What was the name of the film they were shooting in Rangeela? What was the Amul hoarding when Shahenshah released? Who has the longest-winning streak in Filmfare awards? Did Johnny Walker get his name from the whiskey or was it the other way round? Who will star in Bajirao Mastani when it finally gets made?
If Bollywood questions keep you awake at nights, 'Kitnay Aadmi Thay? - Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia' authored by Diptakirti Chaudhuri is what you want to read. Packed with 50 lists and 500 entries, it is a multiplex of pointless Bollywood gyaan. Separated in eight logic-less sections and without a contents page (or index), it is a book for dipping into and zipping through. Remember your favourite Bollywood film - fast, action-packed, mad, packed with colourful characters and a little bit of everything? Well, they made this book out of it.
Here's an excerpt from the book:
Lights, Popcorn, Action: 10 Opening Credits
As you struggle to open the slightly oily packet of chips, the lights go off, making the already difficult job of locating the seal impossible. You also stop tugging at the polythene and concentrate on the list of people who are going to fill your next three hours-and maybe the rest of your life-with meaning.
No amount of pre-release hype or music-channel song promos can bring about a surge of adrenaline as a rocking opening credits sequence does. And while some do it with mirrors, Bollywood does it with a mix
of cool devices.
Pre-credit Backstory Compression
One of the most popular devices-till the 1980s-was an attempt to knock off the socio-historical context of the film, motivation of the hero and the emergence of the key characters before the titles so that the 'real' story can begin. It took economy of expression to a completely new level and said more in these 22 minutes than in the next 222!
There were many filmmakers who employed this device but nobody did it better than Manmohan Desai. In his biggest hit, he separated a family of five in a matter of eight minutes. The father got into a gun-battle with a smuggler and escaped with a crate of gold biscuits. The mother was rendered blind by the falling branch of a tree. Their three sons were picked up by a Hindu police officer, a Muslim tailor and a Christian priest but not before all of them had left tons of identifiers to pick up years later.
Years passed and we came to an accident site where a blind flower-lady was hit badly and urgently needed blood. A Christian do-gooder took her to the hospital. A Hindu police inspector was at the hospital to lodge the case. A Muslim qawwali singer was also there, flirting with a lady doctor. All of them were found to be the same blood group as the blind lady and they were all co-opted to donate some blood.
As the transfusion started, a doctor asked them their names. And as the titles came on, they told us. Amar Akbar Anthony.
One of the most popular 'previews' of a Hindi film is always the music. And no better way to promote it than to put it right upfront when the audience is settling down and the stars of the film are being announced.
An Evening in Paris had one of the best title tracks, in which Shammi Kapoor wooed Parisian blondes in the glittering streets of the city while Mohammed Rafi belted out the hit number. Well-known landmarks zoomed past us as Shammi jumped up and down on the Champs lysees while wide-eyed Frenchmen tried to grasp the exotic notion of an Indian dancing in their midst.
Another great title track was from Maine Pyar Kiya-though it did not feature the lead pair. Instead it showed two figures in silhouette doing a sexy (as sexy as Rajshri allowed them) dance routine to the tune of the title track and who swore that incredibly beautiful things happened to them only because they fell in love. The superhit song also had impeccable pedigree because it was lifted from Stevie Wonder's I just called to say I love you!
Apart from the hit music from the film, titles often have customised music-usually played to a set of mood-setting visuals. R.D. Burman had perfected the art of creating rocking title music by putting together a medley of the film's tunes.
The Greatest Film Ever Made opened with a jailor getting off a train and on to a horse, accompanied by the trusted manservant of a thakur. We did not know this when the movie started but the entire title sequence staked out the rocky, rugged terrain that was going to be the setting of the movie. As the two riders moved from outskirts to villages, the tune-which started on a grand scale-slowly moved into incorporating a melody more suited to a regular village scene. We soaked in the atmosphere that was so germane to the film and the music that was going to be the beat to which the film would unfold.
