The year – 1975
The Film – DEEWAAR ( THE WALL ) Yes, Pink Floyd took another 7 years to get there!
Brothers on either side of the law.
One a cop, the other a criminal ; locked in an edge-of-the-seat showdown as only Bollywood can offer.
At the end of a cat-and-mouse chase,
The Criminal : “So, what have you got? After ALL THESE YEARS in ‘uniform’, enforcing the law and doing the ‘right’ thing, WHAT have you got to show for it, bro?
Look at me, I have a palatial house, the best car, everything that money can buy..EVERYTHING…and you? All you have are your ‘values’ and ‘morals’…ideals that wouldn’t buy you a square meal, if you tried!
Is that ALL you have to your name after a lifetime of being ‘righteous’…?”
The Cop : “True, you have it all, my brother… everything.
But you forget,
I have Ma…”
The audience rises to its feet ; crying, clapping, whistling, cheering, knowing that it’s been money + 3 hours well spent, for that ONE LINE alone ( and the film is studded with many such ‘iconic’ pieces of dialogue )
Welcome to the larger-than-life, singing, dancing, many-splendoured world of Bollywood featuring verbal-sparring par excellence.
A trifle baffling perhaps, to those not tuned in to our unique sensibilities but nothing that can’t be explained.
We’re the LARGEST film industry in the world, we’re the BIGGEST form of entertainment for over a billion people + fans worldwide, we like to break the monotony of a ‘narrative’ with song & dance, we adore heavy-duty dialogue and cheeky punch-lines, we love to dress up, aren’t shy to flash a bit of flesh, we laugh from the pit of our bellies and our tears could cover the water-deficit in a small tropical country, we copy shamelessly, just as we are totally original. We do daredevil stunts, we do breathtaking locales, we do comedy-tragedy-realism-farce-art house-mainstream- THE WORKS!
And every Friday, we set aside differences in caste, class, religion and rank until the end of the film ( two hours, at the very least ) to bond over our shared love of all things ‘filmy’
Oh, and one of our superstars allegedly takes home a pay cheque slightly heavier than Tom Cruise.
I ask you, what’s NOT to like, love , adore ??!
I could do a MILLION posts on Bollywood and still not be done but this one’s inspired by a piece in yesterday’s INDEPENDENT, titled “Bollywood promotes the leading ladies – but won’t pay the wages”
As the piece suggests, it is a wage-gap not entirely unique to Bollywood. Or even to film, for that matter.
Alongside the Meryl Streeps of the world ruing the dearth of women-centric roles and remuneration to match, we have women in TV, theatre, art, politics, sport, finance and virtually all walks of life, all-too-often confessing to their heads scraping a ‘glass ceiling’ – it’s universal, this fight to even things out amidst male dominance.
Specifically in the context of film, I’m hoping that Bollywood will take significant steps to rectify the problem, and it is a PROBLEM, before the sun sets on my generation.
After all, we’ve witnessed SO many SWEEPING changes to the way things used to be. From the time I remember going to the movies – essentially the 80s and thereafter, it was primarily seen as ‘mass entertainment’ which was largely a means of escapism ( a dreamy flight to a world most Indians couldn’t afford and exotic places we couldn’t visit )
All it had to do was cater to the lowest common denomination ( the song-dance-laughter-tears-happily ever after formula )
A few wise words from Samuel Coleridge was everything that was needed before a trip to the movies – the ability to draw upon that “willing suspension of disbelief” inherent in our DNA.
Perfectly sane, rational, ‘normal’ people would think nothing of, say, a ‘heroine’ ( leading lady ) pirouetting on the snowy peaks of Alaska in a tantalising chiffon saree when the man next to her was swaddled in three layers of jackets from The North Face. Perfectly acceptable!
Or when a ‘hero’ couldn’t scrounge the means to afford lunch but miraculously found the time, money and VISA to be able to visit, then pine for his lost love on the edge of Lake Lugano, lyrically weeping into his cappuccino – only to return to his tattered village-life when the song ended.
Nope, nothing wrong with that either.
It happens ALL THE TIME ( er, in Bollywood, it does )
Or indeed the need for our star-crossed lovers on screen to first hug trees, then dance around them before declaring their love to each other.
Believe me. That’s 100% normal.
THEN INDIA CHANGED.
With liberalisation in the 1990s, with markets opening up, with jobs flooding in, with an increasingly wealthy-confident-challenged and charged-up Middle Class coming to the fore, with the mushrooming of “multiplex-cinemas” which allow small, labours of love ( india going indie ) to live and flourish amidst BIG BUDGET BLOCKBUSTERS, with the very fabric of society changing in what can only be described as a paradigm-shift and the world clamouring for a piece of this ( lights! camera !! ) action – EVERYTHING transformed in INDIA, hence in BOLLYWOOD too.
Post – liberalisation, movie budgets have gone through the roof, cutting-edge technology is now leading the way and the most dangerous element of any creative endeavour, REALISM, has crept in when no one was looking, when those 1.2 billion people were busy debating whether or not Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had shed enough post-pregnancy pounds to warrant another slice of the red carpet at Cannes…( that sort of stuff gets us hot under the collar, all the time )
The song and dance routine in our ‘MASALA MOVIES’ continues but Bollywood embraces a much wider fan base now. Not everything has to be ‘Paisa-vasool’ or ‘money’s worth’ in the sense that earlier, a single movie had to have something for everybody ( song , dance, drama, melodrama, action, comedy, tragedy, social message… )
Bollywood today, has gone somewhat niche!
My personal favourite from a recent crop of films – LUNCHBOX. A small-budget film about love and longing in a bustling city, initiated by the folly of a ‘dabbawala’ delivering the wrong lunchbox to the right guy 🙂
I went in there expecting another “Slumdog Millionaire” – hope-in-the-face-of-doom attuned to a strictly Western sensibility. Lunchbox had garnered enough column inches in the press here, from all the right sources too ( BFI, The Guardian, Bollywood Season on Channel 4 ) for me to sit up and take note.
The final push came from an elderly English lady who took me by the arm at someone’s party and confessed that it was one of the best films she’d ever seen, well worth the £20 for driving to ODEON, Marble Arch ( congestion charge + parking fee ) before she’d even paid for the movie and the popcorn!
What I personally loved about the film?
The fact that it broke even the ‘Art House’ rules in India and refrained from ending on a strictly ‘happy’ or ‘tragic’ note but fell somewhere in-between.
It was life, as we all know it and LIVE IT everyday but rarely see in our films.
Who knows, parity in fee for our leading ladies may just be ’round the corner too, patiently awaiting its first audition in a dusty suburban Mumbai studio, as I write…
Given the infamously horrendous Mumbai traffic, it may take a while to get to its destination, though.
While we wait, let’s dance!
” ONE.TWO.THREE.FOUR – say, Shaavaa Shaavaa, mahiya…say shaavaa shavaaaaaaa! ”