BOOK EXCERPT

‘I’m your Janice’: How Dev Anand cast Zeenat Aman in ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’

In his memoir ‘Romancing with Life’, the filmmaker reveals how Zeenat Aman’s character was inspired by a chance encounter in Kathmandu.

I was at the palace in Kathmandu when I received a message to say there was a telephone call for me from Christian Doermer, a German documentary film-maker who was in Kathmandu.

Both of us, adventurous in spirit, went in the evening to a mysterious joint called The Bakery, the meeting place of hippies at night. The hippie cult had caught the fancy of the jobless, lazy, frustrated, fun-seeking youth of the world. They went wherever opium, hashish, marijuana and LSD were available on plenty, and not forbidden, seeking to pleasure their senses with the revelrous smoking, dancing and singing bouts, blending their personalities into one another, sitting around with vacant looks on their faces as psychedelic colours streamed through their drug-induced consciousness.

Christian and I walked down a hill and through narrow and dark alleys to reach a spot from where we could watch the hippies.

What we saw was sheer cinema. Long-haired hippies, many of them men, unshaven and bearded, with garlands of yellow marigold flowers around their necks and saffron tikkas on their foreheads, were huddled together, some sitting cross-legged, others lying flat on their backs, looking up at the starless sky, as if in meditation, with their female companions lying in their laps, or with their heads resting on their chests, their skirts flying carelessly into the air that smelt of hashish. They were all smoking chillums, one chillum being passed on from hand to hand in turn.

A single candle flickered away, casting its shadow on the naughty doing of some.

A couple of them fell on a long-haired brown girl, her blouse loosely worn over her breasts, partly revealing her young firm breasts, her bra undone, as she played with the grass on the ground, enjoying the sweet smell of marijuana.

The brown girl attached my attention for no other reason except that she was the only dark-skinned person among them all. As she fell black from the long-drawn kiss with her partner, giggling, she uttered a word which sounded like Hindi to me. Then she turned towards a pair of spectacles lying on the ground right next to her, about to be trampled upon by the sadhu passing around chillums.

Meet the real Janice

‘Bob, mera chashma,’ she said, quite clearly this time. There was no doubt that she was Indian.

‘What the hell is she doing here, amongst strangers, away from her own community, her identity?’ The question crossed my mind rapidly. It seemed like a great story – very unusual, revealing and digging out. She could be the subject for my next film, I thought, a subject not dealt with in any Indian film so far. I instantly wanted to find out more about her, and to get to know what she was all about, and what the chillum-smoking group that surrounded her was like.

I asked the barman of the Soaltee hotel if he knew about a certain attractive Indian girl who spent her nights in the company of foreigners visiting Kathmandu. He immediately reacted and gave me the details about her. The Barman said the girl was from outside Nepal, and was living with her Nepalese boyfriend. He assured me that I would find her waiting for me next day, if I visited his bar when it opened.

Next evening, as I walked into the bar, the barman saluted me and pointed at the girl sitting on a bar stool in a quiet corner of the bar, with her back towards me. She, sensing somebody approaching her, turned, recognized me instantly and stood up staying, ‘Hi, you wanted to meet me?’

‘Naturally, the most popular and attractive person in Kathmandu,’ I replied.

‘I am a great fan of yours, and so is my mother,’ she reciprocated.

‘Where is she?’ I asked.

‘Montreal, Canada.’

‘And you-’

‘Holidaying in Kathmandu,’ she said.

‘A great place for that,’ I said. She laughed.

‘Your name?’ was my next question.

‘Janice.’

‘Janice?’

‘Originally Jasbir, but Janice is acquired name!’ she giggled.

She told me her story, hesitating to open up in the beginning, but confiding in me slowly. She had run away from her mother in Montreal. She said she was a rebel, belonging to the new generation, that there was a generation gap in the world that couldn’t be bridged, and to derive her own share of happiness from the world, she had quietly walked out of her home, having quarreled with her mom, stealing a sum of money she needed for the present trip, which she said was her rightful due from her parents who did not look after her needs.

‘And your father?’ was my next question.

