Monday, August 27, 2012

‘The Liberals’ by Hindol Sengupta

Akshay Kumar
"…I went to interview Akshay Kumar in the winter of 2005 in a flowery pink shirt (yes, that is a bit odd, but I will come to that), which I thought was becoming to an entertainment reporter.'
"The interview was in Bombay, at the suburban dance school belonging to a very plump, very agile choreographer called Ganesh Hegde. On every floor of the scratchily built school were made-up girls with hard faces, faces that had wanted to make it in Bollywood for a long time.'
"Akshay Kumar came on time, sat with his legs parted macho style, said this was the way he always sat, laughed at me for wearing TV make-up, and said that he hardly ever wore make-up. As it so happened, said Akshay Kumar, he knew that Bollywood was changing. He was not sure whether he ought to call it Bollywood any more, but of this he was sure – there was a drastic change in look, feel and storyline in the offing. He said that when he was trying to become an actor, everyone thought he would be a loser, or worse, a loafer, lost in the multitude of Bombay. Everyone, he said, loved the old films, the zip and charm of the Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Dev Anand films. Everyone lusted after and wanted to become the grouchy and gregarious Amitabh Bachchan. But in the 1990s, when he began dreaming of Bollywood and when I was a schoolboy, Bollywood had become a caricature of itself.'
"'In my early films, I don't know whether you want to call it wooden,' guffawed Akshay Kumar, 'but even the cupboards and tables and furniture on the sets acted better than me.''
"These films, he explained with the passion that would have matched Calcutta's great film societies discussing Tarkovsky, appealed to the mass market, Bollywood's famous front-row audience, the people with the cheapest tickets, the public. But then, said Akshay Kumar, in his famously faltering, gruff voice, the multiplex age and satellite dish age explained to Bollywood that a new audience had arrived. He explains this in sartorial terms:'
"'You see, you as the viewer would have wanted to wear the suits Dilip Kumar wore or Dev Anand. Amitabh Bachchan wore cool clothes, but would you wear the stuff that we wore in the nineties?''
"The answer, looking at the fluorescent pants and blingy shirts and stringy pyjamas and ragdoll kurtas that populated films like Raja Babu, Collie No. 1, Judwaa, Yeh Waqt Hamara Hai and Ankhen, was clearly – no.'
"Then, said Akshay Kumar, Bollywood producers realised that their films had to be realistic and had to be based in the cities. It is in the cities where a new audience, earning new money and bred on large doses of Americanism, lived and worked.'"
(pp. 91-2, 'The Liberals' by Hindol Sengupta – Harper)

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