When Bollywood spurns genres?

Non-conventional films like Rang De Basanti and Being Cyrus are being appreciated now. Nobody seems to be interested in the typical boy-meets-girl tale, analyses Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2006 19:57 IST

The fact that Bollywood is evolving as an industry is now well beyond doubt. If there have been any lingering doubts, they have centred primarily on the ability of the average Mumbai filmmaker to rise above the formula and tell stories that spring from the heart – not from their collection of foreign DVDs.

The scepticism has, however, begun to melt away somewhat in recent years for two reasons. One, non-genre cinema has taken roots in a big way in Mumbai. Two, average filmmakers have been pushed to the background by cinematic craftsmen endowed with the gift of conjuring up the unusual.

I am not suggesting that Bollywood has shed all its ills overnight. A whole phalanx of established and not-so-established filmmakers is still cannibalising ideas from the West and plots from past Hindi hits. However, there is a growing feeling among a section of Mumbai filmmakers that originality of treatment, if not substance, is a goal worth pursuing.

Last year, Bollywood delivered films like Black, Page 3, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Iqbal, which were difficult to categorise. This year, we have already been treated to non-conforming entertainers like Rang De Basanti and Being Cyrus. So, are conventional boy meets girl yarns and macho man takes on a bunch of goons sagas dead and gone for good?

Non-conventional films like Rang De Basanti and Being Cyrus are being appreciated now. Nobody seems to be interested in the typical boy-meets-girl tale.

Well, that might be too much to expect, but the changes are slowly and steadily making themselves felt in the way even mainstream directors are approaching the craft of filmmaking. Today, a love story can afford to go beyond the confines of a love story and an action flick can pack in much more than the genre would have allowed a few years ago.

So Kunal Kohli, who made his reputation with the disappointingly nebulous Hum Tum, is now ready with a film that promises to push the limits of the cinematic love story to new frontiers – the Aamir Khan-Kajol starrer Fanaa. A blind Kashmiri girl and a philandering, garrulous tour guide are unlikely soulmates, but when they do develop a bonding, it leads to a situation where life and death hang in the balance. A love story shot through with existentialism?

So Rakesh Roshan, when he plans a sequel to the successful Koi… Mil Gaya, can dare to dream really big by rustling up a fantasy action film that is rooted more in the world of comic-strip heroes than in that of the conventional Bollywood Lothario, who breaks into song and dance at the slightest pretext.

Even when a comedy marches into town and captures the imagination of moviegoers, it does so without the help of box office stars. Priyadarshan’s Malamaal Weekly, probably not the greatest comedy you will ever see, is commendable on at least one score: it defies the Bollywood star system with all its might. The stars of Malamaal Weekly are Paresh Rawal, Om Puri and Rajpal Yadav – clear proof that you do not need a megastar to sell a film.

Genres, stars, formulaic narrative constructs have been millstones around Bollywood’s neck for decades. They haven’t been discarded outright – they probably will never be – but their weight has certainly diminished. Bollywood is better posed than it has ever been to take flight into uncharted heights.

First Published: Apr 13, 2006 19:42 IST