Saturday, February 18, 2012

Will Bollywood ever get over love stories?

Ever since its inception, the Indian Film Industry has had the strongest relationship with love stories. Its our biggest obsession and our biggest identity. In fact in 2010, some of the greatest directors from across the globe produced a feature called, Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. The film went unnoticed but it clearly emblazoned what we are best known for, even for people who dont follow Indian cinema across the globe. For a long time and almost till now, we have been hailed and hammered for producing song-dance sequences circling around a love story in almost all our attempts. The industry has undergone a definitive change in the past few years and started to move out of this chagrined imagery of our creative expanse. But to be honest, it has definitely helped us over the years to reach out to a wider audience across the globe. Many out there loved us for what we did along with many who distrustfully stereotyped us. We quietly tuck in a love story in almost 80-90% of the films even today while most of them are shamelessly centered around them. Yet, there are a few filmmakers who get them right anyway. According to a report, almost 83% of the films releases flopped in 2011, and thats almost the disastrous fable every year. The point is, will we ever preternaturally get over love stories? 

The answer is NO and its not even that enormous a gaffe to me. Exploring the different sides of love is solemnly the easiest thing to do yet one of the hardest thing to make it work in a plethora of profane attempts. Indian cinema started at its highest point where icons like Satyajit Ray, Raj Kapoor and V. Shantaram unabashedly mastered the art of telling universally acclaimed stories. Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand created legendary characters that buys them irreplaceable reverence even today. The 1960's was an era of radically social movies where topical issues surpassed stories of love without a whim and it continued pretty much into 1970's until Amitabh Bachchan introduced the concept of an 'angry young man'. The trajectory conveniently discoursed into action films where the hero had to jump off a building and fight a set of goons to evoke response from its ordinary audience. During the mid 1980's and upto mid 1990's, movies started taking the shield of masala and banality took over. Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt and Sunny Deol were the new leads who barely induced the audience with their histrionics. This could be called the worst phase of Indian cinema when cacophonous songs, melodramatic sleaze and embarrassing action was the order of the day. All through this era, there was a random Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Arth, Ardh Satya, Sparsh, Chashme Baddoor, Tamas, Drohkaal, Saaransh that managed to grow and reach out, carefully treading to avoid getting weeded out by the appalling, unreasonable mob of the ordinary and the overdone. They are classics for us today, but they often recovered any money then, and the actors barely ever got paid for a lot of those films, even when they did not associate themselves with infirm sophistry of the script. The drudgery of the hero's family, the minimalism of the actress's role and the overwhelming villainy of the anti-hero were constant ingredients, almost every week. 

This sneer-worthy lurch of Indian cinema ended with the advent of new films such as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, which pretty much set the ball rolling for new directors to step up and alter the norms. The lead was no longer a hero, instead he was a more vulnerable character who could fail, who didnt need to fight and was always in love with a deep fervor. Shahrukh Khan emerged as an anti-hero but gradually nudged into being the most loved romantic hero owing to his spree with DDLJ, Pardes, DTPH, KKHH and Mohabbatein. Cinema came up with a new language where shoddy became glossy, action was replaced by emotions and formula became fresh. There was suddenly a higher focus on the treatment of the script and the detailing of production techniques until this became monotonous too. During the 2000's the filmmakers were unpretentiously struggling to lay out love stories while at the same time incessantly trying to break barriers to come up with something refreshing. Its only since 2009 or so that you finally seeing some change happening and their efforts reaching a notable outcome. The last decade was a confused phase for Indian cinema where the cantankerous critics were increasingly bashing the hackneyed formula and an emerging lot was trying to invent and infuse a new language into Indian cinema through their diverse school of thoughts. Nevertheless, we told many love stories, some innovative, some repetitive and some like old wine in a new bottle. 

The surprising piece in this story is that even new filmmakers are coming up with new ways to tell the love stories, minus the song dance sequences. Their approach is less trite or mechanical and explores the more unconventional domains of this genre. A lot of times, it tugs more on the irony of love, the flaws of it and the shit that comes with the sugar. All other times, it still juices out the happy and the sappy with meticulous care. Good Night Good Morning, a venture by an indie filmmaker Sudhish Kamath, recreates love through a simple conversation and lovingly details the wistful side of it. Recently produced short film, Gulcharrey modestly pens a love letter to the simplicity of love stories in the odd 10 minutes it runs for. 

The bottomline here is that love stories havent been annihilated and why should they be, as long as people find new ways to tell them. As long as we can deliver a Rockstar in 2011, we are still digging up newer paths. And we should not be ashamed to do so. Even Hollywood churns out love stories in the garb of rom-coms almost every second week. They have a smaller audience for this genre but we have an entire nation ready to watch a love story every week. Yet, some of their love stories stand out, predominantly because of their comedy, and less because of their emotional depth. We have an edge there, our audience is more voraciously open to shedding tears, the movie has to just tangibly ask for it without falling into the clutches of the ordinary. Personally, for me, the most notable love stories over the last 15 years or so have been DDLJ, KKHH, Veer-Zaara, Jab We Met and Rockstar. DDLJ and KKHH were good for their era, where they unfolded their stories with a lot of ease. Veer-Zaara fell into the domain of epic sagas, loaded with hamming but still true to its skin. Jab We Met rewrote the rules of the way love stories are told, empowering the female lead above anything else. Rockstar exemplifies the brooding of an unexplained love in a domain where two people connect with just each other, and no one else in the world, nor do they care about them. There could be many others here which I fail to bring up, but its not about berating myself for that but discovering the irresistible power of love stories. Its not that hard to dispense with the cliches if one focuses on the story he wants to tell. 

Cinema is an empty canvas, its up to you how you paint it but the color of love is sure to quietly sneak and blend in most likely in most of your attempts, and its acceptable if your final painting is still lauded!

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