A documentary filmmaker with an anthropological interest in India, the UK-based Behroze Gandhy is, in her own words, “a product of the 1960s Bombay culture”. Daughter of gallerist Kekoo Gandhy, one of the architects of Indian modern art, Behroze was raised in the Parsi and Western tradition. Yet, she found unusual inspiration in Bollywood. She discusses Mughal-E-Azam and why the film reminds her of India.
‘I have a long and significant history with Mughal-E-Azam. Firstly, coming from a Parsi background [her father, Kekoo Gandhy was the founder of Gallery Chemould] and being born in Bombay, I was very much a product of the Bombay culture. Our family seafront home, Kekee Manzil, is still in Bandra, the capital of Bollywood. What was so peculiar about being a Parsi girl in those days was that we never saw Indian movies. We preferred Hollywood, the Westerns and Biblical epics. Yet, despite being raised on Ben-Hur and The Wizard of Oz, the presence of Hindi cinema was always there because the filmstars lived so close by and the publicity posters were all around. You knew all the gossip. You heard Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, which became more dominant later on. One day, at the St Joseph’s Convent High School, they took us to see Mughal-E-Azam. You just have to see how all these well-behaved convent girls sat quietly in one row. My god, the first Hindi film I ever saw! I can still picture myself there.’
‘What reverberates even today is the experience of it–Prithviraj Kapoor’s thundering voice, Dilip Kumar’s love scenes but more importantly, Madhubala’s ‘Pyaar kiya toh darna kya‘. That rebellious song really captured the imagination of an innocent convent girl! Soon afterwards, we discovered, much to our joy and surprise, that Madhubala lived opposite our school. At lunch break, we’d wait to get a glimpse of this alluring star on her balcony and these myths would grow that she’s an alcoholic. Some said she was nursing a broken heart after her affair with Dilip Kumar had ended. We were making all these fantasies about her when, in reality, she had a weak heart condition. We used to hear in the press about the making of the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ at Mohan Studios. So, for me, the film was a part of the Bombay experience. It brings into focus everything about Indian culture, especially the synthesis between Hindu and Muslim ethos.
Look at the film’s close attention to detail, the costumes, the dances, the sets–when you research about it, you realise the maker’s uncompromising commitment to his vision. At a time when Hindi cinema was dismissed as tacky, here’s one film where everybody went to their end limits of creativity. It’s a paradigm of perfection and a throwback to the good ol’ studio days. Like that little girl I was once in Bandra, I still love the idea of the teeming streets outside and a studio where you invent dreams.’
Films that take us home is a mini-series where artists from the Indian diaspora talk about the films that remind them of the places they have left behind. Read the first one here