We have heard of Vijay Mallya, the liquor king and owner of the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines. Of the fact that he owes banks huge sums of money, that he is living in London and battling it out with Indian lawyers in the courts there. We know of his love for the good life. Of his annual calendars featuring scantily-dressed girls, and his villas in several cities around the globe. Of his collection of cars and insane love of horses.
This last obsession of his is particularly remarkable. When the Central Bureau of Investigation was examining the absconding baron’s accounts two years ago, they were mystified by an entry. It was seen that Rs. 9,07,85,262 was paid by his company towards the purchase of ‘Air Support’. At first, the investigators thought this was some part needed for his airline. Later they discovered that this amount—over 9 crores—was the price of an American horse called Air Support that Mallya had paid two years before.
Such a price tag may seem over the top to many of us, but there’s something about horses that for millennia has magnetized people around the world. Go to the homes of art collectors and you may find a painting or sculpture of a horse. This universal attraction may perhaps be for the lethal combination horses possess: a beautiful shape and graceful movement topped with strength. Choice imageries such as “Poetry in Motion” and “Powered Grace” have been associated with them.. Several cultures have romanced these creatures, and after Man domesticated them, they have been used for fox-hunting, racing, rodeo and the military. Not to forget that many machines are rated in horsepower. In the brief lifetime of the Pony Express, they were even used as couriers.
There’s so much more. Battles have been won or lost on horseback. Afghanistan’s national sport, Buzkashi, features mounted men savagely wanting to claim possession of the headless carcass of a goat. Polo is also a mounted sport but it’s more civilized. Ranchers find them to be wonderful animals to goad straying cattle, and police use horses for many purposes, like navigating vehicular traffic. Mounted police still exist in dozens of countries, including several states in India.
In fact, most significant cities in the world have an equestrian statue—a man mounted on a horse—positioned in a key tourist location. India has statues of her heroes like Shivaji Maharaj and Rana Pratap, Mongolia has Genghis Khan, and the Bronze Horseman refers to the statue of Peter the Great in St Petersburg, Russia. The list is long.
Our cinema has had plenty of fun romancing them too. Unlikely candidate Dev Anand was a commander ordering everyone around from his horseback position in Insaniyat (1955). Sunil Dutt was a dashing, mounted dacoit in Mujhe Jeene Do (1963). Ajit was a horse-riding, evil prince in Suraj (1966), and later in Zanjeer (1973), he would be associated with his bracelet from which hung a small white-horse charm. It’s not easy to forget the maniacal laughter of Amjad Khan in Sholay (1975), nor his stained teeth or horseback riding in the film.
The Rajput Connection
Some people treat horses as Gods on Planet Earth. The Marwari Horse has been around for centuries, and once was so venerated, no one except Rajput Warriors were allowed to even mount it. Many of us may recall the story of Chetak, the horse worshipped in parts of Rajasthan for saving the life of his master Maharana Pratap, even as he lost his own during a battle. It is in a sense of such worship that we saw in Jai Chittor (1961) the Maharana’s wife, enacted by Nirupa Roy, putting a teeka on the horse, and then doing his aarti, kissing him on the cheek and showering rose petals on him. The song that she proceeded to sing, O pawan veg ke udne waale ghode was an appeal to the horse to please look after her master.
It’s interesting that in Jai Chittor, Nirupa Roy played the wife of P Jairaj, the horse-riding king. In the same year, 1961, there was a role reversal: she played a horse-riding Queen, with Jairaj as her consort, in Razia Sultana! The role of the famous horse-riding Queen of Delhi would also be attempted with much success by Hema Malini much later, in Razia Sultan (1982).
Earlier, another Rajput, this time a commoner played by Dilip Kumar in Aan (1952), was seen singing Maan mera ehsaan are naadaan, ostensibly for his horse, but really for Nadira, the Queen he fell in love with.
Sometimes however, the romance of riding a horse has come at a price, even a fatal one. Pran was laid up with a backache for many weeks during the shoots of Dil Diya Dard Liya (1966), and Shyam was 30 years of age when he fell off a horse during the filming of Shabistan in 1951; he died soon after, as a consequence of this fall.
