The Bollywood as We Should Know It

This is the second part of a series exploring the emergence and development of Bollywood. Find a link to the first part here: From the Bombay Film Industry to Bollywood: A Journey

The 1990s heralded a boom for India’s premier entertainment industry. Technological advancements, the likes of Satellite Television and Data Intermediate had come into fruition. According industry status at the turn of the millennium coupled with the Indian government’s neo-liberal economic policy resulted in the rise of Bollywood. At the outset, it must be clarified that ‘Bollywood’ has not been synonymous with the Hindi film industry since days of yore. On the contrary, it is a word coined in the last decade of the 20th century. Bollywood then, had a distinct flavour as the genre of NRI romance narratives. Quintessential Bollywood films include Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) by Sooraj Bharjatya, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengey (1995) by Aditya Chopra, Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997) by Yash Chopra, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) by Karan Johar, Taal (1999) by Subhash Ghai et cetera.

To curate an attractive investment climate at home, the NDA set about stirring a feeling of longing and belonging in the hearts of the diaspora; and a notion of acceptability in the mind of the general public. This it ensured by manipulating cinema as a soft power abroad. The typical Bollywood film became a commentary on the prodigal sons of the country. They were projected as Ideal Indian Citizens or Icons of Indianness. Complete nationalists, the characters, despite their westernized lifestyle, nursed Indian values at heart. Mostly showcasing the best of both worlds (flamboyant lifestyle with moral upbringing), the films hardly ever corresponded to the real situation Indians settled abroad found themselves in. The issues of racial discrimination were glossed over. The journey of characters was not granted screen-time in that they were shown to be already established and financially sound.

In this respect, it must be opined that the distinction between residents and non-residents of India has always been prominent. Post-independence, the latter have always other-ed those have sought to take the Western road. NRI nationalism has occupied a central place in the motifs of Indian cinema. It is owing to this difference in portrayal that Bollywood achieved a new milestone. The NRIs celebrated Bollywood films not because they were made the center of attention. Rather, they were being considered as embodiments of the national ethos (directly juxtaposed to their earlier status of anti–heroes). Simran’s father returning home in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengey is a typical example. No more seen in the murky light of Purab Aur Paschim, the NRIs were glad that Bollywood had taught the residing Indians a valuable lesson: once an Indian, always an Indian!

To say that Bollywood should only be defined thematically in terms of the NRI aspect is purely unfair. Stylistically too, several changes were ushered in. Ashish Rajdhyaksha in Bollywoodization of Indian Cinema (2003) claims that Bollywood had charted out a pattern of specific narratives presented in procedural modes of representation. This all-encompassing genre was the advent of ‘Masala films’. Music numbers, gaudy dance sequences and lavish production sets were the order of the day. The audience’s saga with Bollywood has always been one of family entertainment. Love stories rife with swanky cultural extravaganzas like weddings, were set against the backdrop of privileged, extended and frequently transnational families. The absence of a clear antagonist and complete effacement of working class protagonists (those in 70s) was underscored by critics.

Communicatively, structural bilingualism took over. The principal languages employed were English and Hindi. The practice of using Urdu alphabets in posters was done away with. The concept a Set Designer was revamped to fit the new job role of a Production Designer. In terms of the camera, cinematography aimed at spectacle and designer mise-en-scene(the arrangement of the scenery, props, etc. on the set of a film) became prevalent. One cannot help but ponder on the influence of the advertising realm which remarkably transformed the composition we witnessed on screen. Advertising aficionados like Homi Adjania and Sujoy Ghosh consciously set about transforming what we looked at and the way we looked at it. Roja, in a first, partially began the usage of designer mise-en-scene.

There was a strong emphasis on spectacle: individual frames assumed importance along with the coherent whole of reel time. Grand settings and ostentatious costumes were normalized to tweak the visual quotient. This phenomenon can be seen in Devdas specially. In 2005, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengey supplanted Sholay as the longest consecutively running Hindi movie, famously breaking all records. The former cemented its place in the study of Indian Cinema as a critical text of Diasporic Nationalism. Despite its academic credentials, the film still cuts across all generations when it comes to enjoyment and entertainment.

The Bollywood as we know it today is motley of diverse narratives each falling in its own genre, digressing from its initial identity with each passing day. Perhaps it is not Bollywood any more, but a new period for the Bombay film industry– one of individual amusement rather than familial entertainment.

Picture Courtesy- Yash Raj Films

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