Hindi Films | A Historical Account | Phata Poster Nikla Hero

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blessed with the power to survive a mighty Tsunami, heroes in Indian movies are a privileged lot. It takes a lot of conviction to reverse the order of nature and let one bleed profusely through a nerve wrecking climax of a movie and emerge victorious after beating the shit out of a 100 villainous contrivers. But our heroes do it. And they do it with so much of passion that you at times want to believe that it is possible for a man to survive 5 close range gun shots and then come out raging against the enemies and raze them to dust. The bottomline set for the Indian movie hero is - You hit him, you beat him but you can’t defeat him.

Although all heroes fall under the phylum of an all-conquering breed, there is a major difference between the heroes in Hindi films and their regional counterparts. Hindi film heroes change faces rather quickly to keep pace with the changing times unlike in regional movies where they believe in the power of preservation. Regional movies follow the adage of – “ Once a hero always a hero.” South Indian movie industry, for example, is capable of producing a movie and then its remake 30 years down the line with the same hero in the lead.

Anyways, despite calling myself a movie freak, I find myself severely handicapped while discussing regional cinema. So, rather than being all that judgemental and condescending, I will stay put on the safer bastion of Hindi films and the evolution of heroes there. I will choose actors as my reference point to discuss the era. I could be insanely prejudiced in my views so I expect you people to shed some light through your comments as well:

Ashok Kumar era : The heroes were real people then. They even sang their own songs and didn’t fight a lot. They were epitomes of gentlemen-like behavior and stuck to playing the good guy in what could be called escapist cinema. The World was engulfed in the Great Depression and that reflected in the movies. It is strange but true that in the 1930’s when there was hardly any hullabaloo over ‘female empowerment’, most of the movies were female oriented. Sample these top grossers of the era – Ghar ki Lakshmi, Bombay Ki Mohini, Daku Ki Ladki, Miss 1933, Hunterwali, Kisan Kanya , Bhabhi and the list goes on. Ashok Kumar was the first genuine hero of Hindi movies and with his arrival the scene changed. The movies started to focus more on the hero as the central character and then there was no looking back.

Dilip Kumar era : Dilip Kumar led the trio of Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and himself to emerge as the first super star of Hindi film industry. As the brooding tragedy king, he struck chords with the audience and in the melancholy of the characters he portrayed; he smiled his way to super stardom. The heroes in the 50s-60s remained the gentlemen that they were when it all started and alongside grew another strong class of charatcer called the villain. Villains did exist even earlier on but now they started to get ample screen space. Even though the romantic heroes held sway during this period, movies based on social issues and movies that promoted nationalistic sentiments gained impetus.

Rajesh Khanna era: A very short lived one but important none the less. It marked the arrival of the tantrum throwing superstar whose birthright was to act snooty. Thousands of girls wrote love letters in blood and his popularity achieved enormous proportions before he messed it all up. It was also a time when growing resentment in the youth of the country called for a change in the hero of our movies. The love-dovey roles took a backseat and in came a force that arguably became the biggest superstar that Hindi movie industry ever produced – Amitabh Bachchan.

Amitabh Bachchan era: The angry young man had the backing of two prolific script writers going by the name of Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. They were the heroes behind the scene that created the character of Vijay – the representation of the angry youth in the country. This era saw the rise of big blockbusters that captured the fancy of the nation. It was neither escapist nor socially relevant. The movies of this era can be categorized into the larger than life portrayal of situations. There were bandits like Gabbar who wreaked havoc in Sholay, then there was the super successful and wronged hero of Deewar, Trishul and Shakti. Amitabh’s success was so huge that other stars looked a pale shadow of him. Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Shashi Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor did hold on to the second wrung in the stardom ladder in the 70s and early 80s. This period was however accommodating to the alternative cinema that was made on smaller budgets and gave precedence to stories rather than the scale of production. Amol Palekar and Farookh Sheikh who never fitted the bill of a typical Bollywood Movie hero did manage to create a name for themselves during this time.

Dark Age era: 80s was a lull. Amitabh became wayward and dabbled in politics and there was a vacant spot that needed to be filled. Art house cinema gained prominence but it never got the due through commercial success. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri became the pioneers of this kind of cinema but they didn’t taste monetary success. It was a time when not many dared to dream big. It was a ‘flat’ period or rather a downward slope A third kind of cinema that brought in a lot of talent from South India made merry during this time. The standard however was poor. Jeetendra led the charge with a number of south Indian movie remakes. The oft repeated Juhu beach was replaced with Marina beach that had elaborate sets. 251 dancers shook their booty as the macho hero whose major task by the end of the movie was to avenge the rape of his sister/wife/girl friend sang a Bappi Da tune into the ears of his sweetheart – “Tohfa Tohfa Tohfa..laaya laaya laaya”. The successful heroes of this era looked more like caricatures in their Disco dancer clothes or the embarrassing wigs they donned. There was nothing heroic about them. The only good thing about this period was the rise of Anil Kapoor (the longest serving hero in hindi movies) who was rated as a potent candidate to topple Amitabh from the throne. Amitabh helped in the act by giving movies like Toofan and Jaadugar.

Khan era: Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan ruled the next phase of Bollywood Movies. Shahrukh became the most saleable star due to his popularity abroad. These three catered to different classes of the audience. Salman was a hero of the masses, Aamir was the perfectionist who got the thumbs up from the other section and Shahrukh captured the fancy of the NRI audience. With the dawn of globalization, Hindi movies started to see the light of the day abroad and Shahrukh Khan became one of the most recognizable faces. Each one of them stuck to enthralling their own set of audience until ambition did them in. There was competition in everything – be it in shaping up their bods to incorporate 6/8/10 abs, changing their hair styles to suit the characters they were playing or grabbing lucrative brand endorsements.

With the entry of non-Khan stars such as Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan in the fray, it suddenly seems that there is a war of survival at the top. With media having a field day covering the pot-shots they take at each other, the end of the war is still awaited. I can however say it with a level of assuredness that the public mandate is pretty fractured in this regard. With so much of money in the business, there is room for all of them to exist but there can be no clear cut number 1 now.

In the 80 years of his substantial existence, Bollywood Movie hero has managed to build a mammoth clout. From the days when they were called Bhaands to the present day when they are treated like kings, from the obese looking-mustachioed Pradeep Kumar playing Shah Jahan to the perfectly sculpted Hrithik Roshan playing Akbar, the change has at times been dramatic but many a times for the good. The movie hero is revered and accorded God-like status in our land. The aura surrounding him has been left untouched.

So, the next time you see the bruised and battered and almost dead hero taking the long walk to deliver his monologue in the climax of a movie, remember that it is not about some larger than life portrayal having no bearing on reality. The walk is a ritual and an ode to the HERO who has always won.


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