Gabbar Singh’s signature line “Kitnay aadmi thay?” from Sholay, the evergreen 1975 classic, has taken on a new avatar. It is now the title of a new book by Diptakirti Chaudhuri, a Bollywood-obsessed, Gurgaon-based “salesman”.
The subtitle, Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia, sums up the book adequately: in it you will find all things Bollywood, and even the most well-informed Bollywood enthusiast will find some rare nugget about Hindi films that he or she had been unaware of.
Kitnay Aadmi Thay? is divided into eight “logic-less sections” varying from ‘Movies, masti and magic” (which includes ‘10 best movies not to have been made’ and ‘Utterly butterly Bollywood: 30 Amul ads’) to ‘Manoranjan ka baap’ (which includes ‘Face off: 11 Legendary confrontations’ and ‘Three’s a crowd: 9 actors who played three roles or more’). (And there’s no contents page either, the logic being that this ‘is a book for dipping into…’)
One of best sections in the book, ‘Obsessions’ includes ‘Dawaa ya dua: 8 kinds of diseases’ in which eight of the most common ailments found in Hindi films — including the big C, brain tumours, heart diseases, amnesia (how can we forget this one?), blindness, AIDs and even the fictitious “loveria” — are highlighted.
However, while some wonderful examples of characters who have been struck by these diseases are cited (for instance, Rajesh Khanna who has cancer in Anand and Safar), Waheeda Rehman who has amnesia in Coolie is sorely missing. Still, that is forgivable since Chaudhuri in his foreword does state that “this book is incomplete … feel superior if an obvious title is missing”.
Another section is titled ‘Waak engliss, taak engliss’ (obviously based on Amitabh Bachchan’s famous lines in Namak Halaal), in which you will find out that the lines spoken by Bachchan in Naseeb as he jumps out of an Easter egg — “sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity” — are the same ones that were uttered more than 100 years ago by British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli in parliament to describe “his bitter rival, William Gladstone”! No wonder then that the chapter is one of the most riveting in the book.
‘We the people’ is a minority report of sorts. It highlights “every region and religion of India [which] is stereotyped with equal offensiveness.” What follows is a list of both accurate and offensive portrayals of all minorities, be they Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, South Indians or Bengalis. Curiously missing are Muslims, which could well take up a chapter. After all, there’s Amitabh in Coolie and Salma Agha in Nikaah, not to mention the many ‘Muslim socials’ that were all the rage at one point in time. Remember Deedar-i-Yaar or even Sanam Bewafaa anyone, in which Muslims characters went around tasleeming and adaabing ad nauseum?
Other notable lists include ‘Imagining things: 10 best movies to not have been made’, ‘The great Indian movie: 7 movies inspired by epics’ (in which Chaudhuri somehow manages to draw parallels between the saccharine sweet Hum Saath Saath Hain and the Ramayana). ‘12 star nicknames’ (did you know that Rakesh and Hritik Roshan’s nicknames are Guddu and Duggu respectively?) and ‘Lifeline of the nation: 10 train journeys you shouldn’t miss’, in which examples range from Kajol and Shahrukh Khan in Dilway Dulhaniya Lejayenge to relatively unknown movies called (and I kid you not) The Train and — wait for it — The Burning Train!
Chaudhuri’s exhaustive — bordering on exhausting — knowledge of Bollywood is clearly apparent in the book; and his witty and quirky style of writing ensures that you aren’t bored for a Bollywood second. It’s the ideal book for any fanatic, who will probably end up wanting a sequel (in which chapters are dedicated to Naag nagins movies and tawaifs, among others, are a must).
And if you are truly Bollywood obsessed you’ll find an example or factual error here and there. So if you do, follow Chauduri’s advice, and feel superior. I sure did.
Kitnay Aadmi Thay?: Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia
By Diptakirti Chaudhuri
Westland Books, India