Hum Hindustani‘ was made in 1960, and it strikes me that this was the year my parents married. My father was 27, my mother 20. The film reflects the still-upbeat Nehruvian philosophy of the time, the concept of a new industrial India, that would conquer all the problems besetting the country until then, the faith in a youth that was charged with idealism and hope.

The film begins with a montage of ‘Incredible New India’ stock shots, including Nehru at a public gathering and construction work at the Bhakra-Nangal dam, over the famous song, ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat puraani, ..’

Sadly however, the film seems to come together in flashes. The movie is a bit of a ramble, not leading up to anything much.

Sukhen (Sunil Dutt) and Satyen (Joy Mukherjee)

are the two older brothers of a large family, with a younger sister, and two other very young siblings and a mother (Leela Chitnis) in full red lipsticked-glory

and a father, Amarnath (Mubarak) in a wheelchair, in a huge house falling to pieces.

It does have a lovely Saraswati on stained glass across its stairway though.

The family is embroiled in a court case which Amarnath refuses to give up on, even if he has to lose his wealth, because he believes he is right. Sukhen and Satyen are both engaged, the first to Sudha (Asha Parekh) and the second to Kalpana (Helen). Sudha has been studying abroad, and her father breaks the engagement while she is away once Amarnath loses the court case and his wealth. Of course, Sukhen and Sudha have never seen each other.

Sudha comes back from abroad, and subjects her family friends to a dance.

The abstract stained glass backdrop on the stairway of her home helps her performance.

Soon after her dance, she befriends Sukhen by pretending to be a poor girl. He runs a bookstore

which is across the office of the Mafatlal Group, a big textile group at the time.

and an employment agency for mill workers from an office with a view of the Municipal Corporation building,

He also writes books in his spare time. A bestseller called ‘Hum Hindustani’ which gives him 10,000 rupees in royalty after selling 500 or 600 copies. Aspiring writers, make a note!

None of this goes anywhere, there is a rather ineffective villain Shankar, Sanjeev Kumar makes his first screen appearance here as a police inspector,

there is Dog Caesar who is called Tiger,

there is the mandatory accusation of stealing and court cases, there is a huge fire in the mill.

There are moments, but not a real cohesive narrative.

There is a scene when Sukhen hits Satyen in anger, furious that he could have believed that Sukhen has stolen money from Satyen’s boss. Leela Chitnis comes in, stops him, and holds Satyen. The father comes in at the back and sits there, looking. Sukhen calms down, but still feels helpless. There is hardly any dialogue but the scene is so powerful.

There is also an exchange between Sukhen and Sudha. He tells her that he can help her find a job, and she mocks him, “What job, a teacher, nurse, secretary, earning a few hundred rupees? All the good jobs, important jobs are taken by men.”

There is some serious color-co-ordinated ragging by Sudha’s friends of Sukhen and Sudha at a picnic.

There is moneylender’s office and the BEST bus

and the fire engine.

Joy Mukherjee and Helen walk in the rain on Marine Drive

and near the Gateway of India, singing.

I imagine my newly-wed parents walking around the Gateway on Sundays, though not singing, of course. Sadly.

There is a large vacant stretch between the road and the Gateway which is as I remember it from childhood, not the barricades, and cars, armoured trucks and security personnel of today.

There is a Victoria ride, which is what the horse carriages were called then.

But I am sure that even then, you couldn’t eat ice-cream at a roadside cafe near the Taj.

There are boats

And Asha Parekh singing on a boat.

And there is the mill, packed with machines that work

and bales of cotton.

There was a time when the mills in the films worked as they did in real life and films told stories about workers

and their capitalist owners,

the rich and the poor. Even the fantasies, the light-hearted comedies seemed rooted in the real world. Films were made for the crores of people who made up the working population.

I grew up in Agripada. My father for a time, had a small factory manufacturing tins for biscuits. My uncle worked as a clerk in another factory. My aunt was married to a factory worker. My younger uncle owned a small garage. My friend lived in a mill-worker chawl because her father worked in a textile mill. Her house was little bigger than a big cupboard, and I remember 8 or 9 of them lived there.

All around us were the movie halls. Maratha Mandir, Ganga Jamuna (wonder of wonders, 2 twin theaters in one complex), Minerva, Naaz, Novelty, Apsara, Edward, Albert, Shree Vijay, and so many whose names I cannot remember. Some of the movie halls were beautiful, and grand, with lovely, sweeping stairways, chandeliers, carpets, murals on the walls, some were bare with wooden seats and rickety fans. It did not matter to us as my mother was crazy about going to the movies and so were we.

Usually, we walked to one theater or the other, with my mother and one or the other of her friends, or aunts, or cousins. We watched movies incessantly, sometimes in the balcony, sometimes in the lower stalls, we hung around movie halls an hour before the movie was about to begin, dreading the idea that we may not get tickets, that the show would be houseful. It never occurred to my mother who dragged us everywhere that we were watching movies with mill-workers or cab drivers, or hand cart pullers. We just took the tickets we got. I don’t remember her ever being teased or stared at, even though she was a very beautiful woman. Bombay even then, was no-nonsense. People came to see a film, and they didn’t care who sat with them.

It was movie-theatre land, a theatre every few meters. Much later I also learned that this is where most of the film distributors had their offices as did some production houses. It was also the land of the dancing girls, the red-light area, the horse stables, and the bridge clubs. Now I know that it was also the land of the background dancers and the choreographers.

Is it any wonder then, that the movies seemed so real to us? Even Kashmir, which appeared in several films and as different from Bombay as it was, seemed familiar and our own.

Soon the mills became empty hulls, useable as shooting locations only for the climax fights.

Now even the last remnants of the mills have disappeared, most of them have been transformed into malls and entertainment complexes.

Our films too seem to have followed the trajectory of the mills. Films mostly are now products, bits of stimulation offered up to the consumer.

‘Hum Hindustani’ ends with a montage of fairy-lit Mumbai monuments, the Victoria Terminus, Gateway of India, the Municipal Corporation building. It confirms my memory of being taken to see the lights as a child, on Independence Day or Republic Day. I remember the streets being very, very crowded, people in trucks coming to see the sights, food on the streets, fireworks. But like all my memories, I have held this one a little suspect, unsure of whether anything like this ever happened.

Now I know it did.