the suave swordsmen
(swordplay part 5)
why were many of the first films ever made in india, hollywood and elsewhere, swashbucklers?
because they were already there : in storytelling traditions and in literature. Swashbucklers were ready to go as soon as there was film, says mathew foster, because the makers didn't have to wait till the mood was right and the techniques were developed. the mood had already been prepared by the original storytellers and the technique had to be only slightly altered to suit film. according to foster, a swashbuckler has three essential elements : movement, a period, and speed. the story moves : from one dramatic scene to another and hence the swings, up and down, in the main character's fortunes. it is set in a period different from ours : 'the morals, heroics, and witticisms are of a different world than ours, and it needs to look that way'. it is fast : the plot doesn't wait to linger and record such subtle details as what's going on in the characters' minds.
the requirements of the crisp recipe outlined above makes the casting director's job easy. what he would obviously look for in a lead actor is energy, and oodles of it. and apart from that, good looks, and not much else. because 'the hero is often less important than the adventures themselves'. is that the reason why popular swashbuckler stars, once stripped of their tights and swords, slip so very fast into oblivion?
one can think of a long list of these suave swordsmen, in all indian and other languages, whose popularity faded faster than the artificial moonlight they serenaded their heroines in, as soon as they attempted to try their hand at more serious cinema. they weren't equipped for it and, quite often, it was too late to start training for it. there were exceptions of course.
jairaj was the first telangani to make a mark in hindi cinema and he did it when it was still in its infancy. and he was one of the first to define the swahbuckler hero in indian cinema. from 'jagmugti jawani' in 1929 to 'hatim tai' almost two decades later, he proved to be an enduring star in this genre. he was able to make a smooth transition from lead roles to character parts only because of the discipline and tenacity he had acquired during his early years as a struggler. many others weren't so lucky.