It would appear as if everyone now wants to make a Yash Chopra film. There is a standard look and feel to films these days -- everybody shoots at the same locations; characters have the same look, same attitude. Most commercial films have a similar treatment --a spurious blend of faux traditionalism (Sooraj Barjatya's Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! set the trend, Yash-Aditya Chopra improved upon it in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) and the Chopra-Subash Ghai kind of surface glitz.
What comes across is a cinema set in an unreal, artificial environment, talking of things that least concern the common Indian viewer. Who outside of the metro cities has heard of Valentine's Day, Rose Day and Friendship Day? But the public is lapping up this very unreality; and to tap the substantial market of nostalgic NRIs, there is the emphasis on rituals and family values (Karan Johar has reportedly started the shooting of his new film Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham with a karva chauth sequence -- how antediluvian!). Never mind if these are equally sham -- it's escapism at its best (or worst).
Yash Chopra's earlier films had great stories to tell, and drew in the audiences with their intensity and power. Why go too far back to Dhool Ka Phool and Dhartiputra? Deewar and Trishul are enough to find him a place in movie history, add to that Ittefaq, Waqt, Kabhi Kabhie and there's an enviable repertoire of superb films.
In the Eighties, his films started getting increasingly vacuous, prettified and lightweight. Dil To Pagal Hai was a piece of nonsensical fluff, quite unworthy of him, but if success -- read profit -- is the only criterion, then who's complaining?
Technically speaking, Mohabbatein is not Yash Chopra's film, but it comes from his production house and is directed by his son, Aditya. It is from his school of film-making -- at least his eighties phase of flimsy film-making -- that's why its contempt for the audience is upsetting.
Mohabbatein seems to shout that if audiences want meaningless, shallow story-telling packaged in gloss, that's what they are getting and that's what they deserve. Actually Mohabbatein doesn't even have a plausible story to speak of -- the authoritarian head of a 'school' (that takes in 20-year-olds!) clashes with a music teacher who believes in love and encourages the boys to break rules.
The school called 'Gurukul' is an English mansion, but supposed to be in an Indian town, where the girls flounce around in the briefest of clothes, and even those belonging to ordinary families wear designer gear. You never know what they are supposed to be studying and why is it so crucial for the boys to start romancing before completing their education.
The conflict between the principal (Amitabh Bachchan) and the music teacher (Shah Rukh Khan) is not even based on any real issue. It's supposed to be about discipline and tradition vs love and change, but what it really boils down to is just the minor matter of the boys being allowed to loaf about. The great 'battle' is just a peg on which to hang the romantic escapades of three sets of youngsters, whose love stories have no depth or substance.
But for want of better films, audiences are willing to patronise even clearly substandard work from a big banner. At least for the price of a ticket they get to see some nice foreign locations, snazzy song-n-dance numbers and plenty of flesh. But it is pity that films should be reduced to tourist brochures and fashion shows.
Still, the Chopras, Johars, Barjatyas and Ghais present this artifice with big-budget panache. It gets worrying when every other film-maker also follows this formula and concentrates more on packaging and marketing than on story telling.
With a thriving overseas market, plus money coming in from music, video and satellite rights, producers are quite happy with their table profits (trade parlance for money made before a film is actually released). They couldn't care less for the domestic theatrical market, and if audiences are so passive and undemanding, well, the scenario is perfect for this kind of superficial film-making.
As a result of this, not only are Indian audiences being fed on a kind of opiate in the form of entertainment, these dazzling extravaganzas have all but wiped out variety and experimentation in film-making. Only top stars and big films can survive, where is the second rung of actors and the offbeat film?
This synthetic style has filtered right down to television, and now all channels just want stories of happy families with trivial relationship problems or feeble romantic crises. Most popular serials look the same and have more or less similar story lines and treatment. Everybody is being bludgeoned into a deadening 'sameness', and will continue to be till something else comes along and drags the audiences/viewers away from this surfeit of phony emotions in gilt-edged frames.
While it is true that people look for entertainment and escapism -- more so in today's stressful times -- and in a way one can concede that rose-tinted, soft focus romances and family dramas are better than the violent action films that have been rejected of late. But we could do with some anger and rebellion, maybe a little ugly reality here-just to keep the balance, and to prevent our mainstream cinema for drowning in pink candy floss.
E-mail Deepa Gahlot