Looking back at the Bollywood offerings of 2011, it would seem that no-brainer blockbusters have dominated at the box-office. Whether it’s the Salman Khan starrers, Ready and Bodyguard, Shah Rukh Khan’s sci-fi- romance mash-up, Ra.One, or Ajay Devgn’s brawn-and-bluster, Singham, the masala movies have ruled. However, the Hindie films haven’t had a bad showing either. Films like No One Killed Jessica, The Girl in Yellow Boots, or Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster, have attracted niche audiences at the multiplexes without much difficulty.
One of the surprise hits of the year has been Zindagi Na Miley Dobara. Though it does have all the ingredients of a typical Bollywood romance, it smartly avoids the clichés of a mainstream love story. It has the style of a new-age Hindie film with the heart of a Bollywood romance. Best of both worlds. Director Zoya Akhtar, the daughter of Bollywood’s superstar-screenwriter and lyricist, Javed Akhtar, has made a bromance that avoids the macho stereotypes of the genre while infusing it with the lost lyricism of old-style Hindi romances, where poetry conveys moods and emotions as much as the actors on the screen. Shot in picturesque Spain, Zoya has used the locations to move the story forward, instead of using them as props for a song and dance routine. Boasting of A-list actors such as Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif, with ZNMD, Zoya has elevated herself to the A-list directors’ list. Along with Farah Khan, she is the second woman director to break the glass ceiling in Bollywood. Way to go, ladies!
2011 ended on a high note with the success of The Dirty Picture, inspired by the life and times of 1980’s B-movie actress, Silk Smitha. Like ZNMD, The Dirty Picture (TDP), straddles both mainstream and Hindie Bollywood with ease. The presence of an A-list actor like Vidya Balan playing the role of a starlet who never quite made it in the big league in Bollywood is itself a delicious irony. With its mix of tacky, raunchy numbers (a la the retro hits of Bollywood films of the 1980’s), sassy dialogues and smart marketing, TDP is perhaps among the fistful of Indian films that managed to rake in the moolah without the presence of an A-list male actor! In fact, TDP breaks new ground in Bollywood filmmaking – it’s mid-way between a spoof and a bio-pic. Retro-bio-pic? Perhaps! In 2010, TDP’s director Milan Luthria, wowed audiences with his Once upon a time in Mumbai. That film too had a retro-angle to it and was somewhat derived from real life characters: set in Mumbai of the 1970’s, Luthria’s tale of gangsters and wannabe starlets had both audiences and critics raving about it.
And then, there was yet another film: low-budget, gritty, truly Hindie! Titled Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster (SBAG) this was a re-telling of the classic 1950s Guru Dutt film (Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam). Whether the 2011 film will be hailed as a classic in the future, remains to be seen. But for now, it’s an Ace of a film that tells a gritty story of modern, small-town India. The Saheb (King) is a down-and-out former royal of an erstwhile principality who strives to find his footing in the murky politics of his town, regain his status as the benefactor of his little boondock and maintain a mistress in keeping with tradition. His Biwi (Queen) is a neglected, sexually-frustrated woman whose hysterical tantrums may be queen-like but given their dire straits is of little consequence except to the rag-tag bunch of household servants who are at her beck and call. The Ghulam (Jack) is a small-time, power-hungry Gangster whose aspirations for power, prestige and “class” propel him to have an affair with the Biwi. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia spins a riveting and entertaining tale that is intense, dramatic and captures a slice of feudal society that struggles to survive in the rough and tumble of Indian democracy.
Hopefully, in 2012, Bollywood will continue to throw up more such eclectic fare!