Did you know that hurricanes (also called other names like typhoons) hit a few countries more or less once each year? China, the West Indies and Cuba, the United States, all are hit by them at least once a year at an average. If you knew that, perhaps then you may also know that weatherpeople have been naming hurricanes after people, so that we are able to identify just which hurricane is being talked about, especially since even two hurricanes sometimes happen simultaneously. Now, most weatherpeople are men, so till recently they named hurricanes after women. Logic? If “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, and if nature keeps sending us samples of fury, then the comparison is valid, and the argument settled. Some reasoning, that. With an increasingly-just society, this unkind naming has had to be given up, so that now hurricanes are named alternately, in a man-woman-man-woman way.
We turn our attention to the powerful world of our cinema, where too it’s the men who have always been in the driver’s seat. In production, direction, songwriting, music composing, story and dialogue writing, and so many aspects of filmmaking, men have been in charge. Consequently, they write the better roles for men, give them more speaking lines—always a good barometer of importance in a film—and generally push the women into subsidiary roles. Not just that, so many times they make it clear from the film’s title itself that it’s about the man in the story, so please come to watch his heroics.
Actors have no issues with that at all. Many of them do not want to play second fiddle to an actress in the narrative, or even be around in films whose titles tell you they are about the woman. But there are exceptions of actors who don’t mind that at all, with Ashok Kumar leading that brigade. Here are some such films in which he showed up: Achhut Kanya (1936), Najma (1943), Begum (1945), Padmini (1948), Jalpari (1952), Parineeta (1952), Ragini (1958), Kalpana (1960), Aarti (1962), Bandini (1963) and Mamta (1966).
Dharmendra was easily one of them too, appearing in films that were making a prima facie announcement of the importance of ladies in the story: Anpadh (1962), Bandini (1963), Purnima (1965), Anupama (1966), Seeta Aur Geeta (1972, with Sanjeev), and Razia Sultan (1982). Balraj Sahni was another, for instance in Seema (1955), Kathputli (1957), Lajwanti (1958), and Anuradha (1960). Manoj Kumar was another actor who accepted roles in women-centric cinema. Dr Vidya (1962), Anita (1967) and Neel Kamal (1968) come to mind. Sunil Dutt was fine with the heroine getting more importance in Sujata (1959), Amrapali (1966), Nartaki (1963), and Jwala (1970). Guru Dutt was one too. He executed relatively-minor roles opposite heroines in Baaz (1953), Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), Bahurani (1963), and Suhagan (1964). Pradeep Kumar let the ladies take more importance in Anarkali (1953), Aarti (1962), Chitralekha (1964), and Noor Jahan (1968). Shashi Kapoor in Benazir (1964), Abhinetri (1970), and Sharmilee (1971).
On the other hand, Dilip Kumar for one was not comfortable in doing subsidiary roles. He accepted being cast opposite Madhubala in Tarana (1951), which was Madhubala’s name in the story, perhaps because around this time he was deeply in love with that woman. Their love story got over when she was replaced by Vyjayanthimala in Naya Daur (1958). And he did accept the role in Madhumati (1958), but you wonder if he was still coping with his Madhu hangover. Neither was Dev Anand happy in executing subsidiary roles. The only occasions that he accepted being in films named eponymously on their heroine were in Vidya (1948) and Jeet (1949). But wait. Is it a coincidence that the heroine of both these features was Suraiya, who this hero was just now in love with? It cannot be.
That takes us to a story. We do know that Dev Anand and Guru Dutt were buddies, doing many films together. But they got into a spot of bother about even the hierarchy of credits once. It is generally agreed that the more important names of a film’s cast are mentioned first. To Dev that was vital.
