Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 47, Dated Nov 29, 2008
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
Bollywood stereotypes have always been magnified
versions of ourselves. In tracking 10 that have
changed, JERRY PINTO tells us things — both
encouraging and alarming—about our society
THE MORE Bollywood
changes, the more it
stays the same. That’s
one way of looking at it.
Another way of looking
at it is to admit that it is
the popular culture of note in this
country; that it is still patriarchal and
insensitive to issues of gender and sexuality
and community, but that it has
also been forced to change.
When did you last see a Bollywood
daddy come to the head of the winding
staircase in a wine-red robe and declare,
“Yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti”?
When did you last see a Bollywood
mummy grab her son by the arm and,
in a voice flooded with tears, implore,
“Mera suhaag bacha lo beta”?
When did you last visit a villain’s
den with a resident crocodile, a pool of
pink acid — or even a pole on which to
twirl the hero into submission?
When did the heroine last throw
herself on the bed and weep because
she had been offered a blank cheque on
her happy bir-day?
When did the hero last spread his
legs, bend one knee, point into the sky
Tell the truth.
There’s even a bit of you that misses
them. They were the old tropes of a
cinema that now seems addicted to
kitsch. Then, when God appeared on
screen, he wore a mukut and was barechested
and, in order to prove he was
God, he skipped from the left to the
right of Sanjeev Kumar in KS Sethumadhavan’s Yehi Hai Zindagi. Today,
God wears a three-piece suit and has a
bunch of kudis as his board of directors.
And it wasn’t Amitabh Bachchan
playing God; not even Amar Singh; it
was Rishi Kapoor in Kunal Kohli’s Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic.
One reason for this change is the DVD
revolution. In Kerala, you can get Wong-
Kar Wei for Rs 30. In Mumbai, Parajanov
for a 100 bucks. In Bangalore, there’s an
unnamed young lawyer who dumped
hundreds of downloaded DVDs to kickstart
the piracy market. In Palika Bazar,
you can get all of the above and more.
Another is the presence of an international
audience. Says Dr Sudha Rajagopalan,
author of the engaging and
informative Leave Disco Dancer Alone:
Indian Cinema and Soviet Movie-Going
after Stalin, “The Hindi film is now a
spectrum of genres and its makers come
from a variety of backgrounds; so they
now try to address a greater diversity of
audiences than they used to. What I
have seen over the last decade are lead
protagonists who get to play romantic
superheroes but still others who articulate
small-town ambition, foreground
minority identities, critique consumerism,
interrogate political apathy
and accommodate (even if only discreetly)
gayness. I think Hindi films continue
to be very socially engaged, and
have only replaced the earlier ‘socialist’
concerns about class disparities and
middle-class hypocrisy of the 50s films
with a new interest in a wider range of
identity politics in contemporary India.”
Here, we’ll look at some stereotypes
that we’ve grown to take for granted —
and at the changes that have happened
to them. They may tell us a little more
about ourselves, some of it encouraging,
Big man, small fears Saif Ali Khan fears a foetus
in Salaam Namaste
IT BEGAN IN Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela. “Kya kare, kya na kare,
yeh kaisi mushqil hai” sang Munna
(Aamir Khan), wondering at his inability
to take the step that separated friendship
from love. An era of uncertainty
was born: the man was no longer top
dog but a somewhat lovelorn puppy.
But it was the rise of Yashraj and his
young Turks that redefined cinema. Just
as Yash Chopra had rewritten the romantic
film, insisting on lush locales, the
perfect sari, Lata Mangeshkar keening in
the background and the air frosty with
sugar candy and icicles, the young men
in his stable began rewriting the hero.
“The hero has become less of an epic
hero — unless it’s a super hero movie
— and more of a low-key, low-intensity
friendly neighbourhood patriarch,” says
Rahul Srivastava, popular culture enthusiast
and urban studies scholar. “I’m
thinking of Munnabhai, for instance.
But patriarch he remains. The male figure
reigns supreme even when the narrative
is women-oriented, as in
old-fashioned films like Damini or Lajja. This extends to Jaane Tu…Ya
Jaane Na: the tests for his machismo —
riding a horse, going to jail and beating
someone up — are played against the
socialisation that his mother [Ratna
Pathak-Shah] is trying to enforce. It
takes the logic that Rangeela initiated
to its conclusion.”
