[ The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 8, 2000

It is culture on rewind

Globally, the trend is towards reaching out to the past and savouring the times gone by, whether in music, dance, films or theatre. After all, old is gold, says Dinesh Rathod

SOCIOLOGISTS like to see India as two countries. There is one India of a creaking, floundering leviathan state marked by gross inefficiency, backwardness, corruption, callous irresponsibility and a ‘shirk culture’ of rights without responsibilities.

The other, radically different and dynamic India is that of private enterprise with a new generation of forward-looking and upwardly mobile professionals taking it to the new millennium on the information highway, ahead of the rest of the world.

Significantly, it is this generation that is also taking India backwards on a ‘major culture trip’. These 20 and 30 year olds would rather spend their evening listenings to ghazals and Ravi Shankar than pitch for heavy Metal or Nadeem-Shrawan.


In cinema, they’d go back to the days of Bobby and Sholay rather than opt for anything as adventurous as far-fetched as Josh and Erin Brockovich. Fashion-wise too, it’s back to the seventies when deep plum, bright burgundy and lime green were in vogue.

"There’s nothing surprising about this," says writer-filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. "It’s a silent conspiracy. All the music executives filmmakers and admen grew up in the 70s and they naturally want their kids to savour a slice of that life. It is almost like taking them back to their roots."

So every filmmaker the movies of the seventies with twenty-somethings playing teenagers or else, trying to revive Amitabh Bachchan’s angry-young-man image. All recent box-office hits have been pegged on these two themes.

Even a J.P.Dutta has to reshoot a bit of Refugee to introduce Amitabh Bachchan’s famous dance movements into Abhishek Bachchan’s repertoire. Another successful filmmaker, Sanjay Bhansali (of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam fame) goes still backwards in time to make the 60s hit, Devdas all over again.

Observes Ravina Kohli, a TV programmer: "If Julie excited women in the seventies because it dealt with pre-marital sex, the fact that Kundan Shah’s Kya Kehna which handle illegitimacy has not been rejected outright shows that these trends occur in waves."

Fashion designer Suneet Varma is happy that some of the timbre from the era of Flower Power has rubbed off on the beginning of the new millennium: "We are just so lucky to have survived so many predictions of doom. The mood today is so celebratory, so upbeat."

Concurs Natasha Malhotra of MTV: "From platform shoes to polyester flares, the mood is one of freedom and hope. Everybody is into doing his or her own thing. In this fun-to-be alive moment, every element of the past is being devoured.

So Boney M’s tour of Calcutta and Bombay early this year was a success. Abba has been repackaged and released in all Indian metros. Even vintage Hindi numbers of Talat Mehmood and Manna Dey are selling out faster than the latest from Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan."

Advertising professionals are, however, of the opinion that everybody wants to play safe. "Our findings show that young people are very contemporary but they like to borrow from the past, primarily because they don’t want to rock the boat. They want to stick to the tried and tested path," says an ad filmmaker.

Another explanation is that there is no concerted effort to induce a remembrance of the past. "After all, how many original ideas can you have?" asks Mandar Thakur of Channel V. "Every 20 years, a genre has to repeat itself."

Will this cyclical trend last?

Model Manpreet Brar doubts it: "No look lasts for longer than six months now. Which is why you see a lot of overlap. So you’ll have a stretch fabric happening at the same time as linen, mirrorwork at the same time as sequins, florals as well as tie and dye."

Yet another factor that cannot be overlooked is the influence of the Internet and satellite television. "It doesn’t take long for New York fashion to hit Fashion Street in Bombay," explains Nitish Takia, a media critic, "Likewise, when you make films, your target audience is not only Sholapur, but also Southall." He adds that this "temporary cultural flashback" is not peculiar to India alone.

Globally, the trend is towards reaching out to the past and savouring the times gone by, whether in music, dance, films or theatre. After all, old is gold. — MF