But How Do You Hide the Dead…

The idea for this piece came from a May 13 tweet by G Raghuram. In this tweet Raghuram talked about the Goodhart’s law in the context of the way Covid numbers are being reported.

In a 1975 article, the British economist Charles Goodhart had stated: “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” This came to be known as the Goodhart’s law. Of course, like many other laws in economics, the Goodhart’s law has also not been stated in simple English.

As Carl T Bergstrom and Jevin D West write in Calling Bullshit—The Art of Scepticism in a Data-Driven World: “While Goodhart’s original formulation is a bit opaque, anthropologist Marilyn Strathern rephrased it clearly and concisely: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

As Bergstrom and West further explain: “If sufficient rewards are attached to some measure, people will find ways to increase their scores one way or another, and in doing so will undercut the value of the measure for assessing what it was originally designed to assess.”

Examples of this phenomenon can be seen across different facets of life. A business school I used to work for had started dozens of journals and magazines, without much quality control, to drive up its rankings and it briefly did succeed. This was because business school rankings gave some weightage to research carried out by the faculty of a business school and by having its own magazines and journals, it was easier to publish. This helped in driving up the ranking. 

Now what does the Goodhart’s law have to do with the covid pandemic? As the covid pandemic struck and spread, different measures have been used to get an idea of its strength (for the lack of a better term). These include daily increase in covid cases, the total number of tests carried out in a district and a state, the total number of covid deaths, etc.

As per Goodhart’s law, these different measures have become targets. And that has led to different state governments  trying to game these measures, in order to make themselves look good and tell the world at large that they have the covid pandemic under control.

Before I get into data and news reports, let me explain this through a very simple example. For a while, the daily increase in the number of covid cases in Nagpur in Maharashtra was much more than the increase in the entire state of Madhya Pradesh.

Anyone who knows Indian geography would know that Nagpur is right on the border that Maharashtra shares with Madhya Pradesh. It is not an island. People can move between the states. This anomaly wasn’t really explainable unless one looked at the Madhya Pradesh numbers from the lens of the Goodhart’s law.

One parameter that has been managed (or should I say fudged) by different states is the number of people dying of covid. The idea as I explained earlier is to tell the world at large that they have the situation under control. The trouble is that the governments may be able to manage the data, but they can’t always hide the dead bodies.

Crematoriums across the country have been working overtime. Public health expert Ashish Jha, offered a straightforward argument in a Twitter thread on May 9. As he wrote: “During [the] non-pandemic year 2019, about 27,000 Indians died on [a] typical day. Crematoriums handle that level of deaths every day. Additional 4,000 deaths won’t knock them off their feet. Crematoriums across the country [are] reporting 2-4X normal business.”

He further writes: “So best estimate [of] 55,000 to 80,000 people dying daily in India, If you assume baseline deaths of 25,000-30,000, Covid [is] likely causing additional 25,000 to 50,000 deaths daily, not 4,000.” As Anirban Mahapatra writes in Covid-19 – Separating Fact from Fiction: “During the pandemic many of these excess deaths are due to COVID-19.”

Many journalists and newspapers have found ways of going beyond the official numbers. Let’s take the case of Gujarat. The Divya Bhaskar newspaper has reported that the state has issued 1.23 lakh death certificates between March 1 and May 10 this year. It had issued around 58,000 death certificates during the same period last year. So, the number of deaths has more than doubled this year. As per Gujarat government’s data only 4,218 deaths happened due to covid during the period. This suggests massive underreporting. The Gujarat government has called this report inaccurate.

It would be unfair to suggest that this trend of underreporting covid deaths is prevalent only in Gujarat. An April 15 report on NDTV, during the early days of the second wave, said that for Lucknow, the “cumulative official covid death count released by the government in the last seven days is 124.” Nevertheless, as “per the records maintained by the city’s crematoriums, over 400 people who died because of the virus had been cremated,” during the period. The government explained away this difference by saying that those dying in neighbouring districts and states were also being cremated in the city.

A similar thing happened in Bhopal as well. Over a period of 13 days in April, the official covid death count stood at 41. Nevertheless, a survey carried out by The New York Times of the main covid-19 cremation and burial grounds in the city, revealed that more than 1,000 deaths had been handled under strict protocols. There was a similar newsreport on Kanpur as well.  

In fact, the Financial Times, collected news reports across seven districts and found that the number of covid victims who had been cremated are ten times larger than the official covid numbers in the same districts. (Click on the above link to look at the graph).

Of course, other than such news stories, there have been a spate of photographs and videos lately, showing bodies washing up and then later buried on the shores of the Ganga river, flowing through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A Dainik Bhaskar news report puts the number at more than 2,000 bodies, with Kanpur, Unnao, Ghazipur and Ballia being worst hit. (Those who can read Hindi, I suggest please read this report).  

Journalists have also been counting paid obituaries being published in newspapers, again suggesting a huge difference between the reported numbers and the actual state of things.

As Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan told the New York Times: “It’s a complete massacre of data… From all the modeling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported.”

As per the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is based in Seattle, United States, the total covid deaths in India as of May 6, stood at 6.54 lakh, around three times the official figure.

There are several ways in which the undercounting happens. In Uttar Pradesh, in order to get admitted into a hospital, the patient required a reference letter from the Chief Medical Officer “who heads the Integrated Command and Control Centres set up by the government in all districts”. Due to this rule, patients were turned away from hospitals. And if such a patient died he or she wouldn’t be counted in the covid deaths.

