7 Days of the 70s: Day Five

26 Feb

Welcome to The 70s Blog Mela in BollyLand! For seven technicolor days, your favorite Bollybloggers turn their back on The Golden Made- in-Bengal Age of Hindi Cinema and take time off from cribbing about modern cinema to focus on the era that taught us the true meaning of paisa vasool. Click on the link above or click here to catch up with all the fantastic posts you might have missed.

Vamp Up the Volume

One of the enduring legacies of 70s cinema is what it did to the treasured tradition of the vamp in Bollywood. As the seductive dancing of the Bad Woman got more and more frenzied, the music got faster and the costumes progressively risque – until the more adventurous heroines began to wonder why they weren’t getting in on any of that fun action. By the time the 70s drew to a close, the iconic age of Helen, Aruna Irani, Bindu, Padma Khanna and Laxmi Chhaya was all but over and we were down to Simple Kapadia and Kalpana Iyer as the likes of Zeenat Aman and Rekha among others began to cut in.

Originally this post was going to be another listicle, but once I got started, there were just so many great songs that I wanted to include that it got progressively harder and harder to choose just ten. I could’ve filled most of the spots from 1971 alone. After all, the 70s were also an amazing decade for music in the Hindi film industry. Besides, I was bored with all the listicles.

Instead, as I trawled Youtube for videos, I was struck by how the Bollywood vamp had stories to tell that were often more compelling than that of the heroine’s.

Padma Khanna’s most famous song, for example, from Johnny Mera Naam might have been titillating but its context was truly sad: she was dancing for the life of her lover and herself. It does not end well.

The trope of vamps as girls who will do anything for the sake of their men is one that comes up again and again. Helen’s cat-eyed turn in Don comes to mind, in which Kamini not only goes to bed with her fiance’s killer but puts on one hell of a show in order to delay him long enough for the police to get there.

And then there was Laxmi Chhaya’s bravura performance in this song from Mera Gaon Mera Desh. Never has a Bollywood song begged harder for some fanfic. You know Dharmendra must truly love Asha Parekh if he’s giving up all that for her and her conical headgear. Dayum. (Get more Laxmi Chhaya goodness here.)

And then there is Bindu. When I was compiling my little listicle, I was sure how it was going to turn out: a huge list of Helen songs with a few others thrown in to break the monotony. Because Helen was the Queen. And yet, Bindu was the one I found really difficult to strike off my list.

The more videos I watched, the more it seemed to me that there were three broad tiers of vampdom to be seen:

The first one is occupied solely by Helen. She did the occasional seduction piece that involved one on one action in humdrum settings like the ones in Don and Mere Jeevan Saathi, but by and large her cabarets were works of art. The set pieces, the choreography, the costumes, the context – there is a very definite artistic vision about them. From all accounts she was very particular about her songs and was in a position to bargain with the producers of her films about the quality of her work. And it showed. Helen was very, very sexy but she wasn’t really selling sex – she was selling fantasy. Her most iconic performances are those in which she never steps off the stage or, if she does deign to mix with the hoi polloi, she does it as a mark of great favor. Helen does not beg for anyone’s attention; she commands it.

The second tier belongs to young ladies like Padma Khanna and Laxmi Chhaya. There’s a whiff of good girl gone bad about their performances. If they were strippers, they’d be doing it for college tuition. Their performances are so wild and unrestrained, that it seems to form its own natural barrier against the thoroughly male milieu in which they take place. It’s one thing to admire a chick in hotpants having a jiggly meltdown in front of you, it’s quite another to get your hands on her. Although there’s a fair bit of contact between the performers and the audience, the dances themselves suggest birds struggling to take flight.

And then there is the third tier: the woman of experience. When she walks into a room, she knows what you’re thinking, likes it and knows exactly how she likes it. Aruna Irani is a good contender for it with her performances in movies like Caravan, Mili and Bobby to mention just a few but Bindu was the one who seems born to play her.

When I was little and didn’t really understand the finer points of human plumbing, I couldn’t understand how Bindu got to be a famous vamp in the same era as Helen. There was my darling Helen with her ballerina figure and her deranged Broadway musical outfits, dancing on her tippy toes with feathers in her hair like she’d just gotten off the time machine from the Belle Epoque and there was Bindu with her generous figure barely contained in slinky bits of nothing, slithering all over the place like an auntie who’d had a couple glasses too many. What was that all about?

Sex. When Bindu works a room, she maintains excellent eye contact with the man (or woman as the case might be in movies like Kati Patang and Shaque) she’s chosen and her objective seems to invade their personal space. She might be the object of the audience’s gaze but she retains control by choosing her target and turning him into the object of her desire. It is absolutely fascinating.

