Harsh Kapoor, one of the members of Kapoor & Sons (2016), takes the call on his mobile phone from his wife Sunita. Before he could say “Hello”, the truck rams into his car at right angles from the right side — the worst angle to get hit. And Kapoor wasn’t wearing his seat belt either. He is gone, leaving his 90-year old father to mourn his death.
But why blame him? Bollywood actors have been the worst brand ambassadors of road safety from time immemorial. In Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958), the three brothers play ring-a-ring-a-roses with their car on one of Bombay’s busiest junctions — and that too at peak hours, almost as if the road was their family property.
Not leading by example (Clockwise) Stills from ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Imaan Dharam’, ‘Muqaddar ka Sikandar’ and ‘Chalti ka Naam Gaadi’
One thought that cabbies would demonstrate responsible driving since they stand the risk of losing their permits otherwise. But the Taxi Driver (1954) Mangal (Dev Anand), in his hurry to take his girlfriend on a ferry ride, leaves his Hillman Minx cab to an invisible valet by the dock. He doesn’t even lock the door of his cab, let alone worry about causing traffic hold-ups. Curiously, 25 years later, in Jaaneman (1976), which was a remake of Taxi Driver, this taxi driver’s lady love rammed the taxi into a tree while learning to drive. Needless to say, there was no “L” board on the vehicle. And guess what this couple (Dev Anand and Hema Malini) did immediately after the collision? They start singing a duet.
(Clockwise) Stills from ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Imaan Dharam’, ‘Muqaddar ka Sikandar and ‘Chalti ka Naam Gadi’
Perhaps fleetingly inspired by the American comedy The Absent Minded Professor (1961), Professor Mathur (Randhir) in Mr. X in Bombay (1964) devised a pill that could make not only humans float — but also the cars they drive. And thus, the love birds Sudarshan (Kishore Kumar) and Shobha (Kumkum) happily cruise in their open top car above Bombay causing no traffic disruption at all. One understands lovers’ tearing hurry to sort out a misunderstanding. But in the process, they seem to put the entire city at risk. In the title song of Jawani Diwani (1972) the hero parks his bike bang in front of her gigantic car in the middle of the road while he sings to her. In the song Deewana karke chhodoge from Mere Jeevan Saathi (1972), Jyoti (Tanuja) avoids a side-on collision by inches (literally) with Prakash’s (Rajesh Khanna) speeding hideous orange car which intersects her dangerously from a Y-fork.
Strangely, the film makers seemed determined to show the leading men and women as incorrigible traffic menaces. In the title song of Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978) they made Amitabh Bachchan stand on his bike while riding at top speed on Marine Drive and zigzag lanes abruptly and even remove his hands from the handlebar… Needless to say, he wasn’t allowed to wear a helmet as that would have spoilt his entry. Even in Parvarish (1977), inspector Amit (Bachchan) wasn’t setting the best example as a policeman by wearing no helmet.
The ladies were no better. Babli (Poonam Dhillon) in Trishul (1978) overtakes on the wrong side of her half-brother’s car — and she crashes her car into the footpath but luckily escapes with minor injuries. Delhi or Bombay, safe driving rules are always applicable. You can blame it on pop music. But Inder (Jeetendra) in Kinara (1977) had visibly lost his concentration while whistling to the racy music on his car audio. With his fingers snapping to the beat, his hands come off the steering wheel. In a horrible collision, he is bed ridden for six months; and suffers from an inexcusable guilt once he recovers and discovers the bigger damage that the accident had caused. Exactly what the rich boy Vijay Gupta (Raj Kiran) in Shiksha (1979) goes through after he runs over two young men in his new Mercedes. If the city-bred could be so irresponsible, what can we expect from village yokels? In Dushman (1971), the truck driver Surjit Singh (Rajesh Khanna), in a drunken stupor, runs over a poor farmer, thus snatching the only bread winner from the already impoverished family. The Judge’s classic sentence that Surjit earn and financially support the impacted family served two benefits — it helped support the family financially and helped Sujit overcome his guilt.
Singing on the streets, right in Bombay’s busiest district, and to the amusement of the onlookers, is taken for granted — especially when the dramatis personae are Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in the song Hum jhoot boltein hain maantein hain (Imaan Dharam, 1977).
Masquerades and manoeuvres
Given that majority the Hindi movies of the 1970s were city-based and centred around the smuggler-police themes, sequences included screeching car chases on the roads, overturning fruit carts, jeeps mowing through walls, open-door police jeeps (with the cop frantically waving outside) taking sharp turns, open top limousines, a lame man observing stuff exchanged between two cars at a noisy traffic signal ….with the lame Abdul (Mazhar Khan), staying permanently in public memory as the iconic Bombay beggar cum-informer in Shaan (1980) maneuvering his pushcart fearlessly through and between heavy on-rushing Bombay traffic.
- Actor Boman Irani, speaking to us in an interview shared that during the shooting of Farhan Akhtar’s Don (2006), the Malaysian government closed down streets and shops to help the crew shoot the action sequences on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Says Irani, “In fact, we asked to keep a few cars plying, a few shops open as a backdrop. They said that we could have our cars if we wanted to. They were that co-operative.”
Ramanand Sagar engaged a motley of sleuths — Mala Sinha, Mahmood, and Dhumal — masquerading as International Fakirs on the streets of Beirut in the slick spy thriller Ankhen (1968), overlooking the fact that such a public act invites severe censure by the Lebanon Government. Hindi cinema always seemed to buy out the law when the stars are overseas. In a sequence which seems heavily inspired by a similar one in Robert Mulligan’s Come September (1961) we had Shammi Kapoor manoeuvring his Vespa in the manner of a stunt artiste, on the highways of France in An Evening in Paris (1968),
Enough was enough. The Bombay police finally set the right example in Golmaal (1979) by bringing in industrialist Bhavani Shankar (Utpal Dutt) to the station for bumping into a police jeep — which was incidentally parked on the wrong side of the road. This perhaps one of the first instances in Hindi films of someone being booked for traffic violation.
It had always been every Bombay driver’s dream to be armed with a flying vehicle. On March 5, 2018, Heli taxi services commenced in the traffic-nightmare city called Bengaluru, connecting the airport to Electronics City, some 45 km away. Big deal. Cabbie Chhotu’s (Amitabh Bachchan) Fiat taxi in Khud-Daar (1982) achieved the impossible in 1982 itself as his taxi takes off in the air without a warning.
But wait, Chhotu was day dreaming.