What happened when Google met Gabbar

Diptakirti Chaudhuri June 17, 2016 5 min

Yesterday, Google released an ad — more a short film, really — called ‘The Hero — A Bollywood Story’ about a young man who uses the power of the search engine to help his father realise his life-long dream of acting in a film. It turns out that the dad came close to acting in one of the most iconic films of Hindi cinema, Sholay, 40 years ago, when family biases intervened and he was pulled back into “real life”.

Diptakirti Chaudhuri, a Bollywood-obsessed salesman by day and writer/blogger by night, also the author of Bollybook and Written By Salim-Javed: The Story of Hindi Cinema’s Greatest Screenwriters, writes about his reaction to the Google ad, which resonated deeply with him.   

After nearly a decade in Delhi, I moved to Bangalore in August 2015. When I told a friend – a huge Bollywood buff – I was moving to Bangalore, he smiled. “Right on time,” he said. This may sound somewhat cryptic to a generation which has to go online to find a film shot near Bangalore 40 years ago, but we knew what we were talking about.

Almost down to the day Sholay turned 40, I – along with a gang of like-minded friends – trudged up the rocky terrain of Ramanagaram to fulfil a wish we never knew we had made. Sitting on the rickety wooden seats of a Saharanpur cinema hall, uncomfortably cross-legged on the lawn of a Calcutta club, on an ancient video cassette player hired for the day, on a lucky Sunday on Doordarshan, we had all watched Sholay and wanted to walk on those rocks one day. I am among the few who managed to reach – what is locally called – the Sholay Rocks. Many have forgotten this wish. Many still sigh inaudibly when they bump into Gabbar Singh in between changing channels. This silly wish is a rather strange thing to have on a ‘bucket list’. There is nothing to show off, no much-needed relaxation to get, no adrenaline rush either… The only reason I can think is that a visit to the place where Sholay was shot would bring back some of our happiest memories.

And why am I rambling on about this? Because exactly 1 minute and 57 seconds into this film, a familiar music kicked in and brought my childhood alive.

Hindi cinema is one of those strange art forms where quality and finesse don’t matter. The humongous and crazy fan base has no trivia database, no information repository, no organization, no official merchandise to feed on. And yet, millions are willing to overlook adultery, culpable homicide, alcoholism and myriad other misdemeanours in their reel-life and real-life heroes, worshipping them like they would do to any god.

Devdas, an alcoholic wastrel created a hundred years ago, is still being reincarnated because his dithering and cowardice is something we ourselves identify with. We cheer Anthony Gonsalves on when he is beating up goons but he becomes one of our own when his elder brother – unaware of their relationship – beats him up. An actor becomes hugely successful playing psychopathic stalkers but he becomes a superstar when he decides to woo his girlfriend’s family instead of eloping.

But Bollywood has changed. Depending on a lot of pre-planned factors – timing of release, promotion budget, length of weekend – big hits seem to get manufactured nowadays. Yet, the ones that stand the test of time, the ones that make you want to go to their shooting location, are the ones in which you see yourself. Or want to see yourself. Amitabh Bachchan became a saleable hero when he played an angry cop in Zanjeer. But he became the country’s biggest star when he refused to bend down to pick up a wad of notes.

Many years back, I was tremendously frustrated after two years of preparing for what is called the world’s toughest entrance exam. Having missed a seat in IIT, I had no desire of knowing more about vectors and force and suchlike – even if it was at a very good college in my home state. I wanted to dump my engineering seat and study English literature instead. My father dissuaded me. He was known for his fabled temper and many family members assumed he browbeat me into taking up engineering — but that is not true. He actually convinced me logically. While I was eventually happy with my decision, I knew he felt guilty for making me do this.

Many years later, he was battling cancer when I watched a film called 3 Idiots and realized that the character of (the unfairly named) Hitler Qureshi was actually my father. Both characters had strong notions of what would make their children happy and both were willing to sacrifice everything and more for their children’s sake. But they both knew when to step aside. In typical filmi style, Hitler Qureshi magnanimously replaced his engineering dropout son’s laptop with a camera.

Three months after 3 Idiots released, I got an offer to write my first book. By this time, my father’s cancer had worsened and he had almost lost his voice. Instead of calling him, I messaged him the news. I must have read his reply a thousand times… “Today, I am the happiest man,” it simply said.

Many people don’t like 3 Idiots. Even those who love it, very few would name it among their most favourite films ever. But for me, it is exactly that because in a way, it is about me. I see myself in the characters who try to balance their passion and their work. And I can hear my father’s sigh of relief when Mr Qureshi lets Farhan embark upon a career of photography.

For millions of us, when we are searching for heroes on a search engine, we are actually searching for ourselves. Sometimes, the result is right up there. Sometimes, it is hidden in the fourth page of results. Or the fourth decade of our lives.

And like Ben’s grandma, I have to thank you, Google, for saying this so beautifully.