A Christmas hamper


A still from Saagar (1985)
A still from Saagar (1985)

Not too many Indian movies on Xmas - but here's a clutch of those that projected the Christian community in the most endearing manner possible

By Khalid Mohamed

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Published: Thu 20 Dec 2018, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 21 Dec 2018, 10:31 AM

The Christmas mood is in full swing. High-end malls are packed in Mumbai, as they are in Dubai and, practically, every metropolis in the world. Audiences throng in larger numbers to movie multiplexes, that witness a surge in footfalls.
Expectedly, streaming channels have been showcasing vintage and freshly-minted Christmas movies as well as commissioned series. To date, Hollywood's It's A Wonderful Life (1946) continues to be the prime favourite across generations. Frank Capra's black-and-white family saga, featuring James Stewart as the quintessential middle-class father, who attains a fresh lease of life, has lost none of its emotional appeal.
The other global favourite is Richard Curtis' Love Actually (2003), a feel-good account of a cross-section of Londoners grappling with love, heartbreak and career vicissitudes during the Xmas month.
Can Bollywood boast of a definitive Christmas movie? Actually, no. Yet, there's a sizeable oeuvre of films in which the principal characters are from the Christian community - who haven't dated over the decades.
Over the decades, there has been a barrage of justified criticism that Christians are caricatured and stereotyped. Still, if one is willing to take that as a given of B-town products, there's a clutch of films that has presented them affectionately and, on occasion, even authentically. Here, then, are my top 12 picks (in chronological order) of popular and offbeat movies that merit a re-look during the Yuletide season.
ANARI (1959)
Hrishikesh Mukherjee's first commercial triumph created an adorable role for Lalita Pawar, who was normally allotted uber wicked roles. As a kind-hearted landlady Mrs D'Sa, who furthers the career of a painter (Raj Kapoor) and fast-tracks his romance with the heroine Nutan, Lalita Pawar turned in an endearing, award-grabbing performance. Also, check out the lyrics of the song 1956. 1957. 1958., a party dance item by Helen in her prime.
BOBBY (1973)
As a director, Raj Kapoor excelled in breathing life into his little big people, like the benevolent John Chacha (David), who took a couple of orphans under his protective wings in Boot Polish (1954). Plus, there was Miss Mary, or Simi Garewal, the schoolteacher of Mera Naam Joker (1970). But nothing compares to the joie de vivre of Bobby in which Dimple Kapadia as Bobby Braganza and her hot-headed father Jack (Premnath), proud of his lineage from a Goan fishing sub-sect, took on the rich and famous. Practically every Laxmikant-Pyarelal-composed song still serves as an invitation to hit the dance floor.
JULIE (1975)
A progressive take on the eponymous heroine (Lakshmi), who defies social norms to become a single mother, the lushly-photographed high drama is notable also for the impactful performances by the heroine's mother as enacted by Nadira. Using English language lyrics, My Heart Is Beating, composed by Rajesh Roshan, the result found an instant connection with the young audience. Sridevi, not quite an adult then, made her debut in a Bollywood film, directed by K.S. Sethumadhavan, as part of the supporting ensemble.
This fun-stacked lost-and-found entertainer's appeal for secularism by Manmohan Desai wasn't his most financially successful film (he would often claim Suhaag, 1979, was). But Anthony Gonsalves, essayed by Amitabh Bachchan, jabberwocking in street-wise dialect, is the most iconic character ever imagined by Desai. The director would often point out that Anthony was inspired by a real-life neighbour fond of playing gully cricket in the rough streets of Mumbai.
Basu Chatterjee's penchant for opening up the lives of Mumbai's middle-class milieu invested its Christian characters with unprecedented clarity and cliché-free elan. The paper-thin story material, involving the obstacles in the way of the romance between Tony Braganza (Amol Palekar) and Nancy Pereira (Tina Munim), was elevated by its snatches of situational gags, pithy dialogue and an inspired performance by Palekar, supported by Pearl Padamsee as well Uncle Tom enacted by the ever-flawless character David.
Director Saeed Mirza's portrait of a young car mechanic (Naseeruddin Shah) delved into the lead protagonist's mind: whether he should accept the status quo or become politically aware about the ongoing exploitation of the labour force. The ever-competent Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil were among the supporting players.
Produced by Shashi Kapoor as an ode to the infinite acting talent of his wife, Jennifer Kendal, here is a deeply affecting work about the loneliness of Kolkata-based English teacher Violet Stoneham. The first attempt at direction by actress Aparna Sen was garlanded by several awards, but, unfortunately, at the National Awards, the jury preferred to honour Rekha in Umrao Jaan, instead of Jennifer Kendal. Throughout his life, Shashi Kapoor was bitter about awards from thereon.
SAAGAR (1985)
Ramesh Sippy, the action maestro of Sholay, changed gears towards the tender lyrical mode with this triangular love story between Mona D'Silva (Dimple Kapadia), a besotted gadabout Raja (Kamal Haasan) and a business tycoon Ravi (Rishi Kapoor). The chemistry between the trio was palpable. The music by R.D. Burman and the lyrics by Javed Akhtar continue to resonate from playlists. Needless to lament, they don't quite make inter-faith romances like these anymore.
TRIKAL (1985)
Shyam Benegal's evocative study of a grand old Goa family dealt with a dysfunctional clan haunted by its past and not quite certain of the future. Leela Naidu as Dona Maria Souza Soares came across as much of a tragic figure as a resilient one. The film was beautifully photographed by Ashok Mehta, frequently lit up by wax candles, in the old-worldly home of cartoonist Mario Miranda.
Director Kundan Shah, after presenting the bumbling comic act of municipal commissioner D'Mello in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), moved to this romedy with Shah Rukh Khan, who is head over heels in love with Anna (Suchitra Krishnamoorthi). Spoiler alert: can the inter-faith love story reach a happy resolution? Worth a re-dekko for Shah Rukh Khan's incarnation of the lover boy which he went on to perfect in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
The Braganza family of Goa, Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas, are deaf and mute. Their daughter, Annie (Manisha Koirala) aspires to sing and break out of her bleak living conditions. Enter the saviour (Salman Khan)! Sensitively directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, his first feature film can, arguably, be counted among his best, especially in drawing tears and smiles from the audience. Subsequently, Christian characters were also the dramatis personae in Black (2005), topped by an astonishingly lifelike performance by Rani Mukerji as the severely-impaired Michelle McNally.
A whimsical road movie by Homi Adajania, here the search was on for a love lost in the mist of time. Contributing immensely to the unconventional screenplay's quality, the performances by Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapur and Deepika Padukone went under the crack perhaps because the endeavour was much too daringly different.

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