Several Things

When Gujaratis want to praise something, they may say, “Bohu fine che,” “It’s very fine.” I haven’t heard ‘fine’ in Tamil, but in the last two weeks two separate people, a courier and a parking lot attendant, neither of whom spoke English, told me that my Tamil was ‘super.’ (Both times I glowed as if a switch had been turned on, even though I had spoken only a few sentences. Expectations of foreigners are realistically low.)

We saw an old Hindi movie on TV. We came in at the middle, but it must have been directed by Manmohan Desai, who made the most ridiculous (or delirious, if you want to be positive) movies, full of everything – and therefore closest to ancient Sanskrit plays: comedy, drama, love, separation, songs and dances, union at the end.

The movie was called Daulat, Wealth. It had a villain, Amjad Khan, who was trying to recover some diamonds he had stolen and then lost sight of. There was a false Christian priest, who buried a dummy stuffed with the diamonds. Like most Christians in Hindi movies he had a funny accent, and called his parishioners “may chayld.” Because of his sacrilege, the cross flew down from the church steeple and stabbed him in the back, to the accompaniment of much lightning and thunder.

Raj Babbar and Vinod Khanna were brothers, separated at an early age – another sure sign that it was a Manmohan Desai movie. And as a bonus, the villain also discovered that one of the heroines was really his daughter, but only as she lay dying.

Each of the lost ones had a nishan, a sign by which he or she could be recognised: Vinod Khanna had a scar across his wrist. The heroine wore a locket with the letter J for Joseph, the villain’s real, but hidden, name. Just like the fish which swallows the crucial ring in the ancient Sanskrit play Shakuntala; which, when discovered, breaks the spell of amnesia on the king, and allows him to recognise that Shakuntala is his wife, and her baby his child. (Yes, and not just any child, but Bharat, the founder of a great dynasty, after which India was named. Come to think of it, Manmohan Desai never managed to top this ending.)

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