We comb through the year’s cinematic offerings and identifies the best, the worst, and the most embarrassing trends. Words by Reena Karim and Mrigaa Sethi
Director Ram Gopal Varma started the gangster film trend with the masterful Satya in 1998. Since then many have tried, some have succeeded, and most have failed miserably. This year, we have seen at least five different movies dedicated to the notorious gangster D. Bollywood isn’t willing to directly name Dawood Ibrahim, but has been blatant about portraying his trademark moustache and sunglasses. The end result is a mix of fact and fiction, and entirely too much attention spent on someone who belongs in jail. Movies such as D-Day and Shootout at Wadala bring in new characters, but the plots have gotten predictable and the novelty that once enticed the audience has long worn off.
It is raining sequels in Bollywood this year, with directors in a bid to cash in on the success of previous films and hoping to turn them into franchises. Many of these movies were bad enough the first time around, and now we are forced to live through the disaster a second and third time, too. This includes Dhoom 3 (Amir Khan mimics Tom Cruise’s stunts a la Mission Impossible), Krrish 3 (Roshan’s father invested all his energy in this home-grown production and also threw in a double role for sonny. Oh, how original!), and Murder 3 (someone gets murdered and we have to wait 135 minutes to find out who did it).
The Rural Fetish
Rural India was the essential backdrop for many of Bollywood’s movies in the 70s and 80s— think Mother India and Sholay. In the 90s, we got bored and shifted our focus to urban dwellers and their unending problems. The last three years have seen directors going back to the village. Movies such as Ram-Leela, Dabangg, and Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola depict rural India through mustard fields, bullock carts, ridiculous moustaches, macho rivalries, and clichéd Haryanvi dialects. Alas, it’s all tackily overdone, and the characters in the gaons are thoroughly exoticised in their looks, style, and accents—especially their inability to speak proper Hindi (Chennai Express).
Many people seem to enjoy sleazy dialogues and the unconvincing antics of man-child actors. It’s fair to say that the directors who attempt racy comedies do rope in some moolah. The question is why these shameful movies go on to be commercial successes. Breaks our hearts. Movies like Ghanchakkar and Grand Masti (an embarrassing suicide mission for the actors) do not only objectify women, they embarrass men, too. Even though Bollywood has dared to venture into such a risqué genre, they are years away from getting over their strings of tawdry jokes and developing storylines that makes sense.
Unforgettable classics such as “Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja”, “Mehbooba”, and “Laila” saw the birth of item songs, and actresses such as Helen and Rekha made history not only because of their raunchy dance moves, but also their effervescent charisma—not to mention, the lyrics back then still had poetic meaning. Today, however, “Fevicol Se”, “Babli Badmaash”, “Ram Chahe Leela” and “Laila Teri Lelegi” have taken Bollywood by storm with scantily clad women and highly sexualised and not-subtle innuendos. A-list actresses such as Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor are seen gyrating against 20 lusty men, with lyrics that are base and misguided male fantasies. The exploitation of women for the benefit of cinema goers needs to stop. Surely our plots have gotten good enough to stand unsupported by smut—or have they?
Have you ever wondered how films get named in Bollywood? We are not sure if it’s purely coincidental or whether in fact the producers and directors are purposely coming up film titles that are idiotic—Phata Poster Nikhla Hero, Sooper Se Ooper, Boyss Toh Boyss Hain. There is nothing more frustrating than to watch people enjoying movies such as Once Upon ay Time in Mumbai Dobara (please notice the ay) R…Rajkumar (no, the director is not stuttering, it is supposed to be some sort of surprise the actor will reveal during the course of the movie), and Bullett Raja (the extra “t” is supposed to add an extra ttttthrill to the experience).
Sure, the years have been relatively kind to 57 year–old Sunny Deol, which might explain why he has not gotten the memo that he is a senior citizen. And neither have filmmakers. This year, the aging never-quite-hero of yesteryears was paired with 27 year–old Kristina Akheeva (Yamla Pagla Deewana 2) and 26 year–old Kangana Ranaut (I Love NY). What takes the underage candy store, though, is his most recent film Singh Saab the Great, where he stars opposite Urvashi Rautela, who is…wait for it…19 years old. We read recently that the love scenes from that film have been cut prior to release. We only wish Sunny Deol would now be cut from making movies altogether.
Little Gems by Big Bucks
In many ways, Karan Johar films represent some of Bollywood’s biggest financial excesses. For example, he spent US$7.7 million to make his 2013 Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. So we’re happy to hear that recently he’s rallying support around smaller films, too, and to great results. This year, we loved the Irrfan Khan–starrer The Lunchbox, which had no songs, no murders, no fights— just understated performances and a thoughtful and simple script that touched the hearts of audiences at Cannes. The Bollywood centennial-themed Bombay Talkies wasn’t nearly as good or successful, but it’s heartening that mainstream talent is not just out to make a buck.
Women on a Mission
Sure, it was a blatant rip-off of Hollywood’s Disclosure, but we loved Inkaar and Chitrangada Singh’s complex portrayal of an intelligent, high-powered, talented creative director who boldly stands up to her boss (Arjun Rampal) in an intense, he said/she said thriller about office place sexual harassment. We thought the ending could have made more of a statement, but having a main female character who is smart, hot, and not always likeable was a refreshing move for Bollywood. We look forward to more female leads who are more than one-dimensional trophies for revenge-seeking heroes who get to have all the fun.
Total Body Transformations
Anne Hathaway dropped 10 kgs to play impoverished Fantine in Les Miserables, and Daniel Day Lewis taught himself to walk, talk, and look like Abraham Lincoln. In Bollywood, there isn’t a similar tradition of transformations, unless you count Govinda’s farcical performance as Aunty No. 1. That’s why we were really impressed by the lengths Farhan Akhtar went to transform himself into the Flying Sikh for the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. To have the shredded body of a world class sprinter, Akhtar not only gave up rice, roti, and bread, he eliminated all salt from his diet and did punishing high-intensity athletic training and thousands of ab crunches every day—for over a year! It’s all well and good to be dancing in the Swiss Alps, but we’d love to see more serious dedication to the craft among Bollywood’s kings and queens.
From Page to Stage
Contemporary Bollywood is not really known for its literary prowess—gone are the days of Guide. But this year there have been a number of ambitious literary adaptations. Deepa Mehta took Midnight’s Children, the sprawling, fantastical novel by Salman Rushdie and distilled it into two and a half hours. The movie had some big shoes to fill, and it wasn’t exactly a super hit, but we admired the effort. Not Bollywood enough, you say? Well, what about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram Leela, the sumptuous Rajasthani-style adaptation of Romeo & Juliet? Bollywood seems to have an affinity for Shakespeare (Vishal Bharadwaj adapted Macbeth for his 2003 film Maqbool), but we also want to see more adaptations of new Indian books. How about Arvind Adiga’s chilling thriller about a murderous Gurgaon driver, The White Tiger?
Stories from History
It hasn’t been all about escapism in Bollywood this year, and several projects have taken stories from recent history as their subject matter. Ram Gopal Varma’s thoroughly researched docudrama The Attacks of 26/11 pieced together what happened on the nights that armed gunmen attacked strategic locations in Mumbai. Shoojit Sircar’s political espionage thriller Madras Café revisited the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and Prakash Jha’s star-studded Satyagraha was inspired by the populist movement led by activist Anna Hazare. Sure, it doesn’t always work out. For example, many Sri Lankans were critical of how Madras Café handled the facts. But we like that screenwriters and directors are looking to do more research and tell difficult stories.
PDF 2013 bollywood
Published in Masala magazine, volume 5 issue 3 December 2013.