The last romantic hero

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The last romantic hero

From a time when filmmakers could not look beyond boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love story, the romantic hero seems to have slowly been forgotten by Indian audiences. Is it creative exhaustion due to retelling of the same story? Do viewers want to move beyond love or is there a wider variety of movies that resonate with us today? Aakash Aggarwal finds out

Love. True love. First love. Teenage love. Long-lasting love. Love beyond janams (rebirths). Love beyond castes, countries, religions, age, time. Unrequited love. Forced love. Mad love. Love that confines. Love that frees. Love with only ‘the one’. Love with more than one. Supernatural love. Stalker love. Love that is not understood. Love that is misunderstood. Realisation of love. Falling in love. Falling out of love. Falling in love again.

There are various shades of love. And every shade has a Bollywood song to express it. In fact, if you have been on a staple Bollywood diet like me, different stages of your life were defined by Bollywood love. When you fell in love, maybe you hummed the evergreen Pehla Nasha (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, 1991). When you got your heart broken, maybe you cried to Sach Keh Raha Hai Deewana (Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein, 2001).

In fact, depending on the year you were born in, you have used or thought of using a dialogue from Bollywood that you will be too embarrassed to admit. In no particular order of cheesiness, here are 10 dialogues that someone from my generation has secretly said or thought of saying:

“Itni shiddat se maine tumhe paane ki koshish ki hai, ki har zarre ne mujhe tumse milane ki koshish ki hai. Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho, toh poori kayanat tumhein usse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai…”

— Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om

“Mere naina sirf Naina ko dhoondtey hain… mein ankhein band karta hun toh tumhe dekhta hun..aur jab ankhein kholta hun toh tumhe dekhna chahta hun. I love you Naina, I love you very very much!”

— Shah Rukh Khan in Kal Ho Naa Ho

“Pyar dosti hai. Agar wo meri sabse achi dost nahin ban sakti toh main usse kabhi pyar kar hi nahin sakta.”

— Shah Rukh Khan in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

“Dil to har kisike paas hota hai, lekin sab Dilwale nahin hote.”

— Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale

“Ishq de mere mitra pehechaan ki, mit javae jadoon zid apnaan di. Asli pyaar ka matlab hasil karna nahi hota.”

— Akshay Kumar in Namastey London

“Namaaz mein woh thi…par laga dua humari manzoor ho gayi.”

— Dhanush in Raanjhanaa

“Jab koi pyar mein hota hai toh koi sahi galat nahin hota.”

— Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met

“Tum ho toh hum hai… hum hai toh sab kuch hai… varna kuch nahi, kuch bhi nahi.”

— Amitabh Bachchan in Baghban

“Mujhe yakeen hai ki main sirf isliye janma hoon ki tumse pyar kar sakun… tum sirf isliye ki ek din meri ban jao.”

— Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai

“Agar tum mujhe yun hi dekhti rahi toh tumhe mujhse pyar ho jayega… fir se.”

— Ranbir Kapoor in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Rajesh Khanna, arguably the best proponent of this emotion and India’s first superstar, is entrenched in our hearts today as the simple lover. Following the troika of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Rajendra Kumar, came Rajesh Khanna to fill the vacuum and win our hearts. With his trademark gait and dialogue delivery, with his innocent charm and deep eyes, he enjoyed a superstardom that many can only dream of. In his book, Dark Star: The Loneliness Of Being Rajesh Khanna, Gautam Chintamani discusses how complacency, over-confidence, and the inability to evolve led to Khanna’s fall into oblivion.

But the Badshah of romance, who has dominated hearts like no other for over two decades, has been Shah Rukh Khan. With a record eight Filmfare Awards for the Best Actor (a feat shared with Dilip Kumar), SRK literally wrote the book of love for a whole generation of boys and defined the ultimate lover for a whole generation of girls. As the Rahul on a moving train with an outstretched hand for Simran in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), to the charming Rahul with many friendship bands in his back pocket in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), to the bespectacled Raj Aryan, who comes back to Narayan Shankar’s fiefdom to teach young students to forget about their careers and fall in love instead in Mohabbatein (2000), to the next-door uncle Surinder ‘Suri’ Sahni, who can become two people by shaving off his moustache, we have loved the different shades of love across the years. But as shown in his own superhit Om Shanti Om (2007), the same routine: Standing with outstretched arms in the middle of a scenic spot in Switzerland even as a chiffon sari-clad actress runs towards him is just too repetitive. The ones who can still stand it, as a woman half his age runs towards the 52-year-old actor, are too few. For the millennial generation, it just doesn’t cut it.

