Written by Shaikh Ayaz | Mumbai | Published: December 30, 2017 6:30 am In the fourth of our on-going essay series called ‘Hindi classics that defined the decade,’ we look back at the 1980s Bollywood hits.
Most critics generally brush off the 1980s as a “low point” in Hindi cinema and the “lowest”, they demurred, was about to follow – the dreadful 1990s. Was this period, then, a veritable decline for Bollywood? Did the 1980s have nothing worth celebrating? Well, there was plenty to begin with. You merely have to look at the sheer versatility and variety of cinema on display in that decade to know that 1980s is just as important as any other. It’s a decade in which a period spectacle like Umrao Jaan rubbed shoulder with the madcap Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Govind Nihalani-Om Puri’s breakthrough Ardh Satya, considered a treasure of the art-house circuit while Mahesh Bhatt’s sensitive Arth shared sibling love with the seriously entertaining Mr India and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s essential gangster best-seller, Parinda.
Musically, the Laxmikant-Pyarelal and RD Burman-era 1980s anticipated the Nadeem Shravan-infused saccharine melody of the 1990s. (Gulzar did some of his finest works in the 1980s, ending the decade with Ijaazat and Libaas). You could feel romance in the air, with the star-crossed love stories introducing two young men who have had a riveting hold on the audiences in wildly different ways. Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Kamal Haasan’s Hindi debut, Romeo-Julietified the trend for shock endings. Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla’s breakout Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak followed the same path. Music was the soul of both films. Music was also at the heart of the success of Karz, with Rishi Kapoor flexing his rockstar-dom and so, one must say, Umrao Jaan whose mujras (performed with grace by Rekha), poetry (director Muzaffar Ali’s favourite Shahryar at work) and Khayyam’s immortal compositions are a throwback to 1950s classicism.
So, is 1980s really all that bad? Indeed, it had its misses and misfortunes, but overall, the decade saw an excellent mix of meaningful and commercially-minded hits that has inspired as many viewers to think as much as it has entertained. In the fourth of our on-going essay series called ‘Hindi classics that defined the decade,’ we look back at the 1980s Bollywood hits.
Today, this film is held up as a classic example of a “musical blockbuster,” in the canny phrasing of the Hindi cinema trade. But, if director Subhash Ghai is to be believed, it was a commercial flop on its release. “Every critic criticised that film,” Ghai told an interviewer. “In the 1980s, Karz was like today’s Kisna.” Karz infuses LP’s chartbuster music with Rishi Kapoor’s boyish charm and the ever-so-dependable theme of reincarnation. Farah Khan’s adoring tribute to Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Karz in Om Shanti Om says all that there is to say about this film’s continuing influence on today’s mainstream filmmakers. “I think it’s Subhash Ghai’s best film,” Khan once declared.
Khubsoorat is a little gem from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s vast portfolio. Not his best but it manages to have many of the themes we associate with a Hrishida film. Familiar faces adorn the screen, especially a warm-hearted turn by Ashok Kumar as the henpecked husband sneaking in cigarettes when wife Dina Pathak is not around. Contrast this with David’s household, where life is one big party. The daughters (one of them played effervescently by Rekha) play games and trade ‘qaafiya’, but when the elder one gets married off into the Ashok Kumar family (who himself, as it turns out, is a closet music connoisseur holding a master class on the terrace) she has to follow the strict discipline set by the stern, principal-like Dina Pathak. Is life worth living with so many rules around? Rekha, who walks into the kitchen to grab an unwashed apple only to receive a cold stare from her future mother-in-law, will find out.
Umrao Jaan (1981)