Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Brief Unresearched History of Bollywood: Part 2

This is the second part of what is my favourite series on this blog – an attempt to identify the most influential stars, most durable films and the best decade of Hindi cinema.
For the first post (covering 1950s and 1960s), click here.

1970s: Angry Young Decade
In 1970, Hrishikesh Mukherjee made film that was a tribute to Raj Kapoor and in it, the title role was that of a garrulous Punjabi (called Anand Sehgal) full of joie de vivre even in the face of his fast-approaching death. His foil in the film was a Bengali (obviously modeled after Hrishikesh Mukherjee himself), called Babumoshai. This role in a film at the beginning of the decade – very symbolically – was played by an actor who would rule this decade like no other actor would rule no other decade in no other country.
Though his official debut was in the last years of the previous decade, Amitabh Bachchan had his first official hit in 1973 with Zanjeer (his 13th release), directed by Prakash Mehra and more importantly, written by the duo of Salim-Javed.

An aspiring actor, Salim Khan, came to Bombay to become a film star and started off with roles in B-grade films. In one such film (called Sarhadi Lootera), he met a dialogue writer on the sets, who was called Javed Akhtar.
The on-set dialogue writer was a common phenomenon in Hindi cinema, that depended on the stars and the music director to bring in the masses. The script and dialogues were incidental to the whole thing. The producer had a rough idea of the story he wanted to tell. The director has a vague idea of the scenes he was going to shoot. And they just needed a daily-wage writer on the sets to quickly pen down the words the stars were going to belt out.
Salim-Javed became the first writers of Bollywood who had stories with detailed scenarios and went to producers to peddle them. Their stories were rarely standard melodrama. For example, Andaz was about a girl whose lover dies and is wooed by a widower. Even a rehashed Bollywood story of long-lost twins – Seeta aur Geeta – achieved a rare chutzpah with their razor-sharp dialogues. But their acceptance in Bollywood mainstream was not easy. Their genre-defining Zanjeer went to Dharmendra, Dev Anand, Raaj Kumar and many others who rejected it for the relentless violence, lack of romance and music.
But after the lanky son of Harivanshrai Bachchan brought the Angry Young Man alive on screen, there was no looking back for all three of them. Salim-Javed wrote their best films for Amitabh or Amitabh brought a different dimension to their words. Either way, 1970s saw a slew of Salim-Javed scripts star Amitabh and achieve immortality – Deewaar, Trishul, Kaala Patthar, Don, Majboor, Dostana, Amar Akbar Anthony to name a few. Salim-Javed became the first scriptwriters in Hindi cinema who could sell a movie on their name alone and commanded not only top dollar but top billing as well.

While the Amitabh phenomenon became bigger and bigger, there was a different kind of cinema that emerged. Filmmakers like Basu Chatterjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee started a new genre of films that were realistic but no less entertaining. Films like Chhoti Si Baat, Rajanigandha and Golmaal were set in places where the Hindi film audience lived – the Bombay local, small offices, taxis, Lonavla – and had a face that was not of a hero but of a common man. The self-effacing Amol Palekar flourished in this middle-of-the-road cinema and brought several others with him – Farooque Shaikh, Deven Varma, Vidya Sinha and most notably, Utpal Dutt. A brilliant theatre-actor, Dutt brought a new dimension to comic acting by spicing up the regular with a dash of over-the-top.
The slice of life genre was further strengthened by Gulzar, whose Parichay (based on The Sound of Music), Mere Apne (touching the lives of the educated unemployed, drifting into crime) and Aandhi (love story of a politician and a commoner) were all beautiful films.

1970s also saw the start of a new movement in Hindi cinema – the ‘art cinema’. The pioneer was Shyam Benegal, whose first film Ankur received not only critical acclaim and international recognition but a fair degree of commercial success. Made on shoe-string budgets and featuring acting powerhouses from FTII and NSD, these films opened up a completely new avenue of cinematic excellence in Hindi. Shyam Benegal himself was at the peak of his creativity as he made a number of very impressive films – Nishant, Manthan, Junoon and Bhumika, for example. A very notable film in this genre were MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa (a brilliant take on the Partition and communalism), starring Balraj Sahni in one of his last roles.

