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Little More, Little Less

A wish list for Bollywood in 2014.

Low point: Ranbir Kapoor in Besharam Low point: Ranbir Kapoor in Besharam

I usually begin a new year by asking Bollywood for both a little more and a little less. In keeping with previous years, my wish list for 2014 is not too ambitious, because that would be setting oneself up for disappointment. I’m just hoping for thoda sa hatke, as the Bolly line goes.
Give me one, I implore you, dear denizens of the biggest film industry in the world, just one film that will not have a man (it is almost always a man, so you can’t accuse me of sexism) urinating, or farting, or sitting on the pot, or all of the above, in the name of humour. Comedies don’t have to be constructed around wet patches or puddles or noxious smells; they can also be woven around circumstance, or character or, what do you know, even plot.

I understand that these require writing skills and basic sharpness, but surely, in 800 films, is it so hard to come up with one that will not use base toilet humour as its only crutch? Yes, there are enough of us who can handle funnies that may only have smart lines or knotty situations. Watching someone take a dump can conceivably cause laughter, but is that all that’s left? One of my worst memories of 2013 will remain having to see the redoubtable Rishi Kapoor being made to “go potty” in the same film that had his son Ranbir doing “susu”: Besharam is truly Bollywood’s shame.

If you want to make “adult” “sex” “comedies” (each of those words require separate quote marks because Bollywood still hasn’t got that genre locked down, in which case it would be, simply, adult sex comedies), please go right ahead. Just make sure they are meant for adults, not a string of juvenile, puerile jokes masquerading as “comedies”. It says a great deal for Bollywood as a 100-year-old film-making entity, and us as a “growing” audience that we accept such gormless pap as Grand Masti as an “adult sex comedy”: those leading men in the film just happen to be married, but are they grown up? Groan.

Thrillers require pace and robust storytelling and heroes who can kick serious butt. What we get instead is limp set-pieces that Hollywood has long since done and dusted, fronted by “superstars” who look older than they should. I’m not saying we need fellows with soft down on their cheeks for action. Even Hollywood uses middle-aged heroes, especially to keep expensive franchises going, but they appear to be one with the plan. Bollywood’s home-grown action stars don’t filibuster and deliver round-house kicks with the same power. You can see their doubles labouring and straining, or you can see double chins wobbling: how much disbelief can you suspend?

If you are making thrillers, give us guys whose pectorals ripple in the sun, and who look capable of tearing the baddies limb to limb. The Khans, and the Kumar, are all looking their age. They are also all just about holding on to the top, and that’s only because they are producers who get megabucks to bankroll their own vanity projects. When was the last time we got an electrifying action star? Vidyut Jamwal has the muscles and the moves, but only manages to get a silly film to star in, and a bit part in a super-starry venture. If you really need an Arnie and a Sly kind of zinger that you can watch on TV over and over again, like the Terminator or the Rambo series, you’ve got to create the right vehicle, which has to be rough-and-ready-and-on-the-go. There was a time when Bollywood could make that kind of thriller-actioner. It has lost the nous to do so.

Now for love stories. What wouldn’t I give for a well-made, well-fleshed credible “mature” romance. Amitabh Bachchan is ripe for one. Let’s also pull out the still-dishy Vinod Khanna from the woodworks. Rishi Kapoor too deserves so much better than he’s getting. Ageing lovers can be as magnetic, if not more, than the young ones still learning the ropes. Remember the crinkly Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County? How about Amitabh and Madhuri in a remake?

While we are at it, how about a crackling youthful rom com that doesn’t develop cold feet after a promising beginning. Real romances need real young people, not constructed-in-studios “girls” and “boys” being made to tick predictable boxes. If you want us to smile and sigh along with the lovers, you will have to get us to feel the sizzle. The most effective and enduring romantic comedies tell us that love that lasts and weathers is not just dewy but also thorny. And they require actors who can shed skin: I want to see Rajkumar Yadav, (who now goes by the name of Rajkummar Rao) and Parineeti Chopra building something from scratch, and staying with it.

What does that leave? Oh yeah, superheroes. For those thataway inclined, I have just one piece of advice. Leave it to Hollywood.

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