The anchor Rahul Solapurkar sits at one side of the stage while a girl, Priyanka Barve, clad in a white saree, starts singing ‘Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh’ (from the 1960 film, ‘Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai’). And thus begins an enchanting evening, at the JT Pac, by the Pune-based Niche Entertainment. The programe is called ‘Black and White’, and is a reliving of Bollywood through songs of the golden years of 1945 to 1968.
Rahul points at the screen and says that it looks white and empty now. “But once images flash on it, they create a magic in the minds of the viewers,” he says. “This white screen can take us to ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ or to ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’ or show a world ‘Bees Saal Baad’.”
Which is true. The moment scenes from the old classic films like ‘Naya Daur’ are shown we are immediately drawn in by the chemistry between Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. And what is remarkable is how the singers on stage emulate perfectly the hand and body movements of the stars on screen and dress in the same manner, giving it a two-dimensional effect.
In between, Rahul provides interesting tidbits and fills in about the history of Bollywood. “The first-ever Hindi film was the silent movie, ‘Raja Harishchandra’, made in 1913, while the first talkies film, ‘Alam Ara’, was by Ardeshir Irani in 1931,” he says. “In those days, the tickets were selling in black for Rs 50, even though the monthly salary of people was Rs 50.” It was also a time when there was a craze for musicals, and, astonishingly, the 1932 film, ‘Indrasabha’ had 69 songs in it.
And it is not long before, Rahul begins talking about the King of Tragedy, Dilip Kumar. “Owing to the horrors of Partition, it was difficult for Muslim actors to get a chance in Bollywood,” he says. “So when a man from Peshawar wanted to try his luck in Mumbai, he changed his name from Yusuf Khan to Dilip Kumar, and the rest is history.”
The songs are rendered with great skill by the singers -- Hrishikesh Ranade, Jitendra Abhyankar, Swarada Gokhale, Priyanka Barve, Savani Ravindra, and Vibhavari Apte — and include hits like ‘Suhana safar’ (Mukesh), ‘Ye raatein ye mausam’ (Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle), and ‘Ude jab jab zulfein teri’ (Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle from the film, ‘Naya Daur).
In ‘Naya Daur’, Madhubala initially played the heroine. But suddenly differences arose with the director B.R. Chopra. “The director published an advertisement in the newspaper where he put the names of all those who were acting in the film,” says Rahul. “When it came to Madhubala, her name was crossed out.”
In retaliation, Madhubala’s father, Ataullah Khan published a similar advertisement, with all the films in which Madhubala acted in. When it came to ‘Naya Daur’, he crossed it out. Eventually, Vyjayanthimala got the role and the film became a huge hit. “How and why it became a hit, nobody can explain,” says Rahul. “There is no sure-fire formula for a hit. But Vyjayanthimala never looked back after that.”
And who can explain how actors become superstars. “There was one star who was born to love,” says Rahul. “First it was self-love and then it was to love the world. He was evergreen, the first chocolate hero, the one and only Dev Anand.” The singers immediately move into the perennial hit, ‘Hum hai raahi pyar ke’ by Kishore Kumar in the film, ‘Nau Do Gyarah’.
Soon, there are songs starring Johnny Walker, Guru Dutt, Shammi and Raj Kapoor, with that memorable song, ‘Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua’, from ‘Shree 420’, shot in the rain and capturing the sizzling pairing of Raj Kapoor and Nargis.
Later, Rahul tells amusing stories of the eccentric but great singer Kishore Kumar. “Whenever he would go for a recording, he would always ask his assistant, ‘Bapu coffee piya?’ and only when Bapu said yes, would he start recording,” says Rahul. “It was a code language to know if the producers had paid the advance or not.”
One day, just before a recording, he asked Bapu the question three times, but got no reply. So Kumar pulled off his headphones and told the orchestra that he could not sing due to a sore throat and left.
On the way home, he complained to his assistant about how producers are always tight-fisted about giving money to singers when Bapu nervously told him that it was their own production he was recording for.
As the audience laughs, one could not help but admire the magnetism of Rahul on stage. His dialogue delivery, his sure grasp of history, his facial expressions, the interactions with the singers, the occasional dance steps he took, he was the fulcrum on which the show turned, and made it such a memorable experience for all.