A medical officer in Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu told The Hindu: “We have been told orally in the meeting that only deaths within 10 days of admissions will be taken as covid-19 deaths.” MK Stalin, the new Tamil Nadu chief minister, has asked the state government officers not to fudge data.

The number of deaths also depends on how the counting is carried out. Take the case of West Bengal, where in May 2020, the “official’ coronavirus death toll… doubled in the five days since the state virtually shelved its Covid-19 death audit committee.”

Then there are cases where an individual dying of covid had not tested positive (hence, it was a case of a false negative). There are examples of such cases not being counted as well.

There are also cases of covid deaths being attributed to other health complications that individuals had when they got infected by the virus. These include diabetes, hypertension, cancer etc., which increase the risk of severe covid.  

A news report on BMJ.com published in July 2020, pointed out that in Vadodra “death audit committees attributed nearly 75% of deaths in covid-19 positive cases to other causes such as complications from diabetes or following organ transplants.”  All this is happening against the prevailing guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research.

People who die outside hospitals or on their way to one, aren’t counted in the covid deaths. Two thirds of registered deaths in India happen at home. In all around 86% of deaths in India are registered.

Even here there is a great deal of variation across states. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, only 34.6% and 60.8% of the deaths, respectively, are registered. As the disease spreads across rural Bihar and rural Uttar Pradesh, massive undercounting of both active covid cases and deaths, is happening.

The reluctance of politicians notwithstanding, the system itself is not geared up to count the dead, from covid or otherwise, in these states.

The biggest evidence of undercounting comes from the fact that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that the “states should be encouraged to report their numbers transparently without any pressure of high numbers showing adversely on their efforts”.

There are several reasons why the governments need to count the number of people dying because of covid, correctly.

First and foremost, people have a right to know what is happening in the country. It tells us clearly how the disease is progressing  and helps us prepare accordingly, mentally, physically and financially.

Second, as I have often said in the past, if we don’t recognise a problem how do we work towards solving and/or containing it. With regard to this, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a former chief minister of Haryana, made an important point in a recent column in The Indian Express, where he said:

“The Union government is allocating oxygen on the basis of the severity of the second wave in the state. If the state government underreports the numbers or fudges the data, it will harm, rather than help, the state as it will get a lower allocation of oxygen and more deaths will follow.”

Third, counting covid death numbers as accurately as possible is important for the overall health security of the world. No herd immunity can be achieved if the disease keeps spreading across India.

Fourth, the correct data helps epidemiologists run their models properly and then make projections that should help policy.

It also needs to be said here that historically during a pandemic, data is not always accurately collected. As  Chinmay Tumbe writes in Age Of Pandemics (1817-1920):

“Death figures are collected on the basis of ‘registration’, which is a process that usually breaks down in a period of crisis, as observed by the health officials of those times. It leads to serious underestimation of the number of deaths, especially in poorer countries with weak data collection systems. In India, the Census of 1921 noted that due to ‘the complete breakdown of the reporting staff, the registration of vital statistics was in many cases suspended during the progress of the epidemic in 1918’.”

The mortality statistics of those who died in the pandemic that happened between 1918 and 1921, have been updated through various studies over the years.

Having said that, when it comes to data and data collection, things have improved by leaps and bounds over the last 100 years. Hence, even with the pandemic being on, data collection and management, needs to be carried out in a much better way.

Of course, all this is lost on a central government, which is primarily interested in narrative management. It is currently busy spreading the narrative that it had warned the states of a second wave.

But then it did nothing about it… Didn’t order enough vaccines… Didn’t make sure that there was enough stock of oxygen… Exported the vaccines being produced… Continued with the kumbh mela and the elections, both big super spreader events… And also told the world that India had managed to defeat covid.

In between all this we were also asked to bang utensils and eat dark chocolate. 

What have we done, Maggie what have we done?

