‘You Want Crorepati Glasses?’by Khalid Mohamed July 15 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 51 secs
It’s everywhere, on the streets, in living rooms, on cellphones and endorsement billboards. Khalid Mohamed writes on the ever-ballooning influence of Bollywood on our daily lives.
Okay, so ever since I have been in the cradle, I’ve been awestruck about how life imitates popular entertainment. Take this: I went to buy a pair of cool (hopefully) spectacle frames last week. The salesperson took a cursory look at me and said, “I have the right ones for you! The famous Kaun Banega Crorepati frames!”
Excusez moi. I must be half the height of Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Concurrently my face must be half of Mr B’s as well. So how would those black framed glasses sit on me? “KBC frames,” the counter salesman beamed. “Very much suiting you.” When I asked him if I could see something, which wasn’t related to television or cinema, he shrugged, “Then how about no frames at all? Or Granny glasses? Like John Lennon’s.” Or heavens, Elton John’s? Karan Johar’s tomato-red classics from Koffee..?” Honest, I’m not exaggerating. The way things were going, I might have just ended up looking like a terrible cross between Lennon, Bachchan, Kjo… and believe you this, George Clooney.
Yup. To jazz up the B-city film star galaxy, Clooney, Leonardo Di Caprio, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise are the current templates of our hair stylists. So my next stop, stylist Naeem at the affordable Precious Salon on Warden Road brought over a rather dog-eared issue of GQ magazine and displayed a close-up of Clooney, insisting that the way he wore his hair was perfect for my salt-and-pepper locks. Superb, superb, I almost sang. Turned out to be a subterfuge. All that Stylist Naeem did was to run his fingers through my hair, here and there, rough them up a bit, snip-snip and then smile broadly, “You like it?” I didn’t, and asked him for an old-fashioned snip, close to a crew cut. A Dev Anand puff might have been more appropriate though.
Over to a Gift Shoppe, as it spells itself, to pick a gift for a cherished acquaintance. And I broke into a double flip: Sholay coffee mugs, cushions imprinted with a tight close-up of the ubiquitous Mr Bachchan, Dum Maaro Dum notebooks displaying Zeenat Aman dragging at a chillum, stationery galore like writing pads with cover classic pix of Mughal-e-Azam (which I didn’t mind), wall posters of Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan in the buff, Deepika Padukone with dimples accentuated by photo-shop and cell phone covers with emojis of someone who bore a faint resemblance to Sara Ali Khan. Hence, I skedaddled out of there, with a bunch of porcelain red roses wrapped in cellophane. “Good choice!” declared the senior salesman, “They’re straight out of a Yash Chopra romance. Your lady friend will appreciate it.” But it’s not a lady. “Roses are unisex,” the wise shoppe attendant responded airily.
The point is that the influence of the movies is escalating incredibly. Sport stars, even dear Virat Kohli, were missing from the mugs and doodads. The conviction about Bollywood reigning by far today I can substantiate further by citing a series of interviews I conducted with street children for a documentary. Not surprisingly, all the boys wished to be Dabanggs or Bodyguards, and heartbreakingly showed off non-existent muscles for the camera. Other boys who were more updated, by downloading films on tiny cell phones, quoted chunks of dialogue from the Hindi dubbed versions of Pushpa, RRR and the KBF Chapters 1 and 2. No Kamal Haasan’s skullbanger Vikram, mercy be.
Boys also quoted Salman Khan lines from the dialogue from the bygone Dabangg expertly, particularly “Hum tum mein itne ched karenge… ki confuse ho jaoge ki saans kahan se le… aur pade kahan se.” Ulp.
As for the girls, they broke into the rather dated by now Chikni Chameli, Munni Badnaam Hui and Mauja hi Mauja dance steps, and raved about Katrina Kaif, Malaika Arora Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Sunny Leone and Nora Fatehi were not on their radar, though, perhaps too pseudo-erotic to handle. Plus, ever since the raunchy moves of Oo Antava Oo Ooo Antava in Pushpa, Samantha Ruth Prabhu has become the ace darling of the season, not known by her name but as the Oo Ooo girl.
