Every time Vidya Balan went about repeating, “Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment!”, audiences at awards nights went into raptures as if Voltaire had quipped from his grave. I am still wondering what was so tickling about it! Isn’t there a possibility that Vidya’s “entertainment” could as well be someone else’s migraine!
I remember the late Mani Kaul had once said in the 1970s that Bollywood films worked on the “principle of distraction”. He went on to elaborate: “It’s all about 20-odd items or episodes. You keep chasing the mind from one item to another cleverly, from romance to pathos to song to comedy to fight and so on at a relentless pace.”
When I mentioned Mani’s theory to Manmohan Desai, he burst out laughing. “That must be long ago,” he said with a wink. “I’ve already crossed 21 items.” The “hot items” in Amar, Akbar, Anthony, which he was directing at the time, included the drunken act by Amitabh Bachchan in front of a mirror, his breaking out of a giant-size egg with ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves’ and a blood transfusion from three sons to a mother. He punched a fist into a palm with a Yahoo-ish expression. Man, as friends called Desai, lived up to his items and his 21-item Amar, Akbar, Anthony turned out to be a huge blockbuster.
Mani’s theory and Man’s demonstration taught me not to confuse 90 per cent of Bollywood fare with cinema as it is universally understood. Ours is a “unique song-and-dance mix” with no parallel, as Shekhar Kapur puts it.
Once you discount the cinematic element, you can enjoy almost any Bollywood flick. I don’t think Hollywood can hit the jackpot with lines like “Mogambo khush hua” or “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra”. Or stun the audience with a contrived situation where a doctor washes his hands of a patient and tells his kin, even as he wipes his hands with a napkin, “Ab dava ki nahin, dua ki zaroorat hai.” They are incredible, but real!
Of course, there are times when you are caught napping in an auditorium with your sense of “entertainment” devastated. Like the time I wondered why I chose to watch Salman Khan and Bachchan, two of our greatest entertainers, caught in banal situations in a film called God Tussi Great Ho. Like I spent a whole afternoon wondering why three Dilip Kumars chose to sleepwalk in one Bairaag, each one of them mumbling profundities that the other two didn’t understand! Three Bachchans tried to upstage the grand act years later with Mahaan, but audiences moved on with a shrug.
In my long innings as a film buff, at times pompously doubling as a critic, I have hit the zenith of boredom in the best interests of etiquette. I stifled my yawns for three hours watching Akayla (1991). I couldn’t believe that the two stalwarts at the helm were earlier involved in the making of a cult film called Sholay: director Ramesh Sippy and writer Salim Khan. Even Bachchan’s presence couldn’t raise it above the ground. Not even the suggestion that it was inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Double lent it an iota of credibility. Shahrukh Khan has always been a watchable performer even when he went over the top at times in hard-core commercial films. However, his earlier filmography includes a film called Chaahat directed by Mahesh Bhatt, with Naseeruddin Shah, Pooja Bhatt and Ramya. Right through the film, he looked as harassed as the hapless audience, perhaps dreading the prospect of a hot and wild Ramya—who was obsessed with him in the film in spite of knowing of his love for Pooja—pouncing on him. It was as if he was looking for an exit in the screenplay to vanish from the “burning” situation.
I hold Ram Gopal Varma in high esteem as a director. He has made such path-breaking films as Rangeela and Satya. As also Sarkar 1 and Sarkar 2. But I could barely survive the flames of Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag. I could not even sleep through it! I thought it was sheer waste of raw stock and manhours! But then he has a right to indulge himself.
Love Story 2050 was a lesson to all filmmaker fathers: unless you are convinced that you can be ruthlessly professional as a director (like Rakesh Roshan has been over the years), hire an outside director to launch your son. Harman Baweja seems to have more than what Love Story 2050 told us.