margaret-thatcherJohn Maynard Keynes, the greatest economist of the twentieth century, had a line for most occasions. In his magnum opus The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, publishedin 1936, Keynes wrote: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”
Margaret Thatcher, more popularly known as “Maggie”, the longest serving British Prime Minister of the twentieth century, who died of a stroke yesterday, was no different on this front. As an obituary in The New York Times points out “Mrs. Thatcher’s prescription for change was based on the ideas of the conservative economists Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. Hayek believed that political and economic freedom were inseparable; Friedman argued that economic productivity and inflation were determined by the amount of money the government put into the economy, and that the heavy government spending advocated by Keynesian economics distorted the natural strength of the marketplace.”
When Thatcher first took over as the Prime Minister in 1979, Great Britain had become the sick man of Europe ( a tag which was usually used for Turkey). To revive the moribund economy Thatcher fell back on the ideas of von Hayek and Friedman. Thatcher went after the trade unions which had a stranglehold on the British industry. She sold off government firms, cut subsidies to the the firms which were piling on losses (in the process many of them went bankrupt) and resisted suggestions that the government should carry out more social spending and create jobs. She introduced both tax and spending cuts.
Like her intellectual gurus Hayek and Friedman, Thatcher was a firm believer in the “free market”, over and above everything else. As The Economist writes in an obituary of her: “
Mrs Thatcher believed that societies have to encourage and reward the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs, who alone create the wealth without which governments cannot do anything, let alone help the weak.”
Thatcher was not the only politician at that point of time who believed in the primacy of the market. Ronald Reagan, who was the President of the United States at almost the same point of time, also shared her belief.
And this unleashed an era of market triumphalism. As Michael Sandel, one of the greatest living philosophers, who works at the Harvard University, writes in
What Money Can’t Buy – The Moral Limits of Markets “The era (of market triumphalism) began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom. And it continued in the 1990s, with the market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving public good.”
And this belief in the markets led to the proliferation of market values into spheres of life where they don’t belong, feels Sandel. As he writes in a piece in The Atlantic “We live in a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.”
This led to ‘market values’ playing a bigger role in social life. As Sandel writes “Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”
Sandel provides many examples of the same. There were more private contractors fighting the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, than American military troops. In fact, an individual can fight in Afghanistan or Somalia for as much as $1000 a day. “The pay varies according to qualifications, experience, and nationality,” points out Sandal. At $2,50,000 you can shoot an endangered black rhino in South Africa. Western couples can pay as little as $8000 to hire the service of an Indian surrogate mother. You can sell space to display advertising on your forehead for $10,000. Becoming a guinea pig for the big pharma companies in their drug trials can pay as much as $7,500. “The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved,” writes Sandal.
In the Great Britain and United States public safety has been taken over by private security firms. The number of private guards is nearly double the number of police officers. When Pope Benedict XVI, who recently retired, first visited America, tickets for his stadium masses were distributed for free. Soon they were selling on the internet for more than $200. Even religious goods have been turned into instruments of profits (On a different note this has been a great business model for all the babas and gurus who have popped up all over India).
As the above examples show profits could be made on almost anything, including death. And in her death even Margaret Thatcher became a part of the market triumphalism that she helped unleash.
Death pool is a popular game on the internet where people bet on celebrities they think will die by the end of the year. “Serious players do not make their picks lightly; they scour entertainment magazines and tabloids for news and ailing stars…popular pool choices are Kirk Douglas,
Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Reagan, Muhammed Ali…Stephen Hawking, Aretha Franklin, and Ariel Sharon,” writes Sandel in What Money Can’t Buy. People who would have bet on Thatcher dying before the end of 2013, would have won some money by now.
While market values have grown into the western society steadily over the last three decades, they have grown much more faster in the financial sector where a price tag has been put on almost everything. Two particular concepts that were widely used to do this were securitisation and credit default swaps.
Around 2002, American banks (and even banks in Europe) started giving out subprime home loans. The best customers of the bank were prime customers. Those who did not fall into the category and were seen as not good enough to be lend to, were known as subprime customers.
Those were days that anybody and everybody got a home loan including subprime customers. This was primarily because banks did not keep loans on their books. They securitised them away. T
hey bundled these loans together and sold bonds against them. The interest paid on these bonds was lower than the interest the bank was charging on the home loan. The difference in interest was the money made by the bank. This process was referred to as securitisation.
This process worked not only on home loans but it also worked on auto loans, consumer loans, credit card receivables, student loans, and what not.
The bonds were bought by investors of various kinds. When the borrowers of loans paid interest on their loans that interest was pooled together and used to pay interest to those investors who had bought these bonds. The same thing happened with the principal on the loan that was repaid by the borrowers. It was pooled together and used to pay off the investors who had bought these bonds.
By doing this banks no longer carried the risk of the borrower defaulting. It was passed onto the investor buying the bonds. Also the bank securitising the loan got back its money immediately and could thus give out fresh loans. And the more fresh loans banks made, the more bonds they could securitise. And they more bonds they securitised, the more bonds they could sell and charge commissions on that. Given this the banks were more interested in giving out more and more loans, securitising them and making commission on selling them, instead of checking the credibility of the borrower and whether he would be in a position to repay the loan.
Investors were not borrowed about the quality of the borrowers because the rating agencies had given AAA or the best ratings to these bonds. More than that they had also managed to buy insurance on these bonds. In 1997, JP Morgan had developed a financial instrument known as the credit default swap (CDS).
Investors who bought securitised bonds also bought a CDS against those bonds. They paid an insurance premium to the firm selling the CDS. And in case the underlying borrowers of the bonds that investors had bought defaulted, the investors got compensated for the losses by the firm selling the CDS. It worked like any other insurance contract would.
But over a period of time investors could buy a CDS even on a bond they did not own.
In simple English this is what it meant. I can go and buy a life insurance on my life or for my car. If I die then my nominee gets paid by the life insurance company. If my car is damaged then the insurance company pays me the cost of getting the car repaired.
The CDS version of the same would be that anyone could go and buy life insurance on me or an insurance on my car for that matter. And as long as they paid their premiums if I died or my car was damaged they would be compensated.
The primarily player in the CDS market was the financial products divisions of the insurance major AIG, which was based out of London. So everybody thought they would live happily ever after because they had paid a ‘market price’ for being adequately protected. But that was not to be.
The borrowers started defaulting and this finally led to the financial crisis, the aftermaths of which are still on. All this could have been avoided if a ‘market price’ had not been put on everything and banks would have checked the credibility of the borrower before lending them money. But that was not to be as good old fashioned banking had been destroyed. And it all started with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher believing that markets were over everything else.
Let me conclude with some lines Roger Waters, that other Great Brit, once wrote:

What have we done, Maggie what have we done?
What have we done to England?
Should we shout, should we scream
“What happened to the post war dream?”
Oh Maggie, Maggie what have we done?
The Post War Dream – Pink Floyd.

