In 2016, fans of the golden couple – SRK-Kajol – were hyper-excited at the prospect of the enchanting duo (Baazigar, KKHH, Karan Arjun, DDLJ, My Name is Khan) returning with Dilwale. Their magical chemistry made sparks fly. Their pairing defined, articulated and master-classed heart-stopping, adolescent romance for youngistan, as few other star couples did in recent times.
However, riding on feverish expectations – re-enforced by mind-blowing promos across all media platforms – when Rohit Shetty’s film finally released, it sadly flattered to deceive! A terrifying hush descended, followed by ominous whispers … and then all hell broke loose! The knives were out. The (predictable?) blame game started. The gossip mills were thrilled, having a field day with the gloves off, masks removed and controversies blasting through the (He said – She said) roof and for the first time daring to ask the unthinkable question: Is the exalted legacy of the Super Jodi, over? Has expiry date – in these nano-second times – invaded this sacred space too? Is it the beginning of the end for this once-magical template?
These lethal queries arrived in the wake of Dilwale’s disappointing reactions, a supposedly expected blockbuster, overtaken by the (other) Ranveer-Deepika starrer Bajirao Mastani, both in terms of glowing audience feedback and box office returns. What happened? SRK looked cool, going through his trademark, hysteria-driving-moves with customary style and elan. Kajol looked stunning, all toned and glam and was her usual amazing spontaneous self. The locales (Iceland) were spectacular. Their chemistry too seemed to have retained that deadly spark that made them the fabled Jodi No.1 in contemporary times. So, what went wrong? What brought about this change of heart? Why didn’t gerua get into high gear?
Interestingly, Hollywood has never faced this problem because it didn’t ever embrace this thinking. Neither Gable & Leigh (Gone with the wind), Bogey & Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca), Grant & Deborah Kerr (An Affair to Remember), Cooper & Jenifer Jones (Love is a many splendoured thing), Robert Taylor & Viv Leigh (Waterloo Bridge) nor in recent times, Hugh Grant & Julia Roberts (Notting Hill), Jude Law & Cameron Diaz (Holiday) or even DiCaprio & Kate Winslet (Titanic) – despite their monster success in pairing and box-office returns were ever cast again with the sole objective to cash in on their chemistry or woo their fans with the promise of an encore. It was always the demands of the script that mattered, nothing else.
Returning to the Dilwale snafu, respected film critic Saibal Chatterjee cuts to the chase in a flash. “Let’s get one thing clear. In year 2016, nostalgia and moony-eyed memories of another day were royally dumped in the tray marked OUT! It was passe and unlike earlier times when the pace of life was slower, distractions – both of the eye and heart – were minimal and entertainment platforms few; today it’s a 24x7 freak-out, rush-hour! In this scheme of things, nothing and no one is sacrosanct, safe or taken for granted, with the time-honoured reverence, awe and respect for the once-adored models of the past, the biggest casualty. Engagement, entertainment and relevance in new, exciting and novel ways are the key factors – not sentimental mush in a new bottle.”
Quickly translated, it means that musical chairs – Deepika-Ranveer, SRK-Alia, SRK-Mahira, Salman-Anushka, Katrina-Siddharth, Ranbir-Anushka/Aishwarya, Irfan-Deepika, Hrithik-YamiGautam, Hrithik-Pooja Hegde, Akshay-Nimrit Kaur, Akshay-IlenaD’cruz, Varun-Alia, Katrina-Aditya, Aamir-Anushka, Arjun-Kareena is rocking. In recent times others have joined this Mix n’ Match combo. They include Hrithik and Anushka in a proposed remake of the Bachchan-Hema starrer Satte pe Satta; Sid Malhotra & Tara Sutaria for Marjaavan; Vikrant Massey & Dips for Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak; Salman Khan & Saiee Manjrekar for Dabangg3; Raj Kumar Rao & Mouni Roy for Made in China; Kartik Aryan & Sarah Ali Khan in Love Aaj Kal 2; Amir Khan & Kareena Kapoor Khan in his new version of Forest Gump, amongst others.
They also have played their part to challenge this super jodi concept casting a cloud on its [once] romantic appeal. Critics remind us that DDLJ happened over two decades ago. Times have changed. Audiences have changed. Even SRK-Kajol have changed. Sure, they remain super-popular, but it’s not – can never be – quite the same. So, like marriages are no longer made in heaven, neither are screen pairs.
Still others point to the re-invention aspect. In a novelty-obsessed, instant-gratification world you woo peril if you stick to the tried and tested route? Re-invention is the name of the game. Keep the brand essence and value intact, while altering the content and presentation to make it look new, fresh and audience-friendly promising surprise and delight. Just depending on once-revered chemistry is foolish and naïve in a space where the only risk is … no risk!
So, what gives? Were the Raj-Nargis, Uttam-Suchitra, Rajesh-Sharmila, Dharam-Hema, Amitabh-Rekha, SRK-Kajol jodis, a done and dusted model, an impossible connect in today’s novelty-driven times? Is love and romance a dated emotion which – unless presented in today’s hysterical selfie mode across social media platforms, should be struck off the list? Has nostalgia lost its magic or its compelling charisma? Is love today a four letter word, emptied of meaning, targeting a desperate audience forever looking for a quick fix – when in reality it needs the transformative power of poetry, passion and emotion to win its jihad against the plebs?
While mindless and unimaginative cashing in on tried and tested routes is unlikely to work with today’s audiences, we must not lose the courage to dream, to reclaim romance as the centrepiece of our existence in new, fresh and inventive ways that engage, entertain, enrich & empower audiences in darkened halls, waiting for magic to happen.
Therein lies the real challenge … and opportunity.