Bollywood is no longer a place where movies are made with six songs, two rapes, five fights`85 and the hero crashing through glass to rescue a damsel in distress. Many movies are made without songs these days. A lot more do not have heroines. The villain too is getting edged out, as have the comedians. And not all films are having happy endings.
A film with more than a dozen female hockey players has been ranked among the top grossers of 2007. Another, with a dyslexic child in the lead is still running to full houses. A string of mindless comedies, from Bheja Fry to Dhamaal to Partner, Heyy Baby and Bhool Bhulaiyaa have also kept the registers ringing. But when Ram Gopal Varma tried to revisit one of the biggest all-time hits of Hindi cinema, he burnt his fingers.
Clearly, old is not gold in Bollywood now. We have entered an era when cinematic clich`E9s and stereotypes are being challenged and whosoever is prepared to push the bar or break free from the tried-and-tested formulas of the past can have a winner in his hands. The good-old trees around which the hero and heroine have danced, their glycerine tears and the tomato ketchup, lost and found brothers, the white saree in artificial rain and the ever-rising crescendo of a hundred violins have all become history.
On the surface, today’s filmmakers would appear as a bunch of mavericks recklessly playing about with different formats, turning documentaries into features (remember Black Friday or Parzania?), exploring new genres (Manorama Six Feet Under) and fusing unrelated ones like romance with crime thriller, comedy with horror, family drama with sci-fi. But surely, there is a method in this madness. A peek into just five much talked-about films (randomly chosen) to be released in 2008 would indicate the direction Bollywood cinema is heading towards:
Ghajini: A remake of A. R. Murugadoss’s Tamil hit, this action thriller has Aamir Khan setting out to avenge the death of his girlfriend, only that he suffers from fits of amnesia. So he tattoos the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the killers all over his body, lest he forgets them. For once, we will see a bald Aamir Khan as he’d have to shave his head and undergo extensive weight training to perfect a shirtless look for the film.
Drona: A long-haired Abhishek Bachchan plays superhero in this Goldie Behl film being shot in Prague and across Rajasthan. Priyanka Chopra plays his bodyguard. She is supposed to have learnt a peculiar Punjabi martial art form from four Sikh masters. Abhishek tries to outdo her with some hair-raising stunts, though the buzz is that this is his attempt to be one up on Bollywood’s chief contender for the top slot, Hrithik Roshan.
The Last Lear: Life changes for an ageing Shakespearean actor (Amitabh Bachchan) when he comes out of a reclusive existence to work in a commercial potboiler. He befriends his co-actor, Shabnam (Preity Zinta) and teaches her more than just the nuances of acting. As he gets increasingly involved with his role of a joker in the film, he plays the part off the sets and eventually loses his memory.
Singh Is Kinng: This is yet another comic caper from Vipul Shah’s stable with Akshay Kumar in the title role of a bumbling, small-time Sikh boy moving to Australia and making it big as an underworld don. The film has been shot almost entirely in Australia’s Gold Coast with some breathtaking visuals. But what’s making bigger news is the diamond-studded turban Akshay sports, supposed to cost a whopping Rs 6.5 million.
Yuvraaj: Subhash Ghai’s comeback film in years and lavishly mounted as a musical extravaganza. Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor and Zayed Khan play three billionaire brothers who embark on a quest for happiness. Katrina Kaif shows up as an ace musician and, predictably, becomes Salman’s love interest. The film, which is scheduled for Diwali release, also has Boman Irani, to provide the laughs.
This is but a rough sampling of the potential noisemakers in 2008. There are a few others like Sujoy Ghosh’s modern day version of Arabian Nights with Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt, Aladdin; Prabhu Deva’s remake of a Telugu superhit with Salman Khan and Ayesha Takia, Wanted; Vivek Sharma’s spooky tale of a boy’s encounter with a ghost starring Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, in Bhootnath; Rakeysh Mehra’s loosely-autobiographical Dilli 6 with Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor; Ajay Devgan’s teaming up with wife, Kajol, in U Me Aur Hum; Vijay Krishna’s grand multi-starrer, Tashan with Kareena Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar.
How different are these films from what we have been watching so far?
Some would appear to be a repackaging of yesteryear hits — the way Purab Aur Paschim was made as Namaste London or say, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was turned around to Cheeni Kum last year. Even beyond these cosmetic changes, in many films there is still a lingering aftertaste of familiar tracks and themes with recognisable characters and plotlines leading to predictable endings. What really has changed is the style of storytelling. And this is where filmmakers have been able to strike a happy marriage between the creative process and the possibilities modern technology offers. In disguising their limitations thus, many of them are producing films that look truly world class. The flip side to it is that the shelf life of such films is severely restricted.
This is only natural of a film industry going through a phase of transition. Change does not occur overnight. Bollywood today, is caught in that protracted state of flux. On the one hand, it has to cope with an increasingly mature and demanding audience exposed to the latest in world cinema through satellite television, home video and Internet. On the other hand, it has access to an overwhelming range of technological options that are getting better, cheaper, faster and more efficient by the day.
The biggest driver of change though is the promise convergence of the media holds. Every filmmaker knows that with TV rights, DVD sales, Internet downloads and mobile telephony, it is possible to make a killing outside the box-office. With so many revenue streams opening up, budget is no longer an issue. This is why everybody, including corporate houses can afford to gamble with new concepts, fresh talent, untried technology, unexplored themes`85 even plain gimmickry. Little wonder, they are talking about a ‘neo-wave’ in Indian cinema.