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Films are a great binding factor, or so the late film critic Roger Ebert would have us believe.
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Films with a career
There was a time when Rahul and Vijay had limited job options. They either inherited 'badey sahib's' estate, joined daddy's business or became a police inspector or doctor at most. But today the Bollywood hero can be anything - from a professional sperm donor to a divorce fixer.
Mujhe naukri mil gayee, maa, " the hero would proclaim in trembling tones to his overwhelmed mother. It was a generic naukri, you were never told what it was or where it was from and you rarely saw him work at it. And the filmi job market was quite limited. For the rich, there was daddy's nameless business, for the middle class a vague white-collar job and there was always the 'No Vacancy' board.
But the Vijays, Rajus and Rahuls are landing interesting jobs in films these days. Rajeev Khandelwal plays a bike-cabbie in the yet-to-be released UTV production Peter Gaya Kaam Se. In Bittoo Boss, which opened a week ago, the protagonist is a videographer. But the movie that pushes the envelope is the one that hit the theatres yesterday: Vicky Donor.
The film is about a sperm donor played by TV anchor and Bollywood debutant Ayushmann Khurrana. Though it isn't a "profession" in the strict sense of the term, sperm donation becomes a source of extra income for the just-out-of-college Khurrana. Shoojit Sircar, the film's director, is convinced the subject will click with the audience. "I think the time is just right for a film on the issue, " says Sircar, whose first film Yahaan (2005) was a mellow love story set against the backdrop of terrorism in Kashmir. He argues that people are more liberal in their outlook today than they were five or ten years ago, and with infertility becoming a serious problem, at least in the urban areas, it was time someone made a film on the subject.
In 2010, when Yash Raj Films released a movie where the lead pair played sparring partners in a wedding planner firm, few thought it would go on to become a mega hit. But Band Bajaa Baraat, starring Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma, pulled off the story very well, dwelling lovingly on every kitschy aspect of the job - from the floral arrangements to the texture of the naan. This February saw the release of Jodi Breakers, where the lead actors play divorce experts who specialise in driving a wedge between dysfunctional couples and helping them split up without legal complications.
"I think it is a very interesting, very viable profession, " says actor Madhavan, who played the role of Sid in the film. "Ever so often, we see relationships which drag on and where the partners are unable to adjust to each other. In these cases, a divorce is perhaps the best way out. "
Madhavan says that Bollywood is only projecting, on screen, a social and economic reality. "In the old days, a respectable career meant being a doctor, engineer or a chartered accountant. But now, you see people taking up jobs that youngsters didn't aspire to earlier, " he says.
Heroines, of course, rarely had full fledged careers in Bollywood. Teaching, medicine, nursing, dancing, modeling usually kept them busy till the shaadi shot in the last frame. Today Deepika Padukone can be a heritage conservationist (Love Aaj Kal), Kareena a hairstylist (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu), Konkona a journalist (Wake Up Sid) and Lara Datta a casino hostess (Housefull).
Why are screen professions departing from the old script? For one, the urban, multiplex audience is more liberal and cosmopolitan. Then, as Ranjani Mazumdar, associate professor of cinema studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, explains, low budget films allow directors and producers to take greater risks. "A low budget film, say in the range of Rs 5-8 crore, can nowadays recover all its costs from multiplex ticket sales, DVD sales, music and TV rights, " she says. She sees this as an important reason why filmmakers are now more prepared to venture into uncharted territory, including exploring newer screen professions.
Greater exposure to international cinema has also made movie buffs film literate. "DVDs and downloads have made it easier for people to see world cinema now, " says Mazumdar. "The referential world of cinema has expanded. When people see new professions in Hindi films, many of them have already seen them in international movies. "
And in a new economy, where new avenues of income are opening up every year, it is natural for movies to reflect the change. So while it was novel to see Rahul Bose play a DJ in Pyaar Ke Side Effects in 2006, Dangerous Isshq, Karisma Kapoor's comeback film slated to be released next month, harps on past-life regression therapy.
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan sees some new professions as being a magnification of character types, rather than the characters being fit into different professional roles. "In India, we can only diversify so much where sexuality is concerned, " he says. "And how many times can you recast the mother-in law? In such a scenario, new professions lend themselves to new kinds of plots. "
DOCTOR, ENGINEER YA POLICE OFFICER?
From farmers and soldiers to businessmen and doctors, Hindi film leads over the years have played a gamut of roles. . . The farmer was the big hero in the 1950s and 1960s, epitomised by Manoj Kumar in Upkar, Nargis in Mother India and Balraj Sahni in Do Bigha Zamin The medical profession had its moment in the sun with films like Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Anand and more recently, Munnabhai MBBS Many leading actors, from Dev Anand in Hum Donoto Hrithik Roshan in Lakshya, have also played soldiers There have been many writers and poets (Guru Dutt in Pyaasa, Dharmendra in Anupama), business scions (Amitabh in Sharaabi) and teachers (Amitabh and Dharmendra in Chupke Chupke) Outlaws have a long history in Bollywood as well, from Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jumna to Irrfan Khan in Paan Singh Tomar But the most common role is easily that of the cop, played by almost every Bollywood actor of consequence from Dilip Kumar (Shakti) and Amitabh Bachchan (Zanjeer, Khakee) to Aamir Khan (Sarfarosh), Shah Rukh (One 2 ka 4) and Salman Khan (Dabangg).
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