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on April 9,2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Yash Chopra was much more than just the king of romance

Vivek Kaul
Yash Chopra launched his banner Yash Raj films in 1973. The second film produced under the banner was Kabhie Kabhie. It released in 1976 and had Amitabh Bachchan playing the role of a sensitive poet named Amit Malhotra. All the fantastic poetry that Amit recites in the movie was written by the poet Sahir Ludhianvi.
One of the couplets goes like this:
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare,
kyon koi mujhko yaad kare,
masroof zamana mere liye,
kyon waqt apna barbad kare. 

main pal do pal ka shayar hoon…
(yaad = remember. masroof = busy. pal = moment. shayar = poet).
The above lines were the thoughts of a poet who deeply felt that when he was gone, the world would forget him and move onto other things. And he was right. The world at large is too busy to bother about someone who is no longer there. Nobody remembers Sahir anymore. But there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Yash Raj Chopra is that exception.
His death has led to a tremendous outpouring of grief and sorrow from India at large and the Hindi film industry in particular. Very few film directors in the Hindi film industry have lasted as long as Yash Chopra did. His first film as a director Dhool Ka Phool was released in 1959. His latest film Jab Tak Hai Jaan is scheduled to release on November 13, later this year. During this period he worked with the biggest superstars of Hindi cinema from Dilip Kumar to Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan.
Chopra was often referred to as the King of Romance given his penchant for shooting in beautiful locations (particularly in Kashmir earlier and later Switzerland) with his heroines looking extraordinarily beautiful in their red and white chiffon sarees and singing and dancing to some brilliant lyrics set to fantastic music.
And this sobriquet of the King of Romance has stuck to Chopra even in his death. A random search on Google on his death throws up the following headlines:
Yash Chopra: King of Romance leaves void in Bollywood
King of Romance: Yash Chopra dies at 80
King of Romance: Yash Chopra no more
Yash Chopra, Bollywood’s King of Romance passes away
An important part of justifying the tag of being the King of Romance lay in making his heroines look beautiful on screen especially when they were singing songs. Raakhe has never looked as beautiful as she did when she was singing Kabhie Kabhi Mere Dil Main Khayal Aata Hai in the movie Kabhie Kabhie. Rekha was at her sexiest in the random shots that make the song Ye Kahan Aa Gaye Hum Yun Hi Saath Saath Chalte in Silsila. Sridevi outshone even Switzerland in Chandni. 
Juhi Chawla in the rain dance in Darr made millions of hearts go K K K K Kiran…. Both Madhuri Dixit and Karishma Kapoor danced their hearts out in Dil To Pagal Hai. And Preity Zinta and her dimples last saw success with Veer Zaara.
But just calling him a King of Romance would be doing a great injustice to the body of work that Yash Raj Chopra has left behind. In fact romance and candy floss cinema was something he discovered only in the latter part of his career.
His first film as a director was Dhool Ka Phool in 1959It was produced by his elder brother BR Chopra (who later went onto produce and direct the Hindi serial Mahabharat among other things). Dhool Ka Phool is a very sensitive story of an illegitimate child, whose parents happen to be Hindus, being brought up by a Muslim man. The film also had the brilliant song Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega Insan Ki Aulad Hai Insan Banega among other things.
Chopra followed it with Dharmaputra in 1961, one of the first movies to deal with the horrors of partition. Some of the riot scenes were too real for the audience to handle and caused problems at the cinemas the movie was playing in.
As film journalist Subhash K Jha wrote in a 2004 piece about the movie “The film about Hindu-Muslim relations, touched on the raw history pertaining to the happenings which were just 12 years old. The re-construction in Dharamputra of the carnage during the post-Partition riots opened up raw wounds in the audience, and sparked off riot-like situations at theatres screening the film. Yash Chopra vowed never to go into the thorny communal issue again.”
His next movie was the multi starrer Waqt. The movie is still remembered for the song Ae Meri Zohra Jabeen Tujhe Maloom Nahi picturised on Balraj Sahni. It was one of the earliest movies to be based on the lost and found formula (which the likes of Manmohan Desai later perfected to an art form).
Waqt is the story of Lala Kedarnath (played by Balraj Sahni) who has three sons whose birthdays are on the same day. There is an earthquake and the family is separated and loses contact with each other (what we call bichadna in Hindi movies).
The story goes that BR Chopra, the producer of the movie, wanted Prithviraj Kapoor and his three sons (Raj, Shammi and Shashi) to portray the role of the father and his three sons. But eventually only Shashi Kapoor acted in the movie.
“My brother B R Chopra thought it was a dream cast. One day, he was traveling with Bimal Roy when he narrated the script and also discussed the casting. Bimal immediately told him that the cast was a misfit. The movie was about separation and here I was casting three real brothers so anyone could recognise them. Ultimately the film was made with Shashi Kapoor, Sunil Dutt and Raj Kumar,” Chopra said in his recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan.
Waqt also had one of my all time favourite dialogues in Hindi cinema. “Chinoi seth jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hon wo doosro par patthar nahi phekan karte,” Raj Kumar (who plays the eldest son) tells the villain Chinoi Seth (played by Rehman). Waqt turned out to be the biggest grosser of 1965.
Four years later in 1969 Yash Chopra made the suspense drama Ittefaq starring Rajesh Khanna, Nanda and Iftekhar. The movie was largely set in one room and did not have any songs, which was a big risk at the point of time it was made. It still remains one of the best suspense movies made in Hindi cinema, and is nail biting till the very end.
In 1973, Yash Raj Chopra launched his own banner Yash Raj films with Daag – A Poem of Love. The story was written by the ace Hindi novelist Gulshan Nanda and was apparently inspired by the English novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. This was Chopra’s sixth film as a director. His first five films were all serious movies. Daag was also high on emotion and melodrama but it had a lot of romance in it as well with superstar Rajesh Khanna romancing both Sharmila Tagore and Raakhe. The movie had some superhit songs like Ab Chahe Sir Phoote Ya Maatha and Mere Dil Main Aaj Kya Hai. Chopra won the Filmfare award for the best director for this movie.
Chopra had also taken to directing movies for film financer Gulshan Rai in the meanwhile. He directed the Dev Anand starrer Joshilla which was released in 1973. The movie did not do well at the box office and is now remembered only for the song kiska rasta dekhen ae dil ae saudai, set to tune by the great RD Burman.
Chopra next directed Deewaar for Rai. The movie was written by the angry young men Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. Chopra in a recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan on his eightieth birthday said that Deewaar was Salim-Javed’s best script. It was perfect. The movie which released in 1975, the same year as Sholay, went onto become one of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema.
Said to be loosely based on Mazagon dock coolie turned underworld don Haji Mastanit  saw Amitabh Bachchan being firmly established as the angry young man who mouths lines like “main aaj bhi feke hue paise nahi uthatha” and wears billa no 786. The movie was originally not supposed to have any song but songs were added later under pressure from the producer.  
While shooting Gulshan Rai’s Deewaar Chopra was also shooting Kabhie Kabhie. This movie Chopra’s ninth film as a director, would turn out to be his first out and out romantic film. The movie had some brilliant songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi and set to tune by Khayyam. When it comes to describing the love for one’s beloved no better song has been written in the annals of Hindi cinema than
kabhie kabhie mere dil main khayal aata hai,
ke jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye.
tu ab se pehle sitaron main bas rahi thee kahin,
tujhe zameen par utara gaya hai mere liye. 

