The Zero Bulb - a humble light bulb that has helped many a generation of Indian children to sleep well in the night, secure in the knowledge that ghosts and ghouls did not come into rooms that had light.
I was an exception though because I would sneak into my parents’ bed in the night and the wise old owls they were would wait till I was sound asleep to sneak me back into my room. Next morning they would tell what a brave little girl I was who slept alone without fear. I would beam with pride and sneak right back into their room in the night.
One fine day I got up in the night and convinced myself that there was something under my bed. A few days later my parents bought the zero bulb. A lot happened between me discovering the presence of something under my bed and my parents buying the zero bulb like my dad coming charging into my room in the middle of the night hearing my shriek to taking a broom and waving it under the bed to show that it was devoid of ogres, ghosts, ghouls, banshees and the boogey man… and calling the priest to specially bless my room… to keeping a rosary under my pillow and …. ok, a lot of preventive measures were taken to quell my fears with no success. I had no faith in rosaries, priests and or my dad’s reassurances. It was the humble zero bulb that finally won the battle for my parents.
But this post is not about me, though I did sneak in some info about my shady past tee hee.
This post is about the immense service the zero bulb has rendered to the Hindi film industry during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and still does I suppose. Whole films were supported thematically by the humble zero bulb saving lakhs of rupees in lengthy explanatory scenes and dialogues.
Like for instance:
The operation theater: The red zero bulb on the screen meant we were looking at upper part of the operation theater door. When the light is steady it means a serious operation involving the hero, heroine, father, mother or child was going on. When the light goes out it means that the operation is over and the doctor will walk out to deliver the good or bad news to the anxious relatives waiting outside. The red zero bulb signified anxiety and danger to the audience better than any of those ear drum crushing Bollywood orchestra music. And it cost only 25 paisa in the good old days. Howzzat!
Night clubs: Night club sequences in the movies of yesteryear relied heavily on zero bulbs to pull off the sleaze effect. Lots of red, green and yellow zero bulbs conveyed what an entire scene with dialogues could not i.e. this was a den of vice and low morals (women is short skirts who drank) where people have so much fun and are far happier and at peace than in say… places of worship for instance. Unless it was Swami Nithyananda’s ashram which is a fun place I heard. I wonder if he uses zero bulbs hmmm.
But I digress. Back to our tribute to the humble zero bulb. The lights in the night club scene flickeres on and off to convey titillation, eroticism and promises of forbidden pleasures like - hold your breath - the cabaret dance!!! The audience (male) would as if on cue hold their breath for the arrival of the thunder thighed siren from behind the giant bottle/cage/cave/any another prop studded with zero bulbs and heave and gyrate for three minutes of sheer extravaganza of voluptuousness , whiskey, men with side burns in bell bottom pants and bald men with guns. Sometimes, if you are lucky you will see a few sheiks and blond men too looking clueless like they have walked into the middle of a gay pride parade or cross dresser’s convention.
The villains den: This particular situation in Bollywood movie used zero bulbs most creatively. The villains den is always an underground chamber with a long passageway lit only with zero bulbs. The villain, who wears outrageous outfits like white suits with white shoes and a white hat, will be sitting in front of a panel of flickering colored zero bulbs. This panel is his very own 2G scam a.k.a. private communication system that is linked to the global underworld. Now and then he will pick up a microphone and talk to the flickering light which indicates an incoming call.
Sometimes the villain has a false wall that opens up to reveal an array of zero bulbs flickering furiously on a wooden board. The wooden board and lights signifies a covert communication system. Any minute you would expect the villain to pick up what looks like the night club mike and say ‘Allo Allo’. But nothing of that sort happens sadly. Instead we have a fake foreign accent coming through the zero bulbs chiding the villain of some ‘missed shipments”. The villain for once looks flustered and will say “Yes Sir John. I will have it delivered immediately!!” The zero bulb will go off signifying Sir Johns disconnecting the call with a refined British snort.
Even the Indian police of Bollywood used zero bulbs. The interrogation will be lit with one single red bulb when the hero is being given the third degree, a euphemism for "getting thrashed to pulp".
And sometimes zero bulbs were used for scenes involving the hero and heroine too. But, ahem I don’t need to explain those scenes to you do I!
Bollywood owes a lot to the zero bulb. And it is time they acknowledged they same. Nowadays the humble zero bulb has been replaced with modern lighting effects and the Bollywood denizens of yore are replaced with zero bulbs err... I mean their offspring.