Before Bollywood was born, the
hero was the lover. Amitabh Bachchan
turned him into a warrior. For 20 years,
he and all the men around him, waged
single-handed war against evil, playing
out the Ramayana again and again.
Now, the pendulum is swinging back to
Only this time, no one is quite sure
what kind of lover is needed.
When Munna took Milly (Urmila
Matondkar) in his arms at the end of
Rangeela, we knew this was a triumph of
the proletariat. The rich and successful
Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff) lost her to love.
This was the standard trope of Hindi
cinema. The rich boy had everything —
including blank cheques for his birthday
— except love. The poor girl has nothing
except a loving family. (Raj Kapoor’s Bobby may be the prototype.) He raises
her to his caste and class position in a
process of Sanskritisation called anuloma.
(Marriage in the natural way of
things. Pratiloma is marriage against the
grain.) Now, we don’t know who’ll win.
Srivastava is fascinated that the hero
is no longer the little guy. The tramp is
now firmly dead. Just as America replaced
Charlie Chaplin with Rambo, we
replaced Raj Kapoor with Salman Khan.
“What is interesting is that the loser has
such little chance of becoming (even
accidentally) a hero. It’s very much the
age of worshipping success,” he says.
So, while it is possible for Saif Ali
Khan to be a little confused about
women in Salaam Namaste, Ranvir Sheorey
in Ugly aur Pagli is only seen as
contemptible. (Thanks to the DVD revolution,
we have Jae-young Kwak’s My
Sassy Girl playing at a pirate next
door. Why should we want a pale
imitation?) And if someone had
asked the patriarch in an office the
size of a football field, he would
have told them: A hero cannot kill
the parents of children and hope
to win their love. It doesn’t
work that way.
Too far Soha Ali Khan
played with morals in
Khoya Khoya Chand
FOR NEARLY EIGHT decades, the
basic heroine remained unchanged.
She was a virgin, in
body and soul and mind; dutiful, beautiful
and almost immobile in her virtue.
The world was divided between the
safe (the houses of her father and her
husband) and the fraught (the wider
world, the bhari duniya that the ablaa
And then she began to change.
It may have begun with Kunal Kohli’s
near-unbearable Hum Tum. In this mess
of humourless cartoons, there was one
moment in which the old script was
thrown out of the window. In a moment
of passion, Rhea (Rani Mukherjee) and
Karan (Saif Ali Khan) have sex. That
they do this on a Mumbai beach, after a
dip in the sea around South Mumbai,
might suggest suicidal tendencies. But
the next morning, when Rhea wakes up,
she is not thinking of killing herself. She
is not weeping copiously. That’s something
of a first. Nor does she die at the
end, as other women who transgress
these sexual limits inevitably do.
One of the many couples who board
the pink bus of honeymooners in
Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt
Ltd is a Bengali couple: the anally retentive
Partho (Kay Kay Menon) and the
dewy-eyed Milly (Raima Sen). In one
hilarious sequence, she goes paragliding
in a sari, which begins to unravel as
Partho dances about on the beach
below, horrified at this vastraharan.
But when Milly lands, she
chooses not to wrap herself in
her sari, strutting away from
him in her pretty blouse and
petticoat. This marks a departure
for her character, for
the heroine in general, and for
us as audience.
Look at Geet Dhillon
(Kareena Kapoor) in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met. She is talkative,
brassy, she meets life head on. When
she meets Aditya Kashyap (Shahid
Kapur), he is reticent while she babbles
on. Finally, she leans in close and asks if
he’s taken any “drugs-shugs”. Her tone
is not outraged, she’s not drawing away
in horror, she is merely curious and
But, to many, these are the swallows
that do not make a summer. “Even if
the heroine has taken over the vamp’s
role, she must have a certain innocence
about her,” says Dr Rachel Dwyer, Professor
of Indian Cultures and Cinema,
SOAS, “She cannot be aware of the effect
she is having on men. That was what
made Madhuri Dixit such a star. She
had the innocent face and the direct
smile that undercut anything she did.”
In that sense, the formula we will
always have. The heroine may be independent,
she may have a career, she may
even be an object of some mystery to
the hero, but she will always return to
her roots once she falls in love. This is
generally indicated by a shift of sartorial
allegiance from west to east.