The third tier threat isn’t that this is a Bad Woman who does Bad Things like drink and dance in front of men wearing clothes that display too much flesh. The third tier threat is that of a succubus. Mess with this woman and she might just consume you. She isn’t just immoral, she’s dangerously immoral. She promises you the ultimate sexual thrill where you might just lose control. And be happy to do so.


Posted by on February 26, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Music, Video


5 responses to “7 Days of the 70s: Day Five

  1. Beth

    February 26, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    WOW. I love that so many people are doing real analysis (while still having a blast) of these kinds of things! 🙂 I’m going to have to watch a ton more films before I’d be knowledgeable enough to nod sagely with your assessment, but it sure sounds bang-on to me. There’s probably some very fascinating corresponding scale for heroines too. HMMM.

    This makes me love and respect Bindu even more than I already do. I’ve hardly seen her in anything from her prime but find her fascinating in an appealing way, sort of the same way I was puzzled by very intrigued by Shahrukh when I first started watching Hindi films. Should have known Farah Khan wouldn’t promote somebody who wasn’t super awesome! I don’t mean this as a denigration of her charms, but I often find her to look ever so slightly like a drag queen, and I’m wondering now if there’s something about her hunting/stalking/targeting that reads as sliiiiightly masculine. But still very very awesome, of course. Would that we could splash on some Bindu when we’re up for adventure!

    One thing that’s been made clear by 70s Week: I need to see Mera Gaon Mera Desh STAT.

  2. pitu

    February 26, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Dayyum girl you should be a film journalist and spare us Adarsh uncle, Masand uncle and creepy Khalid uncle. Faboo analysis, this! I totally get what you mean about Bindu. She has a completely distinct persona from Helen and weirdly enough, I actually prefer her 🙂 I think it’s because of her cattiness and unpredictability! I love love love her “Mera naam hai Shabnam” turn esp when she strikes the fear of God into weepy Asha with her YAAAAAAAAAAA! Madhu??? screech. :mrgreen: What a little terror!

    Helen comes across as a really nice (if emo) chick, someone I’d have a coupla gin and tonics with and bitch about the ‘nalayak mardzaat’ but Bindu’s the bomb! She’d probably pour the gin and tonic (or narangi or whatever her poison of choice is) down my dress for saying one wrong word 😀 Nastyyy!

    Also: given my penchant for schadenfreude, I must tell you Gauhar Khan is featuring in a remake of Piya Tu Ab To Aaja!

    *coolly sips drink while Amrita has a meltdown*

  3. Shalini

    February 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Vamps and the songs they sing have always been the best and most fun part of the 70s for me. Your Bindu theory is very interesting and now that I think about it – right on target. Helen’s innate classiness gives her a certain touch-me-not aura while Bindu seems to say “don’t worry about touching me, *I’ll* touch you”! To me the song that truly captures the essence of Bindu’s vamp philosophy/persona is “apne dil mein jagah dijiye” from Hawas.

  4. karrvakarela

    February 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    This is about your previous post. Chupke Chupke and Guddi have to be two of the greatest all-time Indian movies. A third would be Golmaal with Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt. I watched it a few years ago and was amazed by how literate some of the jokes were.

    Also, on a completely different note, did you watch Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya? Would be interested in reading your take on it.

  5. Amrita

    February 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Beth – what’s sooner than STAT because thats how soon you need to watch Mera gaon Mera Desh!
    Also, yes there’s a masculine air to Bindu’s numbers – or rather an absence of coyness. All the other women look like their flirting, she looks like she MEANS it. One of the interesting things about her numbers is that she achieves Helen’s trick of keeping the men at bay and out of pawing distance by doing the exact opposite thing and coming on so strong, they look like they’re having second thoughts. 😀 I love her.

    Pitu – ha, confounding expectations, Amrita isn’t bothered by the Gauhar Khan news at all because after she heard Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan were making Sahib Biwi Au Ghulam, NOTHING could shock her anymore 😛
    So can I tell you, I used to fancy myself a singer when i was little and I used to try singing that YAAAAAAAAAAAA Madhu! song under the impression that practice made perfect. I sounded like a cat starring in a snuff film. 😦

    Shalini – omg, you’re like the only second person I’ve ever met who’s seen that movie! It usually fetches me funny looks from philistines. 😀

    KK – No, I havent seen that or Ayirathil Oruvan yet. Shocking, I know. 😀 I was busy catching up with the Oscar nominees about which I planned to write but then other stuff came up 😦
    But will definitely try to catch both of them after reading what others have had to say.

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