In the years to come Chopra would make Trishul for Gulshan Rai. He would also make Kaala Pathar under his own banner along with TrishulKaala Patthar released in 1979 was set around a coal mine and had Bachchan at his brooding best, even though it did fairly average business at the box office. Both Trishul and Kaala Patthar were multi-starrers which revolved around the angry young man played by Bachchan and had very little scope for romance, though they did have the mandatory romantic song.
The year 1981 was a landmark year in the history of Hindi cinema. It saw the release of Silsila starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha, which was a rather inspired casting. The story goes Smita Patil and Parveen Babi were supposed to star in the film originally opposite Amitabh Bachchan.  But as Yash Chopra explained in a recent interview to Shah Rukh Khan. “Smita was going to play the role that was ultimately played by Jaya Bachchan. I was not very convinced with the casting. I always wanted Rekha and Jaya Bachchan. Amitabh was shooting for his film Kaalia in Kashmir. I went to meet him. He likes to read the bound script. He read the script and asked me, ‘Are you sure you have made the right casting.’ I told Amitabh (Bachchan) that I wanted Jaya and Rekha in the film. He paused for a moment and then said, ‘Bombay jaake unko mil lete hai‘ (Lets go to Bombay and meet them). The very next day we took a flight and during the whole journey we didn’t even speak a word. I met Jaya and Rekha and both of them agreed to do the film.”
Another version of the story goes that Smita Patil pulled out at the lost moment and thus Jaya Bachchan had to step in.
The movie was beautifully shot in Kashmir and Netherlands. Dekha Ek Khwab to Ye Silsile Hue shot in the background of Dutch tulips remains one of the best shot songs in Hindi cinema. It looks fresh even 31 years later. But the movie’s theme of an extra marital affair between two married individuals did not go down too well with the Hindi film audience.
Nevertheless Silsila set the template for what would become the Yash Chopra romance. Good locales, beautifully shot songs, brilliant music and lyrics, and heroines dancing in the rain. The story and the script of the movie which were strong points of Yash Chopra movies till then took a backseat.
Between Silsila in 1981 and Chandni in 1989, Chopra made box office duds Faasle (which people feel is the worst of the 22 movies that he directed) and Vijay (highly inspired by Trishul). Vijay was more in the news for a 16 year old Bakhtawar Murad Khan (better known by her screen name Sonam) cavorting in a bikini with a much older Rishi Kapoor than for its storyline or entertainment value. Chopra also directed Mashaal with Dilip Kumar and Anil Kapoor during those years. The film had some excellent performances and brilliant songs composed by Hridaynath Mangeshkar.
Yash Chopra became the King of Romance with his 1989 hit Chandni. The film had a fairly common do hero-ek heroine waala love triangle story. But it had some excellent songs shot in Switzerland, and it had Sridevi at her peak looking fresh and beautiful as ever. With this film Chopra furthered the Silsila formula and it was a huge box office success despite its weak storyline.
Two years later in 1991 Chopra made Lamhe with Sridevi and a moustache less Anil Kapoor. The movie had all the ingredients of his Silsila formula but it also had a strong storyline of a younger woman falling for an older man who had once loved her mother. The movie has found its audience since its release.
With Darr in 1993, Chopra established Shah Rukh Khan as what came to be known as the anti hero (whatever that means) in Hindi cinema. Four years later in 1997 he made the candy floss Dil to Pagal Hai which had Shah Rukh playing Rahul and saying “Rahul naam to suna hoga” every ten minutes. With a very thin storyline Chopra managed to make Madhuri Dixit look gorgeous, and that along with some great music and Shah Rukh sold tickets at the box office.
In 2004, Chopra directed the Indo-Pak love story Veer Zaara. His last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan is scheduled for release on the day of Diwali next month (I have this nagging feeling that the story line is similar to Daag – A Poem of Love,  Chopra’s first independent production). 
Like he was in his life, in his death, Yash Chopra has been christened the King of Romance. But romance was something he discovered in the second part of his career. Rather ironically some his best movies from Dhool ka Phool to Waqt to Itefaaq to Deewaar to Trishul had very little romance in them, though his later romantic movies like Chandni, Darr, Dil to Pagal Hai and Veer Zaara, definitely made more money. And his latest movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan might very well be the next Rs 200 crore superhit.
The obituary originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 22, 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/for-yash-chopra-romance-was-a-much-later-discovery-498079.html/2
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

