“It was like a nuclear explosion.” That’s how Ranveer Singh, speaking at the India Today Conclave in 2015, described Hrithik Roshan’s overnight success post Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai. Indeed, Hrithik Roshan kicked off the noughties (KNPH released in January, 2000) with a bang. The astounding success of the young star resembled that of Rajesh Khanna’s. Roshan may have succeeded in causing mass hysteria but that was short-lived. In hindsight, the decade’s real gift – or curse, if you will – seems to be the successful emergence of the tent-pole blockbuster, as inaugurated by Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai and Lagaan. Since Lagaan, Khan has continued to produce and act in top-grossing hits, widely seen as reaching his full stride with the surprise box-office takeover of the Chinese markets now. Who knows which new, diverse and unexplored market opens up next for this (not-so) Secret Superstar?
Circa-2000, Farah Khan added her own two-bit to the numbers game with her 70s-soaked Om Shanti Om. But it was Rohit Shetty and Raju Hirani who truly redefined the term ‘blockbuster.’ At first glance, the action-oriented Shetty and Capra-esque Hirani have little in common. But look closely and a common connection quickly emerges – both are inspired by Hrishikesh Mukherjee! Also add Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Rakesh Roshan to the list of hit-makers.
Off mainstream, the so-called Bollywood indie landscape saw the rise of the radical and the alternative. The Ram Gopal Varma school gave us Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bhardwaj who went on to form their own schools later on. But it’s debatable if Kashyap and Bhardwaj were ever alternative. Their films owe a great deal to mainstream sources of inspirations, particularly their masterful use of songs and a fondness towards Bollywood stars. Hoping to tap into a star’s hitherto-underexplored acting potential as well as leverage his/her box-office cred Kashyap and Bhardwaj, between them, have exploited such mainstream talents as Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, John Abraham and Kangana Ranaut. So, their films are hard to qualify as either completely mainstream or art-house and may actually fall between these two broad categories of cinema. Their films are way too all over the place to have a collective name. Hindie – will that do?
The merging of the two genres of cinemas isn’t a new trend, though. Yet, you could say that the decade 2000 was noteworthy for its burgeoning budgets and box-office. The magical ‘100 crore club’ is a quintessentially noughties creation and once again, Aamir Khan was instrumental in being its standard bearer.
In the sixth of our on-going ‘Hindi classics that defined the decade’ essay series, we flashback to the noughties to bring ten landmark hits from that decade.
Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000)
Rakesh Roshan turned away from the Khans to launch son Hrithik Roshan. The lad had grown from under the very shadow of Salman and Shah Rukh Khan. Nearly overnight, the younger Roshan was in an enviable position to pose serious threat to the Khan hegemony. The Roshan Inc’s future collaborations (Koi… Mil Gaya and Krrish series) were also box-office boffo.
Hera Pheri (2000)
Is Heri Pheri to 2000s what Andaz Apna Apna is to the ‘90s? It was as if Priyadarshan’s entire silly comedy corpus was building up to this one film, except that if you see the timeline you will realise that Hera Pheri happened to him way before the Hungamas and the Garam Masalas of the world did. Well, this was the first bolt of comic inspiration for Priyadarshan. For this Malayalam director, Hera Pheri represented a shift from his previous serious stuff. From Hera Pheri’s madcap scenario, you can also discern the indispensable influence of the late Neeraj Vora. Hera Pheri may not yet be a cultural touchstone like Andaz Apna Apna or Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro but it seems, it’s getting there – towards a more cultish future.
Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Male bonding served in a lingo that the affluent urban slickers immediately recognised as their own, Dil Chahta Hai brought modern aesthetics and dynamics to Hindi cinema. After Dil Chahta Hai, a comedy revolving around the exploits of three best friends – Aamir Khan who utters ‘heaven’ after a satisfactory mouthful of what is probably the millennial’s first taste of global cuisine, Saif Ali Khan who will go anywhere for a slice of cake and the sensitive Akshaye Khanna falling for a woman his mother’s age – Bollywood films became more invested in good-looking frames, sharp fashion sense (Bandra chic?) and an overall stylised packaging suited to what came to be regarded as a multiplex sensibility. Dil Chahta Hai is the Satya of multiplex era.
