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    Dec 2009

    Default Reflections - 'Masala' films back with a vengeance

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    Docks se maal utarne waala hai'
    'Supaari li hai, choona nahi lagaoonga'
    'Log Sultan ko smuggler ke naam se jaante hain, mujhe woh Don keh ke bulaayenge'

    Dialogues like above and at least a couple of dozen more are what turns out to be the highlight of retro flick Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. While 'seetis' and 'taalis' have been the order of the day for this film, whether in multiplexes or single screens, one struggles to remember when was the last time one heard such dialogues? 1970s? Or perhaps 1980s before Aamir Khan and Salman Khan turned around the Bollywood scene with candyfloss cinema like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Maine Pyaar Kiya respectively.

    A decade of mush and romance topped with ample comedy (courtesy Govinda) followed in the decade ahead. However, it was from 2000 onwards when Bollywood saw a total change for itself. Multiplex era begun and masala potboilers were totally thrown away from the face of cinema. Well, pretty much so before Ghajini, Wanted, Raajneeti and now Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai arrived.

    In this week's 'Reflections', let's explore how Hindi cinema, which has seen a gradual shift over last 20 years, may well be deriving inspiration from the cinema of yore and come back full circle in months to come.

    Filmmakers waking up to masala entertainers
    As always, one can expect a certain Aamir Khan to bring in a change. When it was safely presumed that 'masala' action flicks were a passe, courtesy a rapid downfall that films featuring veteran action heroes like Sunny Deol and Sanjay Dutt were seeing, Aamir Khan rose up to the challenge. From being a school teacher, he turned into a monster of sorts with Ghajini.

    This was being looked as a hara-kiri of sorts since Shah Rukh Khan was continuing in his comfort zone with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Akshay Kumar was not allowing his winning run of comedies to see any road roadblock, Hrithik Roshan was living in his own world (Kites) while Salman Khan was engaging himself with a hit and miss game. Still, Aamir Khan surprised audience, trade and industry by delivering Bollywood's first ever 100 crore runner in Ghajini.

    Eyes still set on stylised action
    This 'masala' pot-boiler worked, and how. Still, not many were willing to take this risky route and though action movies were being made, they were mostly slick and stylised with inspiration being drawn from the West. It was expected that 'desi' audience would also want to upgrade themselves and would lap up flying cars, high speed chases and some Matrix inspired stunts. Script be damned!

    No wonder, it wasn't short of disaster as expect for a stray effort like Race (which thankfully did have good drama to boost the masala ingredients in the film), nothing much worked. The excuse made was an oft repeated one - 'Audience likes only comedies or love stories and this is the reason why Bollywood makes such films week after week.'

    There was no one to hear 'junta ki awaaz' though which was pining to see something that could bring back the memories from the past. Of course when it comes to cinema of the past, it couldn't be presented as it is. That would have only led to further boredom. However, an attempt of such kind was required which could blend the narrative of past with the technology of today in order to get the perfect 'bhelpuri' to saviour.

    Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie had managed to crack this in Hollywood and the question raised was if Bollywood would ever be able to emulate something similar? This is where Salman Khan decided to take the plunge.

    Single screens revived with Wanted
    Salman Khan's Wanted may not have boasted of the finesse of Tarantino or Ritchie but it gave something tremendous for audience who were starved of 'masala' entertainers. 'Laaton aur ghooson se bharpoor action', something that was totally lost with the advent of technology that helped create action sequences on computer rather than on the sets, was put on full display in this Prabhu Deva directed film. Also, Salman Khan's charisma ensured that every dialogue he mouthed met with a tremendous response from the 'aam junta'.

    No wonder, Wanted - which was lapped up by mass as well as class audience - turned out to be a huge earner for everyone involved. Finally, it was being reconsidered if action coupled with drama and some 'dhaansu' dialogues could be just the kind of potpourri that audience had been missing for quite a while. The misconception of films doing well 'only if made for multiplex audience' started fading away to some extent as it was proved once again that if the right formula was applied, a film could well fetch universal audience for itself.

    Also, another factor that stood out was that for any 'masala' film to succeed all over, it definitely had to be set on Indian shores. If at all action, drama and punch lines were aimed at overseas (or were set in this geography), the probability for success was bound to go down. However, whenever there was something really grounded and rooted, as evidenced in Ghajini and Wanted, where people spoke, thought, behaved and acted in Hindi, a higher success rate could well be on the cards.

