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25 Bollywood cliches we miss

While we’re the first to admit that we love it that Bollywood has finally discovered the importance of storylines, scripts and realism (of a sort), a little bit of us still yearns for the good old days pre-Nineties, when the words ‘Hindi movies’ were synonymous with the words ‘high drama’.

entertainment Updated: Jul 14, 2010 19:11 IST
Parul Khanna
Parul Khanna
Hindustan Times

From Archives of


for 5th Anniversary Special

While we’re the first to admit that we love it that Bollywood has finally discovered the importance of storylines, scripts and realism (of a sort), a little bit of us still yearns for the good old days pre-Nineties, when the words ‘Hindi movies’ were synonymous with the words ‘high drama’. True, till the late Eighties, Hindi films tended to be nothing but a mass of clichés. But the fact is, those clichés existed because we loved them. Those days, it didn’t matter if the first day, first show flick we battled to get tickets for bore more than a striking resemblance to last week’s first day, first show flick. Even when the hero, heroine, villain, evil henchmen, mother, mother-inlaw and mandatory funny person of this week’s film said and did exactly the same things as the characters of last week’s film, we felt for them. We settled into our char-anna seats and cheered them, booed them, wept with them, laughed with them and put our faith in God for them.

Which is why, roughly twenty years after the last wail of the heroine, a simple village belle, as she ran after the train that took her hero, the simple village boy, from his gaon to the big, bad sheher, we at Brunch have just two words to say about Hindi movies of yore: “Mat jao!”

Join us as we remember, with the greatest affection, 25 of Bollywood’s biggest clichés. (And also make a few suggestions for those filmmakers of today who are anxious to clamber on to the retro bandwagon.)

Bollywood cliches1. Are you there, God?

It’s me, the hero back when psychologists, ‘life coaches’ and ‘3 am friends’ did not exist, who else could the characters in Hindi movies go to with their problems but God? And unlike psychologists, ‘life coaches’ and ‘3 am friends’, God not only listened, but worked miracles. The moment the idol emitted a ray of light, we knew all would be well. The blind person would get his /her eyesight back, the sick person would get well, and all would be right with the world.

2. Villain of the piece
Almost always dressed in a peculiar outfit, the villain was the most technology-friendly person in a Hindi movie. His den (he always had a den) was a miracle of gadgetry. Doors would slide open and shut on their own, and, should the villain need to eliminate anyone, he just had to press a button and the room would fill with poisonous gas. Often he had a pet crocodile or shark that could be fed with a couple of his victims. Contemporary twist: Since villains today must be cool, he can be an IT person-cum-wildlife enthusiast. Sick of staying up all night writing software for constantly-complaining foreign clients, he dashes off into the jungles, kidnaps foreign people who make rude remarks about Indians in the BPO services, and feeds them to tigers. This way, he saves the cattle of innocent villagers from being eaten.

3. Sonic boom
Before Bollywood became sophisticated, you could watch a Hindi film even if you were blindfolded. The sound effects alone would tell you who was doing what to whom and how. For instance, you never needed to watch a fight sequence to know that someone was being beaten to a pulp. You heard “Dishum, dishuuuuum”. And if you heard “Kuttey! Main tera khoon pi jaoonga!” you even knew Dharmendra was responsible for all the blood.

4. Dialogue baazi
Unlike the movies of today, characters in the Hindi films of old did not do anything as boring as talk. Instead, they had ‘dialogues’ composed of finelycrafted statements. Which gave us a variety of oneliners in every film, many of which we use today. Isn’t it lovely, for instance, to be able to fix the boss who’s threatening to fire you with a level gaze, and say: “Hum gareeb zaroor hain, lekin hamari bhi izzat hai”? Don’t you, the boss, wish you could show your true colours with a “Mogambo khush hua” when your junior finally delivers his report? Contemporary twist: Old-time dialogues can still be used. For instance, now that most of us live away from home, we are always able to say “Maa” in the heartfelt tones that heroes usually reserved for their mothers. And while it is unlikely that our mothers will be threatened by villains and have therefore to spit “Yeh badle ki aag ab tere khoon se hi bujhegi, kamine. Aur yeh badla mera beta lega”, chances are that Maa – who is one tough chick – will accompany us to our offices, fix our bosses with an unyielding eye and snarl: “Agar ma ka doodh piya hai to samne aa.” Which will give us all the more reason to announce: “Mere paas maa hai”.

