The irrational, hypocritical world of Bollywood
The irony of the Mumbai film industry is that the term Bollywood has finally been legitimised by finding a place in the dictionary, but considering all that goes on here shouldn't we be calling it 'Follywood' instead?
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
The legitimisation of the term Bollywood has silenced all those who cried themselves hoarse against the "derogatory" name, and that includes the mighty Amitabh Bachchan.
But if we can live with being called by a derogatory name that mimics Hollywood, then why not call ourselves Follywood? A lot of what happens in Hindi cinema for the sake of the lolly is, after all, sheer folly.
Casting couch, hypocrisy and a star system with overarching influence, it is all happening here.
The casting couch is no myth. It truly exists, though its relevance and sheer power have been magnified beyond all decency. A lot of starlets fall onto the 'couch' and get signed repeatedly by one producer or the other.
On the sets of the new production by India's most powerful movie producing factory, the in-house leading lady openly throws her weight around. She tries to intimidate her co-star though he's the scion of the country's most powerful star. She instructs him on how to do his scene and rebukes him loudly for not getting his dance steps right.
"I'm an actor not a dancer," the affable actor smiles back. "Then you've no business being an actor," she shoots back at the heir-apparent of a super dynasty while the super powerful producer-director listens quietly. The casting couch is at work again.
And it doesn't spare male aspirants either.
"I haven't come across the casting couch," says Nakul Vaid. "But then I'm sitting at home in spite of 'Ab Tak Chappan'."
Vaid made a huge impact as the idealistic wide-eyed cop in Ram Gopal Varma's film. Why is he out of work?
"Search me!" he replies, as he steps out to search for work.
It's another day, another dream... Bollywood is filled with two kinds of people, the dreamers and the dream-busters. That's why when two films of such glaringly contrasting qualities as "Dev" and "Girlfriend" are released on the same day, we sit up and notice once again of the democratic graph of Indian cinema.
From communal conflict to alternate sexuality, wow! No wonder India is regarded as a paradise for all kinds of impulse, from the perverse to the sublime.
But when "Girlfriend" gets a better opening than "Dev", then the very foundation of aesthetics in our country gets shaken.
Though the film industry is outwardly a portrait of communal harmony (Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan, Aamir and Reena Khan...oops, the latter couple is no longer together). But, at heart everyone's allegiance is suspect.
"See how Shah Rukh Khan works only with people of his own community?" an embittered young director whispers conspiratorially. He has been trying to contact Shah Rukh through a friend's friend who's a relative of the star's secretary.
The most ironical aspect of the film business today is the intrinsically hypocritical attitude to the star system. Though everyone swears by newcomers to go with the new ideas, very few filmmakers actually have the guts to go out and sign them.
Ad filmmaker Ken Ghosh did. He signed Shahid Kapur for his directorial debut "Ishq Vishq". The film made young Shahid the hottest kid on the block. But wait, Ghosh is now on to his second film "Fida" where he has again signed Shahid and dropped the leading lady Amrita Rao for the sizzling Kareena Kapoor.
"She's what the script required," Ghosh asserts piously.
Oh sure! But catch Ms Rao sulking about lost opportunities! No, no. She's got her own story to tell. After "Ishq Vishq", she played minor roles in "Masti" and "Main Hoon Na". And Rao is now being regarded as the lucky mascot of the industry.
"After all, three hits in two years is no joke," an eager-eyed filmmaker tells me. And never mind if these films would've clicked regardless of Rao. She has no dates to spare until the end of next year.
It's a mad irrational world out there.
The prestigious Rajshri banner's latest fluff stuff "Uuf ...Kya Jaadoo Mohabbat Hai" bombed badly. But its camera-friendly leading man Sammir Dattani is flooded with offers. "Some good, some bad. But they all see me as another Shahid Kapur, which I don't want to be," Sammir smiles shyly. Another Shahid? But I thought Shahid was another Shah Rukh???
Well brought-up focussed, genial and surprisingly talented, Sammir is an atypical candidate for stardom. A south Mumbai boy, his parents see two films a year. "And they've already completed half their quota this year," jokes Sammir about his flop debut.
So is it myth and no more that only children from within the industry are getting offers? Not quite. For every Sammir slowly and steadily finding his way, there're five Tusshar Kapoors who get roles regularly in the debatable belief that star-kids have stardom in their genes.
But whether Jeetendra's Jumping Jack image is genetically transferable still remains to be confirmed.
In the meanwhile, there's a Mallika Sherawat with the lucky 'M' in her name and a hit film "Murder" to her credit. The darling of the press before her blockbuster, shocking the world with her quotes ("I live like a nun. I sleep alone. I'm a virgin"), Mallika changed from Ms Outrageous to Greta Garbo on the day her film released.
Yes, she's unavailable to the press.
Mallika represents the most distorted and subverted face of stardom in Bollywood. Here everything that's titillating gets noticed. The cheesecake is cheesy, even mildewed, but the shock value attached to a self-styled rebel never fails to click.
A Sanjay Suri or an Anuj Sawhney (both gifted actors from Delhi trying to keep afloat in Bollywood) get sidelined because they're not titillating audiences through lurid love tales. Suri lost Deepa Mehta's latest film to the wooden beefcake John Abraham who 'thinks' in the English language and can't speak Hindi properly. And yet he's a busy Hindi film star with eight-nine prestigious films on hand!
Will wonders ever cease in Bollywood?
"They keep talking about wanting something different. But when something different and yet aesthetic comes along, the cynics trash the product," says Govind Nihalani, not too pleased with the way some critics have ripped his "Dev".
Like it or not, Karan Razdan and "Girlfriend" made the distributors happier than Govind Nihalani and "Dev".
Mr Bachchan has competition. Will Isha Koppiker please stand up?