Jeevan remains my most irresistible guilty and not-so-guilty pleasure in the movies. An actor of unquestionably compelling talent Jeevan was one performer, perhaps unlike any in the nearly 100-year-old history of Indian cinema, who caricatured himself with such manifest success.
Jeevan seemed to make such ebullient mockery of the many characters he was given to play in Hindi cinema and yet brought to them such enviable commitment that what he did, none could. Although his early career was distinguished by his particularly effective portrayals of Narad Muni, the ultimate cosmic tattler of Indian mythology, Jeevan went on to play a large number of similar villainous roles whose signature style was his unique brand of what I have so cleverly called ebullient mockery.
He had to be an actor of fundamentally solid talent to be able to do with great élan many ridiculous things that he was required to do by the absurdist mainstream Hindi cinema. I refuse to make your work easier by citing a series of video clips of his career but trust me when I tell you that Jeevan, despite the intrinsic foolishness of his many characters, was nobody’s fool. It was a tribute to his integrity as a mainstream actor that he did precisely what he was expected to do by his directors.
The purpose of this Saturday post is not to critically assess Jeevan’s career (I do not believe in critically assessing anything) but to point out an aspect of it which I have always found at once hilarious and therapeutic.
There is something liberating in a nirvanic sort of way when you speak Hindi and even some English the way actor Jeevan used to speak in the movies. I strongly recommend it as a therapy. If you ever feel low, try talking like Jeevan. You will feel euphoric and ready to tackle the world. By the way, in my younger days I had gained some reputation as an imitator of Jeevan.
His trademark nasal intonation coupled with his enunciation has a quality that I find particularly attractive. I have often thought about changing my manner of speaking permanently to the way he used to do in the movies. I also find it rather relaxing. I see Jeevan fitting the themes of Tintin perfectly, for instance. If voiceover had become as big as a genre as it is now in Hollywood, I suspect Jeevan would have made quite a career out of it.
Born Onkar Nath Dhar in Srinagar, Kashmir in 1915, according to the IMDB, Jeevan began his career in ‘Fashionable India’ in 1935. He went on to act in 185 movies until his death in 1987. There is no immediate provocation to write about him except that this morning on a whim I started watching the 1973 Dev Anand starrer entitled ‘Banarasi Babu’ which features Jeevan as the main villain. His performance reinforced my conviction that the Jeevan therapy has considerable merit. There is a wide variety to chose from but let me just recommend a particular bit which I had written about in these columns once earlier.
It is a scene from the 1977 Manmohan Desai film ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ where Jeevan plays an Anglicized gangland boss Robert. In this scene Kishanlal, a chauffeur played with his characteristic flair by Pran, confronts Robert for whom he had taken a fall after a car accident. After running over someone Robert pleads with Kishanlal to take the blame. In return, Robert promises to look after Kishanlal’s family during the chauffeur’s incarceration. Once out of the prison Kishnalal discovers that Robert had happily forgotten all about his promise. Read more here.
Here is that scene. It is possible that copyright issue may not let you play the video directly on this blog. You may go to YouTube in that case.
Try imitating Jeevan and tell me if it is not a stress buster.