‘He’s divorced from my mother and now lives somewhere else,’ she said briefly. ‘Somewhere in Punjab.’

The moment she left, the story idea and Jasbir, its central character, had formed themselves in my mind. I would call the film Hare Rama Hare Krishna.

An audience with King Mahendra

When I went to bid farewell to King Mahendra after the seven-day stint of celebration, I didn’t have to wait long in his favourite visitors.

‘If you allow me to say, your majesty . . . I have a story idea in my mind that has just cropped up, that could only happen in Nepal.’

He was in a mood to listen.

‘Of a movie that represents a new world phenomenon, the young, reckless people,’ I continued.

‘You mean the hippies?’

‘Yes, your majesty. It is a great thought for a film, and I want to make it here,’ I sought his reaction.

‘Go ahead. Is your script ready?’ He was equally receptive.

‘I wanted to seek your permission first,’ I said.

‘It is your thought, your movie. Why my permission?’ he asked.

‘Permssion to shoot here. Wherever the script demands,’ I said.

‘The script is all here, inside,’ I said, tapping my forehead. ‘With your encouragement, it shall be on paper quickly.’

‘Have you been to Pokhara?’ he asked.

‘I have heard about it.’

‘Would you like to extend your stay and visit it? It is very quiet and peaceful there, good for your type of work.’

‘I’d love that,’ I said.

‘There is a very stylish hotel there, owned by my younger brother, Prince Basundhara, called The Fish Tail, against the backdrop of the majestic snow-capped Annapurna range. It will be ideal for your writing,’ King Mahendra said. I finished the first draft of the script in just three days.

When I went back to Bombay and announced to my staff that my next film was named Hare Rama Hare Krishna, they all wondered whether it was a mythological. The audience also had the same question in their mind when the film was announced to the world.

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‘Dum Maaro Dum’ from ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’.

The search for the actress to play Jasbir alias Janice in Hare Rama Hare Krishna started in right earnest. Nobody in the industry wanted to play Dev Anand’s sister in the film, everyone wanted to play the romantic lead opposite me, though the sister’s part was bigger, better and central to the theme. I decided to cast a new girl, Indian in looks but with a Western upbringing, someone who would not hesitate to smoke or to wear outfits that would accentuate her whimsical, carefree, to-hell-with-the-world attitude.

Amarjeet was having a small party at his apartment, and I had to be there, for he never threw a party without my presence.

He made the evening a little more glamorous by inviting Zeenat Aman, the newly crowned Miss Asia.

Zeenat came very appropriately dressed for the party, looking chic and mod and casual, just the image I had of my Janice in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. After the formal introduction, I got to know that Zeenat was a product of Panchgani convent, before she went to California for a year on scholarship.

As she sat in front of me, she was a picture of self-confidence, radiating a devil-may-care attitude. She was wearing a broad belt round her waist over a pair of slacks, a small purse hanging from it in front. I was wondering what was inside it, when her hand went there. She took out a pack of expensive cigarettes. Her other hand went into her handbag, to take out a golden lighter. She had a style all her own, not bothering who was looking at her. She took out a cigarette and put it between her lips. That was the moment her eyes met mine, for I was constantly watching her and her bearing. She smiled an attractive girlish smile, and stretched her hand towards me, offering me a cigarette as well. I smoked very occasionally, but I decided to take one on that occasion. Before I could pull out a cigarette from the pack, she had already taken one out for me. I put it straight into my mouth, still looking at her. She now ignited the lighter with a single flick, and put its flame on my cigarette, looking straight into my eyes. The flame of the lighter lit up her smiling eyes, putting an extra glow into them said:

‘I am your Janice, Dev.’

She was camera friendly. She smiled and laughed and cried according to my directions. The camera liked her as well. On the way back from the studio, she was in my car – I had offered to drop her. She was wearing a large sexy pair of goggles that added to her appeal.

‘I like your goggles,’ I said.

She took them off and put them into my pocket. ‘Take them as a present from me.’

‘But they suit you,’ I said.

‘That’s why,’ she shot back.

I still have that pair of goggles sitting in some corner of my cupboard.

Excerpted with permission from Romancing With Life, Dev Anand, Penguin India.

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