Nice knowing you, 2004!

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By It was the rule of ?M?, Bollywood rebuilt bridges with Pakistan, and films became shorter and sexier. By Subhash K. Jha If till today no new face shone, midnight should change all that
  • Published 31.12.04

It was the year of the letter ?M?. Mallika Sherawat ruled. Mehmood died. Mughal-e-Azam regained lost glory. And Salman Khan whispered, ?Mujhse Shaadi Karogi?? to Priyanka Chopra who had no Aitraaz to the mmmmmm?.atch.

We lost laughter. Mehmood passed away. But we found comic virtuoso in Arshad Warsi. After Munna Bhai MBBS at the end of 2003 and Hulchul at the end of 2004. Arshad represents that wacky side of Bollywood where most creators remained more mired in sleaze and other sordid matters. 2004 was the year when sex jumped out of the closet and leapt into our laps with luscious legs. ?Sex? had many shapely forms besides. At one end of the spectrum there was Kareena Kapoor, stunning as the tart in Sudhir Mishra?s Chameli and as the femme fatale in Ken Ghosh?s Fida. At the other end, there was Mallika Sherawat whose Murder proved to be the most shocking success of the year. Even as its director, Anurag Basu, battled cancer, its leading lady jumped onto a high horse, demanding the kind of exclusivity that one thought went out of fashion with Rajesh Khanna. After a series of ?sexy? films like Hawas, Julie and Tauba Tauba, the cheesy genre reached a saturation point with a film aptly titled, Ab...Bas!

So what was the scenario for Hindi cinema in 2004? Not bad at all! The ?M?pire struck back. During the year ?M? replaced the superstitious industry?s other favourite letter, ?K?. All the hits of the year seemed to begin with the letter ?M?? Murder, Main Hoon Na, Masti, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Mughal-e-Azam?. Then at year-end, just when you thought the letter ?M? can?t go wrong, along came Musafir to set the record ?straight?.

Oh yes, there was also Dhoom, Abhishek Bachchan?s first bonafide hit that rocked the box-office, and Hum Tum which gave Saif Ali Khan his first success as a solo hero. Both the hits with non-M titles came from the Yash Chopra banner which, for Diwali, gave audiences the purported love legend, Veer-Zaara, Shah Rukh Khan?s second hit of the year, and also a respectable comeback for the illustrious Yash Chopra who hadn?t directed a film for seven years.

The film industry lost precious directorial talent like H.S. Rawail and Pramod Chakravarty, who between them, made innumerable hits during the 60s and 70s. Over the years they had become total misfits in the mutating movie industry. 2004 saw several major filmmakers coming a cropper at the box-office, thereby putting a question mark on the quality and content of commercial cinema which is likely to prove a winner at the box-office. Three of the tallest filmmakers, J.P. Dutta, Mani Ratnam and Farhan Akhtar, couldn?t get the audiences interested in their mammoth star-studded films, namely LOC, Yuva and Lakshya. Among them these three purported blockbusters bought major grief to the shaken and stirred film industry which quickly seemed to gravitate towards the small ?sexy? film and back again towards the biggies when Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and Veer-Zaara did well.

However, it was as clear as daylight that the stars alone couldn?t draw in the crowds. Big-budget star-spangled films like Mahesh Manjrekar?s Rakht, Rajiv Rai?s Asambhav and Ahmed Khan?s Lakeer couldn?t even garner a respectable opening.

Ahmed Khan was among the swelling brood of disgruntled debutant directors in 2004 whose failed maiden venture pushed them towards near-anonymity. Other wannashine filmmakers like Kabir Sadanand (Popcorn Khao?Mast Ho Jao), Ashwin Chowdhury (Dhoop), Sanjay Upadhyay (Satya Bol) and Samir Karnik (Kyun! Ho Gaya Na...) are so badly bruised by the experience of their first film that a second film seems a remote possibility.

The new faces fared no better. Except for Sammir Dattani who made a strong impact in Rajshri?s Uuf?Kya Jadoo Mohabbat Hai, not a single debutant was noticed, let alone lapped up by a talent-starved industry. Hyped youngsters like Vatsal Seth (Tarazan - The Wonder Car) and Shahwar Ali (Hawas) are struggling to hold their heads above the water.

One positive trend that emerged in 2004 was the reduced playing time of the average film. Suddenly we had a spate of Hindi films including Fida and Uuf?Kya Jadoo Mohabbat Hai that ended in two hours. Whether that was a sign of a mature movie-making trend or an impatient audience remained unclear.

As usual the year was cluttered with scandals and link-ups. The most far-reaching controversy of the year occurred when director Madhur Bhandarkar was accused of rape by an aspiring actress Preeti Jain. The scandal gave a new twist to the notorious casting-couch syndrome in Bollywood. Earlier during the year director Kaizad Gustad caused another national scandal when a female assistant in the unit of his new film was crushed under a hurling train. Kaizad went to jail, Bhandarkar didn?t. The entire print and electronic media splashed the twin scandals on the front page of their papers.

