‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai’, Guru Dutt sings it and he sings it loud to expose the poignant materialism of our society in his autobiographical ‘Pyaasa’. He pictures death as the only escape from the mounting depression. A woman dishonored and tormented all her life shoots her son who is an outlaw to save the honour of her village. This was ‘Mother India’ way back in 1960s. A mughal emperor orders the beloved of his son who is a gorgeous courtesan, to be buried in a wall and saves the honour of his dynasty. This was K Asif’s megalomaniac venture of 50s ‘Mughal-e-Azam’. Death was portrayed as a guard of honour for the community as a whole in both these movies. Satyajit Ray portrays the dismal face of Indian poverty in his legendary ‘Apu Trilogy’ where death has been shown just another facet of life which lives and breathes along with its protagonists. An ecstatic young man in the prime of his youth dies of intestinal carcinoma in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s masterpiece ‘Anand’. And he leaves behind a following of people who love him because he challenges death without fear and rekindles their faith in life with his uncanny humor. Mukherjee calls it an inevitable part of life, a life which is nothing more than an agglomeration of various characters where everybody has been assigned a role to play. He carries the notion of death further in his another movie ‘Mili’ where a charming young girl full of life suffering from blood cancer flies abroad with her fiancé for advanced treatment. Her father keeps waiting and standing alone at the roof of his building as he watches the plane gaining heights taking his daughter to a place where death finds some cure. A final shot full of hope and life and the movie ends. We live and die of course but something remains even after death and it remains to stay forever. Raj Kapoor portrays it magnanimously in the biggest disaster of his career ‘Mera Naam Joker’ and his words resound in air when he sings ‘kal khel mein hum hon na hon, gardish mein tare rahenge sada’. Yash Chopra spices it up in ‘Deewar’ where a man who lost his father during childhood in a political warfare and has himself been a victim to the ills of society, achieves big and is killed in self-created circumstances by his younger brother. He portrays death as a necessary evil in the rigmarole of human existence. He also uses death in his experimental love stories ‘Silsila’ and ‘Lamhe’ where he brings it out as an unexpected accident and a lifelong jolt to the people left behind who keep suffering endlessly till they find a healing touch of love. Ramesh Sippy calls it a tragic affair born out of an act of abhorrence and vengeance in the biggest blockbuster of Indian cinema ‘Sholay’. Sometimes it is easier to die than to live a life without any hope and future. Mahesh Bhatt made a statement when he directed ‘Saraansh’ and showed two old parents making an attempt to end up their lives after the death of their only son. He proved that strength is required to live a dead and barren life than to really die. He also showed death as a unifying force in a much underrated work of his career ‘Kaash’ in which a divorced grieved couple decides to reunite after the death of their son to battle the haunting and loneliness of their lives together. He used the similar concept further in his autobiographical ‘Zakhm’ where the death of the mother acts as a unifying force between two brothers caught in a political combat. Govind Nihlani in 1983 represented death as a medium to break the ‘chakravyuha’ of life in his critically acclaimed ‘Ardhsatya’. Then arrived the showman Subhash Ghai, who created typical bollywood products in the dying 80s and 90s and used death as a device to boost up the box office in ‘Khalnayak’ and ‘Raam Lakhan’. He was absolutely clear in his mind when he directed these movies using old tested formulas that he didn’t want to make any statement out of it. Death is the ultimate level of eroticism as shown by Ketan Mehta in ‘Maya Memsaab’, an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s controversial novel ‘Madame Bovary’. A free-spirited promiscuous and seductive ‘Maya’ dispels into thin air in the final moments of the movie after she fails to find the true erotica of her life. On the other hand, Gulzar demonstrates death as the ultimate form of true love and devotion in his mythological ‘Meera’. Death is also the final conclusion of extreme radicalism in this conventional and clichéd world as shown by Gulzar through one of his characters in ‘Ijaazat’. Sometimes situations arise and both the victim and the accused get trapped in a web to die their own deaths. And this is when large number of people are massacred and sacrificed. There