And while it is quite the done thing
for a heroine to play a prostitute — there
has been a long line of such women
from Meena Kumari in Pakeezah
to Sharmila Tagore in
Mausam to Kareena Kapoor
in Chameli — it’s quite another
thing to play a
woman of loose morals.
Soha Ali Khan tried that
in Sudhir Mishra’s Khoya
Khoya Chand and that
As the positive moral pole
of the universe, the heroine cannot
move too far from her position.
She’s right, she’s always right, and the
right-wing will keep her there.
The good stepson The 2003 family drama
Baghban was a big hit
ONCE UPON A time there was a father,
a mother and several sons.
Always sons. This showed how
efficient the family was at baby-making.
They would sing a song as the mother
did her tulsi puja and the boys did their
boy thing and the father went to earn his
bread by the sweat of his brow.
Bollywood took it seriously, this thing
about the family being the building
blocks of society. We knew a lot about
characters simply from their names.
Devdas? Brahmin. Vijay? Kshatriya.
Amitabh Bachchan punched
through that. In Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar ka Sikandar, he has no
name, he tells his Eternal Mother
Nirupa Roy, because people only abuse
him. She calls him Sikandar. She’s a
Muslim, we know, because Sikandar
takes her corpse to be buried — but we
never know where his allegiance lies.
This cinematic moment is extended
in Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela. Munna
is not a name, it’s a nickname. Munna could be Hindu or Muslim or nothing at
all. When we visit his house, he has no
gods, only a picture of Schwarzenegger.
In Satya, we meet Satya (Chakravarthy)
stepping into Mumbai’s underworld. We
know he must be Hindu, but he has no
family. He never refers to his parents, his
village, his origins. At last, we seemed to
be cutting loose.
But a simultaneous development
suggested that we weren’t done with
the family. As a production house, the
Rajshris spent decades promoting clean
family dramas. They located action in
either the extended family (Tapasya) or
in the unit of two lovers (Taraana). The
advent of the violent 1970s had left their
films flopping, all that kept the company
from bankruptcy was a small film called
Nadiya Ke Paar which did more than a
crore rupees business in Bihar.
It was this story that Sooraj Barjatya
resurrected for Hum Aapke Hain
Kaun..? The wildly successful film
reminded Bollywood that there was no
need for a villain, no need for a vamp.
The old debate between duty and self
could still be brought into play. That it
was now set in a huge mansion and
played out by young, westernised people,
gave it a stronger charge. Baghban’s
success set that in stone.
The family, we are always going to
have with us.
Off the walls Darsheel
Safary touched hearts in
Taare Zameen Par
KITAAB, THAT STRANGE
1977 experiment by
Gulzar, relies almost
entirely on the skills of Master Raju
and Master Tito, and the most unimpressively
picturised song of all time:
Dhanno ki aankhon mein raat ka
surma. Both children tried to put years
of cutie-pie acting behind them but
failed. The child was never a person,
but a tool with which your heartstrings
were tugged. To this end, they fell
asleep crying, had rare diseases, made
huge sacrifices — and simpered.
It was only in Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom that we came close to the level
of Daisy Irani, or Master Rattan and
Kumari Naaz in Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish.
(Time called it a gem of a film.)
Instructively, both Kitaab and Boot
Polish offer depictions of poverty and
suffering. In Kitaab, Babla (Master Raju)
experiences coldness from the middleclass
passengers on the train, but is
welcomed by the beggars, and even
shares the last traces of body warmth in
a corpse. In Boot Polish, a bootlegger
offers Belu and Bhola a chance at selfrespect,
while finding herself in a rich
home makes Belu very unhappy.
Perhaps the age of the normal child
star is over. In Mani Ratnam’s Anjali, Baby Shamili was feted for her performance
as the mentally challenged
little girl, helped by some skilful
lighting. When Sanjay Leela
Bhansali’s dreadful Black was released,
‘critics’ went gaga over
Ayesha Kapur’s young Michelle
McNally. And then Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par brought us
Darsheel Safary’s little boy with
dyslexia and parents with dementia.
(They never cotton on that he
has learning disabilities? Sure.)
Notice something? If you’re
going to have a child in the movies,
you had better give it some kind of problem. Perhaps
blessing in disguise.
