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Stories You Don’t See: Hindi Cinema and Its Stories In Credits

July 16, 2021 | By

Credits are often undermined by viewers, and yet are significant in more ways than one. Films without the people who make them, would not exist. And respect must be given to the creators whose creations we enjoy. And with that, credit tracks often offer us a glimpse into the politics of the director, the reason why the film in question has been made, and why it means what it does. Often a parallel track intrinsic to the film- sometimes its genesis, sometimes its closure.

As Indian cinema-going audience, we generally shower our praises and adulation on the stars on screen, at most the director, albeit occasionally. Credit sequences, at the beginning or at the end are usually looked at as fillers, assumed to be unimportant, and just as beacons either announcing the start or the ending of a film. They somehow are never pivotal. Which, in my opinion of course, is a massive disservice by the Indian audience, to an industry mixed with people of various walks of life, building together the magic we love to lose ourselves in, whether watching on the large screen in a darkened space, or in our palms streaming on our phones.

Yet, there are some beautiful stories tucked into credit sequences. Sometimes they are finales to a film, sometimes the very heart of the film itself, and sometimes they not only provide a sneak peek into the film, but into the insight of the filmmaker’s vision – insisting you reflect on the context and purpose of the very art they create. At many other times, they are just fun to watch bloopers.

luck by chance

The make-believe world of films in Luck by Chance

Contexts and purpose woven beautifully with insights on why the film was thought of, almost feels like a parallel narrative in the minds of the creator as we weave through the credits. The credits sequence of Luck By Chance, Zoya Akhtar’s beauty of a debut, a meta film that looks at the desperation, chance and sheer will it takes for an ‘outsider’ to make it in a fiercely competitive industry, is one. The film revolves around how dreams are sold, relationships abandoned in pursuit of one heady dream. The sequence looks at the make-believe world of films, that makes it so special, its eccentricities and the bizarre as we look at film from a macro view as it gets made. Whether it is the fairy running to the washroom, the astronauts removing helmets for their cup of chai, or the old man obstinately smoking under the sign that says not to, or the frame where a beautiful actress adjusts her make up against the backdrop of a dilapidated studio, it throws into sharp relief the contradictions of the industry, and the very nature of making a film, suspending disbelief in the heart of reality. There is a certain affection and romanticism, almost like an ode, to the world of cinema and how it journeys from the script to the sound and finally to the theatres it is watched in. The varied aspects are brought to life, in the context of a meta film, with Javed Akhtar’s incredibly written ‘Yeh zindagi bhi’ that talks of how we must deal with our dreams.

Another such is the credits sequence of Tamasha. It deliberates on the similarities of the greatest stories ever told, and the ones we go through in our lives. How fundamentally we are all living the same stories again and again, as we listen to them, watch them occur around us and even go through them.

The track romances the story itself with ‘chali kahani’, an underrated gem from Irshad Kamil. The interweaving of Sohni-Mahiwaal, Romeo-Juliet, Prithviraj-Sanyukta with pertinent questions of whose language is it, whose pronunciation of whose name is right forces you to think and believe. The storyteller’s (Piyush Mishra) gift of breaking these stories down, the verse and the questions asked of the innocent Ved (Yash Sehgal), are testimonies to the premise and love for stories on which Tamasha is based.

Chali kahani (Tamasha)

Piyush Mishra and Yash Sehgal in Chali kahani (Tamasha)

Or, as in Thappad where we get a view of the lives of four women (also the pivotal characters of the film), their ideas of happiness and cravings for freedom. Simple close ups, punctuated with dialogues, united by the love of orange ice cream show the simple joys women chase, and the everyday compromises they are forced to make, to fill some moments of life with that joy and abandon.

However, this is not a trend that is new. A quick look at some of yesteryear’s most powerful films indicate this as well. Often not necessarily as a moving image, films in the past have even frozen a frame after a few minutes into the narrative, for the poignancy and context to set in. Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool, freezes the frame on a long shot from behind the glorious statue of the studio emblem, looking down upon its director who once brought it the glory it enjoys.

Kaagaz ke Phool

Kaagaz Ke Phool, freezes the frame on a long shot from behind the glorious statue of the studio emblem

Or as in the freeze frame of Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom, where a boy no older than nine or ten watches his single mother’s funeral pyre burn, moments after we watch his mother’s death from his perspective. On the other hand, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi opens with a focus on a halogen light (used for making films), and then transitions to static frames with dolls in them, cementing the relationship and context of the film (again a meta), and the name itself.

guddi

Guddi opens with a focus on a halogen light

Many films use credit sequences as narratives pushing forth the story from the beginning. The credits sequence for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimaan, opens with a slew of performances and establishes Subir (Amitabh Bachchan) as a star singer. Similarly, Gulzar’s Aandhi, has the credits juxtaposed against the flurry of an election campaign that immediately provides insights into the large scale nature of politics and the political context of the film.

Aandhi

Aandhi, has the credits juxtaposed against the flurry of an election campaign

If we delve further, there are a few even more interesting examples in the films of yesteryears that have been extremely innovative and political with their credits. The credit sequence of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Golmaal plays with Ram Prasad (Amol Palekar) singing at a party that immediately throws insights into him being a young man, passionate about music and a talented singer. But what is deeply interesting are Gulzar’s inimitable political lyrics of the title track, one that talks of class and capitalism, and need for money to earn money. A humorous piece at face value that goes with the tone of the film, it is both satirical and political. That again brings to life the underlying politics of the makers, who are critiquing the incessant struggles of talented youth to secure well-paying jobs and in this case playing to the eccentricities of Bhawani Shanker (Utpal Dutt), for that primal need – money.

Opening credits of Golmaal

Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s another comedy Bawarchi, deploys an even more interesting technique as an introduction. Much like the cast and characters of a play being announced before a show starts in the theatre, Amitabh Bachchan’s voice first introduces us to the makers of the film and then the characters living in Shanti Niwas. The theatrical treatment almost justifies the drama that is set to unfold. Across Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s comedies there is a specific piece of music that helps build both familiarity and tone of the film, probably similar to his repetition of actors.

The finer nuances of credit sequences are not limited to opening credits only. Gully Boy, ends with Murad (Ranveer Singh), understanding what his success means to the community that he has grown up with. There are these poignant moments with secular messages as a Hindu lady does the ‘teeka’ of a Muslim boy who looks at himself represented in art, and his joy in eyeing a pair of branded shoes his talent has brought him. These delightful moments of his journey are seamlessly integrated with the narrative of the film.

In conclusion, we may proclaim that credit sequences in a film deserve far greater importance than we generally give them. They provide us with the names of all who enable this art form to reach us emphasizing that it is essentially a collective art form. And in many a film, the sequences themselves are instrumental to the story, a parallel track that we are drawn to, and a source of a better understanding of the subtexts of a film.

More to read

IPR and Indian Cinema: A Scenario of Violation

Women in Hindi Cinema in Post-Colonial India

Gender, Politics, Power and the World Of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: Part I

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Saumya Baijal, is a Delhi based writer, poet and co-founder of the activist theatre group Aatish. She has been writing on films for many years, and is particularly enamoured by the films of the 1950s and 1960s in Commercial Hindi Cinema. Her writings have been published in The Equator Line, Writer's Asylum and Jankipul amongst others. She also trains in and performs Kathak, and her Hindi poetries have seen choreographies based on them. She can be read on www.saumyabaijal.blogspot.com . She has been working in advertising for 9 years.
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