A hand-me-down role in ‘Anand’ crowned Khanna’s career

Vivek Kaul

So the world has rediscovered Rajesh Khanna or so it seems.
Around one pm today I was at Rhythm House, the only decent music shop to survive in Mumbai, after the onslaught of MP3s and what not.
As soon as I entered the shop I heard Kishore Kumar singing “zindagi ke safar main guzar jaate hain jo makam wo phir nahi aate”. For the half an hour I was at Rhythm House only Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar songs were played.
Rhythm House has also created a special shelf where all the Rajesh Khanna audio CDs, VCDs and DVDs have been separately put up.
Aaj subah sab se kewal Rajesh Khanna hi bick raha hai,” a shop attendant told me as I paid for my purchases ( I wasn’t buying Rajesh Khanna by the way. I have all of him that is necessary).
While returning home the taxi driver told me “kya gaane the sahab Rajesh Khanna ke, subah se Radio waale wahin baja rahe hain.”
News channels have been broadcasting songs, trivia, interviews and even a documentary in remembrance of India’s first Superstar.
A television channel has advertised on the front pages of a Mumbai daily that it shall be showing Kati Patang and Anand in the evening today (as you read this Kati Patang has probably started and Anand plays at 9pm).
Kati Patang is clearly a movie of the late sixties and the early seventies with a rather predictable storyline. But the Rajesh Khanna movie that has stood the test of time is Hrishkesh Mukherjee’s Anand. A story of a character called Anand who is dying of cancer but who does not give up his zest for life, even though he knows that he has a very short time to live.
Mukherjee, who also wrote the story, originally wanted Shashi Kapoor for the film. But Shashi Kapoor had just tasted success with Jab Jab Phool Khile and was probably more interested in doing romantic roles rather than a role in which his character died in the end.
Then Raj Kapoor, Shashi’s elder brother, and a great buddy of Mukherjee came into the picture. The trouble was that Mukherjee was superstitious about letting Raj Kapoor die on screen. Kapoor and Mukherjee were great friends and Kapoor referred to Mukherjee as babumoshai
Kishore Kumar was also considered for the role. But the story goes that he had a tiff with Mukherjee. Mukherjee who was a prolific film director wanted Kishore Kumar to act in one of his movies. Mukherjee paid him half the amount agreed on in advance and the remaining half was to be paid after the film was shot. But Kishore Kumar wanted the entire amount in advance. He refused to shoot for the movie. Mukherjee took him to court and won the case. The court directed Kishore Kumar to complete the movie and thereafter Mukherjee would pay him the remaining half.
Being the cranky genius that he was Kishore Kumar landed up on the sets with his head and moustache half shaved and apparently told Mukheree that “Aadhe paise mein aadha Kishore hi milega!
After this Rajesh Khanna got the role of Anand. In fact, it is said that Mukherjee also considered Bengali matinee idols Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee for the roles of Anand and Dr Bhaskar Banerjee.
The role of Dr Bhaskar Banerjee eventually went to Amitabh Bachchan. As IMDB points out “Mehmood advised Amitabh Bachchan to grab a secondary role alongside the then heartthrob Rajesh Khanna in the film, saying, “All you need to do is feed off Khanna, the rest will take care of itself.””
Bachchan had just landed in Mumbai a few years back giving up his comfortable job (what we now call a boxwallah) with Byrd & Co, in Calcutta, as it was then called. He was great friends with Mehmood’s younger brother Anwar Ali.
Every “big actor” does one role during his character that people remember him for. Marlon Brando had “The Godfather”. In case of Robert de Niro it was “Raging Bull”. For Amitabh Bachchan it was “Deewar”. And for Shah Rukh Khan it was “Dilwale Dulhainya Le Jayenge (DDLJ)”.
Anand was Rajesh Khanna’s Deewar. His Godfather. His Raging Bull. And his DDLJ. He reached his peak with Anand and his acting only went downhill after that. Khanna played out Anand’s part brilliantly but the role as explained came to him by sheer chance. Success is about things that happen. It is also about things that do not happen.
What is ironic though that Khanna who was a romantic hero did not have a heroine in the movie. This was a huge risk. But the fantastic script, songs, dialogues and music pulled it through.
Hrishikesh Mukheree did not make a better movie than this. It was also Salil Chouwdhury’s peak as a music director. And Gulzar’s dialogues in the movie are still doing the rounds and even helping news channels like Aaj Tak make a living. Sample this:
Zindagi aur maut upar wale ke haath main hain jahapanah,
use na aap badal sakte hain na main,
Hum sab toh rang-manch kee katputliya hain,
jinki dor uparwale ki ungliyon mein bandhi hain
Kab kaun kaise uthega, koi nahi bata sakta
ha ha ha…