Otherwise, you get the little tykes
of Siddharth Anand’s Ta Ra Rum Pum,
which tried to combine two genres in
one uncomfortable film. Ever since Feroze
Khan first strutted his stuff in the
1970s, the racing car has been a phallic
symbol, suggesting sexual freedom and
license. And here was Rajveer Singh
(Saif Ali Khan), daddy to Princess and
Champ, revving his engine rather
hopelessly in the pit?
An odd and tangential idea. We need
to call all the Iranian directors we can
find to run workshops for Indian children.
We could have Jafar Panahi, who
handled the independent little kid in The
Mirror; or Majid Majidi, who tore our
hearts open with Children of Heaven; if
we’re lucky, we could get Abbas
Kiarostami, who got two superb performances
from two young men: Babek
Ahmed Poor in Where is the House of my
Friend? and Amin Maher in Ten.
A little help Farhan
Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai
broke the friendship mould
THE FILM THAT launched Harman
Baweja, Love Story 2050, was
set in the future, but quite a few
of its elements seemed set in Bollywood’s
distant past. The rich boy with
no love in his life and a mother in the
sky, with whom he holds conversations
designed to wring your withers. Bratty
kids who interrupt the lovemaking.
Male friends who wander behind the
hero, looking dopey and making the
hero look more…well, more heroic.
We never saw the heroine’s friends
as individuals. Once in a while, a special
sakhi would read her letters and offer
camp comments; but, in general, it was
the girls’ hockey team, as in Teesri
Manzil. The hero’s friend, however,
served a special purpose. Before the
multi-starrer, he was a comic who often
announced his sexual immaturity with
the clothes he wore: bright colours,
short trousers, strange hats. His job was
to provide contrast: where the hero was
brave and dashing, the comic wanted to
go home; the hero much in demand, the
comic unwelcome; the hero oozing
testosterone, his friend trailing slime.
In the late 1970s, budgets shot
through the roof as multi-starrers
seemed the only way to make money.
Start with a Bachchan. Add a Kapoor,
any Kapoor. Is there room for a Sinha or
a Khanna? Script? What script? The
new heroes spoke Bollywoodese, a
strange argot by which men
pledge eternal devotion to
each other, to their mothers, to
God and their native lands.
Which is why Sai Paranjpe’s Chashme Buddoor was such a relief.
Jai (Ravi Baswani) and Omi (Rakesh
Bedi) have only one function in the life
of their roomie Siddharth (Farooque
Shaikh): to make him get a high-paying
job so they
can all live in
the manner to which they’d like to get accustomed.
But that was seen as a middle-of-theroad
movie, a new coinage for the egregious
1980s. Bollywood didn’t make that
kind of film; outsiders did. Then Farhan
Akhtar made Dil Chahta Hai. For the
first time, young men talked like young
men. They lived in houses that looked
like the kind you might live in if you had
lots of money, and a very chic interior
designer. One scene merits attention: the
moment when Akash (Aamir Khan)
mocks Siddharth (Akshaye Khanna) for
having a relationship with an older
woman. It has all the rough edges of
young men talking to each other.
This spawned a clutch of ensemble
cast films, spreading bets over a bunch
of smaller stars, casting Farhan Akhtar as
a rock star and Purab Kohli, the reliable
and ignored talent, as the friend.
But when Daddy makes a film for
beta, you must bring on the 1970s caricature-
friends because you don’t want
competition to share his spotlight. So
what if it doesn’t work?
Unity, diversity Saif Ali
Khan encounters eccentric
Parsis in Being Cyrus
ASCENE IN FEROZE Khan’s Qurbani sums up Bollywood’s attitude to
Parsis. The hero encounters a
Parsi couple in a vintage car. The man
speaks in a high-pitched voice, the
woman is seductive. What are we to take
away? The man is impotent? The woman
is unsatisfied? Both are nuts?
In KS Sethumadhavan’s Julie, the
Anglo-Indian Roman Catholic Julie goes
to her Hindu boyfriend’s house and says
she loves coming over because their
home smells of incense. Her own smells
of alcohol, cigarettes, meat and a fourth
odour made of the other three.
In my book, Helen: The Life and
Times of an H-Bomb, I noted that the
secularism of Bollywood arose out of
commercial arithmetic. Muslims were a
huge segment of the film-going audience
so the Muslim was always a sympathetic
figure: the basti’s Rahim chacha wanted
everyone to come and eat sweets at his
home over Eid. Parsis and Christians
were seen as westernised, uninterested
in Bollywood, so could be lampooned.
