Bollywood in the 21st Century: Is It Really How It Started Out As?

This is the third part of a series exploring the emergence and development of Bollywood. Find a link to the second part here: The Bollywood as We Should Know It

Bollywood, a fairly new chapter of Hindi cinema in Bombay, was a distinct genre as obtained in the 90s. The masala-esque story lines of this decade depicted NRIs not outside the purview of mainstream India, but integrated inside it. What scholars call the post-Bollywood period in the study of Indian narrative texts was brought about by major technological and experimental changes at the threshold of the millennium.

Bollywood’s comparatively better state of industrial growth was marked by a gradual evolution with its unorthodox films. Dil Chahta Hai (2003) for instance focused on the coinciding timelines of three young men, each with their individual lives. Aamir Khan’s tryst with Preity Zinta in the film is hardly as important as the idea of free love it advocates. Loving a woman beyond one’s years was considered taboo but Dil Chahta Hai in a bold move, struck right at the heart of such preconceived notions. Moreover, it transformed the way a disco was perceived among Indian audiences with the song ‘Koi kahe kehta rahe’. Fiza, on the other hand, traced the nuance of love among siblings, wherein a righteous sister pulls out her estranged brother turned terrorist from the clutches of wrongdoing. Very interestingly, at a time when the entirety Bollywood fandom pined to watch Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai opposite each other as love interests, Josh portrayed them as siblings. The shoot locale’s shift to a completely Indian tourist destination (Goa) from the praxis foreign walkways was a welcome a relief– a breather of sorts. Numerous films palatable with the emerging tastes of ticket-buyers were launched: No Smoking, Kabul Express, A Wednesday, Rang De Basanti, Honeymoon Travels, Dhobi Ghat, Khosla Ka Ghosla. Many of these films produced by UTV left an indelible imprint in terms of the original ideas they proffered. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is one such film which did away with the protagonist’s spearheading of a patriotic cause. Instead, it chose to explore complex yet practical human relationships.

Films post 2000s no longer adhered to narrative requirements of NRIs. Multifarious overtures were made across myriad genres. Koi Mil Gaya brought forth science fiction. Realist films like NH10 and Finding Fanny delved into matter of fact progressions. The importance of music as a panacea to the ailments of the soul was touched upon by the Rock On franchise. Films today have become considerably shorter in length i.e, more economic in terms of run time. The reduction in music and dance is manifested by the mellowing down of the masala nature. The enigma and glamour of larger-than-life stars is no longer as binding on these genre specific productions.

The viewing culture had slowly begun to spread into newer spheres. Export markets found prosperity in the Middle East and China. Brand endorsements began to make their way into film revenue. Multiplexes started snowballing in 2007. Expanding tremendously and providing stiff competition to existing cinemas, these multiple-screen halls followed the idea of ‘dynamic’ and ‘differential’ pricing based on demand. A large segment of the enormous establishment and exhibition costs was covered by food and drinks sold at the venue. On screen and off screen advertisements only lightened the burden on the exchequer. It is regarding this specific targeting of the financially affluent and energetic youth that Tejasvini Gandhi writes, “Multiplexes ‘gentrified’ the movie going culture.” At this crucial juncture of Indian cinema, foreign investment came in by the millions. Relaxed rules of FDI by the government meant that movie production behemoths such as Universal Studios, Walt Disney Company and FOX Motion Pictures could enter the realm of Indian reel life.

It was almost as if the once dead studio system had been resurrected from the dead. Studios (like Yashraj) were made into both vertically and horizontally integrated enterprises. Not only have they become both distributors and producers, but they also specialize in VFX, music videos and other forms of entertainment. Colour correction was a landmark achieved in terms of editing. Slowly and steadily, shooting was introduced to the digital format. In 2010, showcasing in celluloid was shifted to the digital mode of showcasing. From these shifts, one can infer that Bollywood is no more what it started out as. To even label the films we see today as Bollywood might be a thematic and stylistic anomaly.

The major boost handed to it in the 21st century has aided in the proliferation of parallel cinema– less populist with own niche audience bases. Bollywood, as an industry today, is not just a film industry. It is a culture industry, mirroring an aspiration for growth and change while holding steadfast to certain conservative elements. It can be rightly said that we have grown up with Bollywood, but Bollywood has grown with each one of us too.

Picture Credits- http://www.santabanta.com/photos/rock-on/1385000.htm

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