The news channel Aaj Tak started playing this scene from Anand even before Rajesh Khanna’s death was announced. Such was the power of these lines. Anand’s dialogues are probably the most powerful dialogues in Hindi cinema after Sholay and Mughal-e-Azam.
What also stood out in the movie were two songs written by a new lyric writer called Yogesh. Yogesh started out writing songs for movies like Flying Circus, Marvel Men, Rustom Kaun and Husn Ka Ghulam, what were known as stunt movies back then. Hrishikesh Mukherjee heard the lyrics of two songs that Yogesh had written and loved them. But the rights for those song were already with a producer called LB Lachman.
As Yogesh told DNA in an interview few years back “Lachmanji was adamant about keeping the songs, but Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Mukherjee pleaded with him. Bachchan, who was a young man then, would say to me, ‘Kavi Raaj, yeh do gaane humein dila di jiye (Please get us these two songs somehow).’ Finally, Lachmanji relented and gave them one of the songs.”
This song was kahin door jab din dhal jaaye. Mukherjee was so happy with Yogesh that he asked him to write another song and Yogesh came up with the even better zindagi kaisi yeh paheli hi. These two songs turned what was a brilliant movie into an extraordinary one.
The other standout performance in the movie was that of Johnny Walker playing Issabhai Suratwala who Anand keeps calling Muralilal. Suratwala on the other hand keeps calling Anand as Jaichand.
Anand is a movie which has a tragic undertone throughout. But even with that the movie is not a tragedy. It makes you laugh at different points of time, only to make you cry in the end when Anand dies. The last scene of Anand which news channels have been playing nonstop since yesterday is probably the most powerful last scene ever shot in Hindi cinema. I can’t think of anything else that comes a close second.
All these ingredients went into making what has truly become Rajesh Khanna’s crossover movie. A movie that has stood the test of time. And can still be watched. That also explains why it is played on television almost every week.
The timelessness of Anand also tells us is that good cinema isn’t about shooting in Switzerland or having item numbers. It’s all about a story which is well told and the different ingredients coming together just in the right way. Rajesh Khanna was brilliant in Anand. But so were Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Salil Chowhdury, Gulzar, Yogesh and Johnny Walker. And yes Amitabh Bachchan.
Khanna may have given bigger hits like Aradhana and Haathi Mera Saathi. But can you really sit and watch these movies now?
Anand was his truly standout performance. His swansong. His tour de force.
If there is one Rajesh Khanna movie that you should be watching it has to be Anand.
And that’s what I plan to do when the clock strikes nine pm today, for one last time. What about you?
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 19,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/a-hand-me-down-role-in-anand-crowned-khannas-career-383511.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])

Rajesh Khanna: The Superstar who could not handle success

Vivek Kaul

Sometime in March this year I was taking a Tamil aunt of mine around Mumbai. As we went around on the Carter Road in Bandra I showed her Rajesh Khanna’s bungalow, Aashirward. “My sister even named her son after him,” she told me. “Such was his craze”.
Rajesh Khanna died today after years of loneliness and a drinking habit he couldn’t overcome. Actors often enact death scenes in movies and Rajesh Khanna enacted a particularly powerful scene in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand. In this scene Anand (the character played by Khanna is dying) is dying due to the lymphosarcoma of the intestine and there is tape playing in the background which has Babumoshai (played by Amitabh Bachchan, someone who would become Bollywood’s next superstar) speaking the following lines:
Maut tu ek kavita hai,
mujhse ek kavita ka vaadaa hai milegi mujhko…

