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Handful of hits dispel the gloom

Clipping (54kbs) - The Hindu, 09-01-1998. By Girija Rajendran

Record Number : A0030520

Click to browse by keyword: Cinema Film exhibition Crime Criminalisation Gangs Film Stars Celebrities


Handful of hits dispel the gloom

The year 1997 was not a good year for Hindi films. However, a few successful films bailed out the industry from a
depressive phase, says Girija Rajendran

Bollywood could not possibly have looked more down and out than it did in the December of 1997 - the month of
reckoning - when Kamal Haasan's arrival as ``Chachi 420'' lit up the screen. Kamal's attempt (as writer-director) to
offer Hindi cinema its first full-length comedy - after S. S. Vasan's ``Mr. Sampat'' (1952) - won appreciation all round.
For even ``Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi'' (1958), an all-out comedy, had certain melodramatic tracks in it. Thus ``Chachi
420'' was as much of a happening on the Hindi screen, as was ``Avvai Shanmukhi'' on the Tamil scene.

It was an amazing year (1997), look at it how you will. Even as the country celebrated its 50th year of
Independence, even as J. P. Dutta's ``Border'' came to be pronounced as the big hit in the freedom-film genre,
mid-August 1997 saw the Gulshan Kumar factor fatally determine the equation of the Hindi film industry with
those elements financing it. Nadeem- Shravan, as a duo, were riding the crest of a wave (with the spot musical
success of ``Pardes'') when they were halted in their tracks, by the long arm of the law extending to faraway

In next to no time, the Bombay film industry was in the grip of a crisis it had not known in its 66-year talkie history.
Police questioning, raids and what not brought Bollywood to a near state of paralysis.

For the first time in its chequered existence, the Hindi film industry began introspecting and wondering about how
it should bring about a metamorphosis in its pattern of financing. But nothing worth the name happened in the
end, because institutional financing never was available to this highly speculative industry.

The razzle-dazzle surrounding its functioning ensures that the flotsam and jetsam of society gravitate towards this
industry. Indeed it is the glamour commodity obstreperously marketed by this glitzy industry that keeps the
mainline television going in its non-serial, non-talk-show hours. But the Hindi film industry itself, while feeding
others, has no saviour.

It continues, in 1998, to be in a perilous position from which it just cannot rescue itself. It is a glamorously vicious
circle, a circle that extracted its voyeuristic price from the industry in 1997. In truth, Hindi cinema just limped along
in the second half of 1997, as new releases came down to a trickle in the last quarter. Only now is the industry
beginning to find its feet again.

It is against this dubiously eventful background that one has to appraise the hits and misses of 1997. The top male
stars of the year were Shah Rukh Khan, Sunny Deol, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor and Sunil Shetty in
that order.

The female foil once again in top-drawer order was provided by Karisma Kapoor, Kajol, Tabu and Juhi Chawla,
with Manisha Koirala (number one the previous year) and Madhuri Dixit just about holding their own.

Karisma Kapoor's is an amazing success story - commercially she rates, right now, way ahead of the others. Her
current runaway popularity (matching somewhat, the male draw of Shah Rukh Khan) symbolises, verily a
generation change in public taste. Take for instance, Juhi Chawla vis-a-vis Karisma Kapoor. Juhi had three hits
during 1997 in ``Deewana Mastana'', ``Yes Boss'' and ``Ishq'', as against one flop: ``Mr. & Mrs. Khiladi.'' Yet Juhi, in
the eyes of the trade, ranks nowhere near Karisma, for whom some sort of competition, through the year, were only
Kajol and Tabu (both falling in her age-group). Juhi's years in films - she has been there since 1985 - are supposed
to weigh against her.

This, precisely, is the reasoning in rating Madhuri Dixit too. Madhuri is assessed to have lost out to the younger
presence of Karisma in the biggest hit of the year: ``Dil To Pagal Hai''.

In the West, lady stars peak after their first decade in films. Here, on the rollercoaster all- India Hindi screen, they
begin to be eased out after the first ten years, as Sridevi discovered to her cost, her ``Judaai'' not helping her one
bit during 1997.

Truly did Waheeda Rehman have a point when she observed that they spurn you the moment you begin to nurse
the illusion that you are really getting your performing act together.

True, Karisma is asserting herself on the silver screen with her new-found all-round persona. Karisma, today, is
heroine number one on her own mainstream steam. A development one hardly bargained for, as it was to the
basement level Karisma descended when she first hit the screen. But this is a meretricious industry where even
Shah Rukh Khan's standing, for all the versatility of that inventive performer, is determined entirely by his capacity
to rake in the shekels. Shah Rukh did that impressively via ``Dil To Pagal Hai'', ``Pardes'' and ``Yes Boss'', so he
could live down the collapse of ``Koyla''.