Ramesh Sippy and R.D. Burman collaborated again five years later with Shaan-one of the grandest Hollywood style thrillers of India. And the titles paid homage to the biggest series of thrillers that exist, James Bond. A slithering female figure shimmied and sashayed on a scarlet screen as Usha Uthup's husky voice sang Doston se pyaar kiya and R.D. Burman deftly mixed the strains of that song with refrains of all the other songs of the film.
And sometimes, nothing works better than a quirky new thing. Filmmakers down the ages have come up with some nifty moves for those elements that would bring a smile, and kick off some roller-coaster (and some not-so-rollicking) rides.
The two cons in Do Aur Do Paanch devoted their lives to trumping each other. And the title sequence of the film was exactly about that. Shot as a cartoon, it had animated versions of Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in the best Spy vs Spy traditions of MAD comics. The animation was done in the visual style of Pink Panther and was all about the duo tiptoeing through alleyways, cutting each other's climbing ropes, planting bombs or bomb-shaped diamond cases on each other. As the cast and crew appeared in star-bursts, the sequence ended with the duo being marched away to jail.
A completely obscure movie from the mid-'80s-Jaal-did an amazingly neat revelation of the credits. The entire title sequence was about Vinod Mehra getting released from jail and going around, sick and unwanted. The lead actors' names were painted in red on the walls of Central Jail. The next set of names was painted on the road which Vinod Mehra walked on. A co-passenger on a bus was reading a newspaper that had the names of the writers while a door (banged on his face) and a roadside signboard had the other crew members' names. And as a finale, Vinod Mehra stumbled into a kotha bearing the director's name on its walls!
Rohan Sippy's directorial debut was Kuch Naa Kaho, an intelligent take on the usual love story, although the Aishwarya-Abhishek starrer didn't do too well commercially.
Apart from the cool dialogues, the film had a super opening sequence with the names of the cast and crew of the film appearing on various parts of Abhishek's room and bathroom as he took a bath. The editor appeared on the edge of a pair of scissors, the lyricist on a CD cover, the composers on a music system while the financiers appeared on a credit card. The story-screenplay-dialogue guys were on spines of books while the publicity people were on a boldly coloured toothpaste tube! And Aishwarya was on the shower curtain while Abhishek was on a soap. And the two most important people-the director and producer-were written with a finger on steamed glass. Ironic-check. Creative-double check!
The titles of Taare Zameen Par were suffused with the magic of a child's hyperactive imagination. Created in the style of a child's drawing book, the titles floated between underwater scenes, octopus and
fish blew blue ink which became outer space, planets jostled for space with spaceships, aquaria became playgrounds and delightfully creative things happened.
In the film, the titles happened on a bus ride from school to home-where the former was all about dictatorial teachers reading out poor marks and the latter was where the fears and insecurities of the
parents took over. And the imagination of Ishaan Awasthi was such a beautiful refuge from both.
Before the camera focused on Chamanganj in Kanpur for the opening scenes of Tanu Weds Manu, we heard a radio announcement. Starting with static and interference of changing radio channels, it went on to an advertisement for Vicco Turmeric Ayurvedic Cream and started listing the people who had sent in song requests to a radio programme-anchored by the inimitable Ameen Sayani.
The twist was that Ameen-bhai read out names of the characters in the movie. So, Dilli se Manoj Sharma urf Manu, Kanpur Uttar Pradesh se Tanuja Trivedi urf Tanu and all their friends (including Lucknow se Raja Awasthi and Azamganj se Pappi Tiwari) requested for the song that played on the radio of a household getting ready to receive a would-be groom for their daughter.
The song was from Bawarchi-Bhor aayi gaya aadhiyara...
Achha, ab picture chalu karo re...
Book: Kitnay Aadmi Thay? - Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia; Author: Diptakirti ChaudhuriImprint; Westland; Format Paperback; Extent 310 pages; Price: Rs 275