(Death you are a poem..
a poem has made pact with me that I shall meet her .. )
Death and Khanna finally came together today on a rainy afternoon in Mumbai.
Khanna’s first movie was Chetan Anand’s Aakhri Khat, a movie which everyone has forgotten by now except for the rather soulful number “baharon mera jeevan bhi sawaron” sung by Lata Mangeshkar and set to tune by Khaiyyam.
The movie which set Khanna on his superstardom was Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana. There was no looking back after this as Khanna delivered one hit after another. Such was his craze among women that they would wait for hours to have a glimpse of him, marry his photographs and even name their sons after him (as was the case with my aunt’s sister).
As Sharmila Tagore said in interview to Indian Express, “Women came out in droves to see Kaka (Khanna). They would stand in queues outside the studios to catch a glimpse, they would marry his photographs,they would pull at his clothes. Delhi girls were crazier for him than Mumbai girls. He needed police protection when he was in public. I have never seen anything like this before and since.”
But unlike Amitabh Bachchan who followed him or Dilip Kumar who preceeded him Khanna’s movies hardly had any great dialogue. As Avijit Ghosh writes in Bollywood’s Top 20: Superstars of Indian CinemaRajesh Khanna became an actor without his best lines.” The dialogue that people probably remember till date is a line from Amar Prem: “Pushpa I hate tears”. And that after mimicry artists have used it over and over again over the years.Other than this his dialogues from Anand are well remembered till date.”Zindagi lambi nahi badi honi chahiye,” Khanna playing Anand says in this movie.
The movies of Rajesh Khanna’s may not have had the best of the lines but they had brilliant music composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal (LP) and RD Burman. This was a huge reason for his success. The music for his first big hit Aradhana was officially composed by SD Burman, but since the senior Burman was taken ill, the music was composed by his son RD Burman, though he wasn’t credited for it.
The story goes that Khanna used to clear a tune only if he remembered it a few days after the composition had first been presented to him. Also he made LP and RD Burman compete for his films, getting the best out of both in the process.
The lyric writer Anand Bakshi wrote some of his best lines for Rajesh Khanna. Even bad films like Aap ki Kasam had great songs like zindagi ke safar main guzar jaate hain jo makaam wo phir nahi aate.
His superstardom also revived the singing career of Kishore Kumar and together they formed a hit pair. Some of the most soulful numbers of Kishore Kumar from chingari to ye lal rang kab mujhe chodega to my all time favourite Kishore number jab dard nahi tha seene main tab khak mazza tha jeene main, were filmed on Khanna.
Such was the Rajesh Khanna craze that he had 15 consecutive solo super-hits between 1969 to 1971, a record which the biggest superstar of Hindi cinema Amitabh Bachchan also could not break. And like most of the batting records set by Sachin Tendulkar it is likely to remain unbroken, the Khan superstars of this day and age notwithstanding.
But superstardom was something that Khanna could not handle. “At one point, Rajesh Khanna was a god, but the trouble with him is that he started thinking he was one,” Ali Peter John, a film journalist, told the Open magazine around a month back. Jack Pizzey, who made a documentary titled Bombay Superstar on Khanna described him as an actor who had the “charisma of Rudolph Valentino and the arrogance of Napoleon”.
Success got into his head. And the first victim of this was his girl friend of seven years Anju Mahendru. After the breakup Khanna married Dimple Kapadia before the release of her first movie Bobby, on the rebound. The story goes that he got his baraat to go in front of Mahendru’s bungalow (which was actually Khanna’s bungalow). They did not speak for nearly 17 years after his marriage.
With success came a group of hangers on, who kept reminding Khanna that he was the superstar. “Although those were the days when Khanna was ‘friends’ with nearly all his colleagues, the regular darbar that he held at Aashirwad had only small-timers in attendance. Among those he hung out with were the producers Mohan Kumar and Johnny Bakshi, writer VK Sharma and villain Roopesh Kumar (claimed to be a cousin of Mumtaz). Do these names ring a bell?” wrote Shaikh Ayaz in the Open sometime back.
In 1973, four years into Khanna’s success everything changed. The year saw the release of Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer. A script written by Salim-Javed and which was rejected by seven different actors (including Dev Anand) before Amitabh Bachchan finally took it on. The movie was a smash hit and saw the birth of the angry young man. Before Zanjeer the maar-dhad films were not a part of the mainstream of Hindi cinema and were referred to as stunt films, which had the likes of Dara Singh in the lead role.
Zanjeer changed all that. And Khanna was anything but the angry young man. He was the boy next door. Thus started the decline of Rajesh Khanna. He made several attempts at a comeback and had occasional hits like Souten in which he was paired opposite Tina Munim.
When Bachchan was on his way up Khanna tried to brush his success aside. As Ayaz points out in the Open magazine “Aise attan button aate jaate rahenge, lekin Rajesh Khanna ko koi chhoo bhi nahi sakta. Main kya aise aire gaire logon se darr jaaunga?” But with the rise of Amitabh Bachchan, Salim-Javed and the angry young man, Khanna’s superstardom had well and truly ended.
Khanna briefly moved onto politics representing the New Delhi constituency for the Congress party between 1992 and 1996. The comebacks also continued in the meanwhile. The most embarrassing of them all being the 2008 movie Wafaa: A Deadly Love Story in which he starred opposite the now supposedly dead Laila Khan. The story goes he also almost entered the Big Boss house and his son in law Akshay Kumar got the deal scuttled.
Rajesh Khanna’s life closely resembled the life of the lead character in the 1950 Hollywood film The Sunset Boulevard. Norma Desmond is a long forgotten lonely film star of the silent movie era in the movie. She still can’t get over the fact that her days of superstardom are over. And she is trying to make this one last comeback. Things go wrong and in the end she shoots her paramour Joe. In the classic last scene of the movie news cameras have arrived at her house. Norma is hallucinating by then and thinks that the news cameras are actually film cameras. She descends the grand staircase of her house and says the famous last lines of the movie.
I can’t go on with the scene .I’m too happy. Do you mind, Mr. DeMille(a famous film director in Hollywood during those days), if I say a few words? Thank you. I just want to tell you how happy I am to be back in the studio making a picture again. You don’t know how much I’ve missed all of you. And I promise you I’ll never desert you again, because after “Salome” we’ll make another picture, and another and another. You see, this is my life. It always will be. There’s nothing else -just us and the cameras and those wonderful people out there in the dark… All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”
Rajesh Khanna rest in peace.
(The obituary originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 18,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/rajesh-khanna-the-superstar-who-could-not-handle-success-381803.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])