And it no longer counts if the film was in Telugu or Tamil, dubbed versions in Hindi are fine. They may boast of superior stories and direction, yet that could be a passing phase. Viewers have begun packing the Mumbai cinema halls, be it for RRR or Bhool Bhulaiya 2. Bollywood is still the priority, say Aaryan Kartik over NT Rama Rao Jr and Vijay Charan of RRR. Or even Parabhas of the two Baahubalis.
The kids may not get enough to eat, their clothes are torn, but talk of the movies straight to the camera and light up like a thousand candles. Quiz them about attending schools and they change the subject. Most of them admit that they are enrolled in municipal or even private schools, but their parents require them to earn a living on the streets. A share of the earnings go to the movies. Education would surely alter impressionable mind-sets but who’s to enforce that?
Wiry and undernourished, a pre-teen waif Shabana nicknamed Shabbo, hangs out with other street kids in an unkempt park at the Haji Ali traffic junction. As soon as she sees a crew of videographers, she pulls out a lipstick from nowhere, covers her lips in a slash of red, and informs the camera, “Just you wait. Sab ki chhuti kar doongi ek din. Main kisi item girl se kam nahin.” There is something decisive and yet sad about her decision. Because till then, dear Shabbo will have to beg for alms and share a cut with a man whom she describes as a “khatarnak boss.” A Charles Dickens’ Fagin, this boss may be. She softens her statement by adding, “Lekin kabhi kabhi hamare liye pizza laata hai.”
Sure, Bollywood has since time immemorial been an intrinsic part of everyday life. My grandmother, for instance, could not do without the Lux bathing soap endorsed by actresses right from the black-and-white era, starting in her memory with Leela Chitnis. Neither could my gang of uncles do without their double knit jerseys of Rishi Kapoor, like my nephews today can’t do without the Manish Malhotra-designed wedding wear at sangeet ceremonies. Yep, those longish, dangling embroidered scarves (dupattas?) have been here to stay.
For sangeet ceremonies to upper-middle class families, women of all shapes and sizes practise Bollywood body moves, under the instructions of a ‘professional’ choreographer - who hasn’t been able to crash into the thick of showbiz - to the beat of Hindi film songs, brand-new and vintage. And the bride must be bedecked in a Sabyasachi Mukherjee or Abu-Sandeep creation, never mind if they’ve all begun to look similar.
For newcomers or hopefuls anxious to slam open the closed doors of the world’s largest film factory, spiffily-equipped gyms (particularly in the Bandra and Andheri-belt) are the hotspots to scurry to. Six-pack abs are a must, as are protein shakes, and the lord forbid, steroids. Desperate attempts are on to rope in the trainers of Hrithik Roshan and John Abraham as trainers, the exorbitant costs no bar.
As for that essential ingredient called acting talent, classes and workshops by Barry John, Anupam Kher, casting agent Mukesh Chhabra and Kishore Namit Kapur,may just do the trick. The upper crust kids even dream of jet-hopping to the legendary Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. Ranbir Kapoor was there, wasn’t he? Or better still, if one has contacts in showbiz, wangle a job as a menial assistant to learn the ropes, whatever those might be. The slog has to pay off once you’re in the inner circle.
Long-term courses at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, are off-putting since the institute hasn’t yielded any ‘star material’ in the last decade. Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods is considered an option. In fact, training in technical skills there and at Pune’s Film Institute - cinematography, editing, sound recording and mixing - might do the aspirants a world of good and even offer alternative careers. But no, quickie stardom has always remained the dream to make come true.
By the way, spurious acting classes work covertly. One candidate from a smalltown in the state of UP, I know, enrolled, paid up a hefty advance fee and the office of the class vanished into thin air. Such fly-by-operators advertise online and even in language papers. Yet the cheated one just gives up on exposing the scam. Why get into trouble, a ‘jhamela’ or ‘kaand’ in their argot?
What happens, then, to the wannabe Salmans, Shah Rukhs, Varun Dhawans and Alia Bhatts? Nerve-wracking insecurity. Yet it’s only the rare few who return home under the fear that they will be heckled as ‘failures’. Only way out: Do as the Bollywoodkars do, is the avowed religion.
