Achanak and a slo-mo back to the 70s’

Last month, after a period of some 16 years, I watched the movie Achanak again, to mutter to myself at the end, what a movie it was and by today’s standards, what a movie it is. I remembered seeing it at Lido Bangalore, ages ago, walking down from Cubbon Road, with some friends.

Directed by Gulzar & co produced by Hrishikesh Mukerjee, this thriller brought out the best from a dashing Vinod Khanna playing an Army officer who comes back on a short vacation, to see his wife in the arms of his best friend. He kills them both, one by one and hands himself over to the police and after an ensuing court case, is sentenced to death. While the girl’s father Ifthekar, who is also Khanna’s superior officer, appeals on Khanna’s behest at the high court, Khanna flees captivity, but is found and shot by the police after a thrilling foot chase. Fighting death with cerebral thrombosis, he survives miraculously and recovers, only to be taken back to the gallows. Or is he? It is a brilliant movie and if you, the reader have not seen it, try to (DVD’s are available) . Even today, it will measure up to most standards. Based on a short story by KA Abbas (who also wrote Mera Naam Joker, Jagte Raho, Awaara, Shree 420, Bobby & numerous other great scripts & novels) titled Thirteenth Victim in the magazine Imprint, supported by a cast of Ifthekar, Farida Jalal and Om Shivpuri, the lead by Vinod Khanna is superb.. But then this is not a review, there is obviously more, as you can imagine.

The original story (dating to 1958-59) was ‘apparently’ based on the very famous Kawas Nanavati case. Now this would be known to certain people, mainly Bombay’ites. Kawas was a dashing naval commander who was in the employ of VK Krishna Menon while he was high commissioner in London. While at the UK, Kawas met and fell in love with a lovely English girl Sylvia. They married, and returned to Bombay. Kawas a Parsi, had to travel frequently and it was thus it seems, that Sylvia ended up having an affair with Kawas’s friend, a Sindhi playboy named Prem Ahuja. Now some of you may wonder why I mentioned the communities of these people, well, it was for a reason of course. As the press & court minutes conclude, Sylvia had a roaring physical relationship with Ahuja, but she wanted a more permanent married relation. She was prepared to leave Kawas, but was at the same time getting increasingly confused over the affair, and Ahuja eventually backed off..

As it happened, Kawas came back after a trip and found a disturbed Sylvia. She confessed about the affair with Prem Ahuja. Kawas took it calmly, picked up his service revolver and a few cartridges the next day, from the naval stores, dropped his family at a movie theatre, then went and accosted Prem Ahuja and asked him if he would marry Sylvia. Prem retorted that he had no plans to marry every woman he had sex with. Kawas as it appears shot him dead. He then turned himself in to the police.

The court case which followed was sensational, as Kawas pleaded non culpable homicide, Bombay wad soon divided, Parsis vs Sindhis. Karanjia (also a Parsi) of the ‘Blitz’ newspaper took up the publicity for Kawas. Blitz was soon in hot demand and sold at Rs 2/ each instead of the usual 25 paisa. The dashing officer was on the paper regularly and many swooning women if I read right, sent Rs 100/- notes with their lipstick smears to support him. The trial that followed was a Jury trial. The jury acquitted him 8-1 but later the presiding judge dismissed it saying that the jury was unduly biased by newspaper reports and other publicity.

That was the last time a jury was used to judge a case in India (My friend Nick Balmer was telling me how hard his forefather Thomas H Baber of the East India Company tried to bring in Juries in Malabar trials. Well, they were indeed used in India, until it was abolished in 1959 after this particular Nanavati case). So as you saw, the session’s judge refused to accept the ruling and referred the case to the high court. Kawas was sentenced guilty and imprisoned.

The $&#@ hit the fan as they say and the public went berserk. Ram Jethmalani was the skilful defense counsel. The central government was involved, Nehruji as well or so I read, and the armed forces, threw their weight behind Kawas Nanavati. Finally Vijayalakshmi Pandit, then Bombay Governor pardoned him (after a formal personal pardon by Ahuja’s sister) and she also pardoned a prominent Sindhi businessman who had a government case lodged against him, to compensate Sindhi uproar. Nanavati later emigrated to Canada.

That was the story on which this movie Achanak was supposedly based. Incidentally another more directly related movie is Sunil Dutt’s ‘Yeh raste hein pyar ke’.

What you read above was just a brief introduction to the case, for the Nanavati story is long and lurid, with much of it well documented in the press, if you care to look. Kawas was the character pictured loosely in Achanak, which came out in 1973.

All this made me recall the 70’s for it was just a year later that Protima Bedi streaked across Juhu beach (To help launch ‘Cine Blitz’). I was not there to see it, I had only heard about it while at college, but recently I got to see the blurry snaps. Wow! She was some woman, is all I will tell you.

