June 30, 2009

Rum's Famous Making Article, or Bollywood and Mythology!

Manoj says READ IT
I'm back again, and here's my article that will be published in a independant Vancouver magazine, its just how Bollywood seems to be influence by the Mahabharat and the Ramayana! Its pretty long but I think it's pretty grrrreat!

Bollywood and the Mahabharat/Ramayana

Bollywood conjures up many images of spectacular dance numbers, opulent sets, hyperbolic acting and general mindless fun. Since the beginning of Indian cinema, religion and faith have influenced the storylines that created the largest film industry today.
The Mahabharat is one of the two major Sanskrit texts of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. The Mahabharat is an epic poem that discusses dharma/duty, artha/purpose, kama/pleasure, and moksha/liberation with the story of a power struggle and war between two families the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Mahabharat contains 18 stories, and has 100,000 verses. The Ramayana focuses on Rama and Sita, a married couple that deals with infidelity, kidnapping, and war on a cosmic level.
Bollywood since the age of the silent era has used aspects of the Mahabharat and Ramayana to highlight the struggle of good against evil. The two epics were performed at the theatre and as Ram-Lila plays, which are performed on the street, but with the advent of cinema the epics were translated to screen. The growing number of religious or mythological movies in the 1920’s made these epics available to the working class. The Talkies era of Bollywood established the star system, and religious movies were swept aside by the tidal wave of song and dance movies. Religious movies relegated into the B movie territory with low budgets, tacky special effects, and bad acting.
Faith in mainstream Bollywood was not lost, because as long as the Mahabharat and Ramayana are, the characters of these two stories are found in the hero and heroine of Bollywood movie.
The hero in a Bollywood movie is fashioned as all rounder that adopts traits of the many Hindu gods and characters in mythology. A hero is also expected to rescue his heroine when a big bad badly dressed villain tries to rape, this scene is so common in masala movies which combine action, thrills, and romance into one melange of a movie. But if you look closely, when Draupadi, the shared wife of the Pandavas clan is captured by an evil god and about to be dishonoured all five brothers show up to rescue her virtue.
A hero in Bollywood is a symbol of the gods and mortals featured in a Hindu mythology. A hero embodies the mischievous nature of Krishna, righteousness of Bhima, the nobility of Shiva, the morality of Arjuna. The golden age of Bollywood of the 1950’s challenged these idealized versions of heroes by having a vagabond in Raj Kapoor’s “Aawara” (The Tramp) or a seedy blackmailer of Dev Anand in “Jaal”(Trap) the heroes were now grey and full of ennui, which was why the Golden Age lasted for a decade.
With the Indo-China wars in the 60’s, Bollywood once again became a route for escapism, with heroes and heroines sharing a tame kiss on the cheek, or a sexy rain song. The hero became a complete do-gooder, reflective of the gods. More and more Bollywood films churned out in the 60’s were storylines from different parts of the Mahabharat but more so on the Ramayana. Which brought a spate of female oriented weepy dramas that had an upright hero marry a pregnant heroine to save her honour or a put upon heroine that will do anything for her man.
Then came the Emergency rule by the Gandhi government in the 70’s, people were upset and angry, and the hero that represented the chaos was a tall, dark and Byronic Amitabh Bachan the first hero to be all the gods and kick some ass too! Bachan’s breakout movie “Zanjeer”(Symbol) had him playing a vengeful police officer who obsessed over finding his parents killer. The movie gave Bachan his Angry Young Man Persona and birthed the term “dishoom dishoom” the sound of Bachan’s punching and beating up villains! The vigilante hero image that Amitabh Bachan created was a voice to the people upset with the regime, but the vigilante was at the heart of the Mahabharat too, with the illegitimate son Karna Pandavas seeking to ruin the Pandavas clan for keeping his parentage in the dark. Karna was the new symbol for all revenge dramas that Amitabh and other actors starred in. Yash Chopra’s “Trishul” was a direct version where Bachan played the wronged son of a wealthy industrialist and plots to ruin all his business.
