Monday, March 22, 2010

The Great Indian Masala Movie

Masala movies have been the fodder of the movie going audiences in India since decades, particularly I think since the late 60s and 70s. From the classic noir and literary themes that were explored by the likes of Raj Khosla, Shakti Samanta, Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy in the 1950s, Hindi cinema got increasingly colourful, both literally and metaphorically from the late 1960s onwards. Action, comedy, drama, music, romance: these were all wrapped up into one delectable paapdi chaat dished out to the masses by the truck loads. The 1970s were, I think, the time where the masala movie really reached its peak and made stars out of actors like Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan and so many others. The 1970s are worth remembering in Bollywood for primarily two reasons: the socially relevant serio-comic movies of Hrishkesh Mukherjee and the like and the masala movies of Prakash Mehra, Ramesh Sippy and others. The duo facilitating this explosion of masala movies was Salim-Javed. From their pen emerged some of the most memorable moments of Bollywood. Although parallel cinema saw its birth in the 1970s, it only consolidated its position in the 1980s. The demand for masala movies arose once again in the late 1980s and the 1990s with movies like Tridev, Aankhen, Shola aur Shabnam and several others making a killing at the box office. However, it could not match the success the genre (an oxymoron of sorts for the concept) in the 1970s. Post 2000, Bollywood seems to have shifted for “intelligent cinema” where new, path-breaking stories are finding an audience. Masala movies seem to have completely lost dominance entirely. However, I think that is not a problem of a lack of audience but a problem of lack of good masala movies. It is true that the audiences have gotten a little wiser about bad masala movies and hence, are wary of movies like Chandni Chowk to China, Tashan, Veer and the like. Of course, they do buy into marketing gimmicks making mediocre films like Singh is Kinng and others blockbusters. However, in the last year or two, that seems to have become rarer. Even if these movies do work at the box office, they don’t really enjoy much of a fan following because it is one thing for a whole lot of people to watch your movies and an entirely different thing for them to actually enjoy or remember it. At the same time, there are out and out masala movies that are also blockbusters like Kaminey, Main Hoon Na, Wanted, Om Shanti Om, etc. This makes me think that it is not that the demand for masala movies has gone completely. It’s just that the audience has gotten more and more selective about the movies they go to watch (greatly because movie-watching has become such an expensive affair). But even now, a great masala movie does find its audience, What makes a great masala movie though? According to me, the following are the important ingredients of the masala movie:

The Plot: The masala movies are not often known for very original plots. However, the great masala movies have plots that are mimicked by lesser ones. They are made up of the stuff of epics and must have a good v. evil plotline. Great movies often even play with shades of gray with an anti-hero (Deewaar and Khalnayak). However, more importantly, a great masala movie is one which keeps up with the times and respects its audience. Deewaar was inspired by the real life story of smuggler Haji Mastan. Today, a movie about a dacoit today terrorising a village (Chinagate) doesn’t really work as the idea is so passé. Even a remake of a classic like Don needs a reinvention in terms of the manner in which the story is conceptualised and executed in order to meet success. An outdated plot (worse still, an unbelievable one like Tashan) is the death knell for the movie. Take the concept of reincarnation which was immortalised by Subhash Ghai in the classic Karz. In Om Shanti Om, it got an update as not only a typical reincarnation movie but also a comic yet affectionate look at the film industry as well. Sure, there are rare exceptions. But they are few and far between. Secondly, a good masala movie is one that respects its audience and is well aware of the extent to which they are willing to suspend their beliefs in order to be entertained. That is the difference between a Tashan and a Kaminey. The plot must engage the audience. It must evince a strong reaction from them. Take the final twist in the remake of Don. It ensured that the audience was guessing till the very end, a fact that the audience clearly appreciated.

"Yeh Haat Mujhe De De Thaakur!": Every great masala movies has at least a few great dialogues. Classics like Sholay have too many to count! A solid masala movie is one where the audience hoots, cheers and claps at dialogues, laughs hard at the punchline of the jokes. Great dialogues were a key ingredient in the Salim-Javed brand of screen writing. Take any of their major works: Trishul, Deewaar, Don and others. Each of these has at least some dialogues that are used till today. Without great dialogues, the movie has no punch. In the recent movies, Kaminey and Ishqiya (both masala movies penned by Vishal Bharadwaj) have had some of the most memorable dialogues in recent years.

"Mogambo, Khush Hua.": A great masala movie has a villain that sends a chill down the viewer’s spine. He has to be the stuff of nightmares and certainly one that is not easily forgotten. Gabbar Singh, Mogambo, Dr. Dang are all the great villains of Hindi cinema. They are either over the top and slightly comic like Magoambo or may even be plain and simple vicious like Gabbar Singh or Shakaal. Another trump card is when the villain is a vicious, remorseless woman. When executed well, it can result in a Karz or Gupt. Without an effective villain, you have a movie like Jo Bole So Nihaal where the greatest terrorist in the world is named Romeo and is portrayed by Kamaal Khan. If that doesn’t make you want to stay clear of the theatres, nothing will!

"Phata Poster, Nikla Hero!": Another important ingredient of a great masala movie is a powerful hero. The most common avatar of the hero is, of course the angry young man, of which Amitabh Bachchan is considered to be the most iconic. There are also actors such as Dharmendra, Salman Khan, Shatrughan Sinha, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor who have played such roles. The hero often is a common man rebelling against the system: the corruption, cops, mafia or politicians. He must be able to make you laugh (Amitabh in Amar, Akbar, Anthony), cry and cheer for him against all odds (Amitabh in Deewaar). The audience must be able to relate to the hero in some way or the other. And yet, the character has to take on a larger than life persona to become the hero of the masses. He is the quintessential man.

"Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai?": The music has to be catchy! At least 2-3 numbers must be chartbusters of the time. The masala movies are known for wholesome entertainment. There is action and drama but there is also elaborate song and dance. Without great music, the movies often get too tedious, too tiresome for the audience to really care or bother. As a kid, I remember watching movies like Khalnayak and Rangeela in the theatre and watching the audiences hoot, cheer and even dance to the tunes of the movie. Today, the dancing may not happen, but that sentiment is still important. The audience must be entertained. A great example of this is the work of Subhash Ghai: Hero, Karz, Karma, Ram Lakhan and Khalnayak were all blockbusters and boasted of amazing music. Movies like “Aashiqui” succeeded solely on the strength of their music! Good music is a key ingredient of a great masala movie.

All in all, the audience has to be entertained. And all of the above are essential for providing such entertainment. A classic movie is not only one which is rooted in a particular time, but in doing so, transcends it. Sholay is, without a doubt, the best example of this. Even today, the character of Gabbar Singh scares the hell out of many. Thakur, Jai and Veeru are considered as the heroes of the masala movie.

1 comment:

  1. http://www. this was a nice movie of bachan which was great and aggressive played.