It was sometime in August 1992. It was drizzling in Bangalore. The monsoons were long over, but we still received an occasional drizzle every now and then. I was in the second grade.That day, my school bus dropped us off at the regular Bharat Petroleum stop. My classmate Divya and I were walking back home, when we passed by THE wall. THE wall was the wall of a rickety old room by the road side, probably a shop at some point of time. There was no roof now and the walls of that old shop now served as a free movie poster wall for the nearby Murali tent. Yes, tent. The nearest movie hall, the Murali tent was an actual tent, very much like the ones that were put up by Gemini Circus when they were touring Bangalore. Very huge and spacious, but a tent nonetheless. There were very few air conditioned movie hall those days, and they were all in the main commercial city centres. For the residential areas, there was always a local movie tent that would make enough money by screening the latest flicks.Murali tent was very much a part of my childhood and I recall blissfully watching some of the best movies of my childhood there.
I always passed by that wall while coming back from school. Usually I gave it a customary glance and walked away. But that day, as Divya and I walked by,I slowed down. There was a new movie poster , a Tamil movie. “ Tamil, Color” at the bottom right of the poster confirmed my guess.
“Roja” i read aloud. Divya stopped walking.
“Yes, Roja” she said.
“That movie is very good. My sister (her eldest cousin who used to sometimes pick us up) went to watch it yesterday” she said.
I was not bothered how good the movie was. What held my attention was the face on the poster. This handsome, moustached, smiling, mole-on-the-face hero who looked straight into my eyes! I was too young at that time to experience anything even remotely close to a crush, but I swear, I just could not take my eyes off him. It was not the looks. That I am sure of ! I was a movie buff even then and I had seen my share of better looking heroes. But there was a certain earnestness in his eyes, I cant explain that feeling, but I was sure I would never forget that face. And I never did forget.
That night, in the Doordarshan countdown program “ Ek se bad kar ek”, a song from Roja was on the number 1 slot. I remember watching the entire song without batting an eyelid. Even before watching the movie, I had fallen in love with it.
Later that month, the next door Bal Bharati School screened Roja on the occasion of a delayed Independence Day celebration. That was when I watched Roja for the first time. I remember shedding a few tears and missing a few heartbeats when I watched the hero being tortured. I also remember taking a silent oath to roll on an Indian Flag if I ever saw one burning. Thankfully, I have never had to witness that scene in my life so far! But my first sense of patriotism and the first seed of love for my country was sown by that movie, Roja. My first feeling of extreme respect and adoration was for the hero of Roja. Though at that time, I did not entirely understand the husband-wife relation, I did understand that it was a special one, meant to be kept for a lifetime. Madhubala’s strife to unite back with her husband, the way she morphed from being a simple village girl to a strong wife who did not give up her search in spite of the million hurdles, inspired in me, a desire to be strong and face life.
After that first screening at Bal Bharati, I have watched Roja roughly 15 times or so. The latest being somewhere in 2008. The brilliance of that movie still continues to amaze me. The movie, thanks to its excellent camerawork, still looks like it was shot yesterday. It has been 18 long years for Roja, but the spirit of that movie will simply never die!
This post however is not about Roja. I dedicate this post to the forgotten man, the man whose face still holds the same charm for me, whose songs I still hunt down and watch a million times on YouTube, who played his role with such conviction and passion, that even to this day, he continues to be one of my favourite heroes! Number one in fact. Arvind Swamy!
He was a far cry from the quintessential Indian Hero. He had no rippling biceps or six packs. His face was not chiselled to perfection, nor was he an action hero. Nor was he overtly mushy, like the overdose of chocolate boys these days. He was a chubby, normal, man- next-door. I have never seen a moustache looking so good on any other face. He simply personified the typical well educated, Tamil Brahmin look and managed to make it look so cool! I can’t remember seeing him dance, but I do remember how his role in Bombay made my heart go flutter flutter! He was understated, unique and highly talented. He made acting look effortless. Every movie he ever acted in, he made it look like he was just being himself. And his sense of dressing, though some would call it drab, was uniquely personal . It was what any normal Indian man would wear. But on him, the sweaters, the jeans and his loose formal shirts, made a different statement altogether.
I cannot explain why I feel the immense “respect” for him. What I feel for him is too profound to be a momentary crush and too inappropriate to be love :) In fact, there is still no sense of romantic inclination attached to my liking towards Arvind Swamy. It is pure, unadulterated respect for the man who rolled on the burning Indian flag, who stood up for his inter-religious love, who dramatically cut his wrist and hers and announced their union, whose bleeding face on the bridge in the Roja climax scene made many a people cry. He may be a rogue in real life for all I care, but the man I know from the movies, deserves every praise I have showered on him today.
Btw, I googled him to find out what the guy is up to these days. There is not much information, but I did find a picture of him. A far cry from the handsome Tam Brahm engineer in Roja ! :) He is now Arvind Swamy Uncle :D