+Cabaret by chenboying


									The Ramsays in the early 80s still made movies with stars of some standing. Not the sort that you’d pin up on your walls but star nonetheless. Deepak Parasher, Saarika, Bharat Kapoor (the much coveted Other Man in Neena Gupta’s Saans) and Prem Kishen are all Ramsay veterans. Quasi-stars, semi-stars but stars nonetheless. You know the Ramsays really tried when they managed to rope in a Helen for a cabaret number in the tacky suspense thriller Sannata. Sannata means an ominous silence. And silent the film was not.

In the middle of the film, the detectives manage to get hold of a clue that leads them to a singer/dancer named Ruby or something of the sort. This leads us to Helen bang in the middle of a suspense plot. A much older Helen. Remember this was 1981. And Helen was singing, “Superman…Superman…You know how much I love you. You know how much I care for you….” There was no Superman in the film at all. Nobody in a blue slacks with a red underwear. What instead you had what a sitar player amidst cabaret extras. So who was tripping? The Ramsays? Helen? Or you? Nobody knows because the moment the song ended and Helen retired to her room to catch a quick bubble bath, she got killed. End of story. The clue is gone. The detectives are left twiddling their thumbs. And yet nobody knows why Helen sang “Superman, you know how much I love you. You know how much I care for you…” The absurdity of Helen singing the song signaled then the fall of the Cabaret artiste in Bollywood. There was a point in time when Cabaret had calibre. So what was the crucial turning point? At what point did Helen become so redundant to the language of Hindi cinema that she merely had to be plugged in to sing a random number titled “Superman”? The answer lies in the fact that Bollywood could not digest a lissome graceful dancer who could show a leg or two and yet not be sleazy. A Cabaret was always sexy in Hindi films; it was in the Kothas that the nasty stuff happened. However, the genres started to collide with unerring frequency in the 70s. Random producers who were conversant with the formula but not eloquent with its style flocked to Bollywood to make a quick buck.

The age of stock footage (the random shot of a car crashing into the ghats and going up in flames became a local favourite) and African extras destroyed Helen. An influx of pop music created specifically for the Indian market changed the aesthetics of dance in India as well. While a Zeenat Aman still managed to stun the nation with her sexuality in Qurbani, nobody could stop a Bappi Lahiri and a Panjabi producer from buying an Osibisa album. The damage was ironically being done at the very time when Cabaret could have staged a comeback. Johnny-come-ladies such as Huma Khan and Leena Das were quick to jump onto the bandwagon and start boogying. They had no intention of losing weight because they had no intention of sustaining a career out of Cabaret. They were as contemptuous of their art as were the producers who commissioned them. An unknown starlet in the B. Subhash-directed Dance Dance sang the chartbuster Zubi Zubi Zubi to an audience in the small town of Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. Amrish Puri was in the front seat squirming with ecstasy at the sight of a fat woman singing a re-hashed version of “Brother Louis” by Modern Talking. He started to trip thinking of molesting her during the midst of her performance. All this during the title sequence. The movie hadn’t even begun and it was called Dance Dance. Ironic that a film that is about Dancers could show so much disrespect for a woman who was making her career out of Song and Dance. Such disrespect for Cabaret had become apparent through the 80s. But little could one imagine that the thought of a woman singing in front of an audience would have such gory implications. Amrish Puri kidnapped her after the performance and forced her to sing and dance in his private mehfil. The unknown actress who eventually grew up to become Mithun’s mother in the film sang a “Sad Version” of Brother Louis in Hindi. “Mera dil, gaaye ja, Zu Zu Zubi Zubi Zubi”… Except that neither she nor Amrish Puri knew what the tragedy was all about. The tragedy lay in the fact that while Helen cared for Superman; nobody cared for Helen and her art. No, Helen never got trampy. Your mind did. +

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