We lost Hindi cinema?s most beloved mother, Nirupa Roy. But where there is life there is also death. Arshad Warsi, Jimmy Shergill and Ashutosh Rana became proud parents. Choreographer Farah Khan and actor Bikram Saluja got married (not to each other) and Saif Ali Khan shocked his friends and fans by walking out on wife Amrita Singh after decades of marriage to set up a new home with an Italian girl, Rosa.

During 2004 ?The End? and a new beginning went hand in hand in the Hindi film industry. If in Vijay Anand we lost one of our finest filmmakers, it also built new bridges to our neighbouring countries when films like Main Hoon Na and Veer-Zara tried to rebuild the bridges between the borders.

But will the Pakistanis accept Mallika Sherawat without a burqa?

Facing up to 2005

2004 as any disillusioned moviegoer will tell you, was a terrible year for new faces. Hardly anyone made an impact worth mentioning. And those who did, were let down by the quality and performance of their debut film. But wait! There?s hope for 2005. Acting talent comes from unexpected quarters in the coming year. Here?s looking at the faces that should go places in 2005.

Ayesha Kapoor: Nine, and so fine! Sanjay Leela Bhansali?s new discovery in Black is a nine-year-old Ayesha Kapoor from Pondicherry. Playing a physically disabled, psychologically disordered, traumatised and maladjusted childhood version of Rani Mukherjee, little Ayesha rips the screen apart in Bhansali?s Black. According to the director, her understanding of her complex character and her interaction with her formidable costar, Amitabh Bachchan, was so intense and complete that she played her character far beyond what the script had stipulated. Born of mixed Indian-German parentage, Ayesha is definite star material. ?Acting is all she ever wants to do,? says Bhansali. And predicts: ?She?s going to be a major star one day.? Meanwhile, Ayesha Kapoor?s child act dwarfs every juvenile performance seen in Hindi cinema.

Isha Sharvani: On the same day when little Ayesha Kapoor makes a bludgeoning impact in Black (January 21) Subhash Ghai unveils his new discovery. Model turned actress Isha Sharvani was chosen to star opposite Vivek Oberoi in Kisna from among dozens of hopefuls. Knowing Subhash Ghai?s almost-unrelenting eye for feminine beauty (didn?t he launch/relaunch Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala, Mahima Choudhary?) Isha Sharvani should shimmer across the screen with tantalising success.

Sammir Dattani: So, all right. His Hindi debut in Uff?Kya Jadoo Mohabbat Hai didn?t go far at the box-office. But the Rajshri banner?s blue-eyed boy Sammir Dattani is the youngest and most sought-after hero in Bollywood since Shahid Kapur. A big draw in Kannada films where he has been part of two major blockbusters, Sammir?s Hindi assignment is Percept Pictures? romantic love story with Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia and Soha Ali Khan, and a film to be shot in Chicago to be directed by Pakistani?s comic star Omar Sharif where Sammir plays a rock star.

Soha Ali Khan: Pedigree shows. Sharmila Tagore?s daughter is inundated with assignments. Having done two Bengali films (including one with director Rituparno Ghosh where she costars with Abhishek Bachchan) Soha makes her Hindi debut in Anant Mahadevan?s Dil Maange More with Shahid. Other assignments include Percept?s romantic film (tentatively titled Pal Tham Gaya) with the much sought-after ?outsider? Sammir Dattani.

Abhay Deol: The Empire strikes again. Well-connected youngsters from within the film industry seem to be still flooding the industry. Sunny and Bobby?s cousin, Abhay, makes his debut this January in the low-budget Socha Na Tha. According to Sunny, Abhay is more star material than both the Deol brothers. Should we take his word for it?

Harman Baweja: Another industry insider, Harman Baweja is being launched with Kareena Kapoor in a hi-tech, slick-and-span romantic musical. With Papa Baweja?s foolproof production plans and the hot-and-happening Kareena as costar (she has been paid Rs 2.5 crores to be paired with a newcomer), can Harman go wrong? Ask Priyanka.

Mohit Alaawat: His debut in a film called James is being kept under wraps by his mentor Ram Gopal Varma. But in private conversation Varma predicts that Alaawat would be the hottest and most complete star-actor since Hrithik Roshan.

Sikandar Kher: Though no project has been finalised for this long-haired, thoroughly unconventional looking son of Kirron Kher, it?s pretty evident that Sikandar would be going into his mother?s profession. His extraordinarily tall frame and his look of a 70s? rockstar makes him an oddity in Bollywood. He?s likely to be signed for a film in the near future.

Karan Sharma: Ah, another industry insider. Son of former actor and producer Romesh Sharma, Karan is being given a ?foolproof? launch. Papa?s of course producing the film, Dil Jo Bhi Kahey, which is shot completely in Mauritius. Sharma has also got dear friend Amitabh Bachchan to play sonny-boy?s father. Serves him right.

Sidhartha Koirala: Manisha Koirala?s baby brother?s delayed debut finally takes place in early 2005 in the low-key, Fun: Can Be Dangerous Sometimes. Even if he has only a fraction of his sister?s charm and talent, Sid?s career should take off.