Sunny Deol, for his part, was on the fringes by 1996 end. But he now rates tops, all over again, on the strength of
``Ziddi'' and ``Border''. There is a school of thought that places Sunny even ahead of Shah Rukh in 1997. The other
`strongmen' of the Hindi screen, Sunil (``Bhai'') Shetty and Ajay (``Ishq'') Devgan, are still names that sell films, as
violence, allied to sex, still reigns supreme on the screen. But Sunny Deol remains distinctive at a time when even
Sanjay Dutt, by force of circumstances, has all but faded away.

Of course, Aamir Khan, even with only one release, ``Ishq'', during the year, continues to be a different class of
attraction altogether, still encashing the goodwill of having been ``Raja Hindustani''.

Likewise, Anil Kapoor was able to underline his performing bloodlines afresh - after a long spell of bad luck - in
``Virasat'' and ``Deewana Mastana''. Salman Khan might have had only one real hit (``Judwaa'' with Karisma), but
the fact that he has been repeated by Sooraj (Hum Aapke Hain Koun'') Barjatya in his coming film is something that
still works in his box-office favour. Among the top heroes, the one to lose total ground was Akshay Kumar with
non-shows like ``Aflatoon'' and ``Mr. & Mrs. Khiladi''.

Nana Patekar cannot be dubbed a hero in the conventional sense. Yet his pulling power, until recently, was not
less than that of any hero. For all that, one could sense that Nana Patekar was tending to become one- dimensional
on the screen. ``Yeshwant'' and ``Ghulam-e-Musthafa'' saw Nana grow repetitive to a point of no box-office return.
Yet one cannot wish away the fact that Nana is still something of a draw.

There may be a whole crop of stars in a film, but a hit, in the new lexicon of the industry, is now identified through
one hero linked with two heroines or the other way round. In this light, the hit films of the year were Karisma-Shah
Rukh-Madhuri's ``Dil To Pagal Hai'' (giving father Yash Chopra, as a director, a hit to match his son Aditya
Chopra's ``Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge''); Sunny Deol-Pooja Bhatt-Akshaye Khanna's ``Border''; Shah Rukh
Khan-Mahima Chowdhury-Apoorva Agnihotri's ``Pardes''; Karisma-Govinda's ``Hero No. 1''; Karisma-Salmaan
Khan-Rambha's ``Judwaa''; Raveena Tandon-Sunny Deol's ``Ziddi''; Aamir Khan-Juhi Chawla-Ajay Devgan-
Kajol's ``Ishq''; Tabu-Anil Kapoor-Pooja Batra's ``Virasat''; Govinda-Juhi Chawla-Anil Kapoor's ``Deewana
Mastana''; Shah Rukh Khan-Juhi Chawla-Aditya Panscholi's ``Yes Boss''. Also, Kajol-Bobby Deol-Manisha
Koirala's ``Gupt'' and Sonali Bendre-Sunil Shetty's ``Bhai'' did fairly well. The damp squib of the year, of course,
was Amitabh Bachchan as ``Mrityudaata''.

But to so identify the box-office happenings of the year is to lapse into the pitfall of categorisation, the bane of this
industry, where everything and everyone goes by labels.

Thus Rajiv Menon's ``Sapnay'' (presenting Kajol as the dream girl) was an experiment in creative dubbing. That the
film bombed does not make Rajiv Menon anything less of a directorial talent to watch. Just as you do not judge the
technological sweep of director Priyadarshan by the success of ``Virasat'' alone.

But then, in this instant industry, it is not enough if Subhash Ghai gives a hit in ``Pardes''. Any film of his that
earns even a rupee short of his biggest box-office hit makes him less of a force in the reckoning of the industry. J.
P. Dutta, for instance, was a written-off name, until ``Border'' resurrected him as perhaps the most significant
mainstream movie-maker of the year.

By the same token, the failure of Ram Gopal Verma (with Urmila Matondkar) in ``Daud'' cannot alter the fact that
this is one director who has fresh cinematic sights to offer.

But then this is a catchpenny industry that has only `limited- exposure' use for a creative cineperson like Kalpana
Lajmi in the face of the raw courage displayed by this daring director in tackling an `in- between' theme like
``Darmiyaan''. Where is the `parallel' audience for Hindi cinema gone? Where indeed!

Kiron Kher brought a rare empathy to the etching of her testing roles in ``Sardari Begum'' and ``Darmiyaan'' alike.
But if even ``Sardari Begum'' (by Shyam Benegal) is to get any sort of real exposure only on TV; if Sai Paranjpye's
``Saaz'' (whatever its flaws) is to meet a similar viewing fate, where is the scope for attempting anything meaningful
on the Hindi screen?

This is a question the bigwigs of the Hindi film industry should have paused to ask themselves in a year in which
they themselves, for the first time, organised an international film festival.

But then nobody pauses to think in this paparazzi-oriented industry any more. That is why, after all that trauma
that Bollywood went through in 1997, it is peep-show business as usual, already, in 1998.

1998 Kasturi & Sons Ltd

1998 Matrix Information Services Limited. All Rights Reserved. 







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