Where has the love gone?

Here are the films that will put my head in the clouds? Where are the exquisite moments?
Where has the love gone?
Where has the love gone?
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(Naomi Datta can’t remember the last time a Hindi romantic film put her head in the clouds. And the fault doesn’t lie in her advancing years – film makers have lost the plot)

Nobody in Bollywood is making half decent love stories. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a Hindi film convinced that the world was indeed a lovely, giddy place as the screen lovers tumbled into each others’ arms. You could well argue that it has also been a long time since I was a ditzy teenager – but the good and bad news there is you never really stop being ditzy once you commit to it as a life choice . And while Bollywood has scaled new heights of ditzy at one level with asinine 100 crore rupee blockbusters, that one kind of ditzy – the good one - it is just not getting right.

The biggest challenge for contemporary Hindi filmmakers attempting to make a love story is the utter lack of conflict. The path of true love has to be a protracted painful affair – with many a speed breaker derailing its course. Let me give you a brief history of speed breakers – for the purposes of well ...speed, let us only travel back in time till the 80s. In the ghastly 80s conflict was simple enough – make the entire issue of love about SEC. Socio economic classification – though I like where your mind was going with that. Penniless upright hero meets super rich heroine, they hate each other, they spar, fall madly in love and pipe smoking billionaire dad throws hurdles in the way. Those days all Hindi movie houses had mammoth staircases made for the express purpose of rich dad staring down economically disadvantaged hero standing below bursting with self righteous poverty. Those were simple times- where socialist India thought love could pay the bills and Mammon was Cupid’s poor cousin.

Fortunately, our policy makers smartened up and so did Bollywood in the glorious 90s. Being in love is a many splendored thing – but how much more splendid it could be if rich people just fell in love with other rich people? Song sequences in Switzerland, lavish weddings and protagonists who didn’t look like they ever needed to work – the course of true love became a sumptuous four course meal. The conflict there remained external with parental opposition topping the list. Yes, good time to let your mind cut to a sepia tinted flashback of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Though there were other extenuating causes too – like friendly third party who you had committed to marrying but were not in love with. This set the stage for copious amounts of saccharine sacrifice until third party voluntarily exited – helped along sometimes by pesky Pomeranians called Tuffy. But the sacrifice was only a cause of pain for the audience, because it was prefaced by a heady courtship ritual. Hidden glances reined in passion and many songs later – the audience were in love with the couple in love and cheering on an otherwise irritating breed of dog. (They yap in a most annoying fashion)

Then the 2000s came along – and conflict started losing its edge. Parents became blobs of geniality, faded away into the background and the friend you didn’t want to marry – guess what? You could simply tell him or her that. Sometimes you could even be having casual sex with one friend and falling in love with the other and it was all quite acceptable if you go only by the box office collections of the perfectly horrid Cocktail. It was cool. It was casual and the longing went out of love. The reasons for conflict became internalized – and filmmakers like Imtiaz Ali and Kunal Kohli before him with just that one film Hum Tum cracked the confused in love formula quite well for some time at least. But the rom com as a genre never quite became the love story that you wanted it to be. Perhaps because you had this sneaking suspicion that the protagonists would do quite well without each other – like last year’s monster hit Yeh Jawani Hain Diwani which gave you some great songs to groove to, but a somnolent love story. Or perhaps because filmmakers just no longer knew how to create moments. By moments think Mani Ratnam (only the relationship part of his films, not his political sub stories) or think Yash Chopra – moments dipped in champagne and chiffon guaranteed to make you weak in the knees. Or perhaps because Imtiaz Ali the one big hope of the breezy romance which got the proportions of love and longing right started making terrible yet critically acclaimed films about contrived angst and torment which left you cold. Yes. Rockstar was awful. Highway slightly less. But that is the subject for another column.

Which brings us back to where we started – where has the love gone in modern day Bollywood? Where are the films that will put my head in the clouds? Where are the exquisite moments? Surely getting the audience to root and feel for a couple in love can’t be that difficult an ask. The answer lies partly in the beautiful but strangely sterile Lootera which had all the ingredients in place – brooding hero, besotted heroine, love, longing, passion, betrayal but remained a passionless, clinical affair. Love’s Labour Lost. In other words – Hindi filmmakers are blowing it. Big Time.

(Naomi Datta is a television presenter and producer. Former broadcast journalist. Currently tweets.)

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