Thursday, March 12, 2009

The the-80s-were-good-for-cinema post

Talking about films - or any art form - can be a draining exercise. I am often overcome with a sense of futility mid-way through such conversations, because you just cannot get the other person to see. For instance, that eternally raging debate about poetry and 'access'. Or that completely abhorrent debate about whether Shakespeare was a plagiarist, and whether there is any such thing as an original idea. Or whether violence in films has a negative impact on society.

I usually just shut up and smile politely when someone picks up one of these fatiguing threads in conversation. But the other day, I got into a bit of a discussion that took off from poetry and modern mediocrities, and ended with an allusion to our 80s cinema. To that era of Hindi cinema that is described as 'the dark ages'.

I didn't like that. It suggests that Hindi cinema during that decade had stooped to lows that it had not seen before, and has not seen since.

I'm not sure I agree. When I was growing up, all I saw was Indian cinema - mostly Hindi, but thanks to Doordarshan, some other languages too (Sound of Music, which I was subjected to six times at least, does not count). But having been only a small child in the 80s, with very few tools of analysis, or indeed any real judgment, I am no longer sure whether my memories of that cinema are true.

So before I said anything further on the subject, I decided to go do a little research. (And having stayed up till 5 am to do this post shows just how strongly I feel about this subject).

What exactly was the 80s cinema?

Was it all about loud, regressive, violent, formula films (another post on this term, another day) where heroines were being raped all the time, and then committing suicide, and where the villians were evil beyond measure and the heroes were from amongst the great unwashed and looked it? Where things were black and white too often, and all characters were unidimensional? Where the song and dance routine was increasingly looking like an aerobics class crossed with, with, I don't know, genetically modified moonwalkers? Where Bharat natyam costumes were being mated with bikinis, and sarees with minis?

Maybe some of it was. But a lot of it wasn't. In the year 1980, we had movies like Aakrosh, Khubsoorat, Karz, Sparsh, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai and other widely acknowledged brilliant films which I have not seen. There were others which weren't bad at all (in my opinion), such as Kala Pani, Shaan, The Burning Train.

In 1981, there was Laawaris, Ek Duje Ke Liye, Love Story, Umarao Jaan, Zamane ko Dikhaana Hai, Kaalia, Dhuaan, Naram Garam, which I liked. And 36 Chowringhee Lane, Chashm-e-Baddoor, and Silsila.

In 1982, there was Angoor, Arth, Bazaar, Gopichand Jasoos, Namak Halal, Namkeen, Bemisaal, Nikaah, Prem Rog, Satte pe Satta and Shakti, many of which I've watched multiple times. (Besides, IMDB tells me there were also titles like Bachche Teen Aur Daaku Chhe, which I must make an attempt to acquire, some day).

In 1983, there were films like Himmatwala and others in that genre, which I didn't care for. All the awful stereotypes apply. But, but, but!

But there was Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron! The year 1983 gave us this awesome film and there's been nothing like it since. And there was the equally awesome Ardhya Satya and Mandi. Other films that I am content to like included Betaab, Disco Dancer, Kalaakaar, Naastik, Sadma (wherein I am told, I howled the movie theatre down, repeating "But mummy, why did she leave?").

The year 1984 gave us Saaransh, Mashaal, Utsav and (though I have not yet seen it, I have heard so much about it that I'm going to put it down as a positive) Mohan Joshi Haazir ho! It also gave us Tohfa (which I'm not a fan of), but that's in the Himmatwala category.

From the 1985 list, I liked Meri Jung, Aitbaar, Jhooti, Khamosh, Pyari Behena, Saheb. (And as a matter of principle, I must try and watch Aurat Per Ki Jooti Nahin Hai). Though I don't remember these too well, I think I didn't mind Aakhir Kyon, Bhavani Junction, Ghulami, Pyaar Jhukta Nahin, Mohabbat, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, and actually, even Bhaago Bhoot Aaya. Not great, but I could live with them.

In 1986, I liked Anubhav, Chameli ki Shaadi, Ek Chadar Maili Si, Naam. There was also Jaanbaaz, Nagina (so sue me. I liked it) and Aakhri Raasta, which I will include on my list of likes simply because of its unashamed self-spoofing in the song "Gori ka Saajan".

The lyrics go something like: Yaad karo tum filmon mein/kya kya scene dikhaate hain/ Leyt ke baatein karte hain/ daud ke gaana gaate hain/ Main peechhe bhaaga/ tu aage daudi/ Lo ji shuru ho gayi love story..." and all the while, the hero and heroine are happily running, lying down, singing. Matching-matching action to word. I love it.

In 1987, there was Mr India, Ijaazat, Kaash, Ye Woh Manzil To Nahin. I vaguely recall having liked Pyaar Ki Jeet and Mohre too.

In 1988, there was Tezaab, QSQT, Hero Hiralal, Malaamaal, Main Zinda Hoon, Pestonjee, Rihaee, Salaam Bombay!, and a film which most of us have not seen but I have heard so many wonderful things - usually in the realm of hyperbole - from those who have seen it that I will include it in this 'the 80s gave us good cinema' list - Om-dar-ba-dar.

There was also Zakhmi Aurat, about which I will do a whole post some day, because it was an important film, even a life-altering one. And there was also a rather sweet children's short film called Angootha Chhaap, which I might never have seen except for the fact that Doordarshan once decided to show two shorter films instead of the regular Sunday evening movie. All these years later, that film is still there in my head!

These I didn't think were so bad: Dayavan, Pyaar Ka Mandir (the title song is still stuck in my head), Hatya, Khoon Bhari Maang.

