“Oh no, no, Dipankar,” said the Grand Dame of Culture, slowly shaking her ancient and benevolent head from side to side in pitying condescension as she held him with her glittering eye, “That’s not it at all. Not ‘Duality’: I could never have said ‘Duality’, Dipankar, oh dear me, no. The intrinsic essence of our being here in India is a oneness, yes, a oneness of Being, an ecumenical assimilation of all that pours into this great subcontinent of ours.” She gestured around the drawing room tolerantly, maternally. “It is the unity that governs our souls, here in our ancient land.” (Seth, 404:1993).
What is it with No.1 and Hindi cinema? Actors aspire to reach the top spot. Filmmakers prefix ‘one’ as a kick starter: think Hero No.1 & Aunty No. 1. Music makers are tempted to create & re-create tracks on first love, and viewers rush to catch the First Day, First Show.
Or as the great seer Rahul (SRK) puts it in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, “Hum ek baar jeete hain, ek baar marte hain, shaadi bhi ek baar hoti hai, aur piyar…ek hi baar hota hai”.
What is it with Number one and South Asia? While our generation catches up with the rest of the world and ‘everyone can be a winner’, there are certain ‘life worlds’ out there where one still reigns supreme: Hindi Cinema (how else do I put it?) for one. Actors have never ceased coveting the top spot, even though it’s quite fashionable to scoff at the ranking system: “I’m really not into this numbers game, I’m here to do MEANINGFUL cinema”, or “Numbers change every Friday.”
But in the current decade – when it’s never clear whether it’s the length of our attention spans, or the money riding on a film, or the cast that makes any particular film successful – actors and actresses can, at best, only play musical chairs with being Ek Number. Barely have their posteriors made contact with the coveted chair before the music changes and everyone is scurrying round again.
For my generation there could only be one candidate for #1 Actor or Actress for Hindi Cinema, and it would stay consistent whatever the fickleness of real life. of course, in the ‘90s, most Indian film heroines struggled even to cling to slot Number 2: Number 1 had Madhuri Dixit’s name stencilled permanently on it. Ask Juhi Chawla, someday! Male actors? All Kings: the Shahenshah led to King Khan who faced a challenge from Jodha’s Akbar until it all became confusing with the Ranbirs and Ranvirs.
Number one became part of the Hindi film lexicon after a string of movies were all suffixed with one. From ‘state of mind’ – Anari#1, Khiladi #1 – to ‘this is what I do’ – Hero#1, Coolie#1 – to ‘familial relations’ – Aunty#1, Biwi#1, Beti#1, Jodi#1. But before that, there was Dev Anand’s Awwal Number released in 1990: Aamir Khan playing an aspiring cricketer (number one thing on most Indian minds) and a terrorist placing a bomb on a cricket pitch.
And then there’s young love, and pehla pehla piyar, which is Formula one when it comes to being first past the turnstiles. Rare is the ‘debut’ film that doesn’t feature First Love prominently with lovesick youngsters hoping to find happy endings in Ek Chutki Sindoor. This, as a script involving Ek Dil Dou Jaan, features enough drama, action, comedy and tears for the ‘new hero’ to exhibit his acting and karate chops, while the young woman making her first appearance will hope for enough successful songs to give her portfolio its first decent hit.
Which brings us to the film songs demonstrating that having Pehla or Ek as part of your lyrical repertoire will drive you to the top of the charts: Leke Pehla Pehla Piyaar; Pehla Nasha; Pehla Pehla Piyar Hai. The emphasis remains on one Love: Ek Ladki ko Dekha… Ek Haseena Thi; Ek Deewana Tha.
Ah! The power of one. Ek.
It is important that one devotes some time to the study of “one” or “Ek” in Hindi film lore, otherwise one would remain under the misperception that ek Emran Hashmi hi hain making olympic records in kissing where any serious student of Hindi filmology would tell you immediately that Devika Rani and (reel/real) life partner Himanshu made a record of firsts in film history, for kissing for four minutes (this was 1933 and the film Karma—making celluloid history as the first and to date longest film kiss for Hindi cinema) and never coming up for air.
Or, that for all the good fortune connected with Ek and one, when they were put together in a film title (Ek: The Power of one) it resulted in a big, fat, flop. Did you also know that some time ago Ram Gopal Verma planned on making a film on international terrorism (Al Qaeda) and counterterrorism (CIA, RAW) called Ek with a prospective star cast of Amitabh Bachchan, Nana Patekar, and Ajay Devgan? The action was slated to take place over several world capitals; unfortunately, Ek’s story didn’t progress beyond press conferences.
Ek can be quite the unlucky number too.
Even so, there’s been an Ek Hi Raasta every twenty years (1939, 1956, 1977 and 1993). I’m guessing that by the new millennium and Google Maps everyone decided that the journeys by alternate scenic routes were more important than the destinations.
Ek or rather Ek Crore was how Karisma Kapoor struck a blow for female empowerment as the first Indian actress to ask for and receive a crore for a film (though one leading actor did pass the snide remark “Arey, for what? All they do is shake their bums”). Better days were to follow.
And while the poet/philosopher wrote about ‘one’ nation neel ke sahil se lekar ta ba khak-e-kashgar, it is only Shahrukh Khan who can guarantee that kind of unity in fandom from Northern Africa to South East Asia (and a significant portion of Northern America and Europe). Even though we can all say that there’s only one, ek hi Amitabh Bachchan (or as they say in Tamil, onru Rajnikanth), the scion of the House of Bachchan and all other aspirants can only rue their fates.
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!