Riding a horse has even been accompanied by actors singing as they have trotted along, sitting astride a horse, as against riding a horse in a carriage, or ghoda-gaadi as we call it. We look at such songs today, but we also feature songs with just a horse prominently in the frame, mounted or not, even as someone sings.
- Main raahi bhatakne waala hoon (Premnath sings and pulls the lead rope on a horse mounted by Madhubala in Baadal, 1951)
- Bachpan ke din bhula na dena (Baby Tabassum and Master Ajay Sahni in Deedar, 1951)
- Vande maataram (Geeta Bali for Pradeep Kumar and others astride their horses in Anand Matth, 1952)
- Wo to chale gaye aye dil (Madhubala for Dilip Kumar, on a horse in Sangdil, 1952)
- Mujhe dekho hasrat ki tasweer hoon main (Guru Dutt in Baaz, 1953)
- Main hoon Bharat ki naar (Vyjayanthimala in Ladki, 1953)
- Mast bahaar hai pyaar hi pyaar hai (Sheila Ramani in Surang, 1953)
- Kabhi tanhaiyon mein ek aisi bhi ghadi aayi (Bharat Bhushan in Meenar, 1954)
- Main ghareebon ka dil hoon (Premnath in Aab-e-Hayaat, 1955)
- Kitna haseen hai mausam (Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari, with her on the horse, in Azaad, 1955)
- Aaye bahaar banke (Pradeep Kumar sings for Madhubala as she rides a horse in Raj Hatth, 1956)
- Ye sama hai mera dil jawaan (Nirupa Roy and Bharat Bhushan on separate horses in Samrat Chandragupta, 1958)
- Tumhaare sung main bhi chaloongi piya (Nimmi to Bharat Bhushan, who is astride a horse in Sohni Mahiwal, 1958)
- Main deewaana mastaana (Premnath in 40 Days, 1959)
- Tum saiyaan gulaab ke phool (Sandhya to Mahipal, who sits on a horse in Navrang, 1959)
- Koi pyaar ki dekhe jaadugari (Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari on separate horses in Kohinoor, 1960)
- Tum jo aao to pyaar aa jaaye (Shalini and Ranjan, as he alone sits on a horse in Sakhi Robin, 1962)
- Tum jis pe nazar daalo (Sunil Dutt to Leela Naidu, on separate horses in Ye Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, 1963)
- Haathon mein haath hontthon pe afsaane pyaar ke (Joy Mukerji and Saira Banu on separate horses in Door Ki Awaaz, 1964)
- Jaane waale zara hoshiyaar (Shammi Kapoor in Rajkumar, 1964)
- Aye nargis-e-mastaana (Rajendra Kumar to Sadhana on a horse in Arzoo, 1965)
- Ek tha gul aur ek thi bulbul (Shashi Kapoor to Nanda on a horse in Jab Jab Phool Khile, 1965)
- O, main suraj hoon tu meri kiran (Dharmendra and Nutan on separate horses in Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya, 1966)
- Jaane mera dil kise dhoond raha hai (Shammi Kapoor in Laat Saab, 1967)
- Aaj unse pehli mulaqaat hogi (Rakesh Roshan in Paraya Dhan, 1971)
- Saat ajoobe is duniya mein (Dharmendra and Jeetendra on horses in Dharamveer, 1977)
- Raju chal Raju (Dharmendra in Azaad, 1978)
There’s an interesting urban legend about equestrian statues in popular culture. If both the horse’s front legs are in the air, the man died in battle. If one front leg is in the air, he was wounded in battle and died as a result later. If all the hooves are touching the floor, the man’s death was not battle-related. However, this is not always true, and many sculptors have no idea of this. Several statues of Shivaji Maharaj have him mounted on a horse with one of its legs in the air, but we do know that the great warrior did not die in a battle or as a consequence of it.
At my signing off, the mind goes back to Vijay Mallya. We do not know how long he will manage to stay on in the United Kingdom. No one knows either how long he will live too. But eventually, when he does pass away, no respectable city will honour him with an equestrian statue. Because just owning horses or walking them around doesn’t qualify as heroism in any culture.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on page 11, on 18 March 2018 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-03-18 Many changes have since been made, mainly through additions.
Featured image on top: Dilip Kumar in Maan mera ehsaan (Aan, 1952)