Get some ‘Balls’, Bollywood!

Undoubtedly, among the current breed of Indian actors, Shahrukh Khan (SRK) is one of the most articulate ones. He is well-read and can hold a conversation on quite a few topics that his colleagues will go blank on. SRK also has an immense capacity for self-depreciating humour. And while there is no doubt that he floats a few inches over the ground thanks to his superstar status, there are still moments when he comes out every bit like the combative Delhiwalla that he portrayed in one of his recent movies. Not surprisingly, SRK at times lets go of diplomacy that is so much a part of modern-day success and speaks his mind in a candid manner.

It was in one such moment of rush, back in 2010, that SRK spoke of the pressures faced while managing his IPL team, KKR. Back then, tensions between India and Pakistan were at a high due to border skirmishes, and by thumping his support for Pakistani players, SRK had put his Leg Before the Wicket. There was an immediate outcry over his “unpatriotic act”, and as the impending release of his movie “My Name is Khan (MNIK)” neared, the clamor only got louder.

Not surprisingly, Shiv Sena, a political party prone to petty provocations, immediately took offense. The party mouth-piece Saamna dubbed SRK “unpatriotic” and called for a ban on the screening of his film. As the release date of MNIK got closer, the tensions escalated. Theater owners were warned not to screen the film, and there were numerous protests all over, accompanied with the regular burning-and-stamping-the-effigy-in-front-of-the-newschannel-camera moments.

But when all this didn’t work, political activists attacked several cinema halls that were to screen MNIK. Hoodlums entered halls and damaged screens of the Metro theater in south Mumbai and the Huma Cinema at Kanjurmarg. Meanwhile, there were the other set of goons that pelted stones and broke the glasses of Mehul cinema in suburban Mulund. This was typical intimidation strategy at work.

In all this melee, the Congress government backed SRK to the hilt, providing heavy police cover to theaters screening the film, putting some 1500 Shiv Sena party workers in my-name-is-khan-banpreventive custody, and even warning Uddhav Thackeray of dire repercussions. The battle lines were drawn, a defiant SRK refused to apologise, whereas the Shiv Sena would have nothing less than it. As the battle progressed, the saffron party seemed to lose steam and was looking for a way out of the imbroglio, with its leader talking about a “public apology” as an acceptable truce. That did not come though, and the film was released among heightened tensions. As is the case with quite a few SRK movies, MNIK earned its crores, got all the awards, and was declared a hit.

The ban, the threat and all that, just fell apart like a phuski bomb (what we call in Mumbai) or like a dud. This was one of the rare times, when Bollywood had stood up to political hooliganism and prevailed, like they do so much in those pot-boilers.

Yet, the odd bit here was not about how SRK was attacked, but the fact that almost no one from Bollywood came to his aid. Even as the attacks on him were mounting, none from the film fraternity spoke publicly in his support. Of course, there were those conciliatory and my-name-is-khan-ban2diplomatic mumbo-jumbo, here and there, but these were largely from the smaller actors, the ones people call character artists. The big shots of Bollywood were dumb-founded, much like their likeness that represents them at Madame Tussauds and elsewhere. The Khans, the Kapoors and even the Bachchans, kept mum. Bollywood, the big family of superstars, was more like a petrified herd of goats. The kind that will retreat into the barnyard at the sign of first trouble.

It has been six years to that confrontation. and precious little seem to have changed. This time round, there is another SRK movie that is caught in the political grind, but not because of his utterance but rather the temerity on the part of the film makers to cast a Pakistani actress in it. And just like, in 2010, we are again having trouble with Pakistan at the borders, and people are yet again baying for the blood of artists and singers from that nation. But this time, SRK is not alone, he has his good friend Karan Johar (KJo) for company. With KJo’s film “Ae Dil Hain Mushkil” featuring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan nearing for release, the time for political haymaking is reaching a crescendo. Continue reading

From Gol Maal to Bol Bachchan; the 100 crore fall of Hindi cinema

1979 was a very weird year for Bollywood. In the sense, there was no real defining trend for movies succeeding those days. Thus you had extremely divergent genre of films like the ghoulish Jaani Dushman, romantic Sargam, picturesque Noorie, zesty Mr. Natwarlal, Lahu Ke Do Rang (my dad was a sound recordist in this one), were raking in the moolah at the BO. No one really knew what the ‘public’ wanted. There was no real formula for success.

Among all these films, a social-comedy that had an average-looking-nobody-sort Amol Palekar in the lead too was released. Directed by Hrushikesh Mukherjee, this film was the perfect amalgamation of talent, great script, punchy dialogues, amazing acting by the cast, right from Palekar to Utpal Dutt to even the small Kesto cameo. The film Gol Maal relied heavily on subtleness, it wasn’t Chaplinisque one bit, but like a literary adaptation. Nothing was absurd, loud or over the top in it. Take for instance, a scene in the movie in which Ramprasad makes fun of Bade Babu, who is constantly plucking hair from his nose, stating that how if only the lands of the country could be as fertile as his nose, cut the crop in the evening and a new one awaits in the morn. Babu laughs at the pun, before stopping and asking, “are you making fun of me?” This was the real essence of Gol Maal; it was making fun of a lot of people and archaic values, but in a manner in which wasn’t offensive to anyone.

Honestly, I don’t really know whether the film made even a crore at the BO in those days, or was a hit in those times. But what I do know is that time has indeed proven that when a film is made with good intentions and robust work, it lasts fairly long. Thus, even today, when the film runs on the myriad channels for the nth time, I still stop and enjoy the movie like I did many many years back.

Cut to 33 years later, a film loosely based on Gol Maal just released. And it stands for everything that the original stood for not. Thus, you have flashy sets, over the top acting, bawdiness, reigning superstars, exploding cars, and what not. Just the perfect masala to make a 100-crore film. In the next few days we will come to know that Bol Bachchan has indeed made a 100-crores (underlining yet again that there is no paucity of money-spending morons in India), the makers will throw a flashy party on the success, the actors will further increase the fees, some reviewers will pan it and some will praise it to the skies, and even a sequel to the same will be planned. In all this melee for success and BO records, the real essence of movie will be lost and colluded. Continue reading