5. Brother, where art thou?
We don’t know why heroes treated their parents with so much reverence in the old days. Because a lot of them were remarkably careless, often losing one child or the other at the hospital, a mela or during a storm /earthquake / railway accident. Sometimes even under a statue, as in Amar Akbar Anthony. So we had a variety of misplaced siblings:

Twins separated at birth (Ram Aur Shyam, Seeta Aur Geeta), princes separated at birth (Dharam Veer), mislaid brothers (Yaadon Ki Baraat, Waqt, Geraftar, Johnny Mera Naam) etc. Fortunately, the parents always gave their mislaid children some means of identification for the future: a two-rupee note torn in two, each twin getting one half; or twin tattoos, one on each child, or half a locket each or even a song, as in Yaadon Ki Baraat. This, presumably, was because the parents knew that the instant the grown-up children met, they would have homicide on their minds thanks to years of suppressed sibling rivalry. Fratricide could be avoided on production and comparison of the torn note / broken locket / tattoo / line of song. Contemporary twist: Since parents these days are not as careless as parents of old – or at least, are able to track their children by their mobile phones – the mislaid siblings plot makes no sense. However, filmmakers can make movies featuring mad scientists who clone people, not sheep, and thus give us Seeta Aur Geeta 2007.

6. Insaaf ka tarazu
When Bollywood’s cops of the Seventies bellowed statements like “Apne aap ko kanoon ke haawale kar do”, could we get away without a court scene in practically every film? No way. To begin with, no courtroom was ever free of random bystanders who had nothing better to do than watch trials of people they knew nothing about. Of course, there was no daytime TV then, so presumably these people found the courtrooms the best entertainment option. And let’s face it, these courtrooms were entertaining, what with lawyers leaping off their chairs as though someone had set bombs off beneath them, yelling “Objection milord”; the many figures of Justice, scales in her hand, keeping a stern (if blindfolded) eye on the proceedings; and, if the judge pronounced a death sentence, the breaking of the nib of his pen. The death sentence of course was very important. “Taze rate Hind, dafaa 302 ke tahit, mulzim ko sazaye maut milti hai, to be hanged until death!” the judge would announce. And if the hero, who had been wrongly accused, was freed (“baaizzat bari kiya jaata hai”), there would be a big family reunion in the court itself after the pronouncement. Contemporary twist: Given the excitement that court cases create these days, the courtroom scene can be shifted outside with thousands of people sending SMSes in favour of or against the accused.

7. The in-law turned outlaw
The female version of the villain was never the vamp. Oh no. It was the truly evil mother-in-law, best played by Lalita Pawar. One look from her and even the toughest bahu collapsed in a heap. Constantly scheming against the bahu – though no one had a clue why – the wicked mother-in-law was always humbled at the end, and begged for forgiveness: “Mujhe maaf kar do beti”. Even more baffling than the mother-in-law’s nastiness (which seemed to stem from nothing more than the fact that she was a mother-in-law) was the bahu’s ability to actually forgive her. Truly astounding. Contemporary twist: As television serials mostly beginning with the letter K have appropriated the evil saas character, today’s filmmakers should ideally create an evil modern mother – one who, as she runs a business empire, plots the takeover of the world, not her daughter’s jewellery.

8. Land ho!
While technology (and crocodile) loving villains inhabited the bigger cities, in the villages the villain was the thakur or zamindar who, together with his lathi-wielding henchmen, roamed the countryside in open jeeps, extorted money from poor farmers, and raped every woman he laid his eyes on. Contemporary twist: Unnecessary. Scenes like this in today’s movies would be lauded as realistic.

9. Daakugiri
Typically dressed in dhotis and kurtas with bullet belts strapped to their chests, long tilaks on their foreheads and with horses for transport, daakus mainly inhabited ravines and passed their time looting villages and kidnapping women. What they

10. Robe of honour
What was the best way to show how powerful and authoritative a wealthy man could be? Put him in a dressing gown of course – a rich affair of brocade – plant him on the sweeping staircase of his manor (sometimes accessorised with a heavy cutglass tumbler of Scotch and a large cigar), and have him ban his daughter from marrying the poor (but proud) young man she’d managed to find under some stone. If the daughter tossed her head and threw Daddy’s words back in his face, Daddy then summoned the poor (but proud) young man and said: “Yeh lo pachchaas hazaar rupaih aur meri beti ko bhool jao.” To which the poor (but as was now proved, proud) young man replied: “Aap mujhe khareedna chahte hain? Mera pyaar bikau nahin hai!”