Critic Baradwaj Rangan, in an analysis on what he dubbed as the Aamir Khan brand of cinema, singled out Lagaan as a mid-point dividing the two eras of Aamir Khan. Post-Lagaan, Rangan wrote in The Hindu, Khan is “generally perceived to have transformed from actor for hire to shaper of cinematic destinies of his projects.” Khan’s contribution in Lagaan is more than just being its star, producer and messiah at Oscars. The cricket-themed, David-Goliath tome, about a bunch of underdogs in a fight to finish with the British, didn’t make it to the Academy but it played a huge role in propelling Khan to the very top of his game. The Dangal star hasn’t budged from that position, since.
Munnabhai MBBS (2003)
Was he inspired by Frank Capra’s ‘goodness of the human heart’ idealism? Or, was he more Hrishikesh Mukherjee? More likely, Raju Hirani drew liberally from Anand and Chupke Chupke than from Mr Deeds Goes To Town and Mr Smith Goes To Washington. Hirani’s refreshing debut, Munnabhai MBBS cast Sanjay Dutt very much on type – a gangster. The only twist being that he’s a gangster with a heart. It may have been an homage to Dutt’s typical screen avatars as mafia don but well, whether meta or not, it won hearts.
Vishal Bhardwaj in top form, handling the kind of dark subject matter that he has come to epitomise since. Reimagining Macbeth in Bombay’s Mafioso, Maqbool is Irrfan Khan and Tabu at their best, both strikingly intense and coyly playful by turns. Their sexual tension gives Maqbool a fourth dimension. Note how Pankaj Kapur’s Abbaji could have so easily fallen into just another Brando-Godfather trap but the actor’s masterful interpretation proves what a thespian he can be. Additional treat: Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, Shakespearean witches transposed as tainted cops. Besides Kapur’s Abbaji, the Puri-Shah combo gets the film’s most memorable lines: “Aag ke liye paani ka dar bane rehna chahiye,” and “Shakti ka santulan chahiye sansar mein.”
Rang De Basanti (2006)
Pop patriotism for the rising new 20-something multiplex-goers, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti was a youth anthem. Described as a “movement,” the movie ignited the young minds and ushered in the fashionable era of candle marches. Many credit the youth uprising in the Anna Hazare movement to Rang De Basanti. These were the multi-starrer’s social impact. Cinematically, it gave us an Aamir Khan who wasn’t afraid to step down in the climax and let the film’s key moments be hijacked by younger actors. Was that a trick by the wily Khan? Whatever it was, it worked.
Chak De! India (2007)
A beloved favourite of those select Shah Rukh Khan fans who keep bemoaning a lack of memorable films in his resume (this group puts Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa ahead of DDLJ), Chak De! India is about India’s female hockey team and the one man at the centre of it all – a tainted Muslim coach (Khan). In the end, the film is more about how Khan wins his honour back than winning a hockey medal. Let’s put it this way: good ol’ melodrama and good ol’ Pak-bashing never goes out of fashion.
Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Though Aamir Khan refused to hijack Rang De Basanti’s climax he, unfortunately, didn’t think twice before seizing Taare Zameen Par from Amole Gupte, the weepy’s original creator. After seeing Stanley Ka Dabba, one wonders what path TZP had taken if Gupte had remained on the director’s chair? Nevertheless, TZP, with Aamir Khan as the director, has its heart in place. And yet another proof – if one was ever needed – of Khan’s keen understanding about cinema’s infinite potential to emotionally manipulate.
When was the last time a Hindi film used its music with such brilliant effect? You have to go all the way back to Vijay Anand and Guru Dutt. To Mughal-E-Azam and Guide, perhaps. Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D established a pattern the director has kept returning to time and again. Whether it is Gulaal or the recent Mukkabaaz, Kashyap’s cinema conveys his deep love for Bollywood music. In Dev.D, the badass auteur has rebelled more in the music and song placement department than in storytelling narrative. And he has been continuously reinventing his soundtrack, with a little help from the enormously talented likes of Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar, since.
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)