Forget Gangs of Wasseypur I or II or even the remake of Agneepath (2012) and let's not talk about the new tiger on the block. The box-office record breaking skills of Salman Ek Tha Tiger Khan notwithstanding the one action flick that I really want to see would feature Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt doing a desi take of The Expendables series. There, I have said it and I'm not ashamed for imagining Bollywood's class of the 1980s doing in the present what they did back in the day.
Unhealthy or otherwise even after a quarter of a century Yash Chopra still imagines Shahrukh Khan as his ideal guitar-wielding-song-on-his-lips kind of bloke for his new romance. Somewhere someone should think of con-calling Rajiv Rai of Tridev (1989) and Vishwatma (1992) fame along with Shroff, Deol and Dutt juniors and the perpetual other Kapoor to come together for a logic defying no holds bared kind of old-fashioned Hindi action film. The only thing that threatens to spoil this party is the fact that when the A-League's already doing something like this then why the hell would anyone bother with a bunch of has-beens? The so-called New Bollywood is nothing more than the classic Bollywood rehashed with cuter, fresher faces. It's not just the remakes or rehashes that suggest this but the success of films like Ghajini (2008) and Dabangg (2010), a throwback to yesteryears, cements that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Two decades ago almost every commercial Hindi film had a parallel comedy track that did precious nothing for the plot. This sub-plot featured the likes of Kader Khan, Asrani, Aruna Irani Shakti Kapoor, and Jagdeep amongst others and their job was to ensure that ticket-paying audiences got enough time for a cigarette or untimely bathroom break. Every once in a while they got a song or two to hold the fort longer and sometimes they even got titular roles a la Baap Numbari, Beta Dus Numbari (1990). This motely crew made space for Johnny Lever who singlehandedly managed to pack in the same fun. Lever got to hang around heroes in key scenes and was rewarded with glorified supporting roles like his Gaffur Bhai in Deewana Mastana (1997).
Comedians have become heroes in the past and heroes never shied away from comedy but things changed when the hero decided to play the bad guy. Amitabh Bachchan had played the annoyed lover in Parwana (1971) but when Shahrukh went ruthless with Baazigar (1993) and Darr (1993) the stock of the villain went through the roof. Now heroes needed something more than the old-fashioned villain; they needed a hero to play the villain. With the comedy track and the typical villain done away with the character parts were the only decent thing left for a non-hero. This is the space where an Amrish Puri with films like Gardish (1993), Drohkaal (1994), Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), Ghatak (1996) and Virasat (1997) went home a happier actor than a Dharmendra. And this too passed when 2000 Amitabh Bachchan took over a role in Mohabaatein that was written for Amrish Puri.
Look at the films that feature big stars today and you'd know that unlike the 1960s or the 1970s these films are only about the top-billed actor. There is hardly anything for the heroine to do in films like Dabangg or Ra.One (2011). Similarly in a world where you could get two big box-office draws like Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar together for a film then why would anyone put their money on a character driven tale with actors way past their sell-by dates. For a brief period Bachchan enjoyed that status but now even he is cast in a package. It'd be impossible for the trade to imagine a Hindi remake of Aaranya Kaandam (2011) with Jackie Shroff playing the same role that he had in the Tamil original. And what's sadder is that even though Shroff put in one of the bravest performances ever seen in Indian cinema, it won't tilt the scales. Actors have been known to push their dream projects like Sylvester Stallone did when he wrote Rocky for himself and now, I really want to see Deol, Shroff and Anil Kapoor get together and raise some old time dust. It shouldn't be that difficult…I mean look at them; they still walk around thinking like it's the 1980s. Where's a camera when you need one!
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)
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