11. Gang of girls
In the Sixties, heroines always went for picnics with a gaggle of their sahelis on bicycles, singing all the way. The sahelis, of course, were never as goodlooking as the heroine. Surrounded by a gang of his own friends (also on bicycles), the hero always followed the girls, leading to much of what was called chheda-chhedi.

12. The Village Belle
Just as every film in the days of yore had its hero, heroine, villain, mother and mandatory funny person (the mandatory funny person, by the way, was usually quite stout), it also had its village belle. Invariably dressed in a short ghagra with a really tiny choli, she usually wandered around the village at will, saucily chewing on a ganna. The village belle, often played by Asha Parekh and Mala Sinha, was pert but chaste and innocent. The village thakur or lecherous moneylender usually lusted after her. But her heart was always set on the “sheheri babu / pardesi” (city boy). He too was in love with her, but would have to go back to the city. “Mera intezaar karna,” he would say, and she would wait, but as fate would have it, the pardesi babu would never return, leaving the village belle with a broken heart.

13. Tie a yellow ribbon
If it weren’t for his sister, we’d never have known how much the hero loved his family. No matter what the hero got up to – and sometimes, even though he was the hero, he did some pretty rebellious things – we knew his values were intact because he never forgot Rakshabandhan and his promise to protect his sister. This meant, however, that whenever the hero and villain found themselves in conflict, the hero’s sister was in grave danger. In fact, pretty often, as in Jigar, she’d be raped. did with the valuables they stole no one knows. Let’s face it, a ravine is not a good place to go shopping. However, as Sunil Dutt said in Mujhe Jeene Do, “Tu bhi daaku, main bhi daaku. Mujhe kanoon nahin chhodega, main tujhe nahin chhodoonga.”

14. Music for the savage breast
It’s a classic scene – the hero’s (or hero’s friend’s) birthday party and the heroine, torn between two lovers. One lover would vent his emotions by spreading his fingers lavishly over the keys of a handy grand piano, the other would stand in a corner, face halfhidden by shadows, brooding. And if the lover at the piano truly loved the heroine but was willing to give her up for his friend, he’d sing a happy song. Contemporary twist: The lover at the piano could sing a weepy song on a talent search reality show, win crores, and make a career in film music.

15. Ramu Kaka
Whether the hero’s family was rich or poor, the old family retainer (who always wore a gamcha over his shoulders) called Ramu Kaka was always there. Ramu Kaka never had much to say beyond “Beta, dhudh pi lo.” But everyone loved him nonetheless.

16. Power without glory
“Bhagwan ke liye chhod mujhe! Kuttey, kameeney!” We heard those words more often than we like to remember in movies where villains, simply to prove they were men of power, tried to rape every woman in sight. “Itni acchi cheez ko bhagwan ke liye chhod doon?” was the rapist’s almost invariable reply. The women in these scenes were often sisters of heroes used as pawns in the hero-villain conflict, but sometimes heroines as well. The rape victim was usually dressed in a saree and her pallu, blouse and pleats would be ripped off in that order.

17. Doctor, Doctor
Typically, he was soberly dressed in a black coat and carried a small black bag that contained myste-rious medical things. Sometimes, he wore his stethoscope around his neck. His three most famous dialogues were “Inko davaa ki nahin, dua ki zaroorat hai”, “Davaa de di hai, ab inhe araam ki zaroorat hai” and “Injection de diya hai, thodi der mein hosh aa jayega.” However, the doctor dialogue we miss most of all is the one that referred to his fee: “Iski kya zaroorat hai?” We would welcome that line back with open arms.

18. Kiss from a rose
I In the olden days, no one had sex. So the only thing our hero and heroine could do after they’d whispered sweet nothings into each other’s ears was contemplate Nature. As a gentle breeze wafted over the meadow in which our hero and heroine cooed, two roses swayed towards each other. Contemporary twist: Since it has been acknowledged now that people have sex, it seems pointless to replace Emraan Hashmi with flowers. But filmmakers can reintroduce the flower motif from an environmental point of view.

