|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, June 28, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Neglected artistes of gods
1942: a classic love story
Rick, Hitler or no Hitler, kiss me.
— Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, in "Casablanca"
MIRROR, mirror, on the wall, which is the most romantic Hollywood movie of ’em all? According to a recent poll conducted by the American Film Institute, it is Michael Curtiz’s "Casablanca". Nothing debatable about this choice, as the film has been tugging at the heartstrings of viewers ever since it was premiered in 1942.
What makes "Casablanca" the greatest love story told by Hollywood? Surely, there have been many tales of doomed lovers, but few have been able to contrast so well the beauty of true love with the cruel absurdity of the world. This is no simple do-or-die romance in the "Romeo and Juliet" mould. Here the lovers, having picked the worst of times to fall in love, face knotty situations which test their integrity to the hilt. While their suffering wins our sympathy, their moral strength and capacity for sacrifice draw our admiration.
The all-too-famous story is set in Casablanca, Morocco, circa WWII. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical, uncommitted American who runs a nightclub frequented by Nazis, anti-Nazis, refugees from Europe and profiteers. The sudden reappearance of old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who ostensibly deserted him while he was a Resistance fighter in Paris, forces him to confront the bittersweet past he is trying to forget.
Accompanying Ilsa is her husband Victor, a Resistance leader being hotly pursued by the Gestapo. Though still in love with her and sore at her for giving him a raw deal, Rick helps Ilsa flee from the Nazis along with Victor. When she hesitates to leave with her husband, telling Rick that she still loves him, he makes her go by saying that "the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."
"Casablanca" owes a lot of its magical appeal to the dream pairing of Bogart and Bergman. The part of the world-weary idealist was tailormade for Bogie, while the angelic Scandinavian beauty lived the role of the woman torn between love and duty. Surprisingly, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were initially considered but plans to cast them, luckily, fell through.
The chemistry between the two stars must have been great during the shooting itself, going by the jealousy felt by Bogart’s wife Mayo Methot. Convinced that he was in love with the leading lady, she threatened to kill him if he left her. Taking the threat seriously, the producers took out a whopping $100,000 insurance policy on Bogart. However, by the grace of Lady Luck, nothing untoward happened.
Indeed, the behind-the-scenes story
of "Casablanca" indicates that a classic is not made — it
just happens. When the shooting began, the screenplay was only half
complete. Chaos often prevailed on the sets, with the actors having no
idea where the story was heading. Far from thinking that they were
making a masterpiece, everybody involved, including the director,
producers, writers and actors, felt that the film was going to be
terrible. However, everything miraculously fell into place — by an
amazing coincidence, Allied forces captured Casablanca just days
before the film’s premiere — and a cult classic was born. As time
goes by, the heroic, heart-breaking story of Rick and Ilsa lives on,
fascinating one generation after the other.
Neglected artistes of gods
DUE to the apathy of the Himachal Government towards the vajantris (traditional hill orchestra), who accompany the hill gods in various traditional fairs in this hill state, their number is decreasing. If no attention is given to them, and they opt out, the deities will stop coming to fairs in Himachal Pradesh. As per the tradition, the deities do not move without vajantris who march ahead of the gods. In fact, some gods have already stopped coming to the fairs as vajantris are leaving this profession.
In this state, the hill gods carried by men on their shoulders, are brought to the fairs in a procession. These fairs are part of the hill culture. In fact, the Shivratri Fair of Mandi and the Dasehra Fair of Kulu have been given the status of international fairs. Such fairs are organised throughout this state in hundreds.
The government spends crores of rupees on these fairs, but does not pay anything to the vajantris.
Traditionally, a hill orchestra consists of a minimum nine members, with two playing the dhol (drums), two nagara (oval-shaped one-sided drum), two ran shinge (S-shaped piped blowing instruments), two karnali (cone-shaped blowing instruments) and one shehnai. But now, in the changed circumstances, the number has been reduced to four, with two karnalias, a dhol and a nagara.
The same trend is followed throughout the state with slight variations in name. In Mandi, Kulu and Lahaul-Spiti, the instrument players are called vajantris, in Shimla and Kinnaur they are called turi, in Solan mangta and in Sirmaur dhaku.
The vajantris are mainly from the lower castes. In earlier times, they were given many facilities, including accommodation from the estate (Har in local dialect) of the deity adjacent to the temple, land holdings and foodgrain.