According to the stalwart Gulzar who co-wrote Guddi and had incorporated a scene depicting a character (played by Asrani) who couldn’t ever make it inside the glitzy system, “See, whenever one looks for a newcomer to cast, there must be something special about him, whether it’s his eyes, voice or the way he carries himself. So I’ve always wondered, what’s the point in being a second-hand replica and at times, I would even say a mimic of the original?”
Access to the B-town enclave has enlarged with the boom in streaming channels, of course. There are way more opportunities to reach the face of the camera. How to get there? The proliferating casting agents are the only ones who can stamp their visas. Fortuitously, the OTT platforms have seen competent and credible actors; more out-of-work graduates of the Delhi’s National School of Drama are finding themselves gainful employment. Take the instance the fine actor Pankaj Tripathi, who had to work for seven years in a Patna five-star hotel, moved to NSD, and initially was being wasted in bit roles in the movies, even appearing in a shot or two of Chikni Chameli and in a cameo in Gangs of Wasseypur.
But no, the strugglers, admittedly not-a-nice-word to use for hopefuls, don’t look up to the examples Pankaj Tripathi or other formidable NSD graduates, Naseeruddin Shah or Om Puri. They’d rather be muscular clones, in shredded jeans, tight Tees and Ray-Ban glares, and gather in droves at either the fast-food joints or the coffee outlets of Oshiwara.
If any of them have any USP, filmmakers are not likely to go around looking for them at such hang-outs. Photograph portfolios and ceaseless auditions even for miniscule rules, can’t prevent them from longing for a launch by Dharma Productions or Yash Raj Films. Bollywood remains the El Dorado and how, in multiple sectors.
In fact, an advertising agency’s honcho told me lately that their clients are rarely impressed with films and print ads, which don’t feature movie or sport stars. He disclosed that his agency had to come up with a concept in a couple of days for a cosmetic product. They thought of a simple idea: Ananya Panday holding the product before the camera and saying sweet somethings. The product’s sales went up by gazillion percent immediately.
By the way, no gazillionaire’s party, whatever the occasion might be, parades A-lister B-town stars on a red carpet to demonstrate their clout. Lakhs are paid to even starlets to cut a ribbon to inaugurate a store, especially in the smaller cities. Destination weddings of the actors have to be star-studded to make a noise. Or the glossy magazine spreads, who pay for exclusive photographs, may cut down on the stipulated financial agreement.
However it wasn’t always like this, not to such an intense degree at least. In the course of a conversation with Shyam Benegal, who started off as an ad filmmaker in the 1960s, I learnt that there was a time when top movie stars would avoid endorsements. “Only the seniors like David and Ashok Kumar would agree readily to lend their faces for ads,” he recalled. Today, the story’s come around 360 degrees. An endorsement world without Bachchan Sr, Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar and Alia Bhatt, the prime adwalla favourites, is unthinkable.
Just for the record, which genius coined the word ‘Bollywood’? Multi-media personality Amit Khanna has gone on record to say at an event, "Mr Bachchan called me up one day, and very angrily he asked, 'Why are you calling this Bollywood? I don't like this’. I think that it's basically a brand name. Does Dalda mean anything? Does Colgate mean anything? " However, according to Wikipedia, "Bollywood" was probably invented by the Bombay-based film trade journals in the 1960s or 1970s, though the exact inventor varies by account. Film journalist Bevinda Collaco has claimed she coined the term for the title of her column in Screen magazine. New Delhi’s feisty media columnist, the late Amita Malik would insist that the word was her creation.
Anyway, what’s in a word or term? Plenty, it would seem. The dingy walls of Bandra, Malad and more suburbs have come alive with Bollywood graffiti, constantly reminding us that this city is where the most influential celebrities are indispensable (inescapable?) factor in our everyday lives.
So see the spectacle frames, unbranded and unendorsed, were pitched to me, as if wearing them would make me a ageing Crorepati overnight. Sigh.