In fact, interestingly the three Khans, who have ruled the roost for the last 20 years, seem to be all but giving up on the romance genre. SRK has experimented with playing a psychiatrist in Dear Zindagi (2016), a gangster in Raees (2017), and will soon play a dwarf in Zero (2018). Similarly, the perfectionist Aamir Khan seems to be choosing script over role as he painfully enters the skin of the character he must play. The 53-year-old actor has played a robber and a man with special needs in Dhoom 3 (2013), an alien in PK (2014), an old wrestler in Dangal (2016), and is set to play a robber in the upcoming Thugs of Hindostan (2018). Whatever little trace of romance you see in his films is by-the-way and not central to the film.

While 52-year-old Salman ‘Bhai’ Khan has also moved away from romance to the action genre over the last few years, he seems to be the only one who has had any semblance of a love story in the film storyline in recent times. As the action hero in Wanted (2009), Ready (2011), Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Kick (2014), and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), he does love the female lead but is on a bigger path. Even in the high emotional dramas such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), Sultan (2016), and Tubelight (2017), ‘getting the girl’ is not the central point of the movies.

But this dry spell of love is not a phenomenon that is restricted to the three Khans alone. This seems to be the trend in all movies coming out of Bollywood. I did a simple exercise and listed down the Filmfare ‘Best Movie’ awardees in the recent past. The story lies in the maths: The number of love stories that won the best film award are falling over the years. From 1990 to 2000, 9/10 movies that won were romantic; from 2001 to 2010, this number fell to 4/10 movies. Incidentally, in the eight years of this decade, the number so far is 2/10. (see box with turn)

I remember when my uncle from the US visited India some years ago. As an Indian who was returning to his home country after 17 years, he was keen to do everything Indian. Eat golgappas, be pushed by the crowd in the bylanes of Old Delhi, travel in a crowded metro, sit in the Indian auto — you can imagine what kind of adventure this was. One of the things on his list was watching a Bollywood movie in a single-screen theatre. There were two big movies clashing at the box office at the time — a masala entertainer in the form of Shah Rukh Khan’s Om Shanti Om (2007), and Ranbir Kapoor’s Saawariya (2007). Considering that NRIs haven’t looked beyond SRK for many years, I picked the obvious choice, but I was wrong. My uncle said that he and many of his Indian friends have “blacklisted” SRK and don’t watch his movies anymore. The reason was simple: All his movies are the same. “There is no story — just running around trees,” he had exclaimed.

As per him, the last movie in which the actor had “acted” was the one where he played a “NASA scientist”. He was referring to Swades (2004). We went for Saawariya as he was more keen to see what the great Raj Kapoor’s grandson is up to. He almost clapped at the first song! He loved the second song. By the third song, there were frowns. And we had left the theatre before the interval. Please don’t underestimate this exit — I have never left a movie in between ever in the 30 years I have been on this planet.

The incident taught me two things: Shah Rukh Khan is not rajma chawal — he doesn’t make everyone happy; song-and-dance sequences don’t define Bollywood anymore. Perhaps some of you will tell me that Saawariya wasn’t the best RK movie. Some of you will point towards the fact that Om Shanti Om went on to become a hit.

To both these things, I will point to the clock and say that: ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.’

Today, the romantic hero is either a stereotype or pure nostalgia. The “pyaar dosti hai… dosti mein no sorry, no thank you”, “agar woh palat-ti hai to woh bhi tumhe chaahti hai” may still bring a smile to your face, but the fact remains that they are cliqued and out of sync. Today, the audience wants more.

Here are three reasons that tell you why the romantic Bollywood hero is dead:

1. The Khans are all 50+ and the audience is not buying them as college kids anymore. Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots was an exception, but then it wasn’t a love story.

The idea of a 50-year-old dating a 23-year-old is just not working. If you sat through the recent Golmaal, the joke about Ajay Devgan falling for Parineeti Chopra was a real one.

2. Love stories are not cute anymore. Sorry to break it to you, but the era of pining for someone for 20 years or love at first sight or waiting for ‘the one’ is long gone. The stories are more slice-of-life real today. Think of Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) or Hasee Toh Phasee (2014) or Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017). The actors are more real, the storyline more plausible, and the problems more digestible today. Look at the number of movies that signify that they are not love stories: I Hate Luv Storys (2010), Not a Love Story (2011), Hate Story (2012), among others.

3. Multiplex and Netflix have brought alive stories that we never knew existed. Think Piku (2015), Newton (2017), and Queen (2014). As Bollywood moved on from love stories and got a bunch of talented new actors that were not ‘superstars’, the stories have evolved. An Irrfan Khan in Hindi Medium (2017), a Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) or an Akshay Kumar in Padman (2018) are telling us stories that we never got from Bollywood in the 90s.

The Indian viewer is spoilt for choice. Moving on from the age-old “kya khaaun” conundrum, the “kya dekhun” syndrome is more common these days. When I go home, I can switch between Tata Sky, Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, VIU or good old YouTube for my daily dose of entertainment. The mushy romance is one genre among many I can gorge on.

I love the love stories. I am a diehard romantic. But what do I say? We are on a break!

The writer is a movie lover, a diehard romantic, and a communications professional

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