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Bollywood and paternal love: Lessons in audience taste

www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com | May 7, 2024

Post-pandemic, filmmakers found it hard to lure audiences to the big screen as they preferred to wait for movies to be released later on OTT platforms. However, Bollywood saw the return of the single-screen audience this year as films like Pathaan and Gadar 2 shattered stereotypes surrounding the box office. The latter marked the superstar’s triumphant return with the sequel of his popular movie, Gadar. Although his movies in the last two decades were poorly received, his earlier films have a fanbase, especially in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Many of these films from the nineties are still watched on television and online as they are considered suitable for family audiences. So, it was not a surprise that his fans welcomed the happy, romantic, yet protective father figure of Tara Singh. The film recreated iconic scenes from Gadar, catering to the star’s image of patriotism and strength, which was celebrated by his fans. The film’s success can be attributed to the unique blend of family sentiments and the joy of familiarity. Enthusiastic fans, often mimicking famous scenes and dialogues, transformed the movie into a shared experience.

A paradigm shift has become evident as actors are no longer confined to playing 30- and 40-year-olds. While Sunny Deol essayed the role of a father in Gadar 2, this year’s other blockbuster, Jawan, saw a similar trend portrayed by Shahrukh Khan. The movie, a revenge dramedy, embraced modern tropes and showed benevolent men who supported women to seek revenge. Shahrukh’s double role, especially as a father, struck a chord with audiences. His fans rejoiced as the superstar gave a flavour of romance, action, and dance. Jawan presented various characters and plots from his other cult films, notably Chak de India!, Swades, and Chennai Express. The movie was lauded for its cinematic brilliance and discourse on anxieties plaguing India, inspired by real-life incidents.

Gadar 2 and Jawan rekindled the interest of the family audience as they were assured of family-friendly content by these larger-than-life heroes. This differed from the next successful movie of the year, Animal, which had the audience waiting ever since the film was announced. This movie fuelled the image of an alpha male whose pursuits are characterised by passion – around themes of gory violence and intense intimacy. Animal sparked off a meme fest that was satire in its portrayal of the extremes. Usually, when plots are revealed to the audience, it dampens the footfalls in movie theatres. But, in this case, it generated buzz around the movie. The characters played by Tripti Dimri and Bobby Deol in this mass entertainer also became popular.

Gadar 2 and Animal resonated with audiences on different levels. Many children could relate to the former due to their experiences with their protective and caring fathers. The popular trope of “Lost and Found” formula movies invokes painful memories of the 1947 and 1971 partition and conflicts. With Animal, many children related it to the portrayal of their busy fathers who did not dedicate time to their families due to their professional passions.

The recurring themes of father and son bond and revenge in these blockbusters show that audience engagement lies in the details. Revenge dramas, within the domain of public (patriotism) or personal (psychological), are still a spectacle that lures audiences to revel in them. While Animal shows a son turning into a criminal, in Gadar 2, the father and son unite against a military state’s evil, criminal-infested system, highlighting its failure as a nation-state. This was also the case with Jawan, where father-son and their friends joined forces to fight India’s enemies inside its territories.

Jawan and Animal reflect the potential of pan-Indian movies. The rise of OTT platforms and dubbing has facilitated the familiarisation of Bollywood audiences with stars from various regional industries. Indian audiences have adapted to the quick-paced shots, a regular feature of these dubbed films, which offer immediate gratification to our short attention spans. These blockbusters highlight the polysemy in films of both nostalgia and realism that find easy acceptance among Indian audiences. While they were earlier ridiculed for embracing heroes capable of fighting all their opponents simultaneously and having song-and-dance sequences in films, this perspective has gained widespread approval.

The familiar quirks, hyped dialogue, scenes, and songs built curiosity in these films. While nostalgia worked for older generations, the raw and edgy storytelling appealed to boundary-defying youth. The industry’s adaptability shined in the last couple of years, offering a testament to its resilience and leaving its audiences hopeful and eager for more immersive experiences.

Authors: Prof. Pankaj Jain, Faculty of Philosophy and Religious Studies, and the Chair of The India Centre, FLAME University. Dr. Sachari Basu, Fellow at The India Centre, FLAME University. 

(Source:- https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-india-centre/bollywood-and-paternal-love-lessons-in-audience-taste/ )