Up to the ’90s, when we went for a Hindi movie, we always knew what we’d see. That’s because films were made to a formula, so naturally they were a mass of clichés. Then the formula died. And for a while, we hadn’t the faintest idea what any filmmaker might choose to show us on screen. Well, that’s changed yet again. As any avid movie-goer has noticed over these last 20 years, films are filled with clichés again. But these are clichés for the new century. Recognise any?
1. Anywhere but here!
Bollywood wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to being patriotic. But that doesn’t mean its characters actually live in India. In the olden days, heroes and heroines stepped from the studio in Andheri straight into the Alps for a song and came back when it was done. Now, in many cases, only five minutes of most films are shot in India. This is not because filmmakers aim to break the world record for having the most visas, but because it’s easier to blow up subways (
) and cordon off parts of a crowded city (
Kal Ho Naa Ho
), without having to get the thousands of permits required here. Also, since Yash Chopra was practically a one-man tourist bureau for Switzerland, other countries want similar services, leading to Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif dancing in front of the pyramids in
Singh is Kinng
and Kareena Kapoor dancing with Akshay and Saif in Tashan, somewhere in Greece. Where next? Outer Mongolia?
2. Mera bhasha hai Angrezi (aur Spanish, kabhi kabhi)
They’re called Hindi movies, but you don’t hear much Hindi in them. Bollywood has switched to English faster than you can say, "Yeh kya ho raha hai?" never mind if this means that the movie can’t be understood by the majority of local viewers. But who wants local viewers anyway? A movie in which characters greet each other with ‘Hey dude’ is certain to do well in international markets because that’s where Hindi movies do best (and people buy tickets in foreign currency and the rate of exchange works for us). Plus there are other markets, so let’s consult a Spanish dictionary, make Kites, and pretend Indian viewers don’t exist at all.
3. Gaon, gaon, gone
Gone are the days when we could refer to a Hindi film heroine as a gaon ki gori. Actually, these days, she’s even gori-er thanks to all those skin-whitening creams, but chances are the only gaon she’s heard of is Goregaon because that’s where Film City is located. That’s because today’s heroes and heroines all live in cities, speak in English and travel abroad (yes, they are competing for the world record for most visas on passport). Only a few films are set in villages.
4. Get your fashion catalogue here
We all know of the Bollywood costume designer. Then entered the stylist who shopped for the star’s clothes and put together a look. That shopping was done in London, Milan, Paris, New York (and possibly Outer Mongolia). In the beginning, the stylist bought high street brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, etc.. But now nothing less than designer wear will do. So before Kambakht Ishq released, we heard how Kareena Kapoor had worn 53 pairs of shoes in the movie, all from Jimmy Choo (or was it Manolo Blahnik? Christian Louboutin?) And in Aisha, Sonam Kapoor wears only international designer brands.
5. Bring on the bod 1
Now that heroines look more like sticks than like women, the hero has rushed to the rescue by showing off the curves that have always been part of the reason that Hindi films attract an audience. And no portion of the male anatomy has more curves than the six-pack (kind of like a roller coaster). Shah Rukh Khan started it with Om Shanti Om, going bare-chested in the Dard-e-disco song. And by now, any hero, any film, and there has to be the abs-baring scene – in a song-dance sequence, on the beach, at a pool, anywhere. No one should be surprised if the hero takes off his shirt to show his abs while making tea in the kitchen (well, it does get hot in there, so he may as well).
6. Bring on the bod 2
Meanwhile, the girls are queueing up to show their stick-like bodies in itsy bitsy bikinis. From Bipasha in Dhoom:2 to Minissha Lamba in Kidnap to Amrita Arora in Kambakht Ishq, the girls slave for weeks, living on orange juice and a lettuce leaf per day, and spending 15 hours a day in the gym to emerge without an ounce of extra flesh on their bodies. Mostly the bikini scenes are on a beach/at a pool. In Blue, Lara Dutta spent more time in the sea in bikinis than she spent on land, where she was also in bikinis (somebody, give that girl some clothes).
7. Mera title hai Angrezi
Since few people make Hindi films in Hindi, it doesn’t make sense to have the titles in Hindi. Naturally then, we must exhort Sid to Wake Up and make romantic comedies called I Hate Luv Storys about people who hate romance (they also hate to spell). Agreed, a film called, say, London Sapne wouldn’t have the same ishtyle as one called London Dreams, but some indication about the origin of these films wouldn’t hurt.
9. A whiter shade of pale
Wannabe actresses don’t just flock to Mumbai from all corners of India. Now they flock to Mumbai from all corners of the globe. (We don’t know why since our filmmakers are anywhere in the world but Mumbai, though maybe these wannabe heroines are also in the race for the most visa stamps in the world?). They’re besotted with Bollywood. They learn Hindi (again, we don’t know why since Hindi films are made in English), and some of them even act Indian – like Giselli Monteiro who played a Punjabi girl in Love Aaj Kal. In addition, girls from countries like Kyrgistan who come to India looking for work gravitate to Mumbai, where they instantly gyrate as backup dancers.
