Whenever someone asks me, ‘what was your favourite childhood film? The one that you could never get enough of, that was forever on repeat in your house?’ The first thing that flashes into my mind are the letters D-D-L-J… aka Yash Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge! Released in 1995 when I was only three years old, I knew almost all of the dialogue off-by-heart, including all seven songs and their lyrics. Furthermore I had my own personally choreographed dance routines, which myself and my cousin of the same age would practice ENDLESSLY in our Indian suits, music blaring, running around the garden… definitely not my proudest moment! But don’t stop shaking your head with disapproval just yet, because I still remember ALL of the lyrics… word for word…at the age of 21! And if you class yourself as a true die-hard bollywood fan, you’ll be exactly the same.
The 90’s was the golden era of bollywood for me. Dominated by Shah Rukh Khan, with his poignant dimples, cheeky demeanour and floppy hair, seeming to forever play the role of a hero named Rahul. And of course who can forget the Bollywood Queen, Kajol! Till this day she is the only woman that I find beautiful with a monobrow! Her infectious laugh and personality made her the perfect onscreen partner for King Khan. Other popular Bollywood movies which ruled the 90’s were: Hum Aapke Hai Kaun (1994), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1994), Raja Hindustani (1996) and Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997), films which can all be classed as my absolute favourite movies of all time.
So why did I love the 90’s bollywood films? It’s simple, for me they provided a sense of escapism and optimism that western cinema did not seem to cater to back then. The primary storyline was always one of romance between a young boy and a young girl, between the ages of 18-20. The couple were typically polar opposites in terms of their personalities; the hero was often very outgoing and brash, whilst his counterpart would be much more reserved and shy, but as cliches go, opposites attract. So it was not abnormal if the pair were also from contrasting social-backgrounds, with one coming from a society of dinner parties and immense wealth, whilst the other would be living in near-poverty. However miraculously, the two would fall head-over-heels in love and would subsequently face a never-ending roll of problems, mainly generated by their respective families or from destructive love-triangles that they were unwittingly a part of.
The various songs, during which every minute or so the pair would change into different extravagant outfits and switch between random scenic destinations like Egypt and Switzerland, would occupy about a third of the total running time. But these were what I looked forward to most! Because they encouraged the idea of magic and fantasy even more than the dramatic plotlines. Following all of the songs which were inter-weaved throughout the story and the couple’s overcoming of their main romantic hurdles, there would be a violent and barbaric ruckus in a public place, such as a train station. Here the hero would be battered by a sea of bats and fists, eventually emerging bloodied with torn clothes, but possessing a look of determination in his eyes which even the heroine’s father and brothers could not beat out of him! And as you can guess, the ending would see the couple united and strong, with their families finally having come round and leaving me smiling inside at the optimistic outcome.
Obviously, some of the plotlines were unrealistically positive, such as Salman Khan’s character willingly giving away his bride to his rival Shah Rukh Khan, ON HIS WEDDING DAY, in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai! Or at the end of Dil Toh Pagal Hai, when Karishma Kapoor and Akshay Kumar, whose characters are supposedly madly in love with their childhood friends Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, are able to re-direct their feelings towards each other (even though they are complete strangers!) But you have to excuse such inconsistencies, because old is gold. And yes, the 90’s wasn’t exactly very long ago, so some people might not class it as ‘old’, but when you are in your 20’s, you always refer to it as being ‘back in the day’. Back before the millennium and the new, ‘modern’ types of bollywood films that cannot hold a candle to the days of Shah Rukh and Kajol.
Nowadays, the storylines are overly westernized and in my opinion lacking in the romance and magic that captured my attention as a child. Instead of plots consisting of a couple who strive to overcome all hurdles to be together, we have films like Love Aaj Kal, where the couple Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone throw a party to celebrate their break-up! Break Ke Baad is another film which oozes westernization, centering around Imran Khan’s character following his childhood love Deepika Padukone all the way to Australia AFTER she’s completely lost interest in him and they’ve broken up; portraying him as a stalker-type, rather than a heroic lover! Indeed, most of the storylines of modern bollywood films contain breakups, wherein the couple then pursue separate love interests before eventually reuniting when they realise that meaningless one-night stands are not for them. This for me is far from the notion of pre-destined love alliances which films from the 90’s used to portray.
Nowadays many bollywood films also showcase explicit sex scenes, which makes watching them as a family much harder to do! Indeed I find myself having to watch any new bollywood dvds that we get by myself to check for any indecent scenes, before I risk viewing them with my mum and dad! Also, the heroines nowadays look anything but South Asian! Most are former models who have won Miss World or Miss Universe titles and decided to then dabble in the world of acting as a pass-time to enhance their vanity. For example, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif (who was not even familiar with the Hindi language before she joined the film industry!)
So it’s safe to say that the bollywood industry no longer accurately represents South Asian culture. And furthermore, I find the acting in bollywood films to be very unconvincing too; if x-rays were compulsory in the industry, we would find that 9/10 of the current heroines do not possess a single acting bone in their bodies! Additionally, the fact that they are all former models, means that the typical body frame for an actress is abnormally tall and slim. Perhaps I’m alone in saying this but I miss the old days when actresses were voluptuous and of average height, back when the phrase ‘wash-board abs’ was unheard of! Bring back the actresses who represented the ordinary Indian woman, naturally beautiful, with flowing wavy hair and NOT a size-zero. I’d choose Juhi and Madhuri over Katrina and Deepika any day of the week!
But luckily, I have all of the 90’s classics on dvds in my living room cabinet. Thus I still have the ability to immerse myself in a world where the heroines are familiar and Shah Rukh Khan is forever cute, before the six-pack episode and where all bollywood films are filled with buckets of romance and magic. So for me the golden era will never expire!