It's been a disastrous year for Hindi cinema, what with us in Month Five and not one unanimously loved film among the lot. What we do have, however, are films of unparallelled idiocy, comedies each more harebrained than the other, thrillers that plumb the depths of low farce.
Why, then, can't we seem to be having any fun?
Because while Bollywood often disappoints, it used to at least entertain. Switch on Zee Cinema or Star Gold and you're treated to thick servings of cliche played straight enough to bring out the guffaws. We might not have had as much authentically good cinema, but we've sure as hell managed to maintain the lion's share of so-bad-it's-good cinema. Or at least, we used to.
In every genre.
Horror had the glorious Ramsay bros, who, following in the tradition of the British Hammer Horror and, working on an even more threadbare budget, gave us unrealistic gore, titillation and pure absurdity, and there aren't too many sights more amusing than a black cat driving a Premier Padmini (in matching trim, natch). Things haven't changed much in terms of the effectiveness of our scary movies, but they aren't anywhere as much fun. Back then, we had Do Gaz Jameen Ke Neeche, now we have Darling. Urgh.
Drama, our bastion for lovelorn morons, used to give us gems that gleaned of formulaic cliche, revelling in class-battles and longstanding feuds between rival zamindars. It was a time of Manoj Kumar's jingoism and Prem Chopra's lasciviousness and Ranjit's rapes, while Rakesh Roshan tried hard to carry the cliche tradition, which thrived across the 1980s, over into the 1990s with films like Karan Arjun -- featuring Rakhee as a ridiculously sloshed-sounding mother, one of those performances she might unfortunately be remembered by -- the genre itself is almost completely dead in the water now.
Action gave us Dharam paaji and his vampiric thirst for criminals, expressed in that inimitable Punjabi tone, while the 1990s saw the emergence of the big daddy himself, The Invincible Mithunda, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound was the least of his exaggerations. It's all immensely trippy stuff, even the old Jeetendra movies -- Kanwarlal, anyone, where Jumping Jack had a curly haired wig, spoke as if channeling Ajit and Sachin Tendulkar simultaneously, and aped Enter The Dragon stunts? -- while now fight scenes seem pretty darned perfunctory. At least the South still has Rajnikant, and there's not much he kan'th do.
Not even going into the great comedies of the 1970s and 1980s, even the weakest old comedies used to have some spunk. If not anything else, a comedy of even the mid-90s would aim at having a coherent, fully-developed plot, and while the film's high points could merely lie in the exaggerated voice Govinda uses to call out to some arbid character (usually played by Shakti Kapoor or Kader Khan), these are all films deserving of our hindsight-aided giggles. Heck, even Johnny Lever used to have some genuine funnies. Comedy today is the worse hit genre of all, with everyone taking a half-cocked crack at it and giving us product so mediocre it hurts. Remember One Two Three?
And we haven't even mentioned those atrocious song sequences. with flashback-clouds and with heroines clad in revolting frocks and schoolgirl hairbands -- now replaced with the generic music-video style track.
Thing is, Bollywood, in its urge to eliminate the barrier between commercial and parallel cinema, swung the wrecking ball too hard and ended up legitimising the B-movie.
Back in the day when B-films were made for a pittance and masterworks like B Gupta's Superman were possible, directors could afford to be cheesy and subversive and not take themselves seriously.
Now, thanks to improved production values, an Emraan Hashmi vehicle that reeks of B-grade schlock would merely be another film from the Bhatt banner. Any project planned with Rakhee Sawant in mind would be undoubtedly grotesque, but thanks to the 'breaking news' headlines the lady can muster up, will get a better budget than deserved and turn into yet another banal, innuendo-filled Friday release instead of the celebratedly low-rent effort it could have been.
As a result, we seem to have more of the so-bad than ever, but it's been quite a while since we've seen something awful enough to be special, something we'd savour over a blurry evening and exchange high-fives watching, something that is either made for watching in a state of altered consciousness or made while in a state of altered consciousness, something unashamedly, ludicrously, laughably bad.
Hell, even Aap Ka Suroor: The Moviee: The Real Luv Story wasn't as B as it should have been, tragically.
Can Jimmy save us?
Okay, I need to dig up my old Peechha Karo tape. It's time for a real stoner film.
What are your favourite stoner movies? Which do you think deserves to be celebrated? What's the most awful scene you ever saw? Which rare DVD is your most treasured possession? Write in with answers -- or questions, or comments, or whatever you wish -- to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep me posted. See you next week.