditional values, central to Indian culture despite the socio-economic changes of the decade.
Nirupama offers a nuanced analysis of Manoj Kumar’s career, deftly contrasting his iconic ‘squeaky-clean’ image as Bharat Kumar in UPKAR with his roles as a lawless scoundrel in BEIMAAN and DUS NUMBRI, both box office hits.
Alaka Sahani explores the cinema of the big four-Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra, and Ramesh Sippy-who dabbled with different genres and narratives, injecting fresh vigor and aesthetics into Hindi cinema. SM Asuja celebrates the contribution of writers such as Prayag Raj, K Shukla, and Kader Khan.
Amitava Kumar passionately appraises Shyam Benegal’s award-winning NISHANT: ‘Amrish Puri’s portrayal of the zamindar, particularly the physical presence he commanded on screen. His tone was harsh yet meticulously controlled.’
To Aseem Chhabra, Benegal’s ‘cinema of compassion not only inspired me but also provided me with tools to develop empathy for others. It taught me that serious, socially committed cinema with deeply engaging narratives and stellar performances is an art form to admire, appreciate, and explore.’
The decade also witnessed the rise of the Parallel or Art Cinema movement, each with its own dedicated followers. Amitava Nag effectively captures Amol Palekar’s portrayal of common denominators of life shining bright, like shadows caressing the ripples of the sea that engulf the seven islands of a metropolis.
The path-breaking film 27 DOWN, was directed by Awtar Kaul, and featured Rakhee as an LIC employee falling for a railway inspector played effectively by M.K. Raina.
For Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, Vinod Khanna was the first bona- fide boy crush, while the song ‘Main Na Bhoolunga’ from the film ROTI KAPDA AUR MAKAN introduced Varun Grover to Bollywood music. Varun, in his essay, pays homage to the forgotten songwriters of the time: ‘The nostalgia of the 1970s-flawed, broken, poetic, sad, and truly hummable-we still cherish today.’ The renowned journalist Kaveri Bamzai captures the multifaceted roles of Zeenat Aman: “From her breakthrough role that brought her instant fame with the song ‘Dum Maro Dum,’ she portrayed a variety of characters-good bad girls or bad good girls-with remarkable finesse.”
Sanjeev Kumar’s performances in films like KOSHISH moved Gajra Kottary to tears, while his role in ANAMIKA left her spellbound.
The seventies also saw the arrival of music brimming with youthful energy. Anirudha Bhattacharjee introduces the father-son music genius duo: R.D. Burman (Gata Rahe Mera Dil) and S.D. Burman (Pyar Diwana Hota Hai), while Kaushik Bhaumik contributes an essay on R.D. Burman’s influence on the music industry.
”He-Man and the Master of the Universe’-that’s how Roshmila Bhattacharya describes Dharmendra. He remembers him in DHARAM VEER), ‘in a kilt-like costume that ended above his knees.’
Shantanu answers a perplexing question related to Gulzar’s journey with poetry: “Once upon a time, you wrote words like ‘Tere Bina Zindagi Se’-(Kitne Shareef Lafz Thay)… what made you write things like ‘Beedi Jalayi Le’ now?” Gulzar’s response: ‘Aap Se Kisne Kaha Main Shareef Hoon?’
Ratnottama Sengupta evokes the nostalgia of ‘The Girl Next Door and Other Divas’: Jaya Bhaduri, a vivacious, friendly lass; Sharmila Tagore, whose bouffant became her signature, perhaps because she was conscious of her height; the dancing queen Hema Malini making her debut with Raj Kapoor in SAPNO KA SAUDAGAR; Rekha, with less of a ‘Madrasi’ accent and more of ‘Lucknowi’ finesse (remember UMRAO JAAN); Shabana Azmi, with acting in her genes; Smita Patil, who started with antiheroes like Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah; Parveen Babi, who disappeared from the scene while still lapping up adulation; and Rakhee, who redefined the portrayal of women on screen. Dimple Kapadia, with knotted shirts and miniskirts, set the silver screen on fire. But even as BOBBY became a phenomenon, she unexpectedly married The Phenomenon, Rajesh Khanna.
Before Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna reigned supreme with a record of fifteen solo hits in a row in just two years: ARADHANA, DO RAASTE, HAATHI MERE SAATHI, etc.
Deepa Gahlot examines the factors that led to Amitabh’s rise: ‘Post-emergency, the nation’s mood had changed. Rajesh Khanna had lived through the dark days. The age of innocence was over. Now they wanted their hero to be a fighter, a rebel-Salim-Javed’s creation. Those films were tailor-made for Amitabh, with his intense demeanor, baritone voice, and distinctive gait.’
‘The Common Man’s Poet and Philosopher’-that’s how Shantanu describes Anand Bakshi, credited with 6,000 songs. “The wistfulness that informs ‘Kuch To Log Kahenge’ (AMAR PREM)-inspired by Ram Leela-plays.”
