The Hindi Film Industry, referred to popularly as Bollywood, has been known to primarily produce films which have the lead actors dancing around trees and romancing each other, candy floss style. Typically, there is a damsel in distress who is saved by the hero from the baddie or the villain of the film.
However, of late there have been a slew of Bollywood films which question gender stereotypes, throw light on the geo-political and cultural context of Hindi cinema and do not reduce women to props. Some of the films are minimalist and others, though full of colour and vibrancy, try to look beyond one-dimensional characters and essentially produce works of art that are experimental, innovative and refreshingly original.
Dev D (2009)
Dev D happens to be the brainchild of its lead actor, Abhay Deol. After reading an English translation of Saratchandra Chatterjee’s Devdas (originally written in Bengali) Deol decided that it was time to adapt the classic novel in order to suit the life and times of today’s men and women. The novel is about the spoilt, rich son of a Bengali zamindar, Devdas, who is sent away to London to finish his studies.
He has a childhood sweetheart, Paro, who he loves, but later thwarts because he thinks she is not good enough for his family’s honour. He is later miserable when Paro marries someone else, an aged widower and seeks shelter with a courtesan, Chandramukhi. Eventually, Devdas, the tragic hero (essentially a loser and someone you feel sorry for throughout the book) drinks himself to death.
Dev D is about a boy who grows up in Punjab and is sent to London to finish his education by his rich father, who is a business Tycoon. Dev has a childhood sweetheart, Paro, but he refuses to acknowledge his romantic feelings for her. Rather, he asserts his male power by ordering her around. Paro (essayed by Mahi Gill), not to be outdone, is more than a match for Dev. When Dev goes off to London, they chat online. Dev returns, only to hear rumours that Mahi has been sleeping with other men.
Even though the rumours are false, Dev cannot bear the thought of Paro’s body being “used” by other men. Humiliated and insulted, Paro gets married to a man chosen by her family to slight Dev. Abhay Deol portrays the role of the drunken, pining lover to perfection. Dev then goes to Delhi, where after a drunken night, he meets Chandra, a sex worker, whose real name is Leni.
Of all the characters in the film, Leni’s character has the most convincing back story. She is a victim of an MMS Scandal, which is a direct allusion to the MMS scandal that occurred in a reputed Delhi school a few years ago. Ironically enough, Dev’s life always revolves around the women in his life. Trippy, bold and quirky, Dev D is not only a visual delight, but is definitely a must watch for anyone interested in convincing Cinema.
Sorry Bhai (2008)
Siddharth Mathur (Sharman Joshi), a young physicist who lives with his parents in India goes to Mauritius to attend his brother’s wedding.
Siddharth’s mother, Gayatri (Shabana Azmi) and father Navin (Boman Irani) are also invitees to their elder son Harsh’s (Sanjay Suri) wedding. Aaliya, portrayed by Chitraganda Singh, is Harsh’s fiancé.
To his utter dismay, Siddharth begins to fall in love with his sister-in-law to be.
Utter pandemonium ensues and the film deals with the relationship between the two women, the bonding between the father and son and how the two brothers deal with an issue as delicate as this one.
Starring one of India’s biggest Bollywood actors, Shahrukh Khan, Swades: We the People is about Mohan Bhargava, an engineer who works with NASA. At the outset, it seems as if Mohan has the perfect life- a graduate from an Ivy League school from the United States, Mohan now holds a coveted job.
However, after twelve years of being in the U.S, he decides to come back to India in order to find the woman who brought him up, Kaveri Amma. Kaveri Amma and Mohan have not been in touch since he left to go to the U.S to finish his studies.
Mohan discovers that Kaveri Amma now lives in Charanpur, a village that has no electricity and is plagued by poverty, discrimination on the grounds of gender and caste, illiteracy and child marriage. Swades is one man’s struggle to change things on a micro level.
Director Ashotosh Gowarikar has said in interviews that he was inspired by the real life couple Aravinda Pillamari and Ravi Kuchimanchi, who returned to India in order to provide electricity to villages with no electricity.
Road, Movie (2010)
Vishnu (Abhay Deol) lives with his parents in Rajasthan, where his father sells hair oil. Vishnu is tired of his humdrum life and wants to experience adventure on the road. As he carries on with his life, an old family friend turns up on his doorstep with a truck, which, as he explains to Vishnu, is a 1942 Chevy. Not one to let an opportunity slip past him, Vishnu convinces the family friend to lend him his truck.
On the way, he picks up an underage chaiwallah (Mohammed Faisal Usmani), an old entertainer who also doubles up as a makeshift mechanic (Satish Kaushik) and a banjara girl (a gypsy). Together, the four of them embarks on a life-altering adventure, which will change their perceptions of life, love and transience.
Iqbal, a young boy who is hearing impaired and cannot speak is obsessed with cricket from a very young age. His dream is to be a part of the Indian cricket team.
Coached by an alcoholic who used to play for the Indian Team at one point, Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah), Iqbal traces the struggles of a boy who wishes to prove his merit and play for the cricket team.
The film deals with themes such as provincialism and the politics that one encounters when one wishes to play for the Indian Cricket Team.
Looking for more movies? Check out 8 Bollywood Movies to Watch and browse through Matador’s focus page on India.