I finally found the time to go watch Dangal in the cinema hall even though it was a school night. I didn’t want to be the only Indian left in the world to not have seen it before it went off the movie halls! And a friend very generously offered to watch it a second time as she insisted that she had loved it that much. Admittedly, when the trailer first came out, it was a familiar feeling. Too many false promises in the past, numbers that rake in the moolah declaring hit after hit and the figures on the movie earnings skyrocketing each time, while the movie it self leaves one wondering what the brouhaha is all about. Dangal had entered the unprecedented 350 crore club. I was harboring the all-too familiar skepticism about the premature excitement around big-ticket films.
So, I let it fester. Until friends and family couldn’t stop raving about it and insisted I must make the trek to the movie theaters and park myself in that seat to watch ‘the movie of the year.’ As the curtain went up, so to speak, I was also transported momentarily to the time before the magic of Bollywood was tainted by acts and feelings of intolerance and anti-nationalism that have quite frankly poisoned the romanticism and purity of cinema as we knew it. But today my thoughts revolve not around the recent discomfort fallen on the elements of Bollywood off screen, but around the evolution (or devolution) of quality cinema on screen.
Gone are the days when superstars were just a handful in the film fraternity. Talent and good writing converged superbly to produce films like Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam, Mother India, Kranti till the 1980s. That was an era when a handful of talented actors ruled the kingdom and were the true “superstars” of the time. The advent of the 90s brought with it a new gamut of emerging actors that were quickly setting the stage on fire and making it their own. The Khans had arrived and they were here to stay. But the 90s also opened the doors to a flood of other talent and also opened a new slip road that led away from mainstream cinema into a new dimension that was coined “Alternate Cinema”. This alternate dimension catered to a whole host of actors who had immense talent that catered outside of mainstream cinema but had nowhere to go with it.
The world was truly their stage and it had provided them with many more doors than the actors of yesteryear had the privilege of ever getting. And yet, the 90s also witnessed a nosedive in quality scripts and an unfortunate rise in ‘time-pass’ cinema. What we saw was age-old talent slowly withering away under the burden of soul-less scripts. In this scenario it was the budding new talent that started to step up and deliver. The performances of not just Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat but also Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra, Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar brought back a different feeling that had become a rarity. Relief. Pride. Relief that cinema today isn’t entirely lost to meaningless lyrics, shoddy dialogues and an empty plot. Relief that we still have fine performances shining a bright light at the sheer hard work and dedication that has resulted in a “Fatima Sheikh” becoming a “Geeta Phogat” from Haryana so perfectly that one is left speechless and wanting more.
When the Indian national anthem tune played towards the end of the movie both my friend and I dutifully stood up. “Sit down its just music”, someone shouted from behind us. We were, after all, in a different country and the only two Indians in the movie hall. And we happily ignored them. Because you see, the big bad NRIs that we are, contrary to popular opinion, we don’t forget where we come from. And there is no greater feeling of pride when a big screen in a foreign land can assure you that quality and talent like that in Dangal comes out of no other place but home.