But, as in all things Bollywood, there
are so many exceptions that the rule
almost founders. The biggest is Manmohan
Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony, a film
with a heart so large and a spirit so magnificent
that it takes in everyone and
laughs at everything, including its own
pretensions. The titles roll on the blood
of the three brothers surging into the
veins of their mother. Each boy is asked
his name. The first says, Amar. The second
says, Akbar. The third says, Anthony
and the blood rises from each young arm
and joins into a single red stream and
flows into the arm of the blind flowerseller, Nirupa
Roy, to the tune
of “Kya iski
keemat chukaani nahin? Khoon khoon
hota hai paani nahin”. Desai was told
that blood donation didn't happen that
way. He said he didn’t care how they did
it in hospitals. He had a statement to
make: we contribute to the body politic,
Hindus, Muslims, Christians.
But for all this, the eldest brother is
always Hindu and if ever there must
be an intercaste marriage, the boy is
always a Hindu. Hindus and Muslims
do not marry onscreen, unless in an
overt political statement (Mani Ratnam’s Bombay). But in the odd hierarchies
that custom and power have
established, a heroine could be Christian.
Liz (Waheeda Rehman) in Baazi,
Miss Edna (Madhubala) in Howrah
Bridge, Bobby (Dimple) in Bobby,
Jenny (Parveen Babi) in Amar Akbar
Anthony and Annie (Manisha Koirala)
in Khamoshi all marry their men without
anyone saying, “She’s Isaai”.
How far have we come? When I was
writing Helen, it struck me that one reason
she may not have made the transition
from dancer to heroine might have
been her name. Today, we have quite a
few Christian sounding names: John
Abraham, Genelia D’Souza, Dino
Morea, are three examples.
But the parodies continue. In Imtiaz
Ali’s Socha Na Tha, Karen Fernandes's
(Apoorva Jha’s) father (Sohrab Ardeshir)
is a parody of the Bollywood Catholic.
He speaks with an English accent, lives
in a bungalow, drinks alcohol by the litre
and sees it as a test of masculinity.
And as for Muslims... unfortunately,
skip forward a bit to Villain.
Village voice Shreyas
Talpade and Amrita Rao
in Welcome to Sajjanpur
THE POOR OFTEN showed up in
Hindi cinema. Not just the decorative
poor, but real people of
flesh and blood and dreams. KA Abbas
and Raj Kapoor turned them into box office
magic, giving us the little man with
big dreams, who could pick up a dafli
and sing, “Dil ka haal suneh dilwaala.”
Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, a
faithful portrait of the landless poor, was
a hit in Mumbai. Watching it today, you
can see why the poor rickshaw puller
that Bhisham Sahni mentions in his
book Mere Bhai Balraj was so moved,
why he kept saying to Balraj Sahni “This
is my story, babu, this is my story.”
As lathis rain at Singur, as motorcycles
roll into Nandigram, the farmers
lose all over again. When Shambhu tells
the landlord that land is the farmer’s
mother, the landlord replies that industry
is its father. The metaphor of penetration
and conquest implicit in this
patriarchal retort is evident, even today.
After Hum Aapke Hain Kaun...? it became
a rule: everyone dresses well. Even
extras must be colour-coordinated. The
school-teacher's daughter wears designer
saris. The poor we will always have with
us, but must we tell their stories? The
only time poverty enters the pictures
today is in films like Pradeep Sarkar’s Laaga Chunari
Mein Daag, but
it is sorted out
with a quick
spot of high-class
prostitution, as if
there were no
pimps in Mumbai to
make sure prostitutes remain poor. Sarkar’s Parineeta had some
poor people but they, like the family in
LCMD, were land-rich upper-caste people.
The peasantry are reduced to colourful
people, almost always in Rajasthani
clothes, as in Apoorva Lakhia’s Mumbai
Se Aaya Mera Dost. With the death of
middle-of-the-road cinema, with Shyam
Benegal going into what seemed like
retirement, it seemed as if we weren’t
going to notice our villages again.
But once again, all is not lost. The
multiplex cinemas and DVD revolution
have conspired to make possible films
like Manish Jha’s Matrubhoomi and
Shyam Benegal’s robust comedy, Welcome
Bollywood would do well to look at
Marathi cinema. Nishikant Kamat’s Dombivli Fast was a powerful look at the
man on the fourth seat of local trains.
