By Dr Dhanpaul Narine
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to clean up India. He will do well to start with Bollywood. Over the past thirty years the Indian film industry has spread its influence to nearly every part of India, and even abroad, where its mindless and garish depictions have assaulted the intelligence in many living rooms. But this was not always the case.
One of the first superstars in the Indian cinema was Mahipal. He starred in over 100 movies his last movie ‘Jai Santoshi Ma’ (1975) has set records in the industry. In those days Bollywood idealized womanhood and the family and the epics left messages of the enduring values of love and devotion.
Bollywood today spends millions copying from Hollywood, converts the stories for the Indian audience and then remakes that after a few years. The copy and the remake of the copy, with eminently forgettable songs, weak story lines and sexual images have resulted in Bollywood sinking to a new low.
The movie ‘Aitraaz’, a remake of the Hollywood’s ‘Objection’ was released in 2004. Sonia (Priyanka Chopra) and Raj (Akshay Kumar) were once lovers. But they broke up when Sonia wanted an abortion and Raj was opposed to it. Now they meet again and Sonia becomes the boss of Raj. She wants to rekindle the friendship.
But Raj is happily married. This does not bother Sonia at all. She begins to undress Raj whispering in his ear, ‘ show me you are an animal.’ Raj refuses and walks away. Sonia screams at the top of her voice, ‘I am not asking you to leave your wife. I just want a physical relationship. If I don’t have an objection, why should you?’ This is what the present Indian cinema has become, pure filth.
What moral lessons is this teaching our children? Can a family sit and watch a current Bollywood movie together comforted in the knowledge that there would be no nudity, or skimpy clothing or raunchy scenes? The sad fact is that many Bollywood movies need an ‘R’ rating because of their vulgarity. When one considers that the Indian cinema once glorified the ideal womanhood, of Sita in the Ramayana, most of the current fare in Bollywood is utter rubbish.
Dada Saheb Phalke must be turning in his grave at this descent into mediocrity. It was Phalke that released the first movie in India. It was called ‘Raja Harischandra’ and was a fifty-minute black and white offering and was shown at the Coronation cinema in Bombay. In the movie Harischandra gave up his kingdom and his family to keep his word to his guru Vishwamitra.
The movie was a hit and Phalke went on to make over 95 silent movies before he became a victim of the sound era. In 1931 ‘Alam Ara’ became the first Indian movie with sound. In the following year J.J. Madan directed the movie ‘Indra Sabha’ which was a hit both for its storytelling and a record 71 songs. The singers were Master Nissar and Jehanara Kajjan. Incidentally, the first on screen kiss took place in the movie ‘Karma’ in 1933 with Devika Rani and Himanshu Roy. Kissing these days is common. Many were surprised when Ashwaira Rai did it in Dhoom 2.
Dada Saheb Phalke left us in 1944 but by that time the Indian film industry was making more than 200 films a year, excluding the hundreds that are made in regional languages. It has been argued that the period 1940 to 1960 represented the golden age in Indian cinema. It was during this time that some of the greatest and more influential movies were made. They included Pyassa, Awaara, Anari, Baiju Bawra, Shaheed, Devdas, Mother India, Chori Chori, and others. Mother India went on to be nominated for an Oscar.
During this period one of the greatest storytellers emerged. He was Satyajit Ray. In 1955 Ray’s movie ‘Pather Panchali’ won eleven awards and Ray went on to make 36 movies of which ‘Charulata’ and the ‘Chessplayers’ were perhaps the most famous. Ray was awarded an honorary Oscar for his contribution to the Indian cinema and was the first Indian to receive this award. In 1946 Chetan Anand directed Neecha Nagar. It showed the gulf between the various classes in India and this movie won recognition at the Cannes Film Festival.
One of the endearing features of the Indian cinema has been the music. Many of the songs in the movies have become classics in their own right. They range from devotionals to romantic songs, ghazals, and others. There were K.C Dey, the music teacher of S.D Burman and K.L Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, and others, whose music revolutionized the industry.
There was Raj Kapoor whose father Prithviraj had set up a studio from which the Kapoor clan would influence movie-making. Raj Kapoor’s films were especially popular in communist Russia and on a visit there he was mobbed wherever he went. The sixties and seventies saw some of the memorable movies, actors and songs. One can take their pick from Anand, Dosti, Aradhana, or from Rafi to Mukesh or directors R.D Burman to Laxmikant Pyarelal.
By 1987 Bollywood has sunk to a low that some of the top stars had become critical of the industry. Dilip Kumar said that there was a ‘tremendous deterioration in Bollywood’ while Asha Parekh stated that the movies were a ‘rush rush job and that the songs lacked melody.’
The deterioration is due to a number of reasons. The first is that Bollywood had run out of original ideas. The song and dance routine needed good stories. Directors turned to Hollywood and began to copy material there. These remakes also incorporated more and more ‘modern’ dress, language and over the top performances.
The dances are seldom traditional and today the skip and jump routine is all too familiar. Most of the music, except for A. R. Rahman, is forgettable and to stay relevant the industry is pushing new boundaries. According to one publication, ‘consumerism, globalization the proliferation of semi-clad bodies in print and television, and the emergence of a more worldly audience have redefined the boundaries of what is permissible.’ Mallika Sherawat in 2003 stunned audiences in ‘Khwahish’ and ‘Murder’ and she is dubbed as the ‘kissing Queen of India.’
As if lewdness and nudity are not enough we have the situation in which Bollywood is copying from itself. It is making movies that it made before. A few of the really bad ones include Zanjeer, Sholay, Shiva, Karz, Umrao Jaan, and Khushi, among others. The original Khushi was made in 2000 and the remake was in 2003 that flopped. As if not to be outdone, Sushmita Sen says that she enjoys being negative. She likes to play roles in which women, ‘ cheats, lies, sleeps with men, even kills them and gets away with it all.’ Ms. Sen is still to make a hit movie.
The recent sexual attacks against women in India have brought the role of Bollywood into question. One writer says that because of the reach of Bollywood it has to assume some responsibility for the highly impressionable messages that it sends out to viewers.
In the meantime, the song and dance routine with skimpy outfits and inane story lines will continue and will probably get worse. Aamir Khan who gave us ‘Lagaan’ has found it necessary to advertise his latest film ‘PK’ by going naked. He said that he did it because of the ‘strong script.’
One of the biggest hits of 2018 is ‘Sanju’ that is based on the life of bad boy Sanjay Dutt.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.