The heroine on the hand has endured some shape shifting in her time. Bollywood has idealized the heroine as a sacrificing Sita of the Ramayana, and the powerful Draupadi of the Mahabharat. Since the beginning of Indian cinema, a heroine has had the voice of a nightingale, has sacrificed her love for her family, been a wonderful mother and wife, and encouraging the hero to embrace his religious side.
During the Roaring Twenties a heroine was allowed to kiss her hero and in a shocking movie called “Typist Girl” (1926) the heroine defied her parents and hero to work as a typist. The twenties and thirties in Bollywood was an experimental time for the heroine, she could go to work, wear trousers, and kiss her hero torridly. A milestone for the growth of the heroine was “Hunterwali” (Hunter Woman) where the Anglo-Indian heroine Fearless Nadia performed daring stunts on top a train and wore trousers and cracked a whip! Nadia went onto doing many other stunt movies and earned the title India’s Original Stunt Queen.
The 1950’s were the Golden Age of Indian cinema, where directors toyed with the darker realm of the hero and heroine. The heroine could be a cabaret dance with a heart of gold like Geeta Bali in “Baazi” (Game) or a strong fearless woman of the untouchable caste like Nutan in “Sujata.” But the return to the Sita figure of the Ramayana was in “Aawara” (Vagabond) by Raj Kapoor. The protagonist played Kapoor is fatherless, and he learns that his mother was married to a judge, played by Kapoor’s father Prithviraj Kapoor, but was kidnapped by a bandit, upon her return to the husband, he questions whether the child is his, and throws her out into the street. The literal use of the Ramayana story in Aawara highlights the sacrificing duty of the mother in the movie, which makes Kapoor use the argument of nature vs. nurture during the movie.
The 1960’s became the Gilded Age for the heroine, as she was forced to sacrifice her love of the hero to marry her parent’s choice, and the only intimacy was a cutaway shot of the bees and the flowers! The return to religious allusions brought many female-orientated movies based on the stories of Ramayana, and other wronged female gods like Shakuntala. Faith in the 60’s was a point of reforming, a bad cabaret vamp that loves the hero is shown the light of religion and soon dresses in saris and sings devotional songs and then only does the hero fall for them. One such movie is “Jab Jab Phool Khile” (When a Flower Blossoms) where the glamorous heroine wears funky dresses goes on holiday to Kashmir; she unexpectedly falls for a simpleton boatman. She soon tries to reform him to her cosmopolitan ways by teaching him to do the twist and wear suits, but when this does not suit him he leaves. She then sings a devotional and lovesick song and transforms from haughty cosmopolitan to dutiful wife and runs to the station to stop him. Movies like these only lasted for a while till the turbulent 1970’s, where the vigilante hero took the focus.
As the Emergency rule disenchanted moviegoers, the hero who fights the law and evil villains came to forefront, and the heroine was now relegated to singing songs for the hero who was too angry to sing and dance. The rise of the multistarrers made the girls into trophy heroines, in the Amitabh Bachan dominated industry of the 70’s; the heroines were there to pacify Bachan’s anger and obsession with justice. Violence and sex were the fervour of the day, and heroines were wearing skimpier outfits to titillate audiences and feverish villains, only too ready to kidnap them Ramayana style and keep them in a funky den. Heroines also turned into vamps, who swigged alcohol with the hero’s and were sexualized by the camera and the rain songs that were rampant during the 70’s. Zeenat Aman, the path breaking revisionist heroine was relaxed about her sexuality and advocated free love her roles varied from junkies, to gold diggers, and a career woman, to an adulterous wife. Other heroines too, squeezed into to tighter clothes and adopted Aman’s vivacity. Here were heroines that would not cave too easily to religion and be reformed by a hero, as now the hero was a vigilante who blamed the gods for his suffering like Bachan’s famous character Vijay in “Deewaar”(Wall), though some heroines still repeated the patterns of the sixties. One of the most scandalous movies was Raj Kapoor’s highly sexed version of the mythological Shakuntala story, starring Aman as the burn victim version of Shakuntala who falls for a hero, played by Kapoor’s younger brother Shashi Kapoor, who hates ugliness and refuses to recognize her on their wedding day or her child, she then causes a catastrophic flood to wake up the ungrateful hero to her suffering. As noble as the story sounds, the audience did not see the allusion as they were struck by Aman’s braless heroine with see-through saris and the rest of the gorgeous village. Though the violent blockbusters raged on at the cinemas, the underground religious movies still had a place. And surprisingly a religious epic “Jai Santoshi Maa” (Hail the Goddess of Satisfaction) was one of the biggest money-spinners of 1975 along with Bachan classics “Sholay” (Embers) and “Deewaar”(Wall). The movie was a tacky but devotional film about a woman, who prays to Santoshi Maa, to get her husband to love and respect her.
