Take a Bow, Bollywood
Take a Bow, Bollywood
 16 October 2017

Films on gender disparity and stories of non-entitled Indians are doing well

Usually, a new ingredient tossed into a boiling cauldron may get lost in the mix but continues to release its flavours that you may catch in a stray breath. India's mainstream Hindi film industry, termed Bollywood by some, spin-dried as it is through raging cycles of nepotism, issues of pay parity and gender justice (or the lack of it) is looking for fresh whiffs. And it seems to have found it on the evidence of recent releases that have both garnered box office success and critical acclaim. First, the stickler-for-rules eponymous protagonist of Newton made it to the Oscar shortlist and now an Aamir Khan playing second fiddle to a teen protagonist who wants to make it as a singer but has to contend with a conservative father to follow her dream in Secret Superstar scheduled for a Diwali release is getting great traction based on its trailer

Original content and everyman stories, especially those that highlight the intrinsic gender disparity in our culture, and the unlikely cast of characters who battle it ranging from a traditional wrestler from Haryana who trains his daughters to become champion wrestlers (Dangal) to a middle-class girl from Delhi who upsets the whole 'a girl's aim is marriage' narrative in a deliciously subversive manner (Queen), are becoming the new normal as popular culture motifs and are rippling enough muscles at the ticket windows too. This does not necessarily signify a radical shift in mindset; it is more a gradual acceptance of seeing our lives as they are on screen, not in a defeatist art-house cinema sort of way but in the sense of overcoming the odds and winning through sans total revolution, as it were. There's lesser need for a willing suspension of disbelief.

Hindi films are the litmus test of the mass aesthetic, be it the idealism of the 1950s, the class divide of the 60s, the anti-establishment surge of the 70s, the settled comfort of the 80s, the explosion of aspiration in the 90s and the decidedly urban orientation of the last decade. So, what's changed? In a line, India. The paradigm of dialogue, location and storyline which was earlier the preserve, for historical reasons, of a certain set of individuals and their camp followers is today pan-India and inclusive of more than one dominant narrative sensibility provided the tale touches the audience. If the success ofBareilly Ki Barfi or its hero RajkumarRao is any indication, everyday Indian complete with foibles, frailties, flaws and minuscule ability, is endearing to the audience because of his relatable contexts. Larger-than-life heroes are clearly not the only way as the recent Khan duds indicate and women-driven plots, which have perennially been about battling severe odds, have now embraced the fun parts of girlie indulgence. Most important, India's contemporary changemakers from the dustbowls, be it Anand Kumar of Super 30, Kalpana Chawla or the travails of a Kashmir Valley girl band which inspired the story of a Muslim girl expressing her talent through youtube videos, are framing the template of the neo-protagonists. More power to them.

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