Let’s remind ourselves of last year’s Top 5 films and the predominant genre/s of each – Baahubali: The Conclusion (Mythological/Action), Tiger Zinda Hai (Action/Thriller), Golmaal Again!!! (Comedy), Judwaa 2 (Comedy) and Raees (Drama/Action).
Turn back the clock one more year to the top grossers of 2016 and you get: Dangal (Drama/Sports Biopic), Sultan (Drama/Sports), Airlift (Thriller), Rustom (Drama) and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (Sports biopic).
Notice anything? While romance or a love interest may feature as one of the tracks/layers in some of these films, none of the aforementioned titles is an out-and-out romantic drama/comedy.
Similarly, neither last week’s debutant, Pad Man, nor this week’s marquee release, Aiyaary, can be categorised as having content that is tailored to benefit from the countdown to – or the afterglow of – the Valentine’s Day festivities that bookmarked the two releases.
This, from an industry in which love stories have held sway for decades – from the 1940s’ Barsaat (whose iconic poster went on to become the R K Films logo) to Madhumati in the 50s to the 60s’ opulent Mughal-E-Azam, to the 70s’ youthful Bobby, to Ek Duje Ke Liye in the 80s, to the 90s’ Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kaho Na Pyaar Hai in the new millennium.
That being so, it is not surprising that many of our most popular stars over the ages have been proficient in the art of conveying matters of the heart, and with ‘romantic hero’ often being their primary descriptor – Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna and Rishi Kapoor, to name just a few.
The awe-inspiring filmographies of the legendary trinity of Hindi cinema are also replete with explorations of the different facets of love: from the intense pathos of Dilip Kumar to the innocent idealism of Raj Kapoor to the suave playfulness of Dev Anand.
And speaking of legendary superstars, though Amitabh Bachchan may be synonymous with his ‘angry young man’ image; his body of work too is peppered with romantic hits like Kabhi Kabhie and Silsila at the height of his action hero avatar, and more recently, with Cheeni Kum.
Romance has arguably been the most critical ingredient in the secret sauce that has enabled the ruling triumvirate of Khans to hold sway over the industry in the last couple of decades.
Shah Rukh Khan, quite obviously, has been the poster boy for matters of love ever since Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge came to define romance for a generation, and subsequent hits like Pardes, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein, Devdas, Chalte Chalte, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Jab Tak Hai Jaan have only strengthened that association.
While action and a mass connect is something we now associate with Salman Khan, it was Maine Pyaar Kiya that provided him with his first hit and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! that heralded the birth of a bankable star. Over the years, successes like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Tere Naam cemented that position before the 2009 hit Wanted gave birth to the superstar’s current on-screen persona.
Similarly, though the fabulous performance of Lagaan in 2001 may have heralded a new and eclectic turn in Aamir Khan’s choice of roles, his earlier success was by and large built on romantic hits – right from his sparking debut in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak to subsequent hits like Dil, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Akele Hum Akele Tum and Raja Hindustani.
Which brings us back to the question posed by the title of this note: where is the love in the Hindi film industry of today?
It would be an exaggeration to say that the genre has totally disappeared. Looking back at the last few years, some successful romantic dramas or rom-coms do spring to mind – Ashiqui 2, 2 States, Jab We Met, Cocktail, Love Aaj Kal, I Hate Love Stories, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Barfi, Rockstar, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Ram Leela, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, Bajirao Mastani and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, for example.
However, and this is backed up by data, the romantic genre has certainly seen a discernible dip, both in terms of the number of such releases as also their box office returns. Moreover, if you glance again at the list of titles just mentioned, you will see that it is dominated by a handful of directors, production houses and stars, instead of being a must-have on any banner or star’s line-up.
Obviously, love – and its pursuit – remains a universal and fundamental human characteristic. The diminishing box office returns that romantic films have witnessed of late, therefore, are more a reflection on the quality of the supply than a result of demand drying up.
And therein lays the rub. Love remains the most accessible, varied and fertile source of inspiration for our filmmakers but they need to keep pace with its constantly changing grammar as expressed by the most important film audience demographic – the youth. Perhaps we need to move beyond the love that operates via the shy glance or the gentle pursuit to cater to a generation that finds love through the right swipe on Tinder, Facebook friend requests and Instagrammed proposals.
If we can crack that code, the pay-off will be, well, quite love-ly! Because, though The Beatles were right about money not being able to buy you love, the peddling of love sure can get you plenty of money!
Byline: Nitin Tej Ahuja