By Soroor Ahmed
The death of so many personalities from the world of entertainment in the last over one year––incidentally all of them male––has once again raised a very pertinent question as to why 1960s and 1970s are still regarded as the golden era of Indian cinema. Why this sobriquet has not been given to the later decades when so many films are hitting the silver screen and so many heroes and heroines are around.
What is so special about those two decades?
The answer needs to be traced in the manner in which students of English literature ask what was so special about Elizabethan era––late 16th century and even a few years of early 17th century––that it produced great dramatists like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe (he died at the age of 29), Ben Jonson etc. Why England could not produce playwrights of this stature later or before this period. Incidentally their emergence coincided with the advent of Renaissance.
Though the film industry in India has its origin in the pre-Independence era it was only after 1947 that it really matured and prospered. Actors like Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan), Sunil Dutt, Nargis, Madhubala etc were some of the earlier heroes and heroines. Mother India (1957) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) were among great works of those earlier years.
The advent of the likes of Rajesh Khanna gave a new impetus to the film industry. They came about half a generation after Dilip Kumar and got a good opportunity to give a new life to the world of film.
It was the era of romantic films and melodious songs. Yet many of them were family films and people never bothered to watch them together. Unlike today when everything is stark, open and even nude that was the era which can be called half-concealed and half-revealed. Often there was a touch of innocence among the protagonists. Romance flourishes in such background and not in this world of open relationship.
That was the era before the advent of television and cinema was the best mode of modern entertainment. Now people have enormous choices and can watch anything on television sitting at home. Now there are different forms of entertainment and the society, as such, can not keep track on all of them.
Those were the days when even the top echelon of the society would watch Hindi or say Hindustani––that is mixture of Hindi and Urdu––films. Now this class love to watch English movies and brag as if they are cut above from the society. They think that watching Hindi films is the favourite pastime of lesser mortals.
Unlike today many of those involved in the film industry then had certain commitments. They had Left leaning and took up several serious issues too. Literature, especially Urdu, played a very important role in making songs and dialogues rich. So if Punjab and Bengal produced a large number of actors and actresses it was the then heartland of Urdu, that is Uttar Pradesh, which produced the composers, lyricists and producers like Kaifi Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Shakeel Badiyuni, Anwar Farukhabadi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Muzaffar Ali etc.
Today the world has become less poetic and more prosaic. Films are still being produced but they are no match to the one made in the heydays of 1960s and 1970s.