are no apologies in this universal crisis of terrorism and underworld mafia. Gulzar knew it so he made ‘Maachis’ and ‘Hu Tu Tu’ in which he shows death as a global phenomenon born out of a politically mastered state of affairs. So was also said by Ram Gopal Verma through his distinctive approach of filmmaking in ‘Satya’ and ‘Company’. Both these directors show the horrifying face of death and the obvious fear associated with it in their own manner. Gulzar uses poetry and emotions while RGV uses brilliantly crafted dark and gruesome camera visuals to paint death on a common canvass. Sometimes death remains the only mode of salvation. A trigger-happy gangster groans in pain and begs her mother for renunciation. Nobody knew that this thing would come unexpectedly from somebody called Mahesh Manjrekar in his directorial debut ‘Vaastav’. It’s really a moment to watch a mother shooting her son in a movie of 90s almost fifty years after ‘Mother India’ although the scenarios have matured from honour killing to a plea for salvation. Karan Johar has gone beyond imagination and used death in almost every script of his life from ‘Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai’ to ‘We Are a Family’. He brings it forcibly to create situations for love and romance and even tries to make a sad remake of ‘Anand’ by the name of ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’. Death can bring a change and it can give rise to a revolution too. Mehra uses this idea to change the corrupt face of Indian politics in his contemporary freedom struggle ‘Rang De Basanti’. An afraid, middle-class old man dreams about his own death and foresees his family members making a mockery at his funeral. Dibaker Banerjee sets the tone in the very first scene of his humorous directorial debut ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’. He blends satire and realism to portray the fear of death in Indian middle class society. Vishal bhardwaj has been instrumental in using the tool of death every time through his own adaptations of Bard and Ruskin bond. He interprets death in a contemporary style to portray a harsh reality. He has used death to culminate emotions. If it’s jealousy in ‘Omkara’ then it’s greed for power in ‘Maqbool’ to conclude in death. But he goes beyond all possible realms when Suzanna uses death to search for her love in ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’. Sometimes death is required to find resonance with life, a thought beautifully depicted by Aniruddha Roy Chaudhary in his Bengali work ‘Anuranan’. Anurag kashyap calls it a ‘darshan’ in ‘Dev-D’ when the protagonist stumbles on seeing a car crashing in the wall leading to a violent end. He decides to put an end to a life of destitution and sympathy and goes onto accepting a concubine as his partner. Death has also been shown as the dark reality of metropolitan life and culture in Mira Nair’s official Oscar entry ‘Salaam Bombay’ and Kiran Rao’s ‘Dhobi Ghat’. In ‘Dhobi Ghat’ one of the female characters of the movie embraces death after she fails to blend into the congestion and tradition of the big city. A lot has been said about death and portrayed several times on celluloid. But nobody has done it like Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Death had never been painted so beautifully ever before as in ‘Devdas’. Paaro running all the way through the long, magnificent corridors of her big haveli to the entrance, with her white red bordered sari unfurling and waving behind in the air, to embrace terminally ill, drunk devdas taking his last breath and he finally collapses as the gate closes in front of their eyes. And for the first time on Indian cinema somebody celebrates death and accepts it with open arms as in ‘Guzaarish’. For the first time people are not mourning the occasion rather they are celebrating it with drinks and smiles. It has never been done before. And it will never be done so beautifully ever after like bhansali has done it in ‘Guzaarish’.
From Guru Dutt to Anurag Kashyap death has always remained a fantasy for Indian filmmakers. They have used death as a cinematic tool to represent emotions and generate circumstances. They have used it again and again to prove that life is beautiful so it should be treasured in all possible scenarios. They have also shown it singing, dancing and smiling on celluloid. Sometimes it’s a necessary evil and sometimes it’s the only escape. But we have also maintained that death should be considered a pause, not a full stop. The concept still continues to be used variously by our filmmakers. The search which began almost a hundred years ago in the form of cinema still persists and manages to engage the audiences with the time tested formula called ‘DEATH’.