(These seats are built for three. The
fourth man must adjust on a narrow
strip of metal.) UV Kulkarni’s Valu and
Mangesh Hadawale’s Tingya were both
set in villages and had the charm of Sai
Paranjpe’s films in the 1980s.
Hindi cinema should remember that
it is the telling of stories that makes a
national cinema. If it wants to retain its
claim as the popular culture of India, it
is going to have start thinking local
even as it starts behaving global.
Going for brokeback Ashutosh Rana’s Shabnam
Mausi was well played
THERE HAS ALWAYS been a camp
element to Bollywood. “The stars
were always flamboyant and as
the male body became sexualised, it wasn’t
just gay, it was also kinky. There was a
strong element of sado-masochism in
the leather trousers and the chaps and
the like. Sometimes, I think the kinky
was more important than the gay thing,”
says Vikram Doctor, long-time observer
of Bollywood and of gay trends.
Few people remember it but Bollywood’s
first outing with gay trends was
Prem Kapoor’s Badnaam Basti (1971).
While not about homosexuality, it refered
to two men in love and didn’t
either demonise or caricature them.
Otherwise, the gay man turned up
only to be mocked. In Sholay, he offers
the ersatz Hitler of Indian jails (Asrani)
a kiss. In Bobby Darling, Bollywood
found his apotheosis: camp, shrill, of
indeterminate gender. Ecce homo, said
Bollywood with delight.
Things changed with films like Onir’s My Brother Nikhil and Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (Although,
even when situational lesbianism shows
up in a film like Jabbar Patel’s Subah/
Umbartha, the heroine, herself struggling
for selfhood, shows no sympathy.)
Dostaana is not a departure. Abhishek
Bachchan and John Abraham
are only pretending to be gay, as all
those heroes in drag weren’t actually
women. The humour was
derived from the pretence. At
the end of Rafoo Chakkar, for
instance, Paintal confesses to
his admirer that he is a man. The
admirer is not discouraged.
“Nobody’s perfect,” he says.
It may be a while before
we make our Brokeback
Mountain, but the viciousness of Bollywood’s homophobia
has changed into an almost affectionate
And there is some recognition that
the homosexual and the hijra are distinct
identities. The hijra has always
had a marginal position in society, duly
reflected in cinema. For years, the hijra
song from Mehmood’s Kunwara Baap
was sung in school-buses heading off
for picnics. Yet, beneath superstitions
about powers granted to the third sex,
there has always been a fear of castration.
In the 1980s, Mahesh Bhatt played
on this fear in Sadak, although he had a
more sympathetic portrait of a hijra in
Tamanna. Such spaces opened up more
with films like Amol Palekar’s Daayra or
Yogesh Bhardwaj’s Shabnam Mausi. In
the latter, although Ashutosh Rana’s is a
sustained performance as the first transgender
person to win an election to the
Madhya Pradesh State Legislature, Vijay
Raaz as his ‘mother’ Halima, turns in a
The boundaries are shifting at the
speed of an iceberg, but there’s been
All the bad guys Naseeruddin Shah in
BOLLYWOOD HAS NEVER really had
to worry about shades of grey.
There are shades of grey in every
role. Ask any actor asked why s/he
agreed to play a role. “Well,” says the
actor, putting on the kind of expression
he assumes John Malkovich might use
on Inside the Actors’ Studio, “I wanted to play Tia because there are interesting
shades of grey to her character. She
may be a poor girl in love with a rich
boy, but she isn’t the standard poor girl
in love with a rich boy.” No, she isn’t.
That kind of poor girl has acid thrown
in her face by the rich boy’s family.
Any actor playing a villain will tell you
he’s doing it because the character has
shades of grey. These shades are generally
to be found in his beard. And he will
wear a beard because, have you noticed?
The villains are now all terrorists and the
terrorists are all Muslim.
This makes it easy to tap into a way
of thinking being encouraged by the
mainstream media, who show only
images of Muslims en masse at prayer; by the police, who buy Muslim-looking
headgear for those arrested; and by
right-wing political parties, who want to
make capital. It also allows Bollywood
to claim that it is reflecting current situations;
telling us stories of today.