In between the commercial intensity of Amitabh Bachchan and the critical intensity of Naseeruddin Shah, there emerged a different kind of hero and a different kind of cinema. Rishi Kapoor debuted in a monster hit – Bobby – directed by his father and proceeded to act in a series of peppy musicals, usually set in a college. For the first time in the history of Hindi cinema, music had taken a backseat to the screenplay in the 1970s. But Rishi Kapoor – lovingly called Chintoo by his family and the industry – took the help of RD Burman and (his to-be wife) Neetu Singh to bring alive the teenager on screen. Rafoo Chakkar, Khel Khel Mein, Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin and Zamaane Ko Dikhane Hain were all lovely entertainers, straight out of campus and continue to bring a smile even today. Rishi’s career continued well into the 1990s, when he jokingly said in an interview that he wanted to act opposite Twinkle in his last film to bring a conclusion to his career, which started opposite Twinkle’s mother!

Apart from Yash Chopra, the other star director of the decade was Manmohan Desai with his brand of schmaltzy, campy, fizzy cinema. The title sequence of his biggest hit (Amar Akbar Anthony) was typical of the over-the-top melodramatic coincidence he brought to his cinema. A blind flower-seller woman is brought to a hospital and she desperately needs blood. A Hindu police inspector who registers her case, a Muslim patient who is actually wooing a doctor and a Christian tapori who brought her there all have the same blood group and donate blood through a common transplant tube! A totally improbable scene, brought alive by his madness. 1970s was a golden period for him with Roti, Dharam Veer, Parvarish, Chacha Bhatija and Suhaag becoming massive hits.

Though his output was limited numerically (Andaz and Seeta aur Geeta), the impact of Ramesh Sippy on the 1970s (and the history of Indian cinema) cannot be undermined due to that one film. Sholay was not merely a box-office success, it has now became a social phenomenon - like, say, the Emergency or the Partition - by finding a place in our lives, universe and everything. Ramesh Sippy made several films before and after Sholay but he was never able to shake off the cross of not being able to produce one more Sholay. Fortunately for him, neither has anyone else.

The decade started with the anger of Amitabh but ended with him becoming a 360-degree entertainer – doing romantic roles, comic routines, musicals (even playback singing) and tragic anti-heroes. Quite obviously, he would be the figure who defined the decade. Every other person had left his mark on the film industry. Amitabh – in the 1970s – became the industry.

1980s: Disco, Action, Bhelpuri
Amitabh Bachchan started this decade as the Midas of Bollywood. This was proved by the fact that he made some really bad films that turned out to be massive hits. For example, his collaboration with Manmohan Desai turned out three films – Desh Premee, Coolie and Mard – all of which were not a patch on their films from 1970s but were much bigger hits. In 1984, Amitabh did a detour into politics and became even larger in the public imagination. The outpouring of mass emotion at the time of his illness (in 1982) turned into votes and subsequently into hysteria at the time of his releases. Releases of films like Aakhri Raasta, Inquilaab and Shahenshah needed fewer publicists and more policemen to manage!

As he went decidedly to the other side of 40, a search for a successor started. The first contender for the throne was a FTII graduate, who debuted in a Mrinal Sen film but made his name as an on-screen dancer. Mithun Chakraborty became the country’s first male dancing star with Disco Dancer and later, Dance Dance. In between these and a couple of National Award-winning roles, he cemented his number one position with a series of action-dance-romance films (of which I have to name at least one, for its stunning name – Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki).
Parallel to Mithun’s rise was the rise of Bappi Lahiri, whose disco tunes were partly lifted from Western pop and fully played at every Ganapati / Durga Puja pandal in the country. While Bappi gained tremendous notoriety as a lifter of tunes, he did come up with some very nice scores – original and melodious. Overpowered by the memory of his flashy costumes and tons of gold jewelry, we forget Chalte Chalte, Sharaabi and Namak Halal.

