Naomi Datta says Bollywood can continue to make simplistic, larger than life entertainers but can the hero not be such a damned bore?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014 - 01:17

The News Minute| August 4, 2014| 

By Naomi Datta

The other day I had a random thought – what if they were to make Sholay, the grandmother of all Bollywood cult films in this era? Make – not remake so take a few seconds off to shake off those residual nightmares of RGV ke Aag. What if Sholay had never been made and it was just a script idea that could potentially go on the floors in 2014. The first thing that would happen there would be no Gabbar Singh. Or there would be a villain called Gabbar Singh, but he’d be an ineffectual bumbler who stood by watching the hero hog all the screen time and all the action. Not once would Jai or Veeru ever be in any danger of being outdone by their on screen adversary and all they would need to do in the film is lazily smirk their way to a befitting climax. Smirk. Insert Yo Yo Honey Singh song. Chase Sequence. Smirk. Insert crowd pleasing dialogue. Smirk. The End.

When I was much younger and sat wincing as a Hindi film hero got beaten to a pulp by a leering villain, I was assured by my mother, ‘He is the hero. Nothing will happen’. But while I sat clinging to the comfort of that inevitability, you have to admit the Bollywood hero in the 80s and the 90s had a lot on his plate. The villain had these options to pick from when it came to our beleaguered hero

• Kill his father
• Frame his brother
• Kidnap his wife/sister
• Discredit the hero which usually meant getting him thrown out of his honest police job
• Wreak terror in country in collusion with mysterious foreign hand
• All of the above ( Gasp )

The provocation was admittedly a tad extreme and by the time the bruised and battered hero finally pulverised this infinitely evil human being to his gory end, you felt every bit of his retribution. You see – those days Bollywood made simplistic forgettable entertainers like it continues to do now, but the heroes didn’t just do things for kicks.

That brings me not surprisingly to this year’s monster hit the Eid release – Kick. This of course is a Salman Khan film – and by now everyone knows what that means. It is a genre in itself where a country pays good ticket money to watch the superstar goof around in film after film.

And in principle, I have no issue with anyone goofing around – but why does the hero – and here I expand the scope of the ‘hero’ to include the trinity of the Khan superstars - have to be such a super bore? In film after film, he sleepwalks through choreographed action sequences and there is no danger of any of rest of the dim witted cast EVER catching up with him. 

The modern day Hindi movie superhero has the first laugh, the intervening laugh and the last laugh. There is no scope for conflict, dramatic tension or resolution – because this hero is such a cocky know it all. The supporting cast is reduced to inept acolytes (Kick, Dhoom 3, Don 2) and the villain is a shadow of his former self posing no real threat to the hero. 

In Kick, you actually had a half decent villain (Nawazuddin Siddiqui hamming gloriously) but fifteen minutes of screen time was never going to be enough. Plus Salman Bhai didn’t look flustered in the least by his villainy – making it look as potent as a mild case of dandruff. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Months back I had lamented that Bollywood seemed incapable of making a decent love story because the grounds for conflict were disappearing. But it now seems that they are messing up the easy stuff too – it isn’t that difficult to give a man an excuse to beat up his foes. Hell, they do that in Delhi traffic every day. These incredibly lazy superstar films which are set pieces for their leading men are inexcusable.

Read- Where has the love gone?

Everyone else in the cast looks on in adulation – in Dhoom 3, a supposed heist film the script writers didn’t even bother to flesh out a single heist. We were just told that the film stars Aamir Khan and by virtue of being Aamir Khan, he is supremely clever and will therefore never miss a step. It also helps that it is Abhishek Bachchan pursuing him so the casting itself eliminates any chance of credible competition. Ditto Don 2. And Chennai Express – a self deprecating but finally indulgent self tribute from Shahrukh to Shahrukh. 

It is like this scene in Kick where Jacqueline’s character tells Randeep’s cop who will never catch Bhai character, ‘After meeting Devi (Salman), even I started doing things for kicks’. You wait with bated breath for her transformation to thrill seeking junkie. She flashbacks to a scene where Salman and she are drawing fake moustaches on each other. On the thrill quotient, that comes a close second to watching my ceiling fan whirr. That anti climatic feeling is only too familiar when you watch any of these superstar vehicles. We are so caught up in superstar tributes – the idolatry consumes any scope for any attempt at story telling. 

So here is the point I am making – as Hindi film audiences, we are indulgent towards our mainline entertainers. We don’t demand complex plots or nuanced characters. You can continue playing larger than life characters – but at least pretend a semblance of a plot, dramatic tension or conflict. Otherwise, I demand my popcorn back. 

(Naomi Datta is at and talks about Bollywood incessantly)

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