Bollywood – sometimes referred to by critics as India’s opium for the unwashed masses and fans as the 3-hour-trip-to-paradise – has always tried to hit the feelgood button. Entertain. Topics, subjects, themes, treatment, execution, scope, scale, use of stars, glamour, music, romance, drama – they’ve all mostly tried to conform to this basic diktat. Sure, there’s been the odd surprises, breakaways and sleeper-hits but entertainment has been a winner and driving force.
Each year, this divine directive returns with a set of new challenges and opportunities and 2019 was no exception. What were some of the major highlights that marked the year? Let’s have a look.
Conforming to the mood of the times, patriotism has to head the list. However, not of the earlier – Bose, Patel – variety that leaned more on docu-style, research-driven, text-book exercises for academics. Those filmmakers certainly had their hearts in the right place, but their treatment didn’t quite resonate with the mass audiences. The only salutation to an iconic political figure – Gandhi – tragically was made by a foreigner!
Our new-age directors have learnt, understood and noted this fact and accordingly have ensured that their patriotism stories are both exciting and engaging for an impulsive, instant-gratification-obsessed, new-age audiences.
Blending spectacle, drama, colour and pitched at high-decibel (while frequently compromising factual accuracy for popular approval) they ensured that visibility & interest-value remain at an optimum level. It was patriotism in the garb of entertainment. Be it Uri, Manikarnika, Kesari, Panipat, Mission Mangal, War, Batla House, Bharat, Tanhaji, they got it right. The box office roared.
Biopics too rocked. Beside Ranaut’s Jhansi ki Rani portrayal, there was Thackeray, The Accidental Prime Minister, Super 30, Saand ki Aankh. Clearly, there is a market for this genre because on the anvil are Chhapak, The Kargil Girl, 83, Thailavi, Sardar Udham Singh, Prithviraj, Maidan, Saina, Shershah ... more are likely to follow.
Sequels too got into the act. Houseful 4, Student of the Year 2, Commando 3, Mardaani 2, Dabangg 3...
Beyond these three categories however, lay a very heartening shift: Women-centric movies. A movement that started with Devika Rani and went into soft focus mode with Sridevi and Madhuri’s exit, energetically came alive with all cylinders firing. Be it Manikarnika, Ek ladki ko dekha ..., The Zoya Factor, The Sky is Pink, Judgemental hai kya, Chhapak, substance (as opposed to song-dance, rona-dhona or looking gorgeous) powered their roles.
Like biopics, clearly this genre too has takers because many more Sheroes movies are on the pipeline. They include movies with Priyanka Chopra playing the late astronaut Kalpana Chawla, Parineeti Chopra playing badminton champ Saina Nehwal and Vidya Balan playing former PM Indira Gandhi and of course Kangana Ranaut playing the hugely popular and controversial CM of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha. All this is a huge indication that both the film industry and audiences have indeed matured.
The greatest indication that the audiences have really evolved, however, lies in their consistent approval of films that are miles away from the visual mindless, mainstream masala. The quirky, off-beat, weird have all been embraced. For the Bollywood guys, it could well be a deliberate move to counter the threat offered everyday by the web/streaming/digital space regarding a rich array of diverse content. Suddenly, Bollywood stereotypes and formulae have received a solid kick in the butt to make way for a new clutch of movies – Chhichhore, Stree, Raazi, Judgemental Hai Kya, Tumhari Sulu, Sonchiriya, Photograph, Gully Boy, Lukka Chhupi, Tashkent Files, Article 15, Section 375, Bala, Dream Girl, Khandani Shafakhana, The Body, Hotel Mumbai... Not all, admittedly, struck gold, but to attempt to do something different, adventure, experiment, take risks, call for a huge BRAVO!
For this new movement however, kudos must go first to the new breed of writers. Small town guys, who come with no baggage, a different sensibility, with stories that are grounded, relatable and celebrating the human condition with all the quirks, eccentricities, problems and humour, insecurities, dreams et al. Compassion, clarity and courage are the hallmark of their material. They — along with the directors — are the true keepers of the flame, with talent, confidence and ability to deliver the goods.
Their presence proves that while there will always be cornballs like Houseful 4 and a regressive, misogynistic Kabir, their collective might, eloquent and penetrating, courageous and erudite, galvanising and uplifting, represents hope, positivity and a gigantic, long overdue and much needed step, in the right direction. Now on to an exciting 2020.