Alia Bhatt and Shahrukh Khan’s 2016 Bollywood film “Dear Zindagi” dealt positively with a taboo topic of sorts — mental health. Kaira escapes her heartbreak and career problems in the big city to visit her parents in the beachy Goa. It doesn’t go so well because her relationship with her family is strained for various reasons. Her insomnia becomes a way to cope with her problems. Enter Dr. Jehangir Khan, an approachable and very chill therapist.
Therapy isn’t usually the most common subject to bring up with your family if you’re a South Asian. There’s a negative connotation attached to it. That’s why Kaira doesn’t tell her family about being in therapy. In a dramatic scene over halfway through the movie, as she’s sitting with her parents and relatives, they discuss her love life. Every kid knows the nightmare this is. No wonder she loses her cool after pointless questions and comparing her with her more “successful” brother. Ready to let out her inner lioness, Kaira yells at all of them, defending her life choices and admitting to being in therapy.
The movie feels relatable most because we can see pieces of ourselves in the protagonist. Her struggles, her dreams, her drama. We’ve gone through it but maybe haven’t had the courage to find a solution like she did. It’s inspiring. Unlike most of the Bollywood movies that come out today.
A limited number of movies in 2016 and 2017 had the ability to inspire. “Neerja,” “Masaan,” “Pink,” “Kapoor & Sons,” “Dangal” in 2016 to name a few. 2017 had rare successes with good films like “Naam Shabana,” “Hindi Medium,” “Lipstick Under My Burkha.” None of these movies made money because not as many people went to see them in the theaters.
The movies that did earn the big bucks are, well, you know the ones, you saw them. The “Kya Kool Hai Hum”s and the “Housefull”s and the “Golmaal”s. The ones that go out on a limb to assume you are a dumb and horny human being willing to follow along a 2-hour story that’s actually not a story at all.
Let’s compare facts. “Masaan” made $160k worldwide, “Dhanak” made $130k worldwide, “Naam Shabana” made $8 million. You would think it’s good enough. “Housefull 3” made almost $28 million, “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” made almost $32 million. That’s where your hard-earned money has gone, folks. Mindless, misogynistic humor.
I may struggle to understand the appeal of these films but it doesn’t elude me that for many people, it’s a form of an escape. It’s not wrong to want to take a break from the monotony for the sake of hearty laughs. Unfortunately, a lot of these movies don’t qualify even that. What they qualify as is garbage.
Contrary to them are the good films. Let’s look at just “Udta Punjab” or “Aligarh,” both phenomenal for what they were trying to achieve. The goal of the former was to educate the audiences about an ever-increasing drug problem in Punjab. The latter subtly, amazingly shed light on homosexuality through the real-life story of a gay professor at Aligarh University. The censor board’s response to these two films was to simply try and ban them. Yeah, that’s what’ll make the problem disappear, banning a film instead of trying to ban the ACTUAL problem.
Instead, we let our gullible selves be consumed by mediocre and even terrible cinema like “Great Grand Masti,” which still rely on misogynistic, sexist, and cheap humor to attract their viewers. And guess what? They manage to succeed! It says a lot about our double standards as a society if we continue to let everyone involved in making these films thrive. Don’t let a “Hate Story” come in the way of a “Parched,” where expletive scenes and nudity have two different approaches altogether.
It’s not that only small budget movies are the good movies. Bigger hits like “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha,” “Tamasha,” “Airlift” are packed with powerful actors and powerful storytelling. Because most often, big-budget, seemingly fancy films don’t fail us. “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” and “Jab Harry Met Sejal” had a wonderful cast, blazingly awesome music, and everything that would make it an interesting love story. Nope. It gave us more of the same nonsense that’s been spewing on-screen for the last few years in the name of romance. The former made $37 million, the latter made $18 million.
So who is to blame for this age of mindless comedies? It’s obviously a two-way street. The directors and actors for providing such baseless movies and the audiences for fueling the desire to watch them. We automatically want to laugh at movies and scenes that reduce women to objects. We engross ourselves in films which ridicule homosexuality, disabilities, and other very vital social issues. Bollywood has a responsibility to, at the very least, make cinema that makes it worth our while.
If you want humor, there are lighter movies to rely on. “Chef,” “Simran,” “Bareilly ki Barfi,” “Shubh Mangal Savdhan” are examples of solid slice of life movies from this year that did such a good job telling stories that make sense but inculcate laughs. There might not be a way to stop the large masses from picking films that are crass but there is a way to increase the number of good movies: go watch them!