Here’s what happened. In Guru Dutt’s Baazi (1951), as the credits rolled, Dev was mentioned first, Geeta Bali the heroine, after him. Guru Dutt reversed the order in Jaal next year, crediting Geeta Bali first, Dev after her. That did not go down well with the shocked hero. Next year director Guru Dutt himself appeared in Baaz with Geeta Bali, setting an example by mentioning her name first. He showed his magnanimity to his friend, who remained unconvinced. Later in 1955, Guru Dutt’s chief assistant Raj Khosla directed Milap (starring Dev Anand and Geeta Bali again), where that director did not make the mistake of upsetting the hero. Finally, Guru Dutt asked Raj Khosla to direct CID (1956), with Dev at the top of the credits, Shakila after him, and Waheeda as the new lady being introduced in this feature. This is a case of male ego dynamics behind the screen.
On the other hand, there don’t seem to be stories around where actresses had issues with billing credits or less dialogues, screen space, or even what the titles were indicating. Run your mind now, thinking of a few films whose title was a man’s name. The male actor who sang on the screen is named in brackets.
- Chandidas (1934. Saigal): Tadpat beete din rain (Saigal)
- Devdas (1935. Saigal): Baalam aaye baso more man mein (Saigal)
- Bhakt Surdas (1942. Saigal): Nainheen ko raah dikha Prabhu (Saigal)
- Bhartari (1944. Surendra Nath): Prem bina sab soona hota (Surendra)
- Baadal (1951. Premnath): Main raahi bhatakne waala hoon (Mukesh)
- Baiju Bawra (1952. Bharat Bhushan): Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj (Rafi)
- Mirza Ghalib (1954. Bharat Bhushan): Ishq mujhko naheen wahshat hi sahi (Talat)
- Azaad (1955. Dilip Kumar): Kitna haseen hai mausam (Chitalkar, Lata)
- Devdas (1955. Dilip Kumar): Mitwa laagi re ye kaisi anbujh aag (Talat)
- Hatimtai (1956. Jairaj): Parwardigar-e-aalam (Rafi)
- Samrat Chandragupta (1958: Bharat Bhushan): Chaahe paas ho chaahe door ho (Rafi, Lata)
- Kanhaiya (1959. Raj Kapoor): Mujhe tum se kuchh bhi na chaahiye (Mukesh)
- Kavi Kalidas (1959. Bharat Bhushan): Naye naye rangon se likhti dharti nayi kahaani (Manna)
- Sangeet Samrat Tansen (1962. Bharat Bhushan): Jhoomti chali hawa (Mukesh)
- Suraj (1966. Rajendra Kumar): Bahaaro phool barsao (Rafi)
- Saraswatichandra (1968. Manish): Chandan sa badan chanchal chitvan (Mukesh)
- Gopi (1970. Dilip Kumar): Sukh ke sab saathi dukh mein na koi (Rafi)
- Rampur Ka Laxman (1972. Randhir Kapoor): Rampur ka vaasi hoon main Laxman mera naam (Kishore)
- Sagina (1974. Dilip Kumar): Saala main to saahab ban gaya (Kishore, Pankaj Mitra)
- Amar Akbar Anthony (1977. Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor): Anhoni ko honi kar de (Shailendra Singh, Kishore, Mahendra)
- Don (1978. Amitabh Bachchan): Khaike paan Banaraswaala (Kishore)
- Hatimtai (1990. Jeetendra): Mere maalik mere daata (Mohd Aziz)
- Karan Arjun (1995. Shahrukh, Salman): Ye bandhan to pyaar ka bandhan hai (Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan)
- Asoka (2001. Shahrukh Khan): Roshni se bhare bhare naina tere (Abhijit, Alka Yagnik)
- Rowdy Rathore (2012. Akshay Kumar): Chinta ta ta chita chita (Mika Singh, Wajid Ali)
The mind also thinks of titles where both the lead actors were named, such as is in Shin Shinaki Bubla Boo (1952). The first two words were the name of actress Rehana, while the last two were about a male actor named Ranjan. Weatherpeople could use this idea for hurricanes too. John-Mary, Susan-George, and so on, to avoid ego issues.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur page 13 on 14th October 2018http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?pagedate=2018-10-14&edcode=131002&subcode=131002&mod=1&pgnum=2
Featured image: From Khaile paan Banaraswaala