Ah! The late 70’s were great, the college days. We had no TV then; it was all radio and newspapers. Bellbottoms were coming along and reaching proportions rivaling the Liberty bell, long hair was ‘hep’ and we sported hair bands (at least I did, on my forehead like Mc Enroe, over long hair). I still recall going to the Pallavur temple with a head band and the staid old mama’s in ‘mundum veshityium and onnara beneath’, looking at me like I was from Mars. They would ask me, are you not Chella’s grandson? Just to make sure.

Belts were broad like hell, big buckles and all, shoe heels were inches thick (men’s heels), RD Burman was king and Dum Maro dum was the anthem. In Malayalam and Tamil, Kamal Hassan was the person to copy, for style & looks. Riding aYezdi, an old Java or a Bullet mobike with a smoky & noisy exhaust was cool. Smoking cool (mentholated) was not cool, but smoking Charminar, Charms or Gold Flake was. Liril soap was to hit the scene soon, to take over from Rexona and Hammam and Lifebuoy, and Karen Lunel would become a national heart throb for a while, followed by Nafisa Ali…Go to this old blog of mine, if you want to heat that old Liril ad music..

Then the hair style went from long flowing hair to a mean step cut, which was horrible actually, come to think of it, but then we all did it for a while. The moustache drooped, ala Charles Bronson, for those who sported one.

They have all been relegated to fond memories, for Imprint (I read ‘Anderson tapes’ and ‘Elephants can remember’ serialized in Imprint) which had the Achanak story is no more, Blitz is no more, Protima is no more. Achanak is still around, if you care to look for it in some video shop. And memories are always there, to take you back to those romps in the good old days..


Raj said…
I think that I came across this case in Rushdie's Midnight's Children. The movie seems to be available in Netflix.
Maddy chettan, good one. I need to watch this movie now, after reading this interesting story behind the story.
Greatly informative! Though I had heard about the Nanavati case, I did not the details as also about the film. Your narration is exceptionally brilliant.

About the nostalgia of the college days of the 70s, I too intend to share at an appropriate time.

Happy Kitten said…
The good old days with no TV but plenty of more interesting stuff to do.. nd now we have the TV playing so many different movies and most of them cant hold ur interest.. yet u waste ur time staring at the screen!

nd what happened to Sylvia?
rocksea said…
Maddy, I am a frequent reader of your blog. Thanks for giving a glimpse into the life in the '70s :) Do you think that this was the period that much of Kerala saw huge transition from its traditional lifestyle, embracing bits and pieces of the western trends?
Dreamer said…
Wow, nice flashback. I do remember the Liril tune. One of my earliest childhood memories is of going to the movies and every movie would have the Liril ad before it.
harimohan said…
once again Maddy you gave me a very pleasant nostalgic experience as I experienced all this ,Achanak i missed which I will make up ,tks
अचानक आप बहुत पीछे ले गए। मैं तो पैदा ही 77 में हुआ था लेकिन यह फिल्‍म मैंने बचपन में दूरदर्शन पर देखी थी। आज तक विनोद खन्‍ना का पेड़ों के इर्द गिर्द घूमकर खोजी कुत्‍तों को भरमाने वाला सीन याद है।
Kamini said…
Such a nice post! The Nanavati case created a real stir, and I remember my parents and their friends talking about it when I was very small. The movie sounds the perfect thing for a cool autumn evening!
Yes, Protima Bedi was quite a woman! She has left a really precious legacy behind in the form of her dance school, Nrityagram near Bangalore.
this is such a nice post. and you never fail to impress me with the meticulous research you know.

Lovely nostalgia trip. Mite before my time and my parents didnt have the foresight to put hairbands with the diapers. ah well. 80's had enuf bad hair.
Maddy said…
Hi Raj, BPSK ..I have not read Rushdie. Butthe movie should be available, since it is on DVD

Thanks Murali - some stories are always great yarns, I guess. nanavati's especially.

HK - Sylvia & kids live in Toronto

Rocksea - that is a question which needs a long answer - but to put it simply, No, the real changes started only in the mid 90's. Some day I will write a blog titled The Guys and the Gals to cover this very topic.

Dreamer - The AIR tune and the Lyril tunes never fail to captivate me & transport me to those years..

Thanks hari - Hope you got to see the movie.

Sidharth ji - Bahut Dhanyavaad..b Woh to ek ajib scne hi tha - us zamane mein aise scenes pehli baar purdeh par dekah tha hum..

Thanks Kamini - I guess some of them left more behind in posterity than we thought they did while they lived.

Thanks Cynic - u made me chuckle at that..
rocksea said…
Thanks Maddy, would love to read that from you :)
Anonymous said…
I was searching for interesting things to say in a lecture I am doing tomorrow about India in the 18th and 19th Century. But reading your post was a great moment to read a wonderful narration! :)

I'm adding you to my Google Reader!
Maddy said…
thanks condottiero,
appreciate your comments