July 07, 2020
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Whetted Dreams

Exhilaration to heartbreak, the universe inhabits Bollywood

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Whetted Dreams
Whetted Dreams

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Six fun things to eat while watching a movie, by Chef Saby of Olive Bar & Kitchen

  • Bengali jhal muri with coconut wedges
  • Cajun spiced potato wedges
  • Chanachoor
  • Beer batter veggies/chicken/fish-fry with kasundi
  • Banana chips and coconut water
  • Soaked roasted peanuts, Mumbai-style


There are three Bollywoods I have known. One I watched in half-pants, paying 10 annas a ticket standing in long matinee queues, playing truant from school. (The Kendalls staged Shakespearana at La Martiniere in those days.) The other I knew as a young man in Calcutta who moved to Boribunder to revive what was once India’s most popular weekly. I guess I did it well for the owners promptly asked me to salvage their film magazine too and revive a film awards that had shut down. The third Bollywood is the one I am part of, having made 25 films over the past decade. Each Bollywood had its own magic, its own appeal.

The Bollywood I watched as a kid was amazing. It was smart, clever, funny, and almost always touched my heart. Recently I was asked to list my favourite 50 films and was surprised to find how many movies from that era are still on my list. No, I am not talking about Mughal-e-Azam or Mother India. I am talking about Chalti ka Naam Gaadi and Howrah Bridge, Teesri Manzil and China Town. Those were the films that drew me to Bollywood; and Madhubala, my wet dream. Heaven knows how many sleepless nights she gave me coming in from the rain in that clinging sari in Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si. I have spent an entire lifetime hoping to find someone who could rival her sexuality.

Ek Ladki... Madhubala, Kishore Kumar

The Bollywood I was thrust in as a journalist was different. Bachchan straddled its universe and there was a delectable choice of young ladies anxious to play prop to him. My first issue of Filmfare declared Sridevi as No. 1 and created a furore because she had just entered Bollywood. But she was clearly a winner because she knew the art of spoofing herself. And I was right. Shree Amma Yanger stole movies from right under the nose of the heroes. Whether it was Chalbaaz or Mr India, Sridevi brought in the cheering crowds and the wolf whistles. Till people started saying, as they say about Vidya Balan these days, that she was the hero. Miss Hawa Hawai became the craze.

But the shelf life of heroines was shortening. Before Sridevi could settle in for a long haul, came Madhuri in a flop film called Abodh with a little known Bengali hero called Tapash Pal, now a Trinamool MP. She exuded absolute stardom and before anyone could claim ownership over her, I thought it would be fun to name her The Next Best Thing. So I took a break from political stories and put her on the cover of The Illustrated Weekly, declaring her as the next No. 1. And before you could say Ek do teen, she was there, having replaced Sridevi. It was Gautam Rajadhyaksha’s first wet cover. It changed the hierarchy in Bollywood all over again.

I was delighted. Two predictions right, I did another cover story, this time discovering not a star but an actress. Smita Patil. It appeared bang opposite India Today’s cover on Shabana, whose father Kaifi was one of my best friends. It was Smita’s first mainstream cover. Some months later, I put a gawky young man struggling to be noticed on the cover too. Everyone jumped on me. Aamir Khan was little known then and my cover story pitched him bang opposite bad boy Salman Khan on the Sunday cover. There was no Shahrukh then. But yes, there was Amitabh still struggling to stay on as hero, and choosing all the wrong films. Anil Kapoor and Govinda were doing well. And Yash made the one great film of his life, Lamhe. He never bettered it.

Meanwhile, I completed a decade in print and was simply dying to do something different. I started my own chat show and moved on. Yes, I still wrote for the newspapers, I still loved print journalism but the time had come, I figured, to try and do something more interesting in the visual medium. That brought me closer to movies. Bollywood was but a step away.

Bachchan once straddled the world of Bollywood

I took that step with the millennium. My television venture became a motion picture company. We made several films, some good, some bad, some ordinary. But the journey was delightful though fraught with many dangers. Bollywood has more than its share of hustlers, frauds and carpetbaggers, many of them sparkling on the marquee. But luckily, it also has the most amazing talent available anywhere, in any industry, in any profession. Add to that our obsession with song, dance, action and the occasional lip lock and heavy breathing and, voila, you have a lethal cocktail: India’s media and entertainment business, the most exciting place in the world to be in.

No wonder you have Katrina coming all the way from England, Bruna and Giselle from Brazil, Kalki from the charming French colony of Pondicherry, and now Veena Malik from Pakistan and even Sunny Leone from the adult film industry in the US. We have embraced them with open arms. Lokhandvala is bustling with Russians and Ukrainians looking for a break, and whatever Abhijit may say, or the local parties who keep breaking up shoots, more and more such talent will come and take Bollywood where it rightfully belongs—to the top of the global entertainment industry. The reason is simple. Hollywood makes movies and then dumps them on unsuspecting audiences all over the world, most of whom don’t even understand the language. Bollywood makes movies we Indians love watching again and again and again, in theatres, on TV, at home on dvds and dth. We love their songs. We copy their dance steps. We wear the clothes our stars wear. We even build temples to some of them. Without the government moving a muscle, Bollywood is the world’s biggest lifestyle industry, providing more jobs over the years than anyone has ever cared to compute.

Sunny Leone, US-Canadian pornstar, couldn’t resist Bollywood’s pull

But that’s not all. Our stars appear as TV hosts. They sell us products, from multi-million dollar luxury homes to third-rate innerwear and sneaky alcohol products masquerading as water and CDs. They dance at weddings, cut ribbons at inaugurations, participate in fake award nights and even campaign for rotten candidates at election time, play bad cricket and pose with underprivileged kids to win our hearts. Do they succeed? I doubt it. Most people see them as a pampered, overpaid, over-indulged lot. But as always, the truth is not that simple. Many of them actually do a hard day’s work. At times they succeed, often they fail. While one big hit on a Friday can take you where you never imagined you could go, one flop on another Friday can make you plumb the depths of despair. That’s what this business is all about, teaching us life lessons.

It’s about the quickening of the pulse, the rush of adrenaline in the blood, it’s about obsessive love and all destructive envy, it is about great courage and unfailing dedication as much as it’s about compulsive greed and shards of broken promises that leave you blood-soaked, wounded, hurt. Some of the greatest poets, musicians, artists and actors have celebrated their talent here. Some of the sleaziest SOBs have made their fortunes here. And yes, you have here some of the most beautiful women who have ever walked this earth.

Do not listen to those who tell you that Bollywood is all sham. It is not. Every impossible dream can come true here. Just as the most brilliant talent can lie unfulfilled here while the shysters run off with the box office. From pirates to thieves to desperate gamblers to absolute genius, they all coexist here, where the odds are impossible to predict and no one ever knows what is true or false. Not even those who report it. But then, that is its magic. You dream. Therefore, you are. Cogito ergo sum. Or something like that.

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