Profanity vs. an old pro

SHASHI BALIGA | Updated on July 20, 2011

Competition revs up: Amitabh Bachchan in Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap.

A still from Delhi Belly.

The delicious potboiler of genres that is Bollywood today.

It was a starry confrontation that was simply too tempting for the film media. Who was going to let a tussle like Amitabh Bachchan vs. Aamir Khan fly past without cashing in on it? So they pushed, they prodded, they tried to provoke the two superstars into making unguarded statements. And they tracked the two films' collections by the hour. Never mind that they were comparing apples with oranges — Bachchan is the lead actor of his film while Aamir Khan is the producer of his. Delhi Belly's lead actor Imran Khan was simply swept aside by the supernovas.

Disappointingly, no jibes of the sort that Farah Khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali traded with each other when Saawariya and Om Shanti Om slugged it out at the b-o were forthcoming. Bachchan and Khan, neither known to make too many unguarded statements or give in to the temptation of the clever throwaway line, stuck to the usual line of ‘There's enough room for two good films.'

That is true and not-so-true as well. Films do cut into each other's business to some degree, unless both are very good films with enough staying power in the theatres. But it is not as if one can kill the other either, unless one is very good and the other is a borderline case.

So Delhi Belly and Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap sallied forth confidently into the battlefield of the b-o. As I write this piece, DB seems to have surged ahead of Bb. But both seem to be doing well enough to keep their respective producers happy, and we get to read missives emanating from both sides about their respective successes (have to admit this is all quite entertaining, really).

But this piece is not so much about the clash of the superstars as it is about the clash of civilisations (if that is not stretching Samuel P. Huntington's cult phrase too far). Delhi Belly and Bbuddah… represent two very distinct schools of Hindi cinema that are separated by a generation of filmmaking thought. At a rather superficial level, their names are a clear giveaway — one is a slick English title, the other an earthy Hindi phrase; the genres are clearly demarcated. Both protagonists are rebellious in their own manner but with the two lead actors at either end of the hero spectrum, the zeitgeists they represent reflect two different definitions of the world. For Imran Khan's generation, nostalgia is Dil Chahta Hai, not Deewar. For Amitabh Bachchan's generation, risqué is Choli ke peeche kya hai, not DK Bose. While DB is peppered with profanities, Bachchan refused to mouth some cuss words onscreen so the soundtrack goes beep, beep instead.

‘Complete family entertainer' declared Bbuddah… in the ads, making it clear where it stands. While Delhi Belly's poster defies the definition of the hero: which leading man would dare look like a beaten-up ghost who's been in a spook-scuffle? That's Delhi Belly's idea of taking a risk, while Bbuddah…'s is to rev up the ageing hero in shirts colourful enough to dazzle a Bahaman beachcomber. It is profanity vs. an old pro, feet planted in today vs. harking to the past, way out lyrics ( DK Bose and Jaa chudail) vs. ye old item number with Raveena Tandon being hauled out of domesticity to pump up adrenaline levels.

That's two very different realities.

The good news is that both have been successful (even if in differing degrees), proving that amidst all that talk of multiplex films and single-screen films and target audiences and the rest of it, two generations of thought have found their own audiences… and yes, in the same week!

That's the wonderful story out there. Bollywood is famous for mixing up a handful of genres and tossing them all into one glorious potboiler that offers romance, action, comedy, a few thrills, an item number and lots of songs and dances, in one breathless package. Well, that's pretty much what the industry is like too — there's a bit of everything floating around today. Just as one school of filmmakers still bungs in every enticement possible into one movie to see what sticks at the b-o ( Dabangg anyone?), the industry itself is ready to give anything a chance. Both Delhi Belly and Bbuddah… would not perhaps have made it to theatres five years ago; few would have dared bankroll them. And thanks be to the new order.

P.S. Amidst all the noise surrounding the star wars and the debate about Delhi Belly's cuss words, one happy development has gone largely un-applauded. I refer to the hawk-eyed, scissor-happy lot that has been the favourite whipping boy of the film industry forever. The Censor certificate and the cuts the Censor Board asked for used to be a near-mandatory sob story for any film that dared step outside the Lakshman rekha of the family entertainer.

That the Censors have cleared Delhi Belly with such spirit is something we should applaud, especially after decades of hurling poison arrows at them.

Delhi Belly seems to be already on the way to acquiring cult status; it truly marks a new kind of cinema. Hopefully it will also mark a turning point in the often-troubled relationship between the Censor Board and filmmakers. Now, director Prakash Jha might not agree, not after all the trouble he had with Raajneeti and its heroine who was decorously covered in handloom sarees, whose Hindi was letter-perfect but did not roll off the tongue easily and who waved to the masses in a style reminiscent of a lady we know only too well.

Oh well, political innuendo might still be a minefield, but what the hell, at least we can get away with the cuss words and the sex scenes. Cheers to that.

Published on July 14, 2011

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