Instruments were given to them from the central fund of the devta and the management of the devta also undertook their repair. The cost and repair of the instruments is quite high as silver and gold are used in these instruments.
The vajantris initially enjoyed respect in society irrespective of their lower caste as they were involved in the religious act, but now they are a neglected lot. Both the management of deity and the government have withdrawn the facilities from them.
They are carrying on the tradition only due to fear of the deity and as also of the upper caste people. A majority of them say that they will not train their children to be vajantris.
The vajantris of the Lag valley of Kulu (belonging to Scheduled Castes) left playing the instruments in protest a few years ago. As a result, many upper class devotees have started playing the instruments.
The vajantris spend six to 10 months a year with the deity, away from their houses. But they have no independent means of income as they are paid nothing.
Earlier, the number of deities attending the Shivratri Fair was more than 400, but nowadays it is less than 200. Similarly, more than 500 used to attend the Dasehra Fair, but today, it has reduced to less than 250. The situation in other fairs throughout the state is the same.
In Himachal Pradesh, crores of rupees are spent on these fairs. At the Shivratri Fair, about Rs 50 lakh is spent every year, but no daily allowance, except meals, is paid to these artistes who accompany the deities.
The vajantris are not paid a single penny out of the Mela Fund although the Mela Committee saves some amount every year, which is in lakhs.
I have occasion to drive through Chandigarh at least once every year. And you will forgive me if I no longer think of it as the city of Le Corbusier but as the city of Jaspal Bhatti, Indian TV’s one and only original and contemporary satirist. My heart leaped up as I saw pictures of Bhatti performing the mahurat of his Jaspal Bhatti Academy for the Training of ‘filmi’ Bhagat Singhs, surrounded by an army of boys with the required moustache and felt hat. Since five films, some highly controversial had already been made on Bhagat Singh, Mr Bhatti felt he had become a cult ‘filmi’ figure like dacoits and long-lost brothers, so he was going to train future heroes accordingly. And with a master touch, he performed the mahurat right outside a cinema house which was releasing a Bhagat Singh film that very day.
Jaspal Bhatti burst upon the Indian TV scene with his immortal 5-minute series, " Ulta Pulta". Not only did he do wonderful take-offs of the motor cycle mechanic who takes a new machine to bits, a lorry driver with the unique reckless panache of his tribe, but he also proved that it can be done without malice and, more importantly, within 5 minutes. The 5-minute serial can pack in a whole lifetime of ideas and, apart from Bhatti, only one other TV director has done it so well, and that is my colleague, Saeed Naqvi with his wonderful series showing pilgrims of all religions visiting a pir’s shrine, Hindus at a Christian church, Muslims at Hindu temples, Sikhs at mosques and all mingling in the great Indian mainstream of tolerance and acceptance of saints and wise men from all religions. Doordarshan has the broadcasting rights of both and it is a supreme irony that it has not telecast Naqvi’s series on the Catholicity of faiths’ right note, after Gujarat when it would have carried the healing touch and even more that although it has leased out "Ulta Pulta" to other channels, it seldom shows the series now. Also, Mr Bhatti has rightly given his talents to the Punjabi channels and is also making films which I, for one regret, because I think television rightly needs his genius and he should not neglect a medium where not all derivative humorists like Shekhar Suman and the rest, who openly pick up programme ideas from easily traced foreign funny programmes, can equal the one and only Bhatti.
To change the subject, the plethora
of sports events on our screens has made sports anchoring, for some
unknown reason, a favourite choice of women anchors. There used to be
just a few women sports commentators or anchors earlier, but the new
glut of them, I regret to say, since I also belong to the same sex,
has hardly helped the sports scene. Sports reporting or anchoring
needs certain specific qualities. The first is a firm voice, the
second is real knowledge of various sports or specialisation for
commentaries and a certain style. The pioneers, of whom my favourite
remains former squash champion Misha Grewal (pity one sees little of
her nowadays) and Sonali Chander, who has been knowledgeable and
consistent, the professionalism of both Nisha and Sonali being their
strongest points. The new anchors think speaking too fast in a pretty
voice with a fixed smile is all that is required. One also feels proud
of an Indian woman commentator on tennis holding her own at Wimbledon.
Nirupama Vaidyanathan is very much on TV these days, with that other
Indian who has been doing us proud for years, the one and only Vijay
Amritraj, who is one of the world’s best. Nirupama had a tendency to
talk too much ( we had mentioned this last year), but she is now
exercising restraint and at least does not talk too much during
rallies. Nirupama, well done.