Top politician Shashi Tharoor on cinema that has shaped his sense and sensibilities

In an era, where Parliamentarians hit headlines for their flying tantrums and chair-smashing shenanigans, Shashi Tharoor comes across as a Utopian wonder. Well-read, well-spoken, well-groomed he stands distinct amidst the burgeoning league of browbeaters. “His good looks have left armadas of women swooning... When he brushes his mop of hair from his impressively high forehead and lights up his charming smile, men roll back in wonder. He writes with matchless skill. He speaks even more impressively, in a voice as deep as Amitabh Bachchan’s and with eloquence as fluent and witty as Winston Churchill’s,” once wrote Congress leader Mani Shankar Iyer about his charismatic colleague. Shashi Tharoor’s magnetism rises beyond the cacophony of power corridors because politics is not the only thing that defines him. An influential speaker, a prolific author, his grey-blue eyes resonate a curiosity for the creative and the compelling. Here, India’s most charming politician shares the magic woven by the movies on his mind and manner…

What is your earliest memory of watching a film?
It was either The Count Of Monte Cristo or the original Disney film The Parent Trap, both of which released in 1961 when I was five and both of which I remembered vividly for years.

Any recollection of visiting theatres to watch films?
Absolutely. It was the only way you could see a film in the ’60s. It was always a special treat, usually on a Saturday or Sunday when one of my parents would take my sisters and me. The Eros at Churchgate (Mumbai) was ‘our’ theatre. I saw 80 per cent of my movies there during the Bombay years of my childhood, with occasional forays to the Regal in Colaba. The Eros used to have special Sunday morning feature-length shows of cartoon films – imagine, two hours of Tom and Jerry! That as a child, I particularly looked forward to with barely suppressed excitement. Hindi movies came a little later into my life. But they were a highlight of my college years in Delhi, when my friends and I would bunk classes to catch the first show of a favourite star.

As a child, what characters fascinated you?
Swashbuckling adventurers were my thing, for the most part... Captain Blood, Scaramouche, The Count Of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers. As a pre-teen (and in my early teens), I loved war movies too: The Battle Of the Bulge, The Dirty Dozen, Tora!Tora!Tora!, Patton, those sort of films. What I actively disliked was the torture of being dragged out by my mother every week to keep her company while she saw a Malayalam movie. They were all, as far as I was concerned, insufferable weepies. Chemmeen (1965), of course, redeemed the genre. But it was a rare exception to the interminable black-and-white tragedies that seemed to be all that Keralite movie-makers made in those days.

Did you enjoy Hindi fare or did your interests cover a wider spectrum through adolescence?
My family watched mainly English movies (and my mother Malayalam cinema too). So it was only when 
I reached high school and started going out with classmates and friends in Calcutta that I began watching Hindi movies. I was soon hooked. In a typical month I’d see Love Story and Dirty Harry as well as Aradhana and Jawani Diwani, to name four favourites (though they probably weren’t released in the same month).

What was the genre that fascinated you while you were growing?
I was always eclectic in my tastes, whether in reading or movies! So several genres fascinated me as I was growing up – Bollywood, of course, since that was what everyone around me was watching and one could share one’s experience of, and reactions to; popular Western films, many of which I’ve mentioned earlier; serious world cinema, by directors like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, whose films one could watch at screenings at the USIS, the British Council or the Alliance Francaise; and serious Indian cinema, in the form of highly respected but money-losing auteurs like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and their ilk. Remember, we had no television when I was growing up, so for visual entertainment, cinema was it. And one lapped up quite a bit of it. I was not inclined to be too choosy about what I watched.

 For an average Indian, his first lessons of love and romance are derived from films. Which of those remain your favourite romantic sagas and why?
If I ask myself what moments of adolescent awakening I recall from the cinema hall, two scenes from my pubescence stand out in my mind – Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore near the smouldering fireplace as he sings Roop tera mastana in Aradhana, and of course Rishi Kapoor catching a glimpse of Simi Garewal undressing in Me