    Raajneeti proved the theory yet again
    This is exactly what Prakash Jha realised over half a decade back when the germ of Raajneeti was first sown in his mind. He started gathering actors who could get him the desired results. Ajay Devgn, Arjun Rampal and Naseeruddin Shah were the early birds to gain a go-ahead and Jha started working on a political drama that obviously had its roots in India. He sprinkled the narrative with ample dramatic moments coupled with action sequences that made Raajneeti and out and out rooted affair.

    Moreover, he even shot a major part of the film in Bhopal, a city which is known for its ethnicity rather than being a film location. Many wondered if this was a wise decision after all since with stars like Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif, he could have opted for a far glossier outing. However, he stuck to his vision of making Raajneeti for a pan-India audience and knew that if he followed excellence, success would follow. Well, a certain Rajkumar Hirani would definitely agree to this!

    Milan Luthria agreed too...
    A Mahesh Bhatt protege, Milan Luthria too had earlier tried his luck with core multiplex films like Taxi No. 9211 and Hat Trick. While the former did reasonably well, the latter was a box office disappointment. This is when the man decided to take a breather and went back to his roots. For someone who had begun with a film like Kachche Dhaage (Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan) - a quintessential 'masala' potboiler - a decade back, Luthria realised soon enough that he couldn't alienate a large part of the country by choosing to aim only at multiplex audience, something that he was guilty of doing in his last couple of outings.

    He took a breather, got writer Rajat Arora on board for something that would well go down in history as one of the best retro flicks made. Amongst all films that one can remember from past and present, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai clearly goes down as one film which truly makes audience relive the cinema of the 70s. If one liked the dialogues and performances of actors like Raj Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Pran, Prem Nath, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra and their ilk right through the 70s, it would be impossible to ignore the effort that has stood out in OUATIM.

    No wonder, audience has been left totally satiated with the experience of watching this retro gangster flick which relies heavily on dramatic moments that are present in aplenty right through those couple of hours and a little more that follow. Twists and turns in the narrative remind one of the 70s while the punch lines have been loved by the audience, mainly because of an extra effort that has gone into all the 'dialoguebaazi'.

    But will this continue in future too?
    Well, one can definitely see that happening. If audience is missing Salim-Javed today, especially after watching OUATIM, they could well have something to cheer about in future, courtesy a line up of films which have abandoned any aspiration to cater only to the elite and are thankfully thinking about the entertainment of pan-India audience. Ask Salman Khan fans and they would tell you that even with the limited promotional window of Dabangg so far, they would ensure that the film goes houseful.

    Farah Khan knows this as well and was one of the early risers with 'masala' action fares like Main Hoon Naa followed by Om Shanti Om. Critics be damned, she has gone ahead and also wrapped up a major part of Tees Maar Khan which promises to be yet another unabashed display of 'masala' as never before. She also roped in Akshay Kumar for the street smart appeal that he carries and it is pretty much on the cards that this new found 'jodi' would be catering to audience from Bhaagalpur to Bangalore.

    Meanwhile Shah Rukh Khan too is bracing up for the sequel to Don which expectedly would be far more mass appealing than the remake of the original with which Farhan Akhtar kick started the franchise. Saif Ali Khan too has woken up to the power of 110 crore citizen base that India possesses and after working on a niche Kurbaan, he is now neck deep into Agent Vinod. For a film where the title itself is as 'desi' as it gets, it would be interesting to see how the man would pull this off by turning it into an out and out 'masala' fare without getting trapped into the gizmos and the gadgets of the world.

    Karan Johar, who has lived in the world of pinks, reds and blues too has gone black and grey for his remake of Agneepath. He too well understood that going back 20 years in time was not a bad deal after all, especially when this 'masala' flick starring Amitabh Bachchan has found cult status for itself. It should also do wonders for Hrithik Roshan (rumoured to have already signed the film) who would be more than willing to leave his Hollywood dreams aside after the debacle of Kites and concentrate on doing something that would bring him closer to the B and C centres of the country as well.

    And the ones who are having the final laugh...
    ...could well be the Deol family. They have been claiming for at least half a decade now that their market has gone down due to multiplex cinema resulting in their extinction. For a family which has revelled on 'masala' flicks for decades now, they decided to go by their conviction rather than follow market diktats. Even when they did so, their heart was not in place, as evidenced in a series of flops that Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol have seen year after year.

    No wonder, today when the topmost actors in Bollywood are waking up to the tangy world of 'masala' flicks, they are merrily going ahead with the shoot of Yamla Pagla Deewana. Well, for a film which has a title as 'desi' as it gets, it does give good reasons for Deols to not just smile but also give out a hearty laugh.

    Bollywood may have woken up to the cinema of yore only now but Deols seemed to have seen that coming from a long distance!
    ...being a human...



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