Bollywood news abounds on TV channels and chat shows and Bollywoodians easily outnumber the films actually being made and shown. But where is that cosy, crazy old sense of self-identification that once glued young fans to actors on the big screen? What has destroyed that warm relationship? Only part of it is due to the ‘crazy figure’ fee being collected by stars, and some of it with the astoundingly changed dimensions of film-making techniques. Fact is, earlier filmstars, even in period costumes, used to be like the good-looking young man or woman living down the lane from us, who could make heads turn as they walked down the road. Even then, the Sanjeev Kumars and Jaya Bhaduris were not quite ‘us’, but they were close enough, and we expected them to represent us on the silver screen — if not our college or town, our species with all its vulnerabilities.
This illusion has waned of late. Stars have begun to come in, not from the cold, but from catwalks and biz schools from India and overseas, even from Hollywood and Lahore’s Lollywood. They have perfect figures, no bad hair days; they do not chew paan and zarda, the height of women now averages at 5’ 6” and above, and last but not the least, they all speak English with a fake Brit or amriki accent and wear Prada, Versace or Dior. There are still the B-grade movies where thunder thighs and pendulous buttocks wrapped in, or peeking from, sequined China silks, tantalise amid themes of horror and sleaze, but mainstream is no longer what it used to be.
The major stars of yore, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, Nutan and Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Rajkumar too did well, but film journals revealed that their take-home salaries were only marginally higher than what a prosperous doctor or tea estate-wallah earned in those days. So, they were ‘us’, if we were doing well. We could even fantasise that had we chosen to take a timely crack at what they are doing, we might soon be in the same league. That dream of I-know-what-you-mean kind of intimacy, even if just a fantasy, is gone. Maybe it was always just a dream, but as one of the Hemingway characters said, “Wasn’t it pretty to think so?”
A certain human vulnerability to food, liquor, laziness or plain crankiness of demeanour is no longer part of our movie scene. Take a look at John Abraham or Abhishek, Sushmita or Aishwarya. Wow! we exclaim in awe. As for human perfection, Hrithik Roshan flies over the traffic in Malaysia, while Shah Rukh indulges in a bathtub, hairless among rose petals. They seem to belong to another species altogether, don’t they?
The loss hurts. No wonder the anchors who do those Filmy Khabar things before the 8 p.m. news, look so angry most of the time. Their programmes ogle at the lavish bungalows and luxury apartments and overflowing designer wardrobes of the stars, nearly always being redone or extended. But the fantasy world decor, life-size statues and swimming pools we see are not what the real fans are after.
They are yearning to know what’s so-and-so really like? What they hear is that so-and-so’s live-in relationship is reported to be cracking up, so-and-so is about to be hauled behind bars for possession of drugs or for shooting animals illegally or hitting pedestrians while driving under the influence of alcohol or bashing up a girl friend’s new boyfriend, so on and so forth. But what the fans would rather hear is that he is a great guy, she is a great lady — that they love and hate their families like all other human beings, that they too are human and vulnerable. In other words, in love and in anger, in sickness and in health, they are exactly like us.
This lost sense of wry palship came crowding back to mind on a Sunday afternoon, as one watched the innocent ‘Kaneez’ Madhubala take a peek at Zill-e-Ilahi’s handsome son, curious and coy at the same time. Despite the fact that they are both dressed in voluminous folds of traditional Moghul costumes that hid most curves and made quick-paced tangoing aka ‘item numbers’ impossible, there was still plenty of Shekhoo and Kaneez to shriek over. There they were on the screen, exuding the lusty joy of forbidden intimacy without even touching each other, and challenging boldly the beetle brows of the old man, so familiar to mofussil teenagers all over India — even today.
Great show Mehboob! And lagey raho Shekhoo Bhai!
Mrinal Pande is Editor, Hindustan