Who Is Anthony Gonsalves?

anthonygonsalves amitabh

Amitabh Bachhan looks a befitting popinjay in top hat and monocle for the cult classic number “My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves.”

Who is Anthony Gonsalves? Even if you have but a fleeting knowledge of classic Bollywood, you’ll have come across the name before. Anthony Gonsalves is an enigma, a hero, and a forgotten figure in history. He is both legend and fact–a swashbuckling joker and a serious man of the world. But the truth is, few people appreciate the history while adoring the myth. His entrance into mainstream culture is unforgettable, one of the most famous scenes of the masala classic Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): It’s Easter Day and Parveen Babi has arrived at a friendly dance party with her bulging bodyguard. A mysterious over-sized egg is wheeled into the crowded room. Just when you think the spectacle is over, out bursts Amitabh Bachhan dressed as an Edwardian fop, complete with the astounding vocabulary of a deranged member of the House of Lords.

Anthony Gonsalves is a sacred tune in my house–our whole family loves the song, a particular favorite of my younger brother growing up. Everyone knows when to chime in with the sheepish “Excuse me, please!” or the womenfolk’s “Really?! WOW!” (pronounced, of course, “VOW!”) woven into the melody. But what many don’t realize is that Anthony Gonsalves nor his famously inane words are not entirely fiction.

anthony gonsalves egg

Amitabh Bachhan emerges from the life-sized party egg as a dapper Anthony Gonsalves in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977).

Yes, folks, Anthony Gonsalves was real. Born in 1927 in the small Goan fishing village of Majorda, Anthony Prabhu Gonsalves was a genuine and highly influential figure in the Hindi film music industry of the 1950s. He worked as a violinist in the early 1940s with none other than great musical composer Naushad, and later taught violin to eager pupils R.D. Burman and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal fame!) in his apartment in Bandra. It is in dedication to him, his old violin teacher, that Pyarelal composed this number and thereby immortalized one of the great unsung heros of the Bollywood music industry. Originally, Amitabh’s character was named “Anthony Fernandez” and Pyarelal personally requested director Manmohan Desai change the name to the now notorious “Anthony Gonsalves” to honor his teacher. The original Anthony Gonsalves orchestrated music for epics like Mahal (1949), Pyaasa (1957), and even founded the Indian Symphony Orchestra following his love for raaga-based music with a Western flair.

Tragically, Gonsalves passed away last year in 2012 after having left a legacy of Goan-Hindustani fusion jazz across the Indian continent. When Amar Akbar Anthony was released, the reclusive artist had already disappeared from the world of filmdom on a traveling grant from Syracuse University in NY. He remained in the states where he joined the American Society of Composers, Publishers, and Authors until a quiet return to Goa later in later years, his musical days long behind him. In 2010 a documentary entitled “Anthony Gonsalves: The Music Legend” based on his life and works won the Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival of India.

The real Anthony Gonsalves, musician

The real Anthony Gonsalves (1927-2012).

Still, most of us with forever associate the name “Anthony Gonsalves” with the blustering, idiotic, and highly endearing character played by Amitabh Bachhan in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977). It’s impossible to brush by a song as outrageously absurd (and enjoyable!) as this one. Filled with trick photography and silly antics, the song does its best to grab the audience by the coattails and give them a good spin. You’ll probably wonder about the onslaught of random English words exploding out of Amitabh’s mouth between each stanzas. While most are indeed arbitrary 3-4 syllable English words intended to sound too fancy to bother comprehending (with disastrous and embarrassing results), the opening line shines above the others:

“Wait, wait wait! You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity!”

True, that doesn’t mean anything in relation to this song or the film (and frankly the first part of that sentence doesn’t even mean anything to anyone who knows English), but let’s take a closer gander at that last bit. In 1878 British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli gave a speech in reference to his liberal rival and famous orator William Ewart Gladstone in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In the speech he spoke viciously of Gladstone as a “sophisticated rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity”! Hmm..coincidence? I think not!

Parveen Babi My Name is Anthony gonsalves

Parveen Babi is totally buying all the crazy sauce Anthony Gonsalves has to sell at the Easter celebration in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977).

So say what you want about the other lines (oh, that gosh darned country of the system), at least one was clearly influenced by something that at one point in time had been a logical thought. Perhaps we have Anand Bakshi to thank for that. Interestingly, a 2008 box office failure was released called “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves” based on the song, but its awfulness might attest to the fact that you can only get away with something as bizarre as this once. Check out the full video of the original to see what I mean here!

