IN June last year,a day after the release of Raanjhanaa,director Anand L Rai sneaked into Chandan theatre to watch the last 15 minutes of his film. Slightly nervous,Rai was keen to see how the audience would react to the films ending. He particularly remembers the gatekeepers question: Will you make a sequel to this film? Is he not going to get up? He wanted to know the fate of the hero,the lovelorn Kundan,who was in a coma.
It was a reflection of the eternal hope of the Indian moviegoer,that no matter what,the hero of a Hindi film will rise above death. Rais hero eventually doesnt get up,he doesnt even get the girl not even in his death. But the death brings closure to the film,leaving the audience with the bittersweet taste of life and love. Defying one of Hindi commercial cinemas most used contrivances of a happy ending,the film went on to become one of the years most commercially successful films,earning over Rs 100 crore at the box office.
Tragic endings are hardly a new trend in Hindi commercial cinema. These are,in fact,one of the oldest tricks in its book. Some of the most successful Hindi films have been tragedies,such as Mughal-e-Azam,Pyaasa,Mother India,Ganga Jamuna and Anand. What can be more dark and tragic than a mother killing her son in Mother India,Indias first submission to the Oscars? says Mahesh Bhatt. His Vishesh Films produced Aashiqui 2 where its protagonist,a self-destructive rockstar,sacrifices his life for his lover.
However,after the 70s,Hindi films seemed assembly line outright comedies,family dramas,action-masalas or a blend of the three. These were cookie-cutter films,which were family-friendly with happy endings. Filmmakers say it had to do with the socio-economic condition of their audience. It is escapist cinema,where the common man saw himself as the films hero who not only beat up the baddies but also got the girl. It was the only respite he got from lifes travails, said director Dibakar Banerjee to The Indian Express in an earlier interview.
But the last few years have seen Hindi cinema attempting to free itself from the commercial trappings. At the end of the day,the audience want to see an emotionally fulfilling story. The protagonists are real people,whom they can relate to, says Rai.
The past year,in fact,saw a few other films that traded the walking-into-the-sunset-holding-hands conclusions for stark ones that left the audience sniffling and wiping their tears. While Kai Po Che,the years first bonafide blockbuster,had a bloodied climax of the
Gujarat riots leaving one of the protagonists dead,Lootera retained the tragic love story of its primary source material,
O Henrys classic The Last Leaf. Sanjay Leela Bhansalis Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela too,despite all its opulence and grandeur,stayed true to the text of Romeo and Juliet.
In contrast,many big-budget formula films lost out to these flicks in terms of critical acclaim and box-office earnings,proving that the formulae the shirtless six-pack hero fighting the baddie and love fulfilling only when it concludes in a marriage are passé. Among these were Akshay Kumars Boss,Saif Ali Khans Bullett Raja,and Shootout at Wadala,starring John Abraham and Anil Kapoor.
Looteras director Vikramaditya Motwane says happy endings were always a producers demand rather than the audiences. The audience is ready for whatever you give them. They dont care if it is a sad or a happy ending, he says. He believes that going against a conventional happy ending doesnt necessarily make it sad. A bitter-sweet conclusion will always have a lingering,lasting impact on the audience, he says.