What ails Bollywood?
Money is the new drug, and stars are going to new lows to grab fistfuls of it.
When I joined films in the early 1970s physical fitness was not a major priority for a star or a starlet in Bollywood. At that time tales of heroes’ and heroines’ drinking binges made the rounds of the film industry regularly.
Those were the days when film parties and silver jubilee celebrations began early in the evening and went on till the crack of dawn and inevitably ended in brawls. Then slowly things began to change. The Rajesh Khannas, Manoj Kumars and Vinod Khannas were replaced by the Akshay Kumars, Aamir Khans and Shah Rukh Khans.
The Bollywood icons in the 21st century are health freaks. They may not smoke or drink but they work out every day to get their body fat awesomely low. They are pictures of health and fitness showing off their well sculpted bodies on hoardings and covers of glossy magazines.
Wow bodies, eek egos
There is no denying that they’re much healthier than their predecessors… but illness is still rife in Bollywood. The same illness that gnawed the hearts of our predecessors continues to bog down the stars of today.
What is this enduring malady you may ask? And where does it come from? It comes in the form of maladies of the ego and afflictions associated with conflicted interests. So much has changed in Bollywood yet nothing has changed.
I have always maintained that Bollywood is an army of generals with huge egos. Planet Bollywood is a place that consists of numerous chieftains each having their own tribal code of absolute loyalty. Praising the performance of another star or the work of another director in front of your own chieftain is considered blasphemy. Many have been ostracised from their tribes for doing so. Way back in time the legendary Marlon Brando said it all with these words: “An actor is a kind of a guy who if you ain’t talkin’ about him he ain’t listening.” The modesty of the so-called greats who indulge in fake gestures of humility may fool their gullible fans but we insiders in Bollywood know that modesty in an actor is as fake as passion in a call girl.
These days a new obsession has taken over Bollywood – money. Not that our predecessors were models of self-abnegation but they did not drool the way the new generation now does every time you mention that word. Today everybody in Bollywood is doing everything for money.
The corporate production houses that came to improve and make better films have learned a new maxim to survive: Overpay the stars and the spot boy and you have them on a leash.
These days there’s too much money chasing too little talent. So it’s hardly surprising that stars and technicians get paid as much for a bad film as they do for a good film. A senior actor bitterly commented that these days actors will “swim through shit if you put a few crores in the tank”.
The bigger a film’s budget, the bigger the heads of its makers. That’s the egonomics of Bollywood.
Item girl scores
The latest case is of Rakhi Sawant. This brave, self-made girl, for whom I have tremendous respect, was ridiculed on talk shows and by the top actresses of Bollywood – but today Rakhi adorns hoardings all over the city and Aamir Khan was the first guest on her talk show. Why? Because she gets the highest TRPs. She sells. It’s all about money.
My nephew Emraan Hashmi was offered a huge sum for doing a film recently. He said, “If someone is dumb enough to offer me this kind of money I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.” A top executive of a big corporate production house candidly told my wife during a production meeting, “These days everyone is making big films but no one is making money.”
Death of quality
One of the casualties of the 21st century Bollywood is the art house movie. In Bollywood these days art is synonymous with bankruptcy. A senior writer who has written more than 25 films recently commented, “One of the joys of going to the movies these days is that they’re all so trashy. You should never stop making trashy films if you want to make money and pay your rent,” he advised a young idealistic film-maker.
Gone are the days when I could make a Saaransh an Arth or a Zakhm and live to see food on my table. One had to make a transition in the 21st century and make movies like Raaz, Jism, Murder and Jannat. The purists call these films trashy compared to my enduring classics. But the box office figures reveal that India and the world paid huge sums of money to help make these films into hits.
Gossip is the new pornography in Bollywood. It is impossible to keep a secret in tinsel town. Stars tell secrets to their producers who then tell wannabe starlets who then tell the press. The biggest gossip on the film sets these days is not “who’s sleeping with who” but “who’s gay”, “who’s had Botox”, and “who’s had plastic surgery”.
And the world is a voyeur enraptured with the goings-on in Bollywood. This explains the phenomenal success of the gossip section in leading daily papers all over the country. But get this and get this straight… This town has to be seen to be disbelieved. This is a place where no one is innocent.
I can go on and on about Bollywood. But to sum it up in Woody Allen’s words, “Like Hollywood, Bollywood is not only a dog-eat-dog world, it is also a “dog-doesn’t-return-the-other dog’s-phone-calls” world.” Thus, the virus called “ego” continues to devour Bollywood.
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