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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A formula for Bollywood

While engrossed in a scholarly discussion with my professor friend,Dr S Raghunath,the phone rang.

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Published: June 17, 2012 3:26:35 am

While engrossed in a scholarly discussion with my professor friend,Dr S Raghunath,the phone rang. “Bhavna has invited us all to see a Hindi movie,” his wife Usha announced. How can we refuse their beautiful daughter? I blurted out to Usha my one-frame resume of 65 years of Bollywood: “Suresh! Tumne mujhe dhoka diya!” Doesn’t this capture the poignant scene of betrayal the heroine suffers at some moment in every film?

“No,no,it’s very different nowadays …” Usha said. So,we went to see Shanghai. At half time,the near-dead hero’s wife came from Delhi to take her husband away,only to discover a girlfriend attending to her husband in hospital. So my contention that “Suresh,tumne mujhe dhoka diya” is Bollywood’s single point focus was proved! Experiencing Bollywood extravaganza after many years has inspired me to narrate these cliches I’ve absorbed. With utmost respect to the millions of spectators who enormously enjoy these films,let me give you typical sensational ingredients that churn out box office hits.

Social melodrama to kickoff the movie: Older films portrayed the underprivileged in the opening social aspect but now it’s got Western flair. After all,a large audience base has shifted from Indian villages to children of Indians born in America,England or elsewhere abroad. They may speak with local Yankee or Cockney accents,but their migrant parents keep Indian culture vibrant at home. That “culture” for millions settled abroad happens to be Bollywood mores. To cater to such good custodians of Hindi films,directors don’t stubbornly stick to old winner scenarios; they create Indian family dramas outside India too. Storylines are just a few dozens,with myriad permutations. Heart rendering themes include rich girl running away with poor boy,long-lost relatives,high class boy in love with low caste girl,slum dweller forced to become gang leader,then discovering he’s not an orphan but the son of the merciless industrialist his trade union is targeting to destroy. Tragic death of a loved one at the film’s kickoff establishes the cause of revenge. Most of all,the presentation has to touch very raw nerves,bringing tears to spectators’ eyes.

Dance-song: Songs comprise the film’s core,determining success formula. Everyone knows that actors only lip sync. Playback singers were earlier associated with certain actors whose voices tallied with their harmonious renditions. Some actors carried one playback singer’s voice for their whole career. I remember in our youth,a song would be released,made into a hit,and subsequently the film would ride piggyback on its success. Electronic media has made singers better known today,but their public fame is appended to the hero/ heroine and film’s performance.

The hero always has a crooner’s role,teasing a girl who plays hide-and-seek to display she’s shy and unwilling-but-actually-willing. Rarely would heroines start romantic overtures. Sometimes,reminiscent of Lord Krishna’s girlfriend Radha and her gopis,the girl dances with village belles in colourful lehengas in front of wheat fields. Or the passionate couple prances around some forest,garden,mountain,snowfield or beach.

From such natural locales,Hindi film songs have shifted to the streets of New York. The inspiration seems to be from Broadway choreography for group street dancing from the 1961 comedy musical,Westside Story composed by Leonard Bernstein. You can spot the romantissimo couple in Bollywood versions as they’re dressed differently from the backdrop dancers in perfect aerobic routine. Suddenly dancing on foreign streets has almost become mandatory. You see foreigners gaping askance on the sidelines sometimes,but the couple’s oblivious to the surroundings,as people in love are. Dancing to songs builds up the crescendo; so high excitement whistles come ferociously in quick succession at Indian theatres.

Crime: Villains are must-haves,they’re the salt-and-pepper of Hindi movies. Dialogues of the powerful,pan-juice (addictive betel nut and leaf) spitting Boss are memorised for real life play acting by imitative fans. Sometimes they become Robin Hood,stealing from the rich to save the poor.

Political drama: The plot always features some direct or indirect political corruption. The public is jealous of the politicians’ ill-gotten wealth yet has no voice to check them. So when Hindi films portray politicians being punished for their scandalous corrupt crimes,it thrills the public. The trend still has the law and order machinery backing the right cause,whether that’s true or not. The police station has both good and bad policemen,but the ethical ones always prevail.

Fight: Spiciest of all is the fight. Initially the hero doesn’t win,but you can be sure he will come back to win. The fighting hero is a handsome dude. He has the power to fight multiple villains,mix techniques of wrestling,judo,karate. The villain is bad all the way. A gun fight is okay,but it is the physical dhishum-dhishum fighting that brings every spectator to the chair’s edge. The fight gives you more involvement. You mentally feel a punch,physically crouch on your seat,take in your breath in quick,short exclamations,or narrow your eyes. A girl may squeeze her partner’s hand and hide behind his shoulder when the scene gets too graphic. That of course is bonus pleasure of watching fight scenes at the movies.

Intermission! Hindi movies cannot end so quickly. What about footage on hate,love,foreign tours,betrayal,lecturer’s dialogue,happy end,value-for-money technical effects,trend influence,mother and son affection,all so essential to complete a real Bollywood format? Coming next week.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at

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