While browsing through my father’s CD collection recently, I chanced upon a song titled Ek Woh Bhi Diwali Thi from the film Nazarana (1961) in a “Best of Mukesh" album. Work on this Diwali special issue had already begun, and the title grabbed my attention. Around the same time, my long-lost interest in market economics was showing signs of resurrection as I desperately tried to understand what the TV channels were calling the “global economic tsunami". Read on to see why the song and the financial crisis are related.

Light my fire: Saawariya (top) lost out to Om Shanti Om in 2007; Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, a blockbuster of 2001.

So Mukesh crooned:

“Ek woh bhi Diwali thi,

Ek yeh bhi Diwali hai,

Ujjda hua gulshan hai,

Rota hua maali hai"

(There was that Diwali,There is this Diwali, The flowers have wilted, The gardener is in tears)

The song somewhat encapsulates what Diwali will be like for many people this year — gardeners (and stock brokers) are in tears for sure. It will also be a lean Diwali in Tinseltown. As Ramesh Sippy, director of Sholay, put it: “It seems Diwali is no longer the film industry’s cash cow. Times are changing."

Bollywood has hardly had a dull Diwali. Since the 1950s, Diwali openings have produced superhits (see below). But this October is a distinct departure — besides Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion starring Priyanka Chopra, Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal Returns and Yash Raj Films’ animation flick Roadside Romeo, there’s nothing to queue up for this year. Unlike 1995, when we waited for 2 hours outside a cinema hall a day or two after Diwali to spot a guy who would sell us tickets in black for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ made Rs6.25 crore in its first week, a record-breaking figure at the time). And not even like last year, when we waited to compare Om Shanti Om and Saawariya, just to reiterate that OSO was, in fact, better.

2008 has been the year of the small movie. Mint recently reported how various factors, including the proliferation of multiple-screen movie theatres, have revolutionized cinema-going habits and why long weekends matter much more to a producer now than a Diwali weekend. Some directors and producers believe that it’s suicidal to release films on the Diwali weekend because unless a film has a cast of stars, Diwali no longer attracts people to the theatres.

Are we going to witness multiple star-studded releases in the coming years? Perhaps, but it’s safe to say that the box-office war for the Diwali weekend is no longer going to be the norm.

But it’s not just new releases that make Diwali special for our filmwallahs — some host legendary parties; stars bond with friends and family; it’s considered the industry’s unofficial holiday. Says Ravi Kanwal, general secretary of the Cine Dancers’ Association: “One of the best parties is hosted by Salman Khan in Panvel. It goes on for days. Then there’s Akshay Kumar’s night-long card party." For Khan’s annual Eid-Diwali party, his farmhouse in Panvel transforms into a mela, and guests are driven down from Mumbai for biryani, khichda, carrom and pool. The late Raj Kapoor also hosted famous Diwali bashes as did yesteryear’s director Mehboob.

Television host Sajid Khan, whose father was a film producer, recalls seeing endless card parties during Diwali. “Things have changed now. Most young actors now prefer to stay away from industry friends during Diwali. Actors and technicians work throughout the year, things are much more professional. Going for a shoot is almost like going to office, and festivals such as Diwali and Holi are like holidays, when nobody wants to meet people they work with," he says.

In many of our movies, the festival of lights isn’t exactly a time for revelry. Film-makers, over the years, have often used Diwali as a device for turning points in the story and, in some extreme cases of unimaginative writing, firecrackers have been used as metaphors to portray a character’s grief and trauma, or changing fortunes.

In Waqt (1965), the lead character, played by Balraj Sahni, celebrates the beginning of a new business venture on Diwali by singing the song this film is famous for: Ae meri zohra jabeen, tujhe maloom nahin. As soon as the song ends, an earthquake destroys their home.

In Shakti Samanta’s Anurag (1972), the last wish of a child afflicted by cancer is to see the festival of lights, and his life takes a new turn when the entire neighbourhood arranges Diwali celebrations for him.

In Yash Chopra’s Mohabbatein, the widow, played by Preeti Jhangiani, unites with her lover during Diwali, picturized in a song where diyas and firecrackers form the backdrop.

And finally, how can one forget Jaya Bachchan in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: It’s the day of Diwali. She waits for her son to descend from a helicopter on to the lawn — watery eyes, thali balanced in both hands, singing hymns to an idol of Ram, entire family in tow.



Ten films that hit the box office during the Diwali week since the 1950s and went on to make history

Baiju Bawra’

(10 October 1952)

Remembered mostly for its music in Hindustani vocal music style, this was a blockbuster about the rivalry between Tansen, Akbar’s court musician, and the talented Baiju, played by Bharat Bhushan. Meena Kumari played one of her first important roles.

‘Mother India’

(25 October 1957)

Nargis’ memorable role as a mother who has to kill her son became a national epic. Directed by Mehboob, Nargis’ portrayal became an archetype of motherhood that continued to be replicated in Indian cinema, most famously in ‘Deewar’ in 1975.

‘Muqaddar ka Sikandar’

(27 October 1978)

Amitabh Bachchan plays a lumpen proletariat and loner in love with a woman (Rakhee) from the affluent class, helped through his loneliness by a prostitute named Zohra, played by Rekha. Its staple Bachchanesque histrionics were directed by Prakash Mehra.

‘Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge’ (20 October 1995)

The blockbuster directed by Aditya Chopra, with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in the lead roles, completed 625 weeks in Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir on 24 October. The theatre authorities say that on most days the film still runs to a packed house. It paved the way for a genre of romantic comedy that continues to flourish in the Hindi film industry.

‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ (31 October 1997)

Directed by Yash Chopra, it was a runaway hit because of its music, choreography, costumes and its stars (Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor) dancing, crooning and crying their way through a love triangle.

‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ (5 November 1999)

The great Indian joint family living in perfect harmony is more like a montage of Kodak moments between brother and sister, sister and sister-in-law and daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. Director Sooraj Barjatya struck the perfect chord of familial ties and euphoria associated with Diwali and the box office jangled to his tunes.

‘Veer Zaara’ (12 November 2004)

Yash Chopra returned as a director after a long break with this sweeping cross-border romance between a Pakistani woman (Preity Zinta) and an Indian man (Shah Rukh Khan).

‘Om Shanti Om’(7 November 2007)

Based on the theme of reincarnation (on the lines of the 1980 blockbuster (‘Karz’), this Shah Rukh Khan starrer, also the launch pad of Deepika Padukone, beat Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Saawariya’ at the box office. Farah Khan’s direction was tempered by a kitschy, satirical take on the industry and its stereotypes.

Sanjukta Sharma