December, 2016 marked the 45th anniversary of India’s victory and dismembering of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. Though the war itself lasted just 13 days in December, the drum roll leading up to it could be heard through much of the year, specially after March, when the first of the nearly 10 million East Bengal refugees trooped into India. But the country, though preoccupied by an impending war, seems to have had plenty of time for its two other favourite pastimes — cricket and films.

The West Indies series was also important as the debut launch pad for Sunil Gavaskar, then a young 22-year-old college cricketer from Mumbai who had earned a test spot after scoring three consecutive centuries in the Ranji Trophy in the previous year. He missed the first Test due to an injury, but made history in the remaining four by scoring a record of 774 runs at a stupendous average of 154, making him an overnight superstar.

Credit: Photo by Bill Howard/ANL/REX/Shutterstock)  Ajit Wadekar and
his history-making team
in England
Credit: Photo by Bill Howard/ANL/REX/Shutterstock) Ajit Wadekar and his history-making team in England

 

The year was also a crucial one for for the Hindi film industry. That was a period when the Mumbai dream factories were churning out films by the dozen every month. 1971 saw the release of as many as 90 films. Rajesh Khanna, the reigning superstar, had 21 film releases between 1971 and 1972. Of the 10 top grossers of 1971, six had him in the lead role. It was a kind of dominance that has never been seen since in Bollywood.

Haathi Mere Sathi was his biggest film that year followed by the likes of Kati Patang, Anand, Aan Milo Sajna, Maryaada and several others. Haathi Mere Saathi was also the film that launched the career of Salim-Javed. The struggling writer duo was provided a lifeline by Khanna when he asked them to rework an existing script. The success of the film prompted G P Sippy to hire them in his company, which led to films like Andaz, Seeta Aur Geeta, Don and finally Sholay.

rajesh-khannamumtaz-in-haathi-mere-saathi

Rajesh Khanna’s other big film that year was the tiny small budget Anand which was shot by director Hrishikesh Mukjerjee in just 28 days, mostly in his Bandra home. The film brought into prominence another young man, Amitabh Bachchan. He had done bit roles in some films before that, but got lucky when Mukherjee dropped the original cast of Kishore Kumar and Mehmood after being driven away from the gates of the eccentric singer’s bungalow when he went there for a meeting to discuss the film.

Anand
Anand

 

Five other young men also had career-defining films that year, which would take them places over the next two decades: Jeetendra with Caravan, Vinod Khanna with Mera Gaon, Mera Desh and Mere Apne, Sanjeev Kumar with Anubhav, and Shatrughan Sinha with Mere Apne. Kabir Bedi also made his debut that year with two films, Hulchul and Seema. Though the films bombed at the box office, they did however set him on the path to fame and glory.

1971 was a breakout year for another low profile writer by the name of Gulzar. Not only did he write lyrics and screenplays for films like Guddi, Anand and Anubhav, he also made his debut as a director with the critically acclaimed Mere Apne, a gritty mainstream take on the unemployment problem that defined the political discourse in that period. The film was a sleeper hit, and along with Gulzar it launched the careers of the likes of Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Yogita Bali, Asrani, Dinesh Thakur, Paintal and Deven Varma. It was also Meena Kumari’s last film. She died within months of its release.

Caravan
Caravan

 

Guddi saw the debut of Jaya Bhaduri, who would go on to became one of the most successful actresses of her generation. The film also featured Gulzar’s famous song `Humko Man Ki Shakti Dena’, which is still sung across schools in North India as an early morning song of invocation.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Dev Anand’s iconic take on the hippie generation and the Hare Krishna movement to fame and glory. 1971 was a breakout year for another low profile writer by the name of Gulzar. Not only did he write lyrics and screenplays for films like Guddi, Anand and Anubhav, he also made his debut as a director with the critically acclaimed Mere Apne, a gritty mainstream take on the unemployment problem that defined the political discourse in that period. The film was a sleeper hit, and along with Gulzar it launched the careers of the likes of Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Yogita Bali, Asrani, Dinesh Thakur, Paintal and Deven Varma. It was also Meena Kumari’s last film. She died within months of its release. Guddi saw the debut of Jaya Bhaduri, who would go on to became one of the most successful actresses of her generation. The film also featured Gulzar’s famous song `Humko Man Ki Shakti Dena’, which is still sung across schools in North India as an early morning song of invocation.

 Hare Rama
Hare Krishna
Hare Rama Hare Krishna

 

Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Dev Anand’s iconic take on the hippie generation and the Hare Krishna movement released in 1971 and made a star out of Zeenat Aman, a 21-year-old journalist turned model turned actress who played a chillum-smoking, mini skirt clad hippie in the film. The film’s music also propelled the career of R D Burman, enabling him to emerge out of his father’s shadow. He scored music for as many as 11 films that year. Hare Rama Hare Krishna also kick-started Dev Anand’s new career as a director-actor after the flop of Prem Pujari the previous year. After nine successful films, his much-vaunted partnership with brother and writer-director Vijay Anand was now on its last legs. Dev Anand would go on to direct three more films before the end of the decade, Heera Panna, Ishk Ishk Ishk and Des Pardes. Another significant directorial debutant of 1971 was Ramesh Sippy. Producer G P Sippy’s son was only 24 when his first film, Andaz, was released that year. He would follow it up with the likes of Seeta Aur Geeta, Sholay, Shaan, Shakti, etc.

The year that saw the coming of age of the likes of Zeenat Aman, Yogita Bali, Jaya Bhaduri and Rakhee (she made her debut with Sharmeelee that year) also saw the beginning of the end of an earlier generation of actresses like Sadhna, Nanda and Mala Sinha. A similar thing was happening on the men’s side too, where an aging array of stars including Rajendra Kumar, Mehmood, Shammi Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Joy Mukherjee, Sunil Dutt, Dara Singh etc. found it increasingly tough at the box office. A new generation of leading men was taking over, and 1971 was a crucial year of transition.