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Sunday, February 5, 2012

'Hindi cinema has many faces'

Cinemimi [Sunday, February 05, 2012]
Reel life, they say, is a reflection of real life. For some reason, the Indian cinema has dealt with reality in its own unique way as it has evolved as a major force in past six decades. Let me take you back in history before talking about the so-called new cinema of new Bollywood.

During the two world wars, when our soldiers were dying in Europe and Africa, we were making films about mythology. But things began to change in 1947. The trauma of Partition was so big that it overhadowed the optimism of freedom, and loss became the theme of films. Some of the biggest hits of that era -- Mela, Jugnu and Deedar -- were tragedies where the hero failed to get the girl he loved. In Deedar, Dilip Kumar pierced his eyes after failing in love.

However, after the first general-elections in 1952, the mood became a bit optimistic as the heroes began to get their girls after a compulsory round of suffering. Dilip kumar's Daag, Dev Anand's Baazi and Raj Kapoor's Awara had positive ends in that sense.

By 1957, India had begun to doubt Nehruvian socialism and the Hindi cinema saw the birth of an urban, upper class, romantic hero, Shammi Kapoor. In the late 1960s, when the Indian left arrived on the political scene in a big way, the urban middle-class joined the class struggle and it made way for Rajesh Khanna, a hero who was idealistic, middle class and yet romantic.

But, by the early 1970s, the nation was disillusioned with itself and an angry young man, with a bidi dangling from the corner of his lips and his voice coming from the guts, burst on the silver screen. As the country suffered another trauma during the Emergency, this man, Amiatbh Bachchan, began a life-long icon for an entire generation. The 70s might not be the golden period of our cinema but the aam aadmi felt closer to the cinema as they saw characters voicing their concerns and playing out their dreams and tragedies on the screen.

About the 80s, lesser said the better. It was probably the worst phase of our cinema, when we produced remakes of Tamil and Telugu hits, R D Burman struggled to get work and Bappi Lahiri became god of music.

In the late 1980s, as Rajiv Gandhi began the process of opening up the Indian economy, our films too begin to change. In the early 1990s, with India trying to join the global economy at full steam, both the content as well as attitude of our cinema changed. We became Bollywood and went global.

In this respect, Dilwale Dulhaniyan Le Jayenge was a milestone. Suddenly the overseas market and the NRI audience became important and the locals were forgotten. Films of this era showed the confusion in the minds of the young: men getting relationship with girls, having sex and yet getting married to the girl of their parents choice. The macho hero was dead, replaced by an urban, uber cool guy.

Then we entered the current phase - the age of new Bollywood. This was actually the beginning of corporatization of the entertainment business. With big stars limiting themselves to one or two films a year, the demand for more films has led to the emergence of a new breed of filmmakers who are making films high on content and low on star value. It's these filmmakers who are changing face of our cinema.
But, I wonder, how many of the new films are really good. Many of them are doing well because of the super efficient PR machinery of corporates. Today, few directors can make films like Mehboob Khan or Bimal Roy whose cinema was high on aethetics and yet commercially successful. It's sad we have not made a single classic since Sholay. And that was in 1975.

In recent months, two films by new directors, Delhi Belly and Agneepath, became huge hits and they were both result of smart marketing.

But the good thing is that today's Hindi cinema has many faces. Today, romcoms co-exist with action thrillers. Today, the ever-growing middle class is hungry for more entertainment. Today, both the multiplex audience and single-screen viewers are getting what they want. Yet, they want more. So, the corporate production houses are dishing out lot of low-budget, high content movies almost every week. That's why we are flooded with new films.

But is this phase going to last for long? Is this really new? It's just another phase in the evolution of constantly changing Hindi cinema.

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