At last another Bollywood mystery solved–this one requested by loyal fan Neil! You may now sleep restfully at night once more! Until next time…

-Mrs. 55

13 thoughts on “Who Is Anthony Gonsalves?

  1. I may never sleep again as I now realize what how badly Amitabh copied the real Anthony Gonsalves who looks very serious, and it was actually jibberish I was singing with him which wasn’t really making me sound educated but rather, well, rather like I just jumped out of an egg or something.
    Despite being enlightened I admit I love the song and may just continue to sing it anyway for the pure pleasure of the thing.

    • A fab post on a fab song! Amitabh did a really good job here.

      …A “sophisticated rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity” ..Haha!…It’s like Mr. Micawber in ‘David Copperfield’. I am on something of a Manmohan Desai roll these days…..I’ve seen ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Mard’ and ‘Coolie’ all in the last few months. Particularly in the case of the last two mentioned films I was in hysterics from the moment the film started to when it ended. Most of the comedy was unintentional, but they were good-hearted, ridiculous films, and solidly entertaining even if in a largely unintentional way. In Amar, Akbar, Anthony’ a fair bit of the comedy is intended and effective. ‘Mard’ is of course extremely heavy handed with the whole ”Evil British Imperialists vs. Virtuous Victimised Indians”…but is too outrageous to take seriously, and is really a case of something being ”more endearing than offensive”…much more so than in the case of Manoj Kumar’s work…which was sometimes borderline jingoistic… lol….at least ‘Mard’ has your token good ”white character”…’Lady Helena’…;) …Coming back to the song I love all the lyrics, including and apart from “the juxtaposition of the haemoglobin with the atmosphere”…Amitabh and Parveen Babi both looking great in a gorgeously picturised song 🙂

      • Thanks for reading! You’re right–in AAA much of the comedy works (which is not something that can be said for the “comic relief” of many other contemporary films). I have yet to see Mard, but looking forward to some craziness!

  2. Hehehe, I love this song! I got seriously ticked off when they made that 2008 film because it just clogged Google up for nothing. I’ve been a rather crazy Amitabh fan since I was a kid, but meh, now I sorta like Dev and Shammi and Rajesh and stuff. :3 Still, I like the song – I have all the lyrics memorized! I remember when they used to show Amar Akbar Anthony on TV, and once we had a whole group of people over, and I sang and danced to this song.

    I did that a lot in Vancouver, too, when I went to visit relatives. For the first time. I enchanted everyone with my singing of old songs. I even beat my uncle at Hindi film knowledge! I can’t wait to go back there in June!

      • I was only eight back then, so a lot of people thought I was CUUUUTE. Well, I don’t like that label anymore! 😛 Anyway. I also remember convincing my friends to do the same dance like in the title song when I was 6, and I ABSOLUTELY insisted on being Anthony.

        By the way, you guys graduated from Harvard, right? I want to see if I can go there or Oxford or Cambridge. I’m still 14, but I do want to plan ahead. 🙂 What is it like there?

  3. I had no idea Anthony Gonsalves was a real person. Also, what great find about the source of the last part of the opening line! I enjoyed this post.
    Could you explain what a masala classic means, perhaps here or in a different post?

    • Glad you enjoyed! The discovery was a surprise to us as well–it’s about the only aspect of the song that isn’t completely arbitrary 🙂 Masala films refer to a genre that’s a mixture of EVERY genre–drama, romance, comedy, suspense (and of course musical)! It’s a pretty typical genre in classic Hindi films who love to give something to anyone who walks into the theatre. Even films who aim to stay in one category (eg. Kaagaz Ke Phool-drama, or Woh Kaun Thi–film noir) all end up tossing in a bit of masala to appease producers in a way that wouldn’t usually hold in Hollywood!

  4. Who knew??? All this time I was working on the assumption that this was a product of a feverish imagination. And what a great guy the real Anthony was…
    Thanks so much for informing us
    PS, a discussion of the song is not complete without the follow-up scene when he talks to “himself” in the mirror- what a classic!

    • Haha I think we can safely say most of it is still the product of a feverish imagination–logic only emerges in rare moments of illumination! I absolutely agree with you about the follow-up scene–it’s one of the best comedy sequences in classic Bollywood! We’re working on the post to elaborate–thanks for the tip-off!

  5. Pingback: Minoo Purushottam: Appreciation from a Former Student | Mr. & Mrs. 55 - Classic Bollywood Revisited!

  6. Pingback: Hindi Film Songs with Unnecessary English: Fusion Lyrics in Old Bollywood | Mr. & Mrs. 55 - Classic Bollywood Revisited!

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