I told myself that another review would be pointless, especially after I’d seen the movie so late. After all, I’m not surprised that I am disappointed with the film. Inauthenticity (especially to the syndrome), over-the-top performances, over-dramatization, continuity errors and inconsistency are all a part of this so-called “Bollywood cinema” that we make exceptions for. We make those exceptions because they entertain us, because they star the larger-than-life actors and because they work so marvelously with cinematography, locations and dream-scapes, that we succumb to them. All along understanding that nothing can be 100%, nothing can be perfect. Nothing that is real will translate well on screen and will make us feel good about ourselves, or send us back truly entertained. That’s because ‘realistic’ cinema at a point of time was grimy, gritty and dark. Barjatya, Johar and others of their ilk brought a slice-of-life drama from an ordinary life and made it extraordinary with heightened emotions and colourful scapes. And there was a time when this really worked. I’ve seen Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhaniya…, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai etc an umpteen number of times. Barjatya slowly realised that his kind of cinema had become a dinosaur – it was too sweet to digest, and in its inherent unreality (there may be very few families actually like the ones he portrayed), in his inherent moralising and ethical trip, he was alienating an audience that once loved him. That’s because too much of a good thing can be bad, especially if your pulse remains on what you want to say, and not on what your audience wants to hear. Karan Johar brought a younger sensibility to Barjatya’s cinema – a youthful exuberance, the pain of love all candy-flossed into “happy times”. And he succeeded – his movies evolving with his own evolving thoughts and sensibilities, and his courage to be bolder with his themes on screen. But while his themes are generally relevant to the time and often have an important message to deliver, his films are still packaged in unreality.
But Johar remained true to what he wanted to say – that one man can be larger than life. And that man, for most part was Shah Rukh Khan. What makes it difficult, is that Shah Rukh, himself, is larger-than-life as a person and an actor. When he begins to play a character that demands that, he cannot – shouldn’t – act it out – he’s being himself, with some character trait variations. And if he tries to act in these situations, which he often does, he tends to go over-the-top. Both Johar and Khan then fall prey to insulting the intelligence of the audience who have now been trained to understand and accept subtle nuances and acting. Can you identify with Khan? Or do you watch him because after all these years, Shah Rukh remains emminently watchable? Does the character come alive, or does one recall Shah Rukh as Rizwan Khan? The correct role for Shah Rukh is that of underplayed emotions – that in Swades and Chak De: the kind that make you wonder what he’s thinking, that make you stretch your mind to understand him; not one that is blatant and obvious. Om Shanti Om was a travesty (albeit a successful one), and unfortunately Shah Rukh associates himself with the kind of cinema that leaves his potential unexplored.
Farhan Akhtar changed everything. I would blame him for the fall of unreality and the rise of realistic candyfloss. The moment Dil Chahta Hai hit the screens – a film still considered seminal in many ways – he changed the notion of what people expected from Hindi cinema. He gave them real life, real dialogues, real people, real emotions, real insecurities, actual incidents picked up from real life and then blended with just enough glamour and colour to become believable and likeable all at the same time. He still admits using everyday dialogues, often arguing with lyricist-father Javed Akhtar over using everyday language in his works. Akhtar just realised that it is important to connect with the film, and the youth that he represented would expect this, having been exposed to international (not just hollywood) cinema that creates easily-identifiable characters. Maybe that’s why he wanted to recreate Don for today, and maybe that’s why that is one of his most melodramatic films to date. In much the same manner, Imtiaz Ali brought a freshness to the characters and dialogues, because he picked them up from real life. Jab We Met was not larger-than-life – it was life-sized. Zoya Akhtar exorcised a ghost with her first film – the desire to spoof this very sort of over-the-top Bollywood and its myriad idiosyncrasies. Dibakar Banerjee, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Abhishek Kapoor, Shimit Amin, Ayan Mukherjee… are all the new breed: they pick up real life and make it real on screen, even if with their own brand of cinematic overtures. Maybe, that’s why an older audience still remains faithful to ‘Bollywood’ cinema, and in the younger audience lies the huge fan-following of this new breed of cinema-makers.
After all, if you want to make epics, you do it with epic characters like the way Ashutosh Gowarikar would, or in some ways Sanjay Bhansali would; not making real people epic-sized. Even when Bhansali tried to make real people larger-than-life, it didn’t work. The audience must be given some credit – they don’t need things hammered into their head, they do generally, get it; and they don’t identify with emotions worn on the sleeve at all times. While Johar’s themes work, messages are important and cinema continues to have an audience; if he chooses to have critical acclaim rather than the loyal-popular vote and choose not to go the way of Barjatya, he must reinvent his own cinema, tone down his own emotions and learn the art of underplaying with subtlety, rather than overplaying with blatancy.