Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Growing Up With Movies

This tweet inspired a thought or two that led to the post. As I went through the responses, I realised I needed to put a framework (Shit, what an MBA I am!) to arrive at a favourite director of my growing up years.

First, what were my growing up years?
My definition for them is the period between when I turned a teenager (1987) to my graduation from college (1997). My busiest, most passionate movie watching happened in these ten years and the movies I watched were the ones that ended up shaping my life, my choices, my taste. (I am just glad I watched all the Ray movies in this period along with others.)

Second, how to decide on a favourite director in a given period?
One way is to just remember the highest emotional boost of that period and just go with the director who provided that. By that logic, Mansoor Khan deserves to win for giving me Veer bahadur ladke kaun? Rajput! Rajput! But tragically, he gave us just three films and the third of those was a rather direct lift from a Hollywood classic, that too not made too well.
I looked at a few filmmakers who churned out a slightly higher number of movies in this 1987-97 period
I also put Yash Chopra out of contention by putting him in the Hall of Fame because my favourite films of his were made much before this period, when I was a toddler. This period saw him making Lamhe - which again is that one emotional high that justifies his inclusion but then Parampara and Dil To Pagal Hai are hardly 'glorious childhood memory' material.
I am going by the number of favourite films a director has churned out in this period to figure out that one man who has entertained me the most while I was growing up. Quite obviously, each of these directors had a movie that created a tremendous first impression, followed by a blow-your-mind-to-smithereens period before he did a heartbreak movie that ended his spell.

We should start with Subhash Ghai, the much touted showman of the industry.
At the edge of this period, he made Karma that had a super-high moment for me ("Thappad ki goonj...") but ended with a laughable sequence in which Dilip Kumar drew a map of India around Anupam Kher with machine gun bullets. Nevertheless, it was a rousing movie and it seemed to be a promising  start.
He followed it up with Ram Lakhan that was a never-ending buffet of Bollywood masala served by memorable characters like Ram, Lakhan, Deodhar and Kesariya Vilayati urf BAD MAN. Even before I could finish burping, there came Saudagar with the most high-octane dialogue I had heard in a long while. And then he gave us Khalnayak. What Sanjay Dutt's stylised retardation took away from the movie, Madhuri Dixit gave back in bountiful measure and made it a memorable experience.
At the end of 1997, he made Pardes - which pushed SRK towards stardom but I wasn't impressed by it. For me, it was the beginning of the slide that eventually led to Kisna and Yuvvraj.  
Adrenaline Shots: 4

That brings us to the other Subhash, who had such a rollicking run in the late 1980s that his movie has now been in immortalised by Anurag Kashyap in his history of Wasseypur.
B Subhash had made his grand entry into Bollywood big league with Disco Dancer (though that was in 1982) and followed it up with Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki in 1984. Both were instrumental in making Mithun Chakraborty a all-singing-all-dancing-all-shining superstar. After that, he made a superstar out of Kimi Katkar with Tarzan. In my mind, these three movies are notionally part of my growing up years though they are out of the ten years I just defined.
What he did make in that ten year period was Dance Dance, which was probably a bigger hit than Disco Dancer and has spawned crazy commentary like this. He repeated his lead cast (Mithun - Mandakini) in Commando, which seems to be a huge hit only in my mind.
He abandoned Mithun after that and tried to hitch his fortune to the teeny-bopper romance bandwagon that was chugging all over Bollywood. He signed The Hottest Pair in town - Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla - for Love Love Love that failed almost before it released. He tried to make a comeback on a sleaze trail with Divine Lovers and Classic Dance Of Love (with Mithun) but the light had gone out of our lives.
Adrenaline Shots: 2 (real), 5 (cheating)

Rajkumar Santoshi occupies a huge part of my memory during the growing up years but strangely, his output during the defined years is limited.
He burst on to the scene with Ghayal (BALWANT RAI KE KUTTE!!!) and grabbed my attention with a second half that was the tighest and the fastest in Bollywood of that period. I remember reading somewhere that a song was inserted on distributor insistence and that song was the only false note in the second half. His infatuation with Meenakshi Shesadri led to Damini, where Sunny Deol stole the show as the Super Lawyer Govind. Again, Damini had very little song and dance but was memorable enough to have rape victims in 2012 being named after that (though erroneously). After this serious social exploration, Rajkumar Santoshi directed Andaz Apna Apna - of which no more needs to be said. I am inclined to count AAA as two films because it is almost criminal that I had so much enjoyment from a single movie.
After that, he directed Bobby Deol's debut - Barsaat - known only for Kumar Sanu's nasal hits (Hnumkon snirf tnumkon pnyaar hainnn...) and Ghatak (the biopic of eccentric Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik) starring the voluminous Sunny. China Gate (in 1998) was only a partial redemption.
Adrenaline Shots: 3 (logical), 4 (emotional)

