A new genre of film-making has emerged in Bollywood in recent years. It’s called the “dard e-retro” genre. A movie that belongs to this category pays subtle or open tribute to Hindi films from the 1960s and 1970s, even though it seems a bit too early to do so. Such films fondly evoke the way actors in the good old days dressed, wore their hair and make-up, sang songs and danced. Sometimes, film-makers doff their hats to specific songs, characters, or pieces of dialogue. Sometimes, a whole movie is set in rewind mode, such as Om Shanti Om or Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. Viewers are made to travel back in time to share the director’s deep-seated love for a kind of larger-than-life film that is apparently not being made any more.
The most blatant example of the dard-eretro genre is the recently released Action Replayy by Vipul Shah, which is based on a Gujarati play which, in turn, borrowed many ideas from Back to the Future. In Action Replayy, a young man goes back in time to revisit the love story of his parents (played by Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). The plot gave Shah a great excuse to excavate bell-bottomed trousers, floppy wigs, polka-dotted dresses and hoop earrings. Audiences didn’t seem to share Shah’s taste for sartorially embarrassing times. The movie flopped at the box office.
One of the premier nostalgists of Bollywood is Farah Khan, who wants to be known as the Manmohan Desai of modern film-making and who wants to deliver the same kind of all-round entertainment that Desai excelled at. Khan’s upcoming Tees Maar Khan, about a charming con man played by Kumar, hopes to evoke the same madcap quality of Desai’s movies. Khan’s Om Shanti Om started off as a pastiche to a kind of over-the-top film-making that we have apparently abandoned, but she didn’t have the emotional distance or the critical faculty to maintain the momentum. Unlike seasoned practitioners of pastiche such as Quentin Tarantino or Todd Haynes, most Bollywood film-makers don’t actually have a well-developed perspective on older storytelling styles. Retro films are little more than better-dressed versions of tacky 1970s movies, and are mostly interested in creating a kind of cool that will especially appeal to younger audiences. Throw in a disco song and the package is complete—never mind the fact that disco music came to Hindi movies only in the 1980s, many years after shiny pants and glitter balls had invaded dance halls in America. Neither film-makers— nor audiences, for that matter— seem to care too much for verisimilitude. The crime drama Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, which claims to recreate the 1970s, isn’t recommended viewing for students of production design.
The real nostalgia of such films as Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and Om Shanti Om seems to be for a time when film viewing was a far less complicated business than it currently is. Although 2010 hasn’t ended, it’s safe to predict that this is the year when the film industry realized that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Viewers want to be served the same comfort food, but in shinier packaging. The humongous success of Dabangg proves that audiences haven’t lost their appetite for masala fare. Film-makers want to make the all-encompassing film that embraces all kinds of viewers. What better place to look for tried-and-tested fare than the 1970s, which is a golden decade for the mostly 30-something film-makers who dominate Bollywood in the same way the 1950s were for older film-makers?
Tees Maar Khan will release on 24 December.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai ( www.timeoutmumbai.net )
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org