Go Back To Old Formula Of Romance And Drama
By Vinod Mirani
MUMBAI – When nothing works, how to make things work? No filmmaker, nor trade pundits have ever been able to predict this.
In fact, there have been many instances of some film critics who could not predict a film’s success after watching it! Let alone film critics, even distributors who rejected a film after seeing it, have been proved wrong. In those days, a film was open for all distributors to watch during various stages of its making or even when completed. Many a time, a film thus rejected went on to become a blockbuster.
There were no buyers for ‘Zanjeer’, the Amitabh Bachchan blockbuster. The producer had to sell it for a song where the terms let the distributor keep the entire profit, instead of sharing it 50-50 with the producer as per the norm.
Raj Kapoor’s regular distributors had deserted him after the debacle of ‘Mera Naam Joker’, not willing to take a risk on ‘Bobby’, the debut film of Rishi Kapoor. Then there was Mithun’s ‘Pyar Jhukta Nahin’ and L.P. Prasad’s ‘Ek Duuje Ke Liye’. There are plenty of such instances.
What the filmmakers did was to play safe and follow the trend — that is, follow what worked at that time: family social melodrama and romance. Both these genres offered a lot of scope for twists and turns.
A full-fledged comedy carried only sectional appeal. As a rule, they did not work in the North. Comedy was added to films as what was called relief, a distraction. When comic stars such as Mahmood, Asrani and Deven Verma made outright comedies, they usually failed.
For family dramas and romantic films, it was mandatory to have a lot of other characters, besides the lead actors. Films used to be nearly three hours long. More the characters that are integral to a script, the better the chances for a film to work.
Rajesh Khanna made a career out of romantic films; Amitabh Bachchan was branded as the ‘angry young man’. Action heroes were not a concept in those days. At least, not for mainstream stars.
Stars like Dharmendra, and Vinod Khanna were called he-men because of their physical attributes and looks, never as action heroes. These men also survived doing family socials and romance most of their acting life.
Action films and action stars were rated in the B-grade category. They did not even have the same audience. Cinemas that showed their films were different, not the ones where regular movies were released.
Earlier, all the daring action for film stars were done by body doubles. The History Channel has aired a feature on this aspect of filmmaking. Today, action films and action heroes are gifts of computer-generated special effects. As technology improved, these action stars got braver than before. Now, all our stars aged 50-plus prefer action.
Salman Khan kept making all sorts of films, though mostly romantic ones, till image took a turn to that of an action star. It all started with ‘Wanted’ in 2009. Luckily for him, he was doing South Indian remakes which did not lack in other ingredients such as romance, comedy, emotions, and family drama in films such as ‘Ready’ and ‘Bodyguard’, which gave him a hit after hit. Since nothing lasts forever, Salman Khan has been delivering regular flops in the last few years.
Shah Rukh Khan has now joined the action bandwagon with ‘Pathaan’ and his next film, ‘Jawan’. The trick is to keep the film’s pace fast with action and gimmicks so that people don’t look for a story even if the action looks far-fetched.
But when one has had a glorious career of more than 30 years, all is fair. Especially when action is camouflaged as patriotism.
Manmohan Desai films offered nothing in the name of logic or plausibility, and he claimed he never gave viewers the time to find logic in his films.
Filmmakers in the past believed in following the formula that a film must cater to alike. The later generation tried to be adventurous, picking up themes such as gang wars, gangsters, terrorists and so on. At times, they ended up glorifying negative characters and justifying their acts.
Since that happened, the filmmakers lost touch with reality and their audience. They forgot about the all-India audience and acted as if they were making films only for a multiplex audience. They were forever on the lookout for new subjects, sometimes from Hollywood, from South America or from South-East Asia. The problem was that these films rarely struck a chord with Indian viewers.
When the producer lost the plot, he was also losing his audience and the multiplex chains were no better off either.
During one of these phases, people started making biopics on sports people following the success of ‘M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story’. Some were moderate successes, most were not.
Biopics are not preferred by our movie lovers. A horde of biopics were made on past and recent politicians, almost all vanished without a trace. It was only the English version of ‘Gandhi’ that was a success, but then, it was a sincere effort and was made by an acclaimed international director!
Now, once again, surprisingly, a lineup of biopics has been announced. But guess what? These films will not be about politicians or sports people. And, not about underworld dons, such as ‘Raees’ and ‘Daddy’, and so on.
The new lot of biopics will be based on the lives of popular film stars and other film personalities of the past. The films in the offing so far are about Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Priya Rajvansh, Parveen Babi, Rehana Sultan, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Sahir Ludhianvi and Sanjeev Kumar.
The rights for the Sanjeev Kumar bio have been acquired by none other than Anil Kapoor. One wonders who will play the lead. After all, Sanjeev Kumar has been aptly described as An Actor’s Actor in his biography.
The bios on Rehana Sultan and Parveen Babi may be inspired by their oomph, but good music is the one thing they have in common with the ones on Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Priya Rajvansh, Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Sahir Ludhianvi and Sanjeev Kumar.
The popularity of the music of their golden era has not waned even today. Not surprisingly, most of these biopics have been announced by music companies.
In one of my columns, I suggested that filmmakers need to go back to old ways and make films that appeal to all people in all circuits and not be limited to the urban multiplex audience. At the same time, they need to work on music, as in melodious tunes, which are scarce nowadays.
A very recent example is Karan Johar’s ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’. It has a simple catchy title, a love story with family drama and a musical score generously sprinkled with old melodies reminiscent of the bygone era.