10. And the award for marketing goes to...
Marketing is as important for a movie today as direction. One day the marketing chap may get a higher billing than the producer. Aamir Khan is the king of marketing (soon he’ll be asked to lecture at IIM Ahmedabad). For Ghajini he gave people Ghajini haircuts. For 3 Idiots, he dashed all over the country in disguise, wearing strange clothes and a wig (or was it strange clothes and fake teeth?) Why? Because his character Rancho vanishes and the film is about Rancho’s friends looking for him. Even if other actors are not so inventive, they must at least land up at shopping malls (so that later they can tell the press that lakhs of people turned up to look at them), tweet about the film and so on.
Woh kya hota hai?
Films don’t flop, they are ‘critically appreciated’ or else their ‘international collections’ were good (of course they were good. Look at the rates of exchange these days). When Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s
got stinging reviews, his PR machinery deluged the press with stories about how critics abroad had loved his film. When
bombed here, the film’s PR machinery put out stories saying that the film had done very well abroad. Since no one knows how to verify these claims, they keep getting made.
12. First day, no show
Where was the premiere of Raavan? London. Why? (a) Because it sounds more glamorous than saying the premiere was in Mumbai? (b) Because the film is almost in English anyway? (c) Because another filmmaker has 10 more visa stamps in his passport and this filmmaker had to catch up? We suspect it’s all of the above.
13. You funny, me funny in exactly the same way
When you can’t think of any funny scenes to do, what do you do? Think of funny scenes other people have done, do them, and tah dah! You’ve got a spoof. Om Shanti Om spoofed Manoj Kumar’s characteristic ‘Deep Thought’ pose (fingers splayed across lowered face), South Indian movies (“Rowdy rascal! Mind it!”) and Shah Rukh Khan’s own movies. Hero-heroine running towards each other from either side of the screen in slo-mo – that has been spoofed umpteen times. As has Amitabh Bachchan’s dance style. And Dev Anand’s head-nodding. And now Aamir has spoofed himself in Peepli Live’s trailers.
14. Idiot box antics
First of all, TV is brimming with reality shows looking for singers, dancers, actors, models, plumbers (okay, maybe not plumbers). Then, every star with a film coming up will drop in on the sets of any one of these reality shows and subtly (but mostly not very subtly) promote his or her own film. (We think actors spend more time promoting films than shooting for them.) And since Amitabh Bachchan did KBC, SRK, Akshay Kumar, Shilpa Shetty, Salman Khan, even Omi Vaidya, have all hosted TV shows. That’s because TV promises movie stars phenomenal reach (and phenomenal money).
15. Where’s that medical encyclopedia?
Everyone must have an ailment – and nothing ordinary like cancer. If Hollywood does Rain Man, Forrest Gump and Benjamin Button, Bollywood must follow. Taare Zameen Par had a dyslexic child (and now anyone who can’t spell, including possibly the people behind I Hate Luv Storys, claims to have been dyslexic), Amitabh Bachchan had progeria in Paa. And SRK had Asperger’s Syndrome (hain?) in My Name is Khan.
16. And... action!
Akshay Kumar always did his own stunts (really), but now everyone, whether it’s Hrithik Roshan or Priyanka Chopra, wants to jump off 12-storey high buildings. And they all make sure they tell the media of injuries, close brushes with death, etc. Sometimes though… they say they’ve done their own stunts and the real McCoy (some poor stuntman) stands up and meekly says “I did it.” And then there’s deafening silence from the star.
17. Secret songs
As a viewer you are mystified. You hear songs of a particular film. You like them. You go to see the film. The songs are not there. In fact there are precious few songs at all. (One usually turns up right at the end when the credits are rolling, but that’s no good to you because you have already galloped down the stairs and stampeded out of the door pushing and shoving everyone else, because who wants to be the last person in the theatre?) So you feel cheated. Our directors are shying away from songs on-screen as if they’re a contagious disease. But since they need songs for all their stage shows and award ceremonies and for revenue from audio CDs and as a means of popularising the film, they can’t give up songs totally. So here’s what to do. Buy the CD. Wait for the film to show on TV. Play the CD as you watch it.
18. My dad’s cooler than me
This we love. Dads like Jayant Kriplani in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na offering his daughter’s boyfriend a glass of wine, Ratna Pathak Shah (in the same film, playing Imran Khan’s mother) wearing trousers and not whining about gajar ka halwa… what a change! In Kidnap, Imran Khan’s mom, played by Minissha Lamba, wears stylish dresses and in Jab We Met, Shahid Kapur’s mother (played by Divya Seth) even has an extra-marital affair!
19. Lips incorporated
In the olden days, flowers nodded at each other, but no one kissed. Then Emraan Hashmi got bold, and next thing we knew the film pages in newspapers were filled with breathless headlines about the fact that there was kissing in some film, then about the number of kisses in some film, finally about the length of the kisses in some film (no wonder the headlines were breathless). By now everyone’s kissing so much, headlines will only be made if there’s a film without a kiss.
20. Naam ke vaaste
In an industry that’s relegating songs to CDs, it’s strange that so many film titles are actually the names of songs. Think Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Bachna Ae Haseeno, Koi Mil Gaya… And if filmmakers can’t think of song titles, they go for a cussword (think Kambakht Ishq). Oh, the shame of asking your father: “Pitaji, aap Kaminey dekhenge?” (Especially if some noise drowns out the last word.)