Not very long ago, mass-entertainment in Mera Bharat Mahan meant movies. Movies meant Bollywood. Bollywood meant stars (of the unattainable kind...glam, gorgeous and beautiful sexy babes, and hot and handsome hunks) and this combo, superimposed on a mix of hi-octane romance, action, song-dance and emotion, unfailingly hit the bull’s eye every time.
This mix deliberately dumped logic, intellect, realism and dedicated its focus to hard-sell three hours of uncomplicated, feel-good entertainment to put the Bollywood masala movies right up there for the howling mobs! Alas, changing times, the law of averages and myopic film-makers were stunned when this template suddenly de-railed. Big stars, big budgets, big gimmicks, exotic locales or jhatka music suddenly found few takers...and when the ultimate symbol of B-town’s star-power, King Khan, suffered a series of disappointing blows from Dilwale to Zero – the message was loud and clear: All was not well in the State of Bollywood!
Why Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal believes there are two major reasons for this transformation. “One is the new-age audience. Films after all are audiencedriven and their nod in whichever direction, decides the fate of the film, right? Today’s audience is totally different from the earlier ones because they are technology’s child, kids brought up on digital and streaming platforms.
This has shaped and formed their viewing sensibilities, exposing them to the best of local and global fare. Diverse genres and content have hit their radar, so traditional, old-fashioned, clichéd Bollywood stuff is out! Two, the format. Today, movies are seen on mobiles and laptops offering viewing choices unheard of in the past. Movie-going was once an event, like going to a party.
There was a solid build-up. All that is gone. It’s cut to the chase in a flash. Content rules and the films that have earned applause and big bucks – Raazi, Mulk, Manmarzian, Badla, Badhai Ho, Newton, Omerta, Andhadhun, Bareilly ki Barfi categorically prove this.” Hard-core Bollywood junkie and Delhi-based college student Swati Sharma begs to differ. “I have a lot of respect for Mr Benegal, but it’s a democracy and I vehemently disagree with his POV! Boss, what does going to the movies mean to us? A dazzling package of glamour, style, romance and excitement headlined by the (gasp! pant!) likes of the Khan combine, Hrithik, Ajay, Akki, Ranvir and dreamboat Ranbir. On the other side, the wow-brigade comprising Peecee, Kat, Dipu, Bebo, Alia!
Who the hell wants to see hard close-ups of docu-type kill-joy crap portraying depressing stuff of the bhooka-nanga disenfranchised souls or realistic depictions of social upliftment of the minority or backward classes? Or thobdas like Ayushman, Rajkumar and Vicky – guys with zero aura, tashan or star presence whose type you can see every day in any CCD, Metro Station or Mall? Sorry, like Vidya Balan stated in Dirty Picture, movies are about three simple words: Entertainment! Entertainment! Entertainment!”
Reputed film critic Saibal Chatterjee is hugely amused by the young collegiate’s blast and believes that mainstream B-town junkies like her cannot be wished away; nor can the old-fashioned, glamour and star-driven blockbusters. However, the writing is on the wall and non-formulaic, intelligently made and pitched stories will connect. “An interesting differentiator however between today’s actors and films and actors of the past (Naseer, Om, Pankaj Kapoor - Bhumika, Nishant, Kalyug, Aakrosh, Gaman, Sparsh, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Albert Pinto ... Holi, Mirch Masala, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron) is that, while they attracted a lot of critical acclaim and awards, they seldom enjoyed commercial success. Today’s off-beat films burn the BO, many rocketing past the Rs 100 crore mark. Also, realism is both in and on when depicted honestly, powerfully, contextually and convincingly. For example, Ayushman’s cop in Article 15 is a universe away from the nautanki and cheap, seeti-inducing, dialogue-baazi of earlier offerings of Messrs Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Mithun and gang, more along the lines of the cop in the iconic Ardh Satya & later Shool.
This one is intense, focussed and committed to portray passion and integrity, not hero-giri or larger-than-life posturing. That Article 15, a dark issue-based film from the maker of Mulk, scooped up Rs 50 crore in quick time, shows that serious, well-made content-driven films engage our new audiences. Also, they have a healthy dislike for artists and films that are salacious, indulge in kitch are of low taste and have turned their work into cash-cows or ecstasy pills for sensual stimulation.” So do the three musketeers of the new cinema represent the new Bollywood? Well, while the Khans haven’t exactly left the building and nor have the other biggies headed for the hills, it’s safe to say that, unlike earlier times – they are no longer 319th from left! Can there be a better and more positive statement?