(From L to R) Gulshan Devaiah, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar
What is the Bollywood equivalent of burying your head in the sand like an ostrich? Or fiddling like Nero while Rome burned? I’ll tell you. It’s laughing while asking for your film to be boycotted, or worse, saying you don’t care if anyone watches it or not. The film industry, never united at the best of times, was largely silent when Sushant Singh Rajput died two years ago. It continues to be largely silent now when audience anger with it is at its peak. And if it is not silent, it is sniggering and sneering like a bully in the schoolyard. The hashtag #BoycottBollywood is not just a social media trend. It is now a reality that is affecting all filmmakers, regardless of which side of the political spectrum one chose in the past. Audiences are angry. They feel let down by stars they once venerated. They feel enraged by the senseless photographs of holidays in the Maldives. They feel disgusted by its stars disrobing for photoshoots, and even more so, when its disgust is mocked on news bulletins. Many of them have bought into the narrative that Bollywood is the place of 3Ds—drugs, debauchery and dynasties. That Bollywood is a place where the paparazzi are paid to take photos of star children from their infancy to build their brand value; where stars use Instagram to advertise their wealth, whether it is lavish holiday homes or opulent spaces done up by Bollywood wives; and where every airport look is an opportunity for brand endorsement. Southern stars may well be richer, come from famous families, and have spectacular homes, but they keep them carefully out of the public eye, showing their fans only what they want to see. Is this anger a national malaise which is being deliberately directed towards the Mumbai film industry rather than at people who can actually make a difference to the nation? The call for boycott is definitely being propelled by interested parties, but it is a mistake to assume that is all it is. It is an audience throwing up its hands and saying enough is enough. Enough of overpriced tickets for underwhelming movies. Enough of movies that preach. Enough of actors who are political opportunists. Enough of an endless stream of pointless parties. Bollywood has to make its audience fall in love with it again. Unfortunately, everyone in it is so narcissistic, so in love with themselves, that they have nothing left to give to the audience.
The Long Route to Success
Gulshan Devaiah is one of the country’s most charismatic actors. Anyone who has watched Badhaai Do will realise that Devaiah is a master of the glance. Romantic, sensuous, lustful, he can do it all, no matter who it is at the receiving end. In the film, it happened to be Rajkummar Rao. Devaiah is a practised scene stealer and does selective work, preferring to take the long scenic route to success. Born to Kodavu parents who worked in Bharat Electronics in Bengaluru, he studied fashion design in the first batch of NIFT, Bengaluru. He worked as a designer for 10 years, doing theatre on the side. The experience allowed him to understand himself and his strengths. By the time he landed in Bollywood, he was ready to choose interesting characters, from the drug-addled Karan of Shaitan (2011) to the sex-obsessed Mandar of Hunterrr (2015), from the quirky twins of Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota (2018) to the latest, the seeming serial killer in Duranga on ZEE5. Devaiah has lots happening in his career in the next few months—from Reema Kagti’s Dahaad for Amazon Prime Video to Raj and DK’s Guns & Gulaabs for Netflix. At 44, he also seems to be ageing backwards as he promises to be conventionally “successful” by the time he is 75. We’re happy to be along for the ride.
Scene and Heard
The life and times of Salim-Javed? In their own words? That is what Tiger Baby Films, Excel Entertainment and Salman Khan Films have decided to do together as they make a documentary on Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, in what will be a powerful testimony of the era they lived through, with details of their personal and professional lives. The 1970s were a time in the history of Indian cinema that altered many things forever, from the dominance of the male hero, the rise of the city in the imagination, to the emergence of a new Westernised woman who bridged the gap between Victoria and vamp. Much of it was because of these two men, hyphenated forever.