New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) Remember “Kohra”, the 1964 thriller starring Waheeda Rehman and Biswajeet with its memorable soundtrack? It was loosely based on filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s classics “Rebecca” and “Psycho”. Bollywood has borrowed liberally from Hollywood’s master of suspense, says professor Richard Allen, head of the chair of cinema studies in Columbia University.
Hitchcock’s stylised cinematography found its way into several thrillers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s in India, says Allen. “Several filmmakers in Mumbai have adapted Hitchcock’s idioms in Bollywood. ‘Kohra’ apart, there is ‘Jewel Thief’ starring Dev Anand, which was an Indian remake of ‘Vertigo’,” Allen told IANS in an interview.
“However, director Vijay Anand also wove in aspects from the Hitchcock thriller, ‘To Catch a Thief’, with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in the lead,” Allen told IANS over a leisurely lunch. Allen was in the capital to conduct a two-day workshop “Hitchcock in Bollywood”, at the India Habitat Centre. According to him, Hitchcock has been “very skilfully and cleverly used” by Indian filmmakers.
The film writer and critic, who probed the Hitchcockian idiom and style of cinematography in the stylised language in Hindi cinema for two days, has edited two books of essays on Hitchcock. He is also the co-editor of a publication on the filmmaker, “The Hitchcock Annual”. His latest publication is titled “Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony.” Hitchcock, explains Allen, was a visual stylist and a commercial filmmaker who provided a model and pretext to filmmakers globally to do the same thing.
“French new wave cinema has drawn the maximum from Hitchcock, along with Bollywood. That fact that Hitchcock was so creative allowed filmmakers to retool his creativity to make their own statements.” However, Hitchcock, warns Allen, is not easy to adapt into Hindi mainstream cinema; it requires dexterity. “Chiefly because of his mastery of the craft of cinema and how he handles matters of human sexuality.
“It is difficult to place it in the context of a Hindi (sic Indian) lifestyle and the appeal of the Bollwyood movies of the 1950s, 60s and 70s,” Allen said. “Jewel Thief”, made in 1967, perhaps does Hitchcock the maximum justice in both style and spirit, says Allen.
According to the walking encyclopedia on Hitchcock, the movie featuring Dev Anand in an enigmatic double role – that of jewel thief Amar and the police commissioner’s son Vinay, the lookalike – is distinctly Hitchcockian because of the protagonist’s “double identity”, one of the master’s pet themes.
The nervous breakdown that Dev Anand undergoes impersonating jewel thief Amar is similar to what James Stewart as “detective Scottie” suffers in the movie, “Vertigo”. The female lead, Kim Novak, also has a double identity in the murder mystery, which also touches upon a past life recall.
“Moreover, ‘Jewel Thief’ reflected the emerging consumerist lifestyle of Bollwyood in the 19s0s, the increasing use of the flashy red as a colour and the freedom of sexual choice – all that Hitchcock wove into his plots,” Allen said.
For instance, in “Kohra” and “Anamika” – a thriller starring Dino Morea, Minissha Lamba and Koena Mitra made this year – the ghost of the first wife haunts the hero’s second wives. According to Allen, the movies are in the footsteps of “Rebecca”, an iconic thriller starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine based on a novel of the same name by Daphne de Maurier published in 1938.
“The appeal of Anamika,” said Allen, “lay in its dramatisation.”
Plots apart, in the black and white Bollywood thrillers of the 1960s and 70s, cinematographers used Hitchcock’s slow and ingenuous camera techniques to convey a sense of the supernatural and the eerie. One such technique was the “slipping in” effect. Executed through a mirror in “Kohra”, it was as if the characters were walking through a mirror and floating out from the other side, Allen explained.
“The sounds in these movies also took off from Hitchcock. The songs seemed to be emanating from another world and enveloping you. And there were strong sexual metaphors that Hitchcock frequently used in the movies. “Even the conventional Bollywood characters morphed – the role of the husband changed. Movies influenced by ‘Rebecca’ portrayed husbands as threatening and ambiguous,” Allen said.
Citing recent references, Allen recommended movies like “Jab We Met”, “Samay” and “Ek Baar” to viewers to get a feel of the Hitchcockian brand of suspense.
— By Madhusree Chatterjee