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No money and no sex please: Gandhi casts long shadow over early Hindi film hero

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Ever wondered why the hero in Indian films till the 1980s shunned wealth and sexual temptation, trying heroically hard not to give in to his desires?

According to London-based writer and journalist Sanjay Suri, it was Mahatma Gandhi's long shadow rather than centuries of "conceptual tradition" that led to this reticence.

The hero -- be it Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand or Manoj Kumar -- would be the mirror image of the Father of the Nation, only better looking, fighting temptation and winning, Suri argues in his new book "A Gandhian Affair: India's Curious Portrayal of Love in Cinema".

"The hero must mandatorily be shown to face wealth to then turn away from it. He must be shown to face sexual possibilities to then turn away from these two. In this double about-turn lies his heroism," the senior journalist said at the book launch on Sunday evening.

"This is a heroism of surrender, not of conquest, unless it is a conquest of worldly desires. It is in this twin retreat - from both sex and wealth - that lies the uniqueness of the cinema of this period in relation to any other," he added.

Producers found a way to give vent to their sexual desires in one formula film after another -- always through song.

The author cited "Kaan mein jhumka..." (Saawan Bhadon") and "Aasmaan se aaya farishta" ("An Evening in Paris") as examples.

"It is the love story within which the sacrifices come but the love will spill itself into sexual desire as it will. It needs to find expression. This it does through the song. The hero sacrifices in the story and desires in song. The pattern is as simple as it is constant," Suri said.

Using the examples of films down the decades, from "Pyaasa" and "Guide" to "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge" and "Lage Raho Munna Bhai", Suri discusses how cinema was bound by strict moral dos and don'ts.

"He makes choices inevitably that are one with the kind of morals over sex and money most associated with Gandhi. It is those choices the hero is scripted to make at pivotal moments which turn the plot that then gives this cinema the stuff of sameness we see. It becomes in scripted character for all heroes to act in line with Gandhian morals," Suri writes in the book, which is published by HarperCollins India.

However, the villain was the embodiment of all vice - sex and wealth.

The debonair Rehman and suave K N Singh are a few cases in point.

"The principle is clear: if you wanted sex, you were bad; if you were doing it, you were immoral; if you'd done it, you were guilty," the book reads.

But reality was far from what was being shown in the cinema. Out on the street, the pursuit of sex and money seem to drive most of the men most of the time, the author said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, August 12 2019. 16:30 IST