Will Bollywood choose to make
a film on the attacks on Christian
churches? Unlikely. Will it make a film
on what happened at Khairlanji or what
happened at Nandigram? Unlikely. But
the extreme edge of violence and uncertainty
that terrorism brings to our life has been deemed sexy, so we have had
any number of films using terror as the
backdrop. Where the villain was once
motivated by simple desires — greed,
lust — he is now an ideologue.
What’s new, you might ask. We’ve
had terrorism films since Mani Ratnam
began his terror trilogy with Roja in
1992. The difference is that Ratnam
went beyond the easy patriotism of Roja
to attempt understanding the interior
world of the terrorist in Dil Se. Santosh involving the ultimate sacrifice. It seems
we must believe that the Muslim not
only hates everyone else in the country,
but hates successful Muslims too. The
first scenes of Mani Shankar’s Mukhbiir juxtapose a terrorist, with a portrait of
the Ka’aba behind him, and the hero,
praying in a white dhoti to an image of
the Mother Goddess under a waterfall.
It has been a long time since we
could believe a director as we believe
Anurag Kashyap, who writes about
Black Friday in his blog, passionforcinema.
com, “I don’t take sides because
there are no sides... the only side I am on
is ‘This will continue if we don’t learn to
forgive’. When you take sides you only
see one POV, and that misleads.”
Last comic standing Paresh Rawal reprises a
role in Phir Hera Pheri
DON’T LOOK NOW, but the funeral
of the comic is passing. Send up
a raspberry for the likes of
Johnny Walker, Mehmood, Kishore
Kumar, Keshto Mukherjee and even
Johnny Lever. Requiescat in pace.
Humour, we have always had with us.
We have made some very funny films:
Jyoti Swaroop’s Padosan and Ketan
Mehta’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro are at either
ends of the scale, between the lighthearted
comedy and the social satire. Sai
Paranjpe made a couple of delightful
films at which we could all laugh.
Then David Dhawan took over. He
was assisted by the enormous talent of
Govinda as a comic actor: flawless timing,
a mobile face, an ordinary body
blessed with a rhythm from the gods
themselves. That often kept things from
going too bad — in the bawdiest of
Govinda’s moves, there was a suggestion
of effrontery, of not quite believing in all
this. And an effortless undercurrent of
subversiveness: the MTV generation was
being sent up, big time, by the smalltown
boy in lemon yellow trousers.
Somewhere along the line, we devalued
the comic so much that we threw
out the baby with the bathwater. Blame
Priyadarshan; his comedy rests on the
assumption that an actor who comes
cheap can be a comic. Thus, he will put
together a bunch of young men and
assume that if they are all looking to
woo the same woman, it will work.
In Hera Pheri, Priyadarshan’s first
comic outing, we made
two astonishing discoveries:
Akshay Kumar could act and
he could be funny, even if he had a pretty
awful voice. But even he could do nothing
in the face of Paresh Rawal’s sheer
comic firepower. So figure this out: what
was Suniel Shetty doing in the film?
Hindi cinema has never been kind to
its comics. They don’t get top billing.
They don’t get awards. So, if a Bollywood
hero can do comedy, he tries to conceal
it. Amitabh Bachchan was a very good
comic, but he spent most of his life lashing
out with his fists. Dharmendra was
funny, but he had that Punjabi body and
that face, so he became an action hero
who couldn’t do anger without sounding
out of breath. Arshad Warsi is way funnier
than Sanjay Dutt in both Munnabhais, he’s the better actor, but who gets
the credit? The man with the muscles.
What happened to comedy?
What happened to the rest of cinema?
The writers are disappearing.
In the old dispensation, the writer
was an integral part of the team.
Take KA Abbas from Raj
Kapoor and you get Ram Teri
Ganga Maili. Take Abrar Alvi
away from Guru Dutt… but
that didn’t happen. Guru Dutt
left early. Today, everyone’s
working on a script but the
power is still in the prodooser’s
paws. He will ask for an item number.
He will ask for a big-name hero. And
then he’ll say, “Chalo yaar, let’s make
another Bheja Fry.”
As if you can allow the money to
drown out talent and expect to make
And so we get the writers we deserve.
Right now, the writing has gone
into the toilet so everyone asks everyone
else in a Bollywood comedy:
“Jaana hai kya?”