The other star who was touted to be the successor came in the later part of the decade – Anil Kapoor. Starting off with roles as the do-gooder simpleton (in Woh Saat Din and Saheb), Anil Kapoor hit superstardom with N Chandra’s Tezaab. Starring opposite Madhuri Dixit, who went on to become the biggest female star in the 1990s, Anil made the role of the Bombay tapori his own and continued his winning streak in Ram Lakhan and Parinda (Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s first mainstream film – and massive box-office success). Actually, one of his earlier hits was Mr India (Salim Javed’s last script), a role that was originally intended for Amitabh (but who declined because he wanted his audience to ‘see’ him).

If 1970s brought action to the forefront of Bollywood, 1980s was the decade of showmen.
Raj Kapoor camouflaged sleaze as high art and churned out two of the biggest hits of his career – Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Ram Teri Ganga Maili. He conjured up philosophical messages for both films but the breasts of Zeenat Aman and Mandakini were the biggest draws.
Yash Chopra, who deserves a lot of credit for creating the persona of the Angry Young Man in the 1970s, changed gears completely and became the country’s most romantic director and Switzerland’s biggest travel agent. Starting with Silsila, he filmed tales of undying love in breathtaking locations and with heroines in chiffon sarees – the most notable of which is Chandni.
However, the biggest showman of the decade was unquestionably Subhash Ghai. 1980s was the time when he put up his grandest spectacles and made the most money. From a reincarnation story (Karz) to sibling rivalry (Ram Lakhan), from the love story of a criminal (Hero) to a jingoistic thriller (Karma), he made big-budget multi-starrers and the public lapped it up.
Even the B-grade cinema had its own showman in the aptly-named B Subhash, whose repertoire included Tarzan apart from the disco films that made catapulted Mithun into stardom.

1980s is generally considered to be the worst decade of Hindi cinema but I am not inclined to agree. For the simple reason that the ‘art cinema’ movement that was started by Shyam Benegal in the mid-70s gained a lot of momentum and became a separate ecosystem in the world of Hindi cinema. And quite suitably, it became known as the ‘parallel cinema’.
Shyam Benegal continued to be active and made films as diverse as Kalyug (a modern-day version of Mahabharat) and Trikaal (a drama surrounding a Goan joint family).
His cinematographer – Govind Nihalini – picked up the director’s baton and delivered some amazingly powerful films. Aakrosh and Ardh Satya – both starring Om Puri in the lead roles – were set in very diverse backgrounds (a feudal system in a rural area and the Bombay police department respectively) but generated a gut-wrenching response universally.

Apart from these two masters, there were several other filmmakers who came up and enriched the parallel cinema. Drawing heavily from the life around us (for themes) and from the acting courses of FTII (for players), these filmmakers used both government and private financing to come with realistic, topical films – the best examples of which were very engrossing as well.
My favourite example of the genre is also a cult favourite, with an ever-growing fan following – Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron! Humour was never so black in Hindi cinema, characters were never so frivolous and yet the impact was mind-blowing.
Sai Parnjpye made Chashme Buddoor and Katha. Mahesh Bhatt made Arth and Saaransh. Ketan Mehta made Mirch Masala. Shekhar Kapur made Masoom. All these films contributed to a rich tapestry of diverse topics, enriched with great music in some cases, great humour in some and great technical finesse in all.

