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Last Updated: May 20, 2007 - 10:48:48 AM
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B&W classics in colour? It's like painting Taj Mahal pink
Apr 20, 2007 - 8:08:31 AM
But as the haunting lyrics of 'Koi door se awaaz de chala aao' resonate on your ears, you wonder if it can happen. Yet, you are ready to give him his chance. He's only copying a story. Not repainting the walls of the haveli in plastic paint.

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[RxPG] Would you take away colour from Vincent van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'? Then why talk of adding colour to Guru Dutt's 'Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam'. Autumn brings with it its own splendour. Can you imagine repainting its auburn hues with translucent greens to give it back its lost youth? It would look gross. And it disturbs the soul.

Why the sudden argument? Well, a television news channel reported that 'Sahib Bibi ...' was being digitally transformed into colour.

There could be an argument: a film is a commercial venture. Its purpose is not to serve any art or literary movement but to provide wholesome entertainment and earn money in the process - as long as the quality of the film doesn't suffer.

You are right, people. But black and white cinema is as much an art form as a painting. And a masterpiece is a masterpiece, whatever the medium. Its quality will suffer if you play around with it.

Try and forget Guru Dutt's 'Pyaasa' and 'Kagaaz ke Phool' or Bimal Roy's 'Bandini', 'Madhumati' and 'Devdas'. You just can't. Why?

When cinematographer V. K. Murthy and Guru Dutt got together to film 'Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam...' they made magic. The dark studio, with Waheeda Rehman knitting in a corner and Guru Dutt standing in profile, while the beams of light converge at a point to the words 'kya talash hai, kuch pata nahin/buun rahen hain dil, khwab dum'b'dum' creates a picture that touches your soul and stays with you for a lifetime.

Or take Bimal Roy's 'Bandini'. Thanks to Roy and Kamal Bose's black-and-white cinematography, there are few images more moving in all of Indian cinema than that of Kalyani - sitting, small and alone, beside one of the great prison walls, a single shaft of sunlight picking her out from among the deep shadows, while another woman sings 'O panchhi pyare, saanjh sakhare, bole tu kaun si boli...' as she turns a stone mill.

Yes, 'Mughal-e-Azam' was redone in colour and it too invited the same kind of debate. It also made money. But for black and white film buffs it was a little like seeing the Taj Mahal through a pair of tinted glasses after you've seen it in all its pristine glory on a full moon night.

And again, 'Mughal-e-Azam' was a different kind of film. Everything about it - from its sets to its characters to the music and dance sequences - was on a grand scale. It was the story of a Mughal king and his rebellious son, the crown prince, who falls in love with a dancing girl and rises against the state to save his lady love. It could have lent itself to colour as an experiment.

Even so, it was the No. 2 grosser at the box office in the week it was released, second to the latest Shah Rukh Khan-Preity Zinta starrer 'Veer Zaara' with two other releases, 'Aitraaz' and 'Naach', in competition. Is this really what we want from our classics?

Ok. So you recognise the brilliance of these movies and want the younger generation to see them too. Well, then have the courage to make them yourself. Like Sanjay Leela Bhansali did with 'Devdas'. He may have destroyed the sensitivity, the sensibility and the intensity of the Paro-Devdas-Chandramukhi love story. But he did it in his own way, and the youngsters seemed to have lapped it up. Which is ok with us oldies. Each generation to their own.

Now Pritish Nandy is proposing to remake 'Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam' in his own way. It will naturally be in colour. He has a right to make it. At least he will not be tampering with the exquisite piece of artwork created by Dutt and his team of Abrar Alvi, Murthy, Meena Kumai and Waheeda Rehman.

After having seen a very pink looking Madhubala dressed is garish clothes and jewellery and a very diminished looking Dilip Kumar in a golden sherwani in the coloured 'Mughal-e-Azam', one shudders to think of what a dolled up Meena Kumai would look like in the colour version of the song 'Piya aiso jia mein samaye gayo re...' -- despite digital enhancement.

As a Dutt fan one prays she doesn't end up looking like a K-serial bahu - her maang full of the sindoor Bhootnath has just got for her!

How Nandy manages to capture the complexity of the relationships, the decadence of the times, the emotional and physical longing of Chhoti Bahu - will have to be seen.

But as the haunting lyrics of 'Koi door se awaaz de chala aao' resonate on your ears, you wonder if it can happen. Yet, you are ready to give him his chance. He's only copying a story. Not repainting the walls of the haveli in plastic paint.


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