Discussing the music duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Deepa Buty reminds us of an anthem, a tale of a close-knit family facing life’s troubles with a smile: ‘Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai…'(Shor, 1972).
Nirupama informs us that Rishi Kapoor had a successful pairing with Amitabh during the decade, continuing well into the eighties: KABHIE KABHIE, AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY, NASEEB, and COOLIE, to name a few. In fact, Shashi Kapoor directed both Amitabh and Rishi in his 1991 film AJOOBA.
According to Javed Akhtar, ‘there is more violence in places with fewer theaters. How can we say cinema is spreading violence in society?’ Amborish Roychoudhury examines this issue with reference to scripts penned by Salim-Javed: ‘there was a common pattern in their scripts: the action scene would be announced well in advance, and the tension kept simmering until it exploded into the actual fight. Unlike Salim-Javed, Vijay Tendulkar’s reflections on violence had a social core. The frustrations, sorrows, and rage of the middle class found echoes in his scripts.’
Nandini Ramnath acknowledges the contributions of minor actors: the unforgettable Aruna Irani; Bindu, whose very mononym telegraphed notoriety; and Helen, who created a space for sexual desire often unavailable elsewhere in movies.
Avijit Ghosh elaborates on minor actors he calls ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars’: the dapper-looking Navin Nischol; the tall and devilishly attractive Kabir Bedi; and Anil Dhawan, blessed with the finest mop of hair. “Among their fans,” Avijit elaborates, ‘they also evoke a lingering sense of regret. Everyone knew they promised far more than they finally delivered.’
The lesser-known subject of ‘opening credits’ is examined in great detail by Uday Bhatia: “The best opening credits in ’70s Hindi films had this same ambition-not just a pit stop to quickly get the film back on the road, but a few minutes of invention and excitement.”
Nirupama identifies reasons for the failure of SHAAN: “It had some great ingredients but made for an unpalatable dish.”
No one is better qualified than Satya Saran to discuss falling standards in film journalism: ‘By the mid-seventies, the face of film journalism wore a decidedly yellow hue. And no one cared a hoot.’
Niyati Bhat presents unique perspectives on the costumes and style statements of the seventies, during which the notions of morality, modernity, and desire frequently invaded the screens. ‘Costumes invite us into the world of a film. They tell us who the heroes and villains are. They tell us who we resemble, who we aspire to resemble, and how we want our loved ones to appear. They leave behind trends that last for decades.’
By the mid-1960s, the contributions of FTII, Film Finance Corporation, and the National Film Archive began to receive recognition. Amrit Gangar enlightens us on this. The period between 1969-72 inaugurated the decade with unprecedented cinematographic works, including Mrinal Sen’s BHUVAN SHOME, Mani Kaul’s USKI ROTI, Basu Chatterjee’s SARA AKASH, and Kumar Shahani’s MAYA DARPAN.
According to Maithili Rao, ‘the seventies are a strange mix of paradoxes. Arthouse and mainstream coexisted with a grudging regard for each other but dared not to impinge on strictly marked territories.’
‘The Evolution of Indian Cinema in the 1970s-A Cultural Tapestry of Revolution and Renaissance’ is the title of a scholarly essay by Vinita Nanda.
Varun Grover becomes nostalgic when recalling the seventies lyrics and hearing Lata’s haunting voice in the film RESHMA AUR SHERA. He attempts to comprehend the role of various important film elements such as sound and silence, montage, the relationship between color and image, optics/lensing philosophy, and explorations in new film techniques. He writes that the ‘defining decade’ gave us the vocabulary of the ‘parallel,’ a stream that flowed with the ‘main’ in its multivalent sonority as we heard the Gunghroo in the mirror and saw the ghost in the Mashk. Nirupa asserts that the book covers music, stars, directors, scripts, and stories. It reads like compelling storytelling with meticulous research and understanding.
The book also includes essays by Mira Hashmir on ‘The Bards of Bombay’ (Majrooh Sultanpuri …), Maitreyee on ‘Fat Ladies of Bollywood’ (Tun Tun …), and Balaji Vital on ‘Few Bad Men’ (Pran in MERE SANAM and many more). However, the book does not adequately cover ‘Comedians’ (Rajinder Nath, Mehmood, etc.).
The book leaves out nothing of relevance to Bollywood of the 1970s: Bobby Sing touches upon the cassette revolution; Shantanu reflects on his grandmother who came to love Hindi cinema; Diptakirti provides a fascinating account of the charm of ‘First Day, First Show.’
The last section, ‘Insiders’ Insights,’ features candid conversations with some of the leading Bollywood personalities, including Mohan Agashe, Subhash Ghai, Vishal Bhardwaj, Rajat Kapoor, Sriram Raghavan, and Ketan Mehta.
It is a ravishing book, written with great verve, audacity, and a grasp of every sort of knowledge. The posters of various films add charm and appeal to the book. It is an extraordinary saga of Bollywood! I loved all of it.
(The author works for reputed Apeejay Education, New Delhi)

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