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.
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.
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!
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…