Three films with which 90s Bollywood came of age

In the Nineties, Hindi cinema boarded a Eurail carriage and made itself over as Bollywood. Three films from that decade signpost a changing country and its new heroes.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Updated: December 24, 2016 11:03 am
50 Films That Changed Bollywood, shubhra gupta, shubhra gupta indian express, bollywood, bollywood movies, old bollywood movies, hindi cinema, indian express news, indian express book review 50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995-2015

Book name: 50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995-2015
Author: Shubhra Gupta
Publisher: HarperCollins and The Indian Express
Pages: 296
Price: 399

In the Nineties, Hindi cinema boarded a Eurail carriage and made itself over as Bollywood. Three iconic films from that decade signpost a changing country and its new heroes. An excerpt from Indian Express’ critic Shubhra Gupta’s book, 50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995-2015.

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge

Some films are destiny. They change everything.

When Raj met Simran in the back of a rattling Eurail carriage, those watching for the first time, including this film critic, had no idea just how powerfully that meeting would impact Bollywood.

The film had a fresh feel. The characters spoke like young people would (except that artificial and annoying “Senorita” which Shah Rukh keeps using to address Kajol). There was a great sparkle and rhythm to the film, from its swish Soho and Southall stoppages to the post-interval pandering to its rural Punjab moorings. And Shah Rukh and Kajol ticked all the young-lover boxes: both were charming, winsome and made us believe that they were madly, deeply in love.

…Not even the most optimistic crystal-ball gazer in the film industry could have foreseen just how long lasting the film would be, and just how much importance it would gain, as a pop culture signifier, and as an iconic piece of cinema which has continued to run in a Mumbai theatre for the past 20 years…

…It is the film that made Shah Rukh Khan. Twenty years and counting, he is still right up there, on top. It made SRK–Kajol a part of the evergreen Bollywood jodis…It shaped the future of desi romance. After DDLJ, Bollywood became a different country, because all the screen dulhas had to follow suit, and take their dulhaniyas away.

…The rebellion which coloured young love in the 1970s and ’80s, when the old order was tossed away by the turbulence of the new, was decisively put paid to in DDLJ. Raj will not run away with Simran, no. Not like Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia in Bobby. Nor like Kamal Haasan and Rati Agnihotri in Ek Duje Ke Liye. Or Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Raj will only accept Simran if the union has the blessings of her family, especially her father who stands for all things traditional…

Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam, pyaar hota hai deewana sanam. Right. But the deewanapan is held in check till all approvals are in place. Simran can get merrily tipsy, and roll down snowy slopes in grand Yash Raj tradition, but she can’t be sleeping with Raj till they occupy their marital bed. In an early scene, as they enter a Swiss chalet, SRK dives head first onto the bed in the room; he is clowning, making light of the fact that they are in a “bedroom”, a place reserved for sex in Hindi cinema. It became a SRK trademark, this insistence on having fun which may or may not be a precursor to sex, but which establishes a uniquely “modern” intimacy between the “boy and girl”; the combination was a huge Bollywood first.

Bandit Queen (1994)

Bandit Queen

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen is less a conventional biopic of one of the most colourful dacoits in India, and more an examination…of the circumstances which force a little girl growing up in extreme poverty, brought up to be nothing more than a wife and a pair of hard-working hands, into becoming something no one, including herself, had dreamt of: an outlaw with her own gang.

The movie created a furore while it was being made and also when it did finally release, because of its starkness, a language filled with invective, nudity and the shocking depiction of rape…What the film managed to do was nearly overlooked: it changed the idiom of films that claimed to be a “realistic” representation of rural oppression.

Mainstream Hindi cinema’s rural patches till then had mostly been pretty, dotted with ghaghra-clad belles making eyes at shehari babus…Kapur and Bandit Queen changed all that. Just by the fact of shooting on location, using dialogues that were robust and earthy, and creating characters who looked as if they came from that cracked earth, their faces creased and unmade and raw, Kapur struck a death blow to Hindi cinema’s beloved daaku dramas…

…Bandit Queen hasn’t lost its edge, 20 years and some later. It was hard watching it then, it is hard now. Phoolan is “married off “ to a man much older than her: that scene, with the desolate figure of the little girl being borne away from the only home that she has known, her head covered with a ghoonghat, is a heart-breaker. I closed my eyes and shuddered all over again. The maayka is lost to her: when the boat turns a bend in the river, she can never return home. She becomes a slave, chattel, and bed-warmer (that is the first time she is raped, with the full complicit knowledge of the groom’s family, filled with sniggering and vengeful women), and then she is abandoned. Both caste and gender are against her, and she is handed around and flung about, like a ragged doll, down the line, physically and mentally abused, till one day she decides enough is enough.

…Bandit Queen gave us an unforgettable female protagonist, played unflinchingly and with great courage by Seema Biswas. Kapur wisely chose actors mostly from theatre, and Delhi’s National School of Drama, and created the sort of realism we hadn’t encountered before.

Nirmal Pandey, Aditya Srivastava (Phoolan’s chillingly bestial husband, Puttilal), Saurabh Shukla (Phoolan’s craven cousin), Manoj Bajpayee (Man Singh, who also helps her) and several others began their Bollywood journey in earnest after this film… Twenty years on, Bollywood is still very far from creating fitting roles for such actors as Biswas.

Hero No.1 (1997)

Hero No.1

The title of this film is rich in irony, because Govinda was never, even when he was on the top of his game — which he is in Hero No. 1 — Bollywood’s hero number one. That prerogative has been shared by the Kapoors, Khans and Kumars. Even his most fervent fans saw Govinda primarily as a comedian, and returned, again and again, to see him do what they loved: the sort of broad, amiable, shambling comedy that Govinda delivered, along with, of course, the singing and the dancing, in which he “sarkaoed khatiyas” and demanded our mobile numbers.

It wasn’t as if he couldn’t do anything else. He could do dark roles, which required a gimlet-eyed intensity. He could channel emotion and turn on the tears. He could do different. But we didn’t want to see him doing anything different. So Govinda turned again and again to David Dhawan, and delivered a string of hits…

…If Govinda hadn’t come along when he did, would comedy in Bollywood have turned in other directions? In the 1970s, [Amitabh] Bachchan’s proving a dab hand at doing comedy nearly finished off the “comedian”: what was the point of hiring someone specifically for a comedy track if your hero could do the same thing, and better? …But Bachchan…was never someone you could reach out and touch, or do some backslapping; he was always a little above, and afar.

Govinda, on the other hand, was “Everyman”. He was you and me. He was us…He was the guy who came from across the tracks and conquered Bollywood. He wasn’t an intimidating six-footer whose baritone rumbled across the screen: he was a five-feet-something, smiley dancey fella, and we knew that the number one appended to the title of his films (Coolie No. 1, Hero No. 1, Jodi No. 1 and Aunty No. 1) was just another joke. He danced like a charm. He even romanced in a workaday, plebeian sort of way.

…Like Kishore [Kumar], Govinda could be side-splittingly funny, but he was also more than just a set of funny lines. Like Kishore, Govinda was an actor who could make us laugh, the most difficult thing in the world, not just a comedian who could also act.

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