Which brings me to the quartet I will name as the people with the most impact on the decade’s cinema. They are Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. They all started off as trained actors in theatre, before breaking into films. Their performances – without exception – bore the hallmark of the talent and hard work they routinely put in. The physicality of Naseer’s role in the pig-crossing scene of Paar. Or Om’s traumatic silence in Aakarosh. Smita Patil’s hair-raising paranoia in Arth. Or Shabana Azmi’s near-silent strength in Masoom. These were performances worthy of accolades from across the world and they got them in truckloads. However, I think the ultimate testimony to their talent and power was the smoothness with which they moved into commercial cinema, sometimes in roles reaching a tremendous level of inanity. So Naseer danced to Tirchhi topiwale in Tridev and with Archana Puran Singh in Jalwa. Om Puri played the dancing star’s manager in Disco Dancer. Shabana played a bridesmaid in a pink costume in Amar Akbar Anthony. And Smita matched Amitabh step for step in a rain-dance (Aaj rapat jaye to) of Namak Halal.

The last couple of years in the decade saw the release of two films and a TV serial – Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyar Kiya and Fauji. The three lead actors of these films are subjects of the post on the coming decade.

Phew! Gasp! As I am entering decades which I have first-hand knowledge of, the post lengths seem to be expanding exponentially. Now, I am dreading the 1990s and 2000s! You guys still hanging on, I hope?


Anonymous said...

Love, love, love, love, love the way you write...Awaiting the 1990s and 2000s with bated breath


abhishek said...


appa said...

Loved the post - when thinking of the 70s, my mind was so filled with Amitabh movies that I'd forgotten some of the other classics you've mentioned there. Need to watch Garam Hawa....

Loved the 80's as well - you're right, it's often considered the lost decade, but those movies you mention there definitely stand up to the best from any other decade (except the Mithun movies :)).

Waiting for the 90's and the 00's...

bollywooddeewana said...

As much as i loved reading this, the 80's section are not entirely representative,you left out Jeetendra,the 80's were a very successful period and in fact the most successsful decade for Jeetendra, with back to back top blockbusters like Himmatwala, Maqsad,Justice Chaudhury, Mawaali, Farz aur Kanoon, Asha etc. He deserved a mention as he was the king of the 80's box office

Of course his films were not critically acclaimed but the fact that millons of Indian Audiences went to watch them sending them to become top grossers of the 80's, Jeetu deserved a mention

Anonymous said...

'Or Shabana Azmi’s earthy strength in Mirch Masala'

Wrong. Its Smita Patil all the way in Mirch Masala.

PL correct.

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@ Anon: Oops! Corrected. Thanks.

suparna said...

awesome awesome .. go on :)

Anonymous said...

I do envy you!

You seem to be able to take on these mini projects that inspire you and follow them through.

And the best part is that they are subjective, witty and entertaining to read.

L'Étranger said...

Brilliant...is all I can say!

pawan said...

Dude, check out your history.
1) Amar Akbar Anthony wasn't written by Salim Javed. Salim Javed wrote on Chacha Bhatija for Manmohan Desai

2)Mard wasn't a huge hit, certainly not among his biggest. 1985's topmost hits were ram teri ganga maili and Pyar Jhukta nahin

3)Ditto for Satyam Shivam Sundaram which too did well but wasn't a superhit. Also, the film released in 78 and not 80s

4) And ditto for Parinda which again wasn't a massiv box office success. It just did well in the Bombay territory but was hugely successful critically.

Bro, sorry but we already have a lot of shoddy research on Bollywood. Please don't add to it.
Read Memsaabstory and Bethlovesbollywood. Ironically both are blogs by phirang women, but much more assidiously researched than even the massively flawed Ashish Rajadhyaksh's Encyclopedia of Indian cinema and Mihir Bose's Bollywood, a history.

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@ Pawan: Right on all counts. Therefore, disclaimer added in title!

Boss, this was meant to be fun!
You are NOT supposed to remember if SSS released in 1978 or 1981. Only Zeenat's figure!

Pawan said...

Didn't look at the title carefully. Sorry.
And yes, Zeenie babbbyyyyyy!!!

Arjun said...

I'm not really fond of the 80s... but yes 80s did throw up some good movies in the Art genre. The seventies was an exciting and mixed bag.. A good coverage! :)

lin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hemant Singh said...

Lovely walk thru the past... quite accurate... likr