Veteran BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister of Bharat Shri Lal Krishna Advani has fond memories of Organiser, where he worked and wrote an exclusive column ‘Cine-Notes by Netra’ around 1961. He acknowledges that the weekly gave him freedom to write on Hindi as well as Hollywood films as well as opportunity to interact with stalwarts like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Dr Lohia and Morarji Desai. Organiser Editor Prafulla Ketkar and Sr. Correspondent Pramod Kumar spoke to him in New Delhi to know about his love for films, changing nature of cinema and his views on 100 years journey of Indian cinema. “The biggest contribution that the Indian cinema has made towards the country’s integration is the manner in which it became the principal instrument of making Hindi the lingua franca of the country,” he feels. Excerpts:
Your column in Organiser on films during the 1960s was a big hit. How did you think of starting such a column in the ideological newspaper?
When I was working in Organiser, one day Malkaniji, the then Editor, said our journal has become too political. If its content is made variegated, it would be better. He said since you have been an avid film-goer right from your early years, why can’t you do a column on films. I said I can try. It was only then that I started writing on films under the column “Cine-Notes by Netra’.
Was the column on general films or some particular films focusing on social, political issues?
No, general films on this and that topic. It is true that I used to watch movies regularly in my school days in Karachi. Shortly after doing my high school, in fact before going to college in Hyderabad (Sindh) I became a Swayamsevak and then gradually my interest in Sangh work grew, so much that for the next 15 years, from 1942 to 1957, I did not watch even a single movie. During that period, for ten years I was a Pracharak (RSS whole timer) in Rajasthan. In 1957, I went to Bombay. where I stayed with my uncle, whom we called Sunder Mama. One day, Sunder Mama said, “Lal, can we go to see a film?” I said, “I have not seen any film for the last 15 years.” I remember the next morning I saw a news item in a newspaper that a viewer at Strand Cinema, where he had gone to see a 3D horror film, House of Wax, had a heart attack and had collapsed there itself. After reading the news, I suggested: Mama, Let’s see this movie. This is how the break came once again.
My life in Delhi after I joined Organiser was very satisfying and fulfilling. As a journalist, I got the opportunity to interact with many renowned national leaders . At the same time, I could continue my work as a political activist in the Jana Sangh. Above all, I enjoyed the trust and affection of my colleagues, both in Organiser and in the party
From early days till today, the Indian movies have retained a certain kind of Indianness. How do you identify the typical aspects that the Indian movies have become distinctive?
Distinctiveness to Indian movies is given by the importance that music has in the film. That has made it really distinctive.
My wife’s brother. Manek Premchand, has specialised on this topic. In his excellent, well-researched book, Romancing the Song: Hindi Cinema’s Lyrical Journey, Manek has unfolded the changes that have been taking place in the poetry of Hindi films in the last one hundred years. Paying rich encomiums to the book, Gulzar, a leading lyricist of Hindi cinema, has in his foreword described the book as ‘fabulous’.
During the 1950s the movies generally focused on national reconstruction and in the 1970s the focus was on social unrest. How do you see this change, whether the movies were responding to the change-the emergence of angry young men about social evils or losing faith in the system?
It was the actual life responsible for it and not the films. Films in a way, in a climate where ethics are compromised very easily, do try to emphasise on the victory of good over evil. There is nothing wrong with this. Films become ugly when only for the sake of box office, certain compromises are made.
How do you evaluate the 100 years of Indian cinema?
Technologically, it has seen great improvement in Indian cinema. Content wise, there have been different phases. By and large Indianness is there. Though, for the sake of commercial success, there are many compromises. But so far as the family values are concerned, they are generally strengthened. Also, the tendency that good must succeed over evil is a positive trait.
Were you with Organiser in those days?
I was with Organiser in the early 1960s. As representative of Organiser, I went to Ladakh after the Chinese war was over, as part of a journalist group, comprising five foreigners, five Indians. It was this trip that made me acutely conscious of how gravely neglected had been India’s Defence Ministry in those early years under Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon.
In October 1961, Malkani secured a fellowship at Harvard University and left for the US for two years. In his absence, I took over as Acting Editor of Organiser. During this period, one of the big issues we covered, week after week with intense passion, was the Chinese aggression of 1962. The Jana Sangh favoured peaceful ties between India and all its neighbours. However, right from the early 1950s, our party was apprehensive about the rather sentimental manner in which Prime Minister Nehru was trying to befriend China as part of his grandiose vision of internationalism. These concerns were fully shared by Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel. These concerns were powerfully, and repeatedly, articulated both in the editorials and reports of Organiser, as well as in the Jana Sangh”s resolutions and statements. Each of us was provided with sufficient tinned food, special shoes and headgear, and thick woollens to beat the cold. But, to my utter dismay, I found that our jawans did not even have proper winter clothes and shoes to wear. I was overcome by a huge sense of guilt.