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  Books   10 Dec 2017  A glamorous, readable history of Bollywood

A glamorous, readable history of Bollywood

Published : Dec 10, 2017, 1:04 am IST
Updated : Dec 10, 2017, 1:04 am IST

The only cavil I have is its flashy cover, which does not convey the actual, very well-researched and written content!

Bollywood: The Films! The Songs! The Stars! by DK, Penguin Random House, Rs 1,299.
 Bollywood: The Films! The Songs! The Stars! by DK, Penguin Random House, Rs 1,299.

Bollywood” is the name by which the popular Hindi cinema produced primarily in Mumbai, is known. Why “Bollywood”? Because in those days Mumbai was Bombay — otherwise would it have been named “Mollywood”?

The name was never popular with the film people — the stars, the directors, the writers in then Bombay. In his foreword to this glamorous and yet very informative book on the most widely-seen cinema of India, Amitabh Bachchan has written: “I abhor the title of this book…” But then, this is the appellation that has become accepted for the popular Hindi cinema centred principally in Mumbai.

A number of books have emerged in recent years on this cinema, its actors and actresses, its directors, its musicians, its writers. But where those books tell the stories of individuals and the films they were associated with, this book tells it in an entirely different, very glamorous, and at the same time, informative style. The structure is quite unique because the multiple authors/editors of the book, have taken one film, one actor, one director, sometimes an era — “The Age of Big Money” — sometimes a topic such as “Pioneering Studios”, or at a time, written a single page or at the most two pages, but illustrated it lavishly so both the characters and the era emerge in a unique manner. For certain films, or the people written about, the period and the characters come alive through quite stunning images.

The main subject is first the actor or actress/the director/the writer or the film, and occasionally the era or the topic such as “The Great Indian Wedding” or “The Emergence of the Small Town”, “The Reign of Kitsch” or even “Angry Young Men”. One of the most interesting is the short text on “Heroine Reinvented” with a riveting photograph of Rani Mukherji in Mardaani. Compared with one of the first pieces on “Heroines in Times of Taboo” about the role women played in the beginning of cinema, it shows how radically the Hindi cinema got transformed over the decades.

There is very informative material on the rise, the decline and the flowering of Indian cinema or, specifically in this book, the Hindi cinema. The ’80s which saw a decline in the films being made principally because of the arrival of not only television but of the Video Home System, or VHS. Financially hit by this technology, “producers began making films for ‘front-benchers’ — men who wanted cheaper tickets — that led to films aimed at titillation and simplistic themes.” It resulted in a transformation of the popular cinema in theme, subject, style, acting, and, of course, subject matter. And, as it says in the book, this low period saw Bollywood stars taking up mediocre roles — from Amitabh Bachchan to Dharmendra, to Hema Malini and in fact, all others. Cinema saw a sharp decline for a few years when “kitschy Hindi films made by producers and directors of Telugu and Tamil cinema were also a definitive feature of this decade” with, as the book says, “lurid sets, crass lyrics and dances which are seen today as humorous reference points in popular culture”. Many interesting examples are given of this period of the ’80s when, it is agreed, the films made were the “worst in the industry’s history”. This generalisation is supported by specific examples of when “masala became the norm”.

Fortunately this did not last more than a decade after which “refreshing music, family sagas” and a new crop of romantic heroes reiterated traditional Indian values, reaching out to newer and wider audiences in India and abroad. The ’90s saw the emergence of the three great Khans — Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir — and a rise, rise, rise of Indian cinema not only in India but outside the country as well. Amitabh Bachchan has remained at the top but with very talented new actors, actresses, writers and the emergence of daring young filmmakers with producers to support them Indian cinema took a new turn. Courageous young actresses also took centrestage. It was a whole new world, which is extremely well brought out in this eminently readable book.

Obviously a huge amount of research and film viewing has gone into this book.

The only cavil I have is its flashy cover, which does not convey the actual, very well-researched and written content!

Tags: bollywood, book review