The Undoing of Bollywood
Should the good-looking Mafia be told to pack its bags?
More than a month ago, it was Raj Kundra sitting in the corridors of the Mumbai Police quarters. Been almost a few weeks after, and it's the Badshah’s son sitting for questioning in the NCB (Narcotics Control Bureau) alleys. While it was adult content (yeah, we feel the need to replace ‘porn’ with nicer words even while writing about it.. double standards you say?), the junior Khan had charas/cocaine/MDMA/MD (gosh, how many are there in this world?) hidden around his camera lens and women’s sanitary napkins on a party ship to Goa.
Don’t know about the ‘families’ and ‘friends’ of these ‘icons’ but the media, for sure was having a field day..uh. We mean weeks of unending excitement. Chasing expensive cars at signals and reporting glistening tears beneath unaffordable Dior’s — for weeks together — they’re in heaven!!
A year ago, during the peak of the first wave, the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide opened Pandora’s box of vices and sins that hid in plain sight under the façade of Bollywood glory. Ah, the need to tread on the dark side so you remain famous and unforgettable in your fan’s eyes — that craving could make you do anything! Or so, they cried to the voyeuristic media that kept asking the same question — Aakhir Aisa kyu Hua?
An answer like this suddenly gave these stars in the sky an earthly feel — one which even the neighbourhood Tiktoker could relate to and empathise with.
But scratch beneath the surface and rewind your clocks a bit. Remember how, for countless weeks, everybody used and abused the case study and hashtag of a dead man (still talking only about SSR) and his alleged murderous gal-pal for their own advantage and publicity? Yeah, they did that. And no, innocent people don’t do that!
One could argue that Sushant’s mysterious death brought out the worst of Bollywood and its peripherals. But who was to know that THIS was just the beginning of the mask coming off. Take away their PR power and ability to shine on the silver screen for a year and their mirage will begin to melt away- horridly so. The Guccis and Louis Vuittons didn’t look that glam as they strutted away alternatingly to the police station and then to the Maldives and then back to the police station throughout Covid.
As the display of empathy around the need to stay famous and fabulous began to get older and over-abused, the depression and anxiety rants were brought out to tug at our hearts — full Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham-ishtyle!
A certain Ms Padukone even tried to wash off her ‘weed’y sins first by pinning the blame on her poor talent manager — who they claimed was carrying and smoking the banned substances close to her Madam, while our innocent little Padmavati continued to sip on her lemon juice. What's surprising is.. they think we believe this crap they dish out to us…instance after instance.
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But this piece we are writing is not to add to the endless rants about how bigda hua Bollywood has become and where the ‘nice guys’ of the yesteryears have gone. It is about our growing levels of bewilderment — do we really need to put up with this?
When we speak about the state of affairs in Bollywood, we tend to draw conclusions that this degeneration has happened over a recent couple of years. That the ‘older’ generation was nowhere misplaced or overly entitled.
But the truth remains, Bollywood’s issues have transcended generations. Are you forgetting the unexplained deaths of Divya Bharti and Parveen Babi? Or are you not choosing to remember the bad-boy exploits of the Raj Kapoor era? Salman Khan trampling a few sleeping pavement-dwellers is definitely still fresh in our minds. And ofcourse, who can forget the Munnabhai (aka Sanjay Dutt) being allegedly involved in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts that killed over 257 people and injured hundreds more?
The scandals and affairs are only just making headlines because there are more forms of media available to cover it and the PR teams have now become digitally savvy — as opposed to the brown bag-toting secretary uncle or the umbrella-seeking baby ki mummy who decided which story will suit the current set of slander. So much so, there is also conjecture that these stories are not just used, but also planted cleverly around a star launch or a movie promotion to bring the attention back of the OTT-bound audiences.
Imagine having your kid arrested by the police capturing headlines all over while your movie career is flagging and is in need of a booster shot — textbook PR, they call this nowadays. The audiences who had almost forgotten you exist, now suddenly is empathising with you as a father who has been let down by his own progeny.
Tch tch tch.. ye ‘crisis of access’ and ye ‘lack of good parenting’. ‘We need to give our kids more time’, professed a well-known columnist. Awww, so relatable, no?
We often wonder if this is also a method of transitioning from Hero-roles to Daddy-roles — this is a quantum leap for many actors, mind you.. go dig up Amitabh Bachchan files to understand this.
