Not Safe, But Sound

Formula films may be passé as are happy endings,but this might probably change mainstream Hindi cinema for the better.

Published:January 3, 2014 1:20 am

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 film’s ending. He particularly remembers the gatekeeper’s 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. Rai’s hero eventually doesn’t get up,he doesn’t 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 cinema’s most used contrivances of a “happy ending”,the film went on to become one of the year’s 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,India’s 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 film’s hero who not only beat up the baddies but also got the girl. It was the only respite he got from life’s 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 year’s 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 Henry’s classic The Last Leaf. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 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 Kumar’s Boss,Saif Ali Khan’s Bullett Raja,and Shootout at Wadala,starring John Abraham and Anil Kapoor.

Lootera’s director Vikramaditya Motwane says “happy endings” were always a producer’s demand rather than the audience’s. “The audience is ready for whatever you give them. They don’t care if it is a sad or a happy ending,” he says. He believes that going against a conventional happy ending doesn’t necessarily make it “sad”. “A bitter-sweet conclusion will always have a lingering,lasting impact on the audience,” he says.

SANKHAYAN GHOSH

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