In 1989, there was Chaalbaaz and Chandni, Maine Pyaar Kiya and Daddy, Parinda and Prem Pratigya, Raakh and Ram Lakhan and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro - all interesting for very different reasons. And there was also Nigahen (shut up! okay?) and Tridev.

So these were the 80s for me as a film-lover. It is true that I suffered through Loha, and Paap Ko Jalaa ke Raakh Kar Doonga, and Mardon Wali Baat, and a hundred variations on 'khoon' 'insaaf' 'insaan' and 'suhaag'. But so what?

I also suffered through Bal Brahmachari (introducing Puru Rajkumar), in the nineties, and that was the first film I actually walked out of. Since the multiplexes came in, I have become picky about what I watch on the big screen, but I'm sure there are several films made in this decade that you wouldn't wish upon your friends.

Can you think of more than five or six decent-to-good films made in a single year, in this decade? If this is our average count now, and that was the case in the 1980s too, what's the difference?

Somebody is bound to pipe up now with the 'Oh, but you are counting parallel cinema' argument. I don't buy that argument. Hindi cinema is Hindi cinema. You cannot cut films like Arth or Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron out of the '80s Bollywood frame. No more than you would cut Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi out of this decade. The point is not big names or big money. Even now, the biggest names and the biggest money is associated with sub-standard movie-making. Even now, the really different films, the experimental films - a sort of parallel cinematic movement, if you like - are made on smaller budgets, and fresh talent.

So what, then, makes us so tolerant of 'now', while dismissing the 80s as the dark age of Hindi cinema? Is it just that we are tolerant of anything that is ours - our children, our cultures, our cinematic eras, ourselves? And if that is not the case, then please, explain.


Anonymous said...

Maybe because there weren't as many films being made in the 80s, it was easier to remember the bad ones than it is now - when there's several new releases practically every week.
Also I bet the 80's would actually prove to be a better decade for cinema if you take into account the ratio of good films to bad films.

But maybe the films that were bad in the 80's were so spectacularly bad (honestly can't name them - but maybe Mithun's movies?) that they are etched in our memories as films that are so bad that they're good. (you know the kind of movie you can watch with a bunch of friends & laugh over every scene?!)

Your list, however, surprised me and I have to agree with you that the 80s weren't as bad as we perceive it to be.

Gamesmaster G9 said...

You're being disingenuous here, and I don't know if its on purpose.

By listing 5 good films every year, you cannot counter the statement that most of the 200-ish Bollywood films made in each of those years were quite terrible.

Furthermore - you cannot in fact count JBDY or Ardh Satya, because they are not Bollywood films. Not all Hindi movies are Bollywood.

So, yes the 80's were terrible for Bollywood, for precisely the reasons you yourself list at the beginning of the post.

Unknown said...

Yes, that was my question exactly. A list of the good films is not a complete list.
What about the 100 odd trashy films being made in those days.

And there is a difference between parallel & mainstream cinema, just like there is a difference in the film-making approaches of Nagesh Kukunoor & Vikram Bhatt.


Rachna said...

I love love love some of the films you have listed- I pretty much grew up on these too. Meri Jung was a real favorite..
and as for Mr. India- I have seen the movie 19 times (and counting). I actually saw it again a few months ago as I got an unbearable hanking to see it! (and to educate the spouse, who had not seen the masterpiece- what blasphemy ;)

Not to mention MPK- which I call my coming of age movie (not literally, but I was in class 7th then- on the threshold of growing up and crushes and angst..)
And Chaalbaaz- I have seen that movie about 6 times too. I loved Sridevi's lipsticks in the movie.

You've brought back tooooo many memories...

Banno said...

You have worked hard. I hadn't forgotten any of those films, but had no sense of when I actually saw them. Yes, that was the 80s.

Of course, nothing much has changed, a few good films, and tons of bad ones.

One didn't mind even the bad ones then because you weren't paying 150 to 200 rupees per ticket and 60 rupees for popcorn.

Going to the movies was cheap and fun.

Anonymous said...

Agree with u, agree with u. That said, however, I've gone back to a lot of these films in recent years and was appalled to see how bad they were- nastik, lawaris,naam, saheb, pyari behna etc.
But who knows, I might be saying the same thing about the films that I've liked this decade.
I think the biggest problem with Hindi cinema is that it dates too quickly.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed by the amount of research you've done. I don't quite agree with your argument: When some people talk about the 80's being the dark ages of Hindi films, they are mostly not referring to the parallel cinema movement.

But arguments aside, your post brought all those memories alive for me. I've grown up on these films and it was such fun remembering them!

I was so moved at the end of Sadma that I just couldn't stop crying even after the lights came on. Very embarrassing.

We must watch a film together sometime. Btw, it's still possible to watch a film in Chandan, Juhu, for about fifty rupees each. :-)

With love,
Raju urf Rajashree :-)

??! said...

As somebody mentions, it's perhaps the ratio of bad films to good films that sticks in the mind. Also, the bad were atrocious, whereas now they're just...bleh.

I think the real reason is that we remember the clothes of that decade. And the hairstyles. And worse, that we copied them.

Dhimant Parekh said...

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, for me, is the epitome of Indian cinema and, I daresay, shall remain so for decades to come. It is absolutely brilliant and a magnificent work of art. You made a good point about 80s cinema not being bad by actually listing out the good movies. Most of us just go for a 'general feeling' of things not being that great in the 80s and when asked to list out the details, end up with a change of thought.

Square Peg said...

This post brings back such memories! You missed out on Katha, Shaukeen, Kisise Na Kehna, Farooq Shaikh and Utpal Dutt were such a staple at the time. Then there was Mandi, I'm guessing you might have seen/liked that one.

Good times.

Winsant Dot Com said...

Cinema or any form of art is subjective....

What is good for someone may be bad for another person.

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