The Schmaltz Show

The Schmaltz Show

Bollywood of the Eighties was annoyingly formulaic,but capable of telling a story.

Bollywood in the Eighties usually gets the worst press. So much so that even those who went to the movies through that decade have conveniently forgotten the films and the stars that created an instant connect: all they remember is that the Eighties was the time when Hindi cinema was fighting the onslaught of VCDs by reaching out to the lowest common viewer though increasing doses of sleaze and violence.

A four-DVD pack brings back memories of a time when Bollywood was annoyingly formulaic,but capable of telling a story. Back then,there were only movies. Television meant state-run Doordarshan with its preachy morality plays and tightly controlled news bulletins. Filmmakers were aware of that dominance,and were clear that their primary purpose was to entertain. The directors of the Eighties knew that the challenge was to cater to an audience that wanted something new but within limits. A good film needed a hero,a heroine,a vamp and a villain,and a happily ever after. Or it needed cruel circumstance,and weepy tragedy.

Saawan Kumar’s Souten had an interesting trio of actors:

Rajesh Khanna,Tina Munim and Padmini Kolhapure who went,respectively,by the name of Shyam,Rukmini and Radha. So even before the first scene,you knew how the movie would pan out. Radha loves Shyam,who has to marry Rukmini,and because Radha cannot live without Shyam,she has to die: it is in the shastras. Simple. The setting is Mauritius,so we get lots of blue ocean,and Ms Munim in tight bathing costumes,and the silliest song of the decade: Iisiliye mummy nein meri tumhe chai pe bulaya hai.


Aasha had Jeetendra,Reena Roy and Rameshwari,going around in romantic circles. He’s a truck driver who wears red shirt and red pants,both together. Roy is a singer who wears maroon pant-suits and large goggles. Rameshwari is the good wife who makes a conveniently quick exit so the two big stars get maximum screen time together,and then makes a comeback for a suitably dramatic ending. And Roy gets to lip synch the song that defined schmaltz during that decade: Sheesha ho ya dil ho,aakhir toot jaata hai. Sob.

Subhash Ghai had made a mark in the Seventies,and strode across the Eighties as the guy who could do no wrong. Rishi Kapoor was already a popular star,but Karz will always be remembered as one of his (and his director’s) most successful films. The remake of Reincarnation Of Peter Proud had all the early Ghai trademarks: big stars,big drama,and great music. You can still hear Ek haseena thi,ek diwana tha on the airwaves,but no one has managed to touch the evil elegance of Simi Garewal’s murderess: poor Urmila Matondkar tried in a recent remake,and made a hash of it.

Hero,also by Ghai,cemented his reputation as the king of “masala” entertainers. His lead pair Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi Sheshadri had appeared in bit parts before: after Hero,in which Amrish Puri plays a tattooed baddie,both became big stars.