But much as if you may, we thought a wake-up call must be made to you, dear Bollywood. Your antics are not working. As an audience — we have now realized that there is a world outside the cineplex. Especially after the pandemic washed the stardust out of the eyes of us newly experimental Indian audiences and gave us options of the OTT and the video streaming services. The content was amazing and the loyalty, near-zero. The viewer had become the king .. again.
If she doesn’t like a particular actor — switch!
If he doesn’t like the way the plot is panning out — switch!
If she is not sure she wants to watch the entire movie all at once — switch!
Doesn’t like the actor, thinks the plot is too shallow, there is too much blood and gore, there is an unnecessary song and dance routine — switch, switch, switch! No one to stop the flicker of the remote.
Democracy has finally come to one’s fingertips. So why should the viewer now compromise on his/her time and money — show them the good content, they’ll stay. Mess up one episode — they leave like the guy after a one-night stand! And worshipping the stars is now passe — why would someone wait for a glimpse of a movie star when they themselves can just upload one preeny-pouty picture and garner 100 likes a minute.
They are their own Katrina Kaifs and Ranbir Kapoors! No one cares what colour skirt or underpants you wore to the pub last night — oh well yeah, the old-fashioned paps do maybe. ‘Cos they’re the only ones that are chasing you (and even, Rakhi Sawant) for a funny/drunken/impromptu byte. Your ‘fans’ are gone!
But why blame it on OTT alone? We acknowledge that as viewers we were seeking options even before we knew we had them.
A Badhaai ho doing better than a Thugs of Hindostan and severe fatigue setting in by the time the 5th Golmaal came in were proof that our hope was now hanging by a thread for an entire industry.
Stories were non-existent, actors were star kids or nepo-favoured wannabes, songs were rehashes of our all-time favourites, music had more noise than tune... Bollywood literally was pushing us to a wall by simply refusing to evolve with the times.
Nikkar wali chhori ne ye vodka chadha rakhi hai, ek khatam na ho ri iss se doosri mangwa rakhi hai…were the lyrics of the songs we were trying hard to gulp down.
But to their defense, they did try to pretend for sure. A movie about four women who curse all the time while trying to get to a best friend’s wedding (a la Carrie Bradshaw style) was their effort to pander to performative feminism without ever really exploring the core. Who has the time, right? Put in a few f***cks and a couple of bh******ds and there… the audience will erupt in thunderous applause of your new-age woman bravado.
If someone’s messed up years of your efforts to bring sanity to your movement, dear feminists — you know whose collar to catch.
We have now come to a point where two questions beg to be asked:
One, will the industry ever wake up from its siesta to acknowledge the systemic issues that threaten its audience and its future?
And Two, even if they do, are we ever coming back to them with the same gusto that we did until a couple of years ago, despite being fed up of their antics?
In 2021, at a time when people are forced to confront their realities, their privilege and their discriminatory beliefs, Bollywood remains under the impression that it is above the law and scrutiny. What should have been an escape for the mass is now the reality the mass has to escape from. You don’t want your kid listening to what your iconic Shilpa Shetty’s husband is going to jail for or why your beloved Shah Rukh Khan’s son is all over the news. You don’t even want to venture near the much-discussed reasons why Sushant died.
Innovation is done and out. Experimentation is restricted to sequels of older successes. A member of the LGBTQ community is a weak-limbed, overly sexual being who loves to wear pink pants. A strong woman is a foul-mouthed loud b**ch who will do anything for her career. We crave the occasional good story to watch or the surprisingly original tune hummed by the less dramatic singers.
And we are not overly happy with the OTT. Sensible content sure but sometimes too real to watch after a hard day at work. And there are just those times when we crave going to the movies with our family toting a bag of popcorn, wondering if our dads will laugh his week’s woes away or our moms will let out the not-so-ladylike guffaw. Light-hearted entertainment is still missed. And we do miss our icons whose posters we hung on our bedroom walls and whose dresses we tried to copy for our own little Bollywood event called Shaadi.
A time like this makes us wonder. Will Bollywood — the now-in-your-face land of drugs, murders, porn and nepotism ever come back to its old glory? Or shall we just move on letting them die their slow deaths in jail or Maldives, the heck we care.
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