Saturday, August 09, 2008

Salamat Rahe: Friendship in Bollywood

Ever since one blind boy latched on to the elbow of a disabled boy, singing plaintive songs on the empty streets of 1950’s Mumbai, Bollywood latched on to the formula that would not be given up EVER! After that, friends have gone on bikes with sidecars, on horseback, in Mercedes convertibles and even on hearses… basically, from here to eternity.

Though some pretence of variety is made (“yeh story thoda hatke hain”), there are essentially three genres of ‘friendship’ depicted in Hindi cinema.
1. Sidekick
2. Sacrificial
3. Sexual

Oye pappe!
The most famous exponent of the sidekick is probably Guddi Maruti. At one point of time during the mid-90s, no filmmaker dared to make films without her august presence. Despite the predominance of male friendships in Bollywood, this is one glass ceiling that was completely shattered!
The only other star to match her would only be seen if we rewind to the 1960s and Rajindernath comes into view as Shammi Kapoor’s ubiquitous henchman. My most abiding memory of this comic genius is from An Evening in Paris, where he played Sardar Makkhan Singh where he came up with the brilliant line – “Oye Honey / Yeh mausam hain bada funny / Charon taraf sannata / Itthe koi na marega mujhko chnaata”. My literary tastes are rather evolved for all you plebs!
This kind of friendship is applicable when solo hero is either too intense (wooden?) to carry off comic scenes, too big a star for the producer to afford a second hero or when a subplot is required to pull the length by a couple of reels.
The sidekick is not involved in any philosophical discussions and is by and large restricted to buffoonery and assistance during eloping.
Deepak Tijori, Raja Bundela, Babloo Mukherjee, Laxmikant Berde in recent times and IS Johar, Paintal, Asrani, Vijayendra Ghatge, Kanwaljeet and Mazhar Khan in olden days have performed this role to perfection on various college campuses of Bollywood.

Dost dost na raha…
This is the formula to apply when two heroes/heroines of similar (if not equal) stature are cast in the same role. It would be safe to assume non-multi-starrers are unable to afford two lead characters in each of the two genders. So, the underlying assumption of this formula is that one person (of the gender containing the excess lead character) will have to sacrifice his love for the sake of his friend.
There are some rules governing the Sacrifice in this kind of films.
Rule #0: No verbal expressions of feelings between the characters are permitted (except in soulful songs sung in solitude).
Rule #1: The first person to fall in love with the girl gets her.
Rule #2: If the first person to fall in love with the girl is depicted as promiscuous, Rule #1 stands cancelled.
Rule #3: The opinion of the girl stands cancelled.
Rule #3a: If the girl does insist on having an opinion, all previous rules stand cancelled.
It is interesting to note that a Hindi film hero often abandons his parents to marry the woman he loves but does not bat an eyelid in sacrificing the same woman for a man he met just 3 reels before.
Sometimes, the sacrifice is not the girl (Sholay).
Sometimes, there is no real sacrifice involved but the vibes of threatening to lay down one’s life, universe and everything for the friend is so strong that one may safely classify the film in this type (Dharam Veer).
Dostana, Yaarana, Saagar, Saajan, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Sangam, Andaaz, Ek Phool Do Mali (presumably), Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na are all landmark films of this genre.
But the hedonistic society of the day is gradually forcing out the ethos of the Sacrifice. It has been such a long time since I saw a guy hand over the love of his life to a disabled poet in a church and walk out with a smile.

Ladka ladki kabhi dost nahin ban sakta…
Hindi cinema is yet to make a single film in which the central characters (of the opposite sex) remain just friends till the last reel. Mad Momma quotes her favourite line from Maine Pyar Kiya (Yay, she says!) and shows how films down the ages (from MPK in the late 80s to Jaane Tu... in the late 2000s) have never been able to keep heroes and heroines from pawing each other. Eventually.
And she is right. Each one of us have several platonic friendships that have continued for ages and yet Bollywood is still shy of taking a star pair and not keeping them apart for the entire duration of the film. I guess ever since SRK and Ash played siblings in Josh and the film bombed, top star aur top star-ni kabhi dost nahin ban sakte!
They make bombastic statements on how love starts with friendship (Pyaar dosti hainKuch Kuch Hota Hain) and how best friends are supposed to find life-partners for each other but eventually end up tying the knot.
My chief grouse against these films is not that the lead pair falls in love (which they could, since they are so well-matched to start with) but that the ‘other man/woman’ are shown as boorish cads or insensitive bitches.
Also, the progression from friends to lovers happens only when the heroine (initially a tomboy) starts to develop femininity. This is to say that a guy finds a girl (sexually) unattractive when she is playing basketball or getting into fisticuffs. The moment she gets into false eyelashes, Tarun Tahiliani lehengas and Moonmoon Sen-esque coquettishness, he gets a hard-on from here to Ludhiana and rides off into the sunset with her.
Incidentally, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain managed to incorporate two kinds of Bollywood friendship – Sacrifice (Salman and Shahrukh) and Sexual (Shahrukh and Kajol) – in the same film, which is one more reason why it turned out to be a monster hit.

The most famous buddy film of all times – Dil Chahta Hain – is probably the most difficult to slot into any of the above types. It was as real as friendship got (Merc trips to Goa notwithstanding) and friendship sometimes meant nothing more than having cakes, pulling legs and cracking abominable jokes. After all, everybody remembers Saif saying, “Ya toh dosti gehri hain. Ya phir yeh tasveer 3D hain…
As I heard that dialogue for the first time in Chandan Cinema (in Juhu), a friend and I curled up in helpless laughter and as our hysterical giggles carried well into the next scenes, other friends (the types who know more about you than anyone should!) sighed knowingly.

Which brings me to the fourth kind of friendship Bollywood has spawned (apart from the types mentioned above and discussed in such pseudo-scholarly detail).
Millions of friendships have been made around the world while watching execrable movies, sealed after discovering commonality of esoteric tastes and revived on Bollywood discussion forums from across continents.
If I never watched a movie with Nilendu, I would know him only as well as my brother. (No, I don’t have a brother.)
If Udayan had not watched Lal Badshah with me, I wouldn’t have taken his advice as seriously as I usually do.
If Anirban had not forced me to watch a night show of Anjaam, I would have dismissed him as a gnatu (padhaku)!
And on the flip side, if she liked Shaan as much as I did, she would have been chatting with me on Yahoo right now instead of putting my son to sleep!

Happy (Belated by a Week) Friendship Day!

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