19. Kiss from a rose - II
Since no one had sex, we have no explanation for the elaborate arrangements that were always made for suhaag raat: A bed strewn with flowers, the heavily bejewelled bride under a ghunghat, the groom in a sherwani and a photograph of a child with a finger on its lips (shhhh!) on the wall. But the scene as we saw it (though we never saw much of it because the bedside lamp always went off in about 20 seconds) went this way: Once the groom had lifted the bride’s ghunghat, tilted her chin up and looked into her eyes, the flowers on the bed swayed towards each other as the bride and groom lay down and read an improving book (which explains the photograph of the child with a finger on its lips – this room was actually a library).

20. Ek raat ki bhool
Though sex did not exist in Hindi movies, there was the occasional illegitimate child who was always conceived on a dark and stormy night. Our hero and heroine’s car breaks down in a storm and they find shelter in a daak bungalow in the middle of nowhere. The daak bungalow is minus chowkidaar but stocked with vast amounts of firewood which our hero uses to lay a fire. As our heroine ducks behind a screen to wrap herself in a handy sheet, our hero, having taken off his shirt, catches tantalising glimpses of her. The flames in the fireplace soar higher. Since no one told them about safe sex, this one night of passion leads to a baby – something that is discovered, when our heroine throws up one morning, by an old aunt who announces: “Yeh maa banne wali hai”. Contemporary twist: As our hero and heroine make their way to a secluded cabin in the mountains, filmmakers will show them stopping at a chemist’s shop to buy condoms. Simple.

21. The woman in white
Long before the Ramsay brothers made ghouls with distorted faces famous, the only kind of phantom we knew was the woman (often, she had been raped and had committed suicide) who draped herself in a white saree and, candle or lamp in hand, wandered around abandoned havelis with a completely blank expression on her face. Long, loose hair was a must. Bees Saal Baad (what a coincidence! That’s our headline), Woh Kaun Thi and Mahal are good examples.

22. Die hard
What with last minute instructions, advice and emotional blackmail, a dying person in a Hindi movie seldom took less than 20 minutes to actually pop it. Lying feebly on the bed with barely enough breath to stay alive, the dying person would extract several aakhri khwaishs and aakhri wadas from his or her suffering relatives who agreed just to get it over with. And then the dying person would collapse. A piercing “Nahin!” would follow and a nurse (if the person died in a hospital), would cover the dead person’s face with a sheet. Contemporary twist: The deathbed speech can be video-taped and uploaded on You Tube where thousands of people all over the world can see it, hear it and vote on its power.

23. Jailhouse rock central
Jail exists only in Bollywood. But we’ve seen it so often in movies like Sholay, Guide and Aradhana that we recognise it instantly. Usually, the people who emerged from the small door cut into the massive gate of Central Jail had been wrongly jailed. Sometimes the newly released person was met by his or her entire family, but more often, if the released person was the hero, he’d walk out with his jacket hooked lightly over his shoulder, and light a cigarette.

24. Beastly tales
Where other people struggled to deal with the trials and tribulations of our hero or heroine’s lives, their pets – who frequently understood and empathised with their masters’ emotions, sometimes to the extent of bursting into tears – were very clear about one thing: They would do what they could to save their masters, no matter what the cost. So when Poonam Dhillon’s character in Noorie was raped and committed suicide, it wasn’t just the hero who avenged her, but her pet dog. When Dhillon’s character in Teri Meherbaniyan was raped, once again it was a dog, this time assisted by a snake, that brought the villains to book. In Haathi Meri Saathi, the elephant not only improved the hero, Rajesh Khanna’s life, but also died saving his master’s child; and in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Tuffy, the Pomeranian, is the cupid who gets Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit together. But the most famous animal in Hindi movies is Dhanno from Sholay. Not only did the horse give Basanti company, but it also did its best to save her from Gabbar’s men.

25. The end
With these words on the screen, the director told us loud and clear that the story had ended and it was time for the audience to go home. This story, too, has ended. Carry on to the rest of Brunch.

From Archives of Brunch for 5th Anniversary Special

First Published: Jul 13, 2010 17:00 IST