In 1997 one anthem resonated at every celebration of the fiftieth year of Indian Independence. But what boggled an entire generation of young Indians was how in the name of miracles did their parents know that song? What shocked the young'uns further was that nana-nani knew A.R. Rahman's Vande Mantram too! Those who tried explaining to the generation next about the origins of the song were met with such a blank look that none bothered to set the record straight. Everyone was happy that amidst the confusion at least patriotism wasn't threatened.
Fifteen years later a whole new generation has forgotten who originally wrote that Vande Matram. The song's a classic now if you ask the kids who drove around Vijay Chowk on the eve of 15 August, 1997 and if none of them remember that Mehboob Kotwal penned Rahman's version, can you blame them for not knowing a certain Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay? Welcome to the new definition of classic. Here it's Hum Dono Rangeen, thank you very much! Tune into any radio station on any given day and you'd be treated to Tum Saath Ho Jab Apne from Kaalia (1981) and worse Oye, Oye from Tridev (1989) as blasts from the past. Of course, there isn't a definitive yardstick that can be applied to term something as trash or classic but the manner in which opinions are expressed today makes it all too simplistic. Everything seems to work and there isn't any line that divides the classic from the cult or retro from the oldies.
Unlike today it took Sholay (1975) decades to be become a classic. I remember watching Sholay on the big screen 10 years after its release. In 1985 it had already completed its magnificent non-stop run of 286 weeks at Bombay's Minerva theatre and it was clear that there wouldn't be another one like it. Yet, the only thing I remember people telling me people about Sholay was that it's more fun on the big screen. There weren't any ohhs and aahs that would usually accompany the banter about Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) now. Two decades later when it was re-released in 2004 I caught it again but things were different now. By this time a book had eulogized the film, Amjad Khan and R.D. Burman weren't around and Sholay was now vociferously a 'Classic'. Parents behaved worse than their kids while watching the film and the darkened hall was far from quite with everyone preempting every single syllable.
One of the reasons why the films of 1980s are now considered classics could be that those who were born in that decade would automatically consider anything from their childhood a classic. That sadly makes anything before that antique and in other words outdated. Another reason for this new reverence to the 1980s, one of the worst decades for cinema across the board, is that a whole crop of present day filmmakers like Rohit Shetty, Sajid Khan Farah Khan, are rehashing films from that time. They starting with revising films from the 1970s- two Golmaal installments were inspired by Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar (1973) and Khatta-Meetha (1978), Housefull (2010) was Joru Ka Ghulam (1972) revisited- they have moved on to the 1980s. Their total lack of originality will now result in Bol Bachchan partially being inspired by the moustache fixation of Golmaal (1979) and whitewashing Ajay Devgn into Jeetendra in a Himmatwala remake.
Burgeoning social media opinions infests our world and everyone's more vocal than their neighbor. Almost everything is an instant classic these days and no one wants to waste time before coming out of a Special Edition DVD of last week's release. The abject lack of a singular authoritarian view on the expression 'classic' makes it a very loose term now days. In spite of this conundrum about the right terminology strangely everyone's in agreement over Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983) or Andaz Apna Apna's (1994) 'cult classic' status…I don't mind living with the fact that someone considers Rocky (1981) or Hero (1983) a classic but not at the cost of thinking Guide (1963) is archaic or Naya Daur (1957) was always gaudily colored!
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
From HT Brunch, March 18
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