A time for new cinema and a discerning audience
A decade that has just passed is always the most difficult to parse. The successes are too close, the failures too disappointing. Do the investments by international studios signify a new lease on life for an industry that seems to be running out of ideas? (This is the most common complaint, especially as the films of the 1970s get remade with new casts.) Does corporate investment mean a status quo position in which neophyte producers will only be asked: “Have you signed on any of the big stars?” Will the intriguing new cinema make a difference? Or will it lose the traditional audiences? Everything seems up for grabs, and probably is, with a new breed of directors saying they don’t really care about the audience in the villages.
Aamir Khan used to be your standard Bollywood star: his father was in the movies before him, he had a runaway hit to begin with, he did terrible films without thinking too much about what suited him or what the film was about. Then somewhere along the line, he decided to do one film a year and throw himself into it. This led to a series of blowouts with his directors – until he decided to become a filmmaker himself. He struck gold: all his movies in recent memory have been box-office hits.
Salman Khan was another standard Bollywood star: his father was in the movies, he had a huge hit to begin with, he did terrible films without thinking too much about what suited him. He then turned out to be the Bad Boy of Bollywood: he abused his girlfriends, shot animals in a wildlife reserve and drove his car over a few pavement dwellers and killed them. But every time he takes off his shirt to perform a bawdy dance number, the audiences begin to whistle and whoop and all is forgiven.
Her ethereal beauty is perhaps her only asset: she can’t act and doesn’t even speak the language. However, that hasn’t stopped Kaif from becoming one of Bollywood’s most sought-after stars. Some part of her success must go to the diaspora film: an Indian boy turns up in a non-Indian setting and is greeted by Ms Kaif, playing the daughter of an Indian father and a non-Indian mother. This permits her to don the short skirts she wears so well without offending any sensibilities, while also allowing for a certain leeway in her pronunciation.
She’s pretty, can dance and has all it takes to be a star, so it’s likely Chopra is going to dominate the industry for the next few years. Women actors in Bollywood tend to have a short shelf-life but Chopra has it all worked out. She recently flexed her acting chops with a role as an autistic child-woman in Barfi!. Her credits already include some of the biggest films made and there will definitely be more where those came from.
There was a time when it seemed that Kashyap was jinxed. He made movies that didn’t get released. That time seems to be part of history now as he takes his place as one of the biggest hopes of Bollywood: he is the go-to man who will back a script that no one else will go near. His credits include a two-part epic on gang wars in India’s coal mining badlands, a drug-sodden remake of Devdas, a film about the Oedipal struggle between an adolescent and his father – that kind of cinema.
For a decade by decade illustrated tribute to a century of Bollywood please visit www.thenational.ae/bollywood100
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