Evening When Taxis Went Off Bombay Roads, Thanks To 'Taxi Driver'

(MENAFN- IANS) New Delhi, Sep 24 (IANS) One evening in Bombay in 1954, almost all the taxis in the city seemed parked outside a prominent cinema on a busy thoroughfare with their drivers, led by the chairman of their association, inside, watching a film, and according to its hero, a unit member "gleefully announced that there was no taxi available for any passengers that evening."

The film was 'Taxi Driver', a lightly noirish urban romance featuring Dev Anand, Kalpana Kartika, and Sheila Ramani, and especially bittersweet for its hero both professionally and personally, beyond its commercial success. It was not the sole film to feature taxi drivers that year, with Dev Anand's friend Guru Dutt also releasing his own 'Aar Paar', having a similar focus and largely the same storyline, but neither film overshadowed the other.

Dev Anand, in his autobiography 'Romancing With Life', reveals that the suggestion for the film came from an old friend he met at a recording studio while working for one of the films he did outside his Navketan banner, since the role of a taxi driver "would suit his image" after 'Baazi' (1951).

The suggestion found favour for more reasons than one - first, Navketan needed another hit after 'Baazi' to recoup its finances, and his elder brother Chetan Anand was morose after directing two critically-acclaimed yet commercially tepid films. Dev Anand broached the idea with him and while he "first smiled it away casually", later became keen.

The film has also marked their younger brother Vijay 'Goldie' Anand's debut as a script-writer.

Dev Anand revealed that the film was made on a shoestring budget with a very small unit, being mostly shot on location in the city, throughout the day, with a small hand-held French camera and took just five weeks to shoot. "Survival of the company was the motivating factor, and lack of funds drove us to work at breakneck speed," he recalled, adding that the superlative success of the film proved that "big money does not necessarily make a big film."

It gave him much visibility as people saw him across the city in his taxi - a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster four-door sport sedan - dressed in a khaki taxi driver's uniform with the docket hanging from his pocket.

The film is about taxi driver Mangal alias Hero (Dev Anand), who is fond of night club singer Sylvie (Sheila Ramani), but gets his life complicated when he comes to the assistance of Mala (Kalpana Kartik) as she is being harassed by a couple of thugs. More than the usual Hindi romantic drama, it is a paean to Bombay as it was, with wide uncongested roads - remember the deserted beach as the hero sings the plaintive "Jaayen to jaayen kahan" -, but playing host to migrants looking for a better life.

However, Dev Anand had good reason to remember this film for more reason than one!

It was during a shooting break that he and leading lady Kalpana Kartik disappeared and came back as man and wife! It was eagle-eyed cameraman V. Ratra who spotted that the heroine was sporting a ring that she did not have before, breaking the continuity, but was shushed into silence by a wave of Dev Anand's hand.

On the flip side, Dev Anand's impetuous action led to a quarrel with his father, but it was silently forgotten over the years and the two reconciled eventually. More heartbreaking was elder brother Chetan Anand's decision to quit Navketan and launch his own banner, now he finally had a hit.

And then, Dev Anand was hailed by a customer as he drove into the Taj Mahal Hotel in his taxi - amid the shooting - and the multiple-camera-totting foreign tourist, who wanted to go to the red-light district, would not take no for an answer. It took Dev Anand, at his most persuasive, as he recounts in his autobiography, and the intervention of the unit members, most of whom were in splits, to convince the aspiring passenger that he had flagged only a make-believe cabbie.

What did the city's cabbies think? As per Dev Anand, they took pride in hailing the film as their own and termed him their hero!

(Vikas Datta can be contacted )




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