The idealization of the mother figure on screen is inspired by the long-suffering Kunti the matriarch of the noble Pandavas clan. The epitome of the mother is from the movie Mother India (1957). The epic movie combines the elements of the Mahabharat with a good son against a bad son, and the mother who is torn between her love for her bad son and the law. Over time, mothers have become shrewd mother in laws that terrorize the heroine or trophy mothers that guide their sons and daughters to be good and virtuous. Another great mother movie is Deewaar, where the violent character Vijay’s rise to power is done purely to show his mother a good life, though she shuns it because of Vijay’s illegal smuggling and gambling. The mother of the seventies, now instructed her son to avenge her death or be an upright citizen, which was quite hard for Amitabh Bachans “Angry Young Man” persona.
Heroes and Heroines have changed, and rarely bear the allusions of the gods and mortals featured in the Mahabharat and Ramayana. But faith and religion still remain prominent in Bollywood, as devotionals songs usually start at the beginning of the movie, and the family unit is very close and pious like the Pandavas clan of the Mahabharat, they will do anything for each other.
The Family almost was a second character in the love stories of the 80’s and 90’s where family opposition to a lover, was soon sorted out when the hero or heroine sacrificed their love for their family’s honour. One such movie was Hum Aapke Hai Kaun (What is our relation?) where the two leads fell in love, but tragedy strikes when the soon to be bride passes away, and the heroine jilts her lover to get married and save the family honour. The 90’s in Bollywood was a return to traditionalism, although characters danced and lived in Switzerland or England, their hearts were still “Hindustani.” The family of the Ramayana were soon seen in any love story, with a stern patriarch like Dasharatha from the, a shrewish stepmother like Kaikeyi, a noble brother like Lakhshman, and a villain like Ravana.
The family in the Mahabharat have been adapted to screen with Kalyug (Obsession) and Hum Paanch (Us Five). While the latter has typical masala elements of songs, shrieking villains, it adapts the Mahabharat to a feudal village, where the five Pandavas brothers are friends from different castes who unite to take on the evil landlord family. Kalyug is the subtler art house version, with the Pandavas clan as wealthy industrialists at war with Kauravas over the next building contract. The movie painted a sympathetic portrait of both the families, which is not presented, in the epic poem, and especially Karna Pandavas with an understated performance by Shashi Kapoor.
At the heart of a Bollywood story is the allusion to the great poems of the Ramayana and Mahabharat, which is coated with a bit of singing and dancing, a bit of religious preaching and whole lot of dishoom dishoom.

6 comments:

jocelyn said...

Beautiful explanation and dissection, Rum. I hadn't heard the links with the Ramayana and Mahabharat explained so simply before--precisely what this newbie needed. :-)

jocelyn said...

Oh, whoops, sorry, I didn't realize I hadn't changed to my ajnabi account. LOL

bollywooddeewana said...

Congratulations on having your article printed, i read the whole thing and its a great write up, I had no idea how the Ramayana nd mahabaraat influenced bollywood and how Awaara was inspired from Ramayana,as they say you learn something new everyday, and i've definitely learnt a lot from this post.

Filmi Girl said...

Ooo! Congratulations!

Very interesting read! XD

Rum said...

Joceyln - LOL i know your name now, thanks i actually got the Ramayana at the library and read through most of it, a looong and lushious read too

Bollywooddeewana - Lol thanks I did a lotttt of research for this and i'm glad ppl like it!

Filmi Girl - thanks so much!

movie appraise said...
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