‘Taboo’ films prove winners

  • Letters
  • Monday, 09 Jan 2006

IF INDIA is changing, can Bollywood be far behind? Well, reflecting the societal changes, popular Mumbai cinema focused on subjects last year which were considered taboo till very recently.  

Breaking free from the typical box-office formulas, Bollywood realised in the year gone by, could also prove profitable.  

The stupendous success of films dealing with physical disability, premarital live-in relationships, crassness of the rich and famous and similar subjects proved the uses of departing from the usual Mumbai masala film mould. 

The mainstream Hindi cinema dared to handle these subjects, which actually mirrored vignettes from everyday life, because it espied a shift in the audiences’ tastes.  

So, some of the more cerebral among the Bollywood film-makers decided to delineate on the screen the real but untypical themes of a powerful political don, or a hearing-impaired youth emerging as an ace cricketer, or an ordinary young man sucked into Bihar’s growing kidnapping industry.  

A bigger surprise was that all these films with off-beat subjects achieved glory at the box-office. The Amitabh Bachchan-Rani Mukherjee movie Black was a three-hour docu-drama, engaging the audiences in the uphill struggle of the former to teach his blind pupil to cope with life with dignity despite her disability. 

It was again Bachchan who proved the main attraction in the title role in Sarkar, a story of a reclusive politician who brooks no opposition from followers and foes alike.  

Ram Gopal Verma reportedly modelled Sarkar on the Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. Bachchan Senior in the eponymous role dominates the film as a colossus just as the character he portrays is supposed to be in real life.  

Another film rooted in the current reality of urban India was producer-director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3. The celebration of the rich and the beautiful by the English language press in India's metropolitan cities, what with newspapers publishing almost daily photographs of them having a good time on their page three, has become a metaphor for a class of people who have money without any sort of morals.  

Yet another film without a saleable star which did very well on the turnstiles was Subhash Ghai’s Iqbal. It came as a breath of fresh air that Bollywood could handle the unglamorous subject of a hearing-impaired youth so well. Cricket being a national passion, this is the tale of a rural youth who overcomes his disability to emerge as a match-winner for his team.  

In Salam Namaste Bollywood handled changing urban mores, with the hero and the heroine living under the same roof without being married. And the hero, though fully qualified as an architect, struggles to find a decent vocation and does odd jobs such as being a chef to keep his dignity since his live-in girlfriend is a successful disc jockey.  

Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta established an on-screen chemistry which won over middle class audiences. It was one of the biggest hits of 2005 and proved that you no longer have to be a handsome hunk to succeed as a hero in the mainstream Hindi cinema. 

An out-and-out formula film, Bunty Aur Babli, was one of the biggest hits of the year. The Bachchans – Amitabh and son Abhishek – and Rani Mukherjee as an accomplice of the latter in small heists, pulled off a light-hearted box office coup, keeping the audiences enthralled with their gags and songs. 

Prakash Jha’s Apaharan focused on the state of affairs in his native state of Bihar where the biggest industry is kidnapping for ransom. A sensitive filmmaker who had earlier focused on the evil police-politician nexus in Gangajaal, repeated Ajay Devgun as the main protagonist in Apaharan, with Nana Patekar in a major supporting role. 

A gripping tale of how even a law-abiding citizen is obliged to take the law into his own hands when the state abdicates its responsibility drew huge audiences in theatres across India. 

But the biggest story to come out of Bollywood in the year 2005 was the rise and rise of the 60-plus Amitabh Bachchan. He featured as the main protagonist in Sarkar and Black, played a parallel role along with son Abhishek in Bunty Aur Bubli and essayed the role of an ageing father protecting the honour of his son in Viruddh.  

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