Rajiv Rai revived his father's illustrious banner (Trimurti Films, which produced some of Yash Chopra's best films) with Tridev. Starting from the echoic opening announcement ("Paap se dharti phati phati phati...") to the eve-teaser anthem ("Oye Oye...") to the elaborate plotting to a villain called Bhujangg, Tridev was the masala movie teenagers lived for. He followed it up with a 'spiritual sequel' - Vishwatma, almost an identical plot mounted more lavishly (read: extensive overseas shooting). But despite the grandeur and Divya Bharti, it did not match its predecessor's punch. 
Quite improbably, Rajiv Rai broke his own record with Mohra that was a mega-hit (and the first major hit in Raveena Tandon's reasonably extended career till then). While everyone sang Tu cheez badi hai mast mast (a more literal commodification of women hasn't happened in Bollywood), connoisseurs would remember Mohra for the Hottest Rain Song Ever Filmed. Don't tell me your consciousness wasn't engulfed by the yellow when you first saw THAT song. After Mohra, came Gupt - of which much has been said but nothing encapsulates the craze around the movie better than those four words... 
After that, Rajiv Rai received death threats, married Sonam and (presumably) lost interest in filmmaking. His later films (after 1997, though) were far from memorable. 
Adrenaline Shots: 4

Mukul S Anand made a lukewarm entrance with Mahasangram, whose name was quite hyperbolic and over-promised on the potential of the Govinda-Vinod Khanna starrer.
His next film - Agneepath - was not. For the first time, Amitabh Bachchan threw away the superstar mask and showed us what a great actor he could be. I have wasted kilobytes after megabytes of space describing the emotional highs of the film and I will desist from repeating them. Just when we thought Mukul Anand was likely to become an offbeat director, he directed Hum - the slickest superstar vehicle, that was almost too good to be true.  And he completed his Grandeur Of Amitabh Trilogy with Khuda Gawah, whose opening Bouzkashi scene was worth the price of admission.
With such a dynamite CV, he went on to direct a film produced by Subhash Ghai. Trimurti - starring three of the biggest stars of the industry - flopped miserably and (people say) aggravated the director's heart troubles. He passed away in the middle of shooting Dus, a terrorist saga (which had no connection to the movie of the same name that eventually got made).
Adrenaline Shots: 3

That brings me to the man with the maximum number of indescribable highs during my growing up decade - Ram Gopal Verma. Younger fans of Hindi cinema would find it almost unbelievable that for a decade, RGV could do almost no wrong and even his follies turned out to be hugely enjoyable.
RGV burst on to the scene with Shiva - the ultra-violent tale that started with college politics and zigzagged into vigilante justice. Even Nagarjuna's deadpan non-existence of acting skills did nothing to diminish the impact of the film. He followed it up with a horror film - Raat - that had the distinction of creating horror out of regular people and regular settings. Eschewing the layers of gory makeup, the dark nights and creaking doors (actually, he did use these), Ramu brought horror to our doorsteps.
One forgettable action flick (Drohi) later, RGV gave us a love triangle. Probably his most out of character movie, Rangeela showcased Urmila's oomph, Aamir's panache and Jackie's muted charisma so brilliantly that it is still etched in my mind.
Officially, Daud was a flop but the zaniness of the film transcended box office statistics. With a villain called Pinky, a sidekick called Chacko-ji and a heroine whose shapely hot pants-encrusted derriere was exhibited with childish glee, Daud was a laugh-riot. His next movie was Satya, acknowledge almost universally as the definitive gangster movie of Bollywood. It established RGV as a force to reckon with and gave him the muscle to work on really offbeat themes with debutant directors and writers. In short, Satya was the benchmark of cult classics.
Adrenaline Shots: 5

Interestingly, RGV's winning streak continued well beyond this period as he made Kaun (very different), Jungle (flawed but interesting), Company (a gangster classic) and Bhoot (a decent horror thriller). I feel he hit his first major disaster as late as 2004 with Naach but still redeemed himself with a brilliant Sarkar immediately after that. It is a crying shame that he hasn't even come remotely close to making a brilliant in the ensuing eight years.

So - ladies and gentlemen - that brings us to the end of my pseudo-intellectual ramblings to arrive at the conclusion that the filmmaker I enjoyed the most while I was growing up was Ram Gopal Verma.
Maverick. Mentor. What a pity he couldn't become a Moghul.


korak datta said...

Some people will call you insane after they read your last paragraph... And those would be the people who never saw Daud & Rangeela..


Being from AP I've had the opportunity to watch more RGV films than you mentioned. He had some gems in telugu before coming to Hindi. It's sad that he is no more the same RGV he was.

Akshay S Kanitkar said...

Common, Vishwatma would always be remembered for Saat Samundar Paar Main Tere Peeche Peeche Aa Gayi.

Also, in Mohra, you forgot to mention, "Tip Tip Barsa Paani"

You should have given a small mention of "Inke Pitaji Jo Bahut Bade Shikari hain, unke peeche inki maataaji (woh bhi bahut badi shikari hain) unke peeche sher; Sher aage, sher ke peeche pitaaji, pitaji ke peeche inki maataji. One of the most underrated comedy scene of that era.

One last thing - Mahesh Bhatt should have been mentioned over here

pawan said...

You've always been very accurate with your bollywood knowledge, so this piece looks very hurried. Few problems that I had with this piece-
1) Yash Chopra also made Vijay, Chandni and Darr in the same period.
2) Rajiv Rai revived the banner with 'Yudh' and not Tridev, even though it was before this period.
3) Mukul Anand's entrace in this period would've been in Insaaf in 87. He also made 'Khoon Ka Karz' which released a few weeks after Hum and starred Vinod Khanna, Rajnikant and Sanjay dutt.

Anonymous said...

Mansoor Khan made 4 movies - not 3