Conformity had been the hallmark of mainstream Bollywood cinema from the time it was born. With time, the outfits changed and so did the tone and volume of the expressions of the characters, but the charter of values remained stagnant. A paradigm shift began in the late ’90s with the opening of a lucrative market overseas.
One of the earliest people to break new ground was a much-maligned maverick — Ram Gopal Varma — with Satya (1998). The film saw the emergence of a brilliant young writer, Anurag Kashyap, who went on to become a major game changer (as a writer-director) in the real sense of the term.
In the new millennium, Farhan Akhtar was the first to break the mould from within the mainstream industry with his debut film, Dil Chahta Hai (DCH; 2001). It was contemporary in its treatment and reflected the youth the way they actually are and spoke their language. Since then, Farhan has been going places and making his presence felt in other avenues of cinema as well, especially as an actor.
DCH also marked the emergence of two extremely talented young women, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, who were Farhan’s assistant directors. The duo went on to write and direct four significant films: Luck By Chance (2009), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), both directed by Zoya, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007) and Talaash (2012), both directed by Reema.
Zo and Ree, as they call themselves, reflect no sense of harmony as they keep sparring with each other most of the time, but their work reveals no trace of discord. However, the two swear they would never be able to co-direct a film.
The first real non-conformist to shock mainstream cinema is the young Ranbir Kapoor. In spite of his emergence from a film family, his approach to work has been startlingly cool and candid from the beginning. Confident of his talent, he has resisted the temptation to play safe by looking for ‘hit-makers’. Instead, he has gone for challenging roles in well-written films like Barfi! (2012). He has even opted to work with a maverick director like Anurag in Bombay Velvet. Without fuss, Ranbir has shot into the big league, but remains sane.
Vidya Balan made an impressive debut in Parineeta (2005). But her efforts to make a transition to glamourous roles evoked a vitriolic attack from critics, especially against her outfits and ‘affairs’ with co-stars. But she hit back with a vengeance with her brilliant performance in Paa (2009), followed by films like Ishqiya (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), The Dirty Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012), which were critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful, establishing a defined identity for herself in a male-dominated bastion.
Anurag was looking for a composer for his ambitious film Dev.D (2009) when he ran into Amit Trivedi. He was so bowled over by Amit’s music that he decided to convert Dev.D into a musical. Amit went on to win the National Award and several others followed. He continued working with his college band mate and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya in Dev.D, Wake Up Sid (2009) and Udaan (2010), coming up with path-breaking work, giving Hindi film music a fascinating new dimension with edgy, futuristic sounds.
Amitabh had come from Lucknow to become a singer but, after an eight-year struggle, ended up being a ‘bard of the absurd’ as one writer puts it. He was behind ‘Emosanal atyachar’ from Dev.D; the song with Amit’s edgy sound was what first fascinated Anurag. Today, Amitabh is one of the most sought-after lyricists. His latest hit is Badtameez Dil from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Interestingly, Amitabh’s favourite lyricist is Gulzar.
Just when everyone was wondering why no one had thought of making a full-fledged film on dance, Remo D’Souza came up with ABCD — Any Body Can Dance, India’s first 3D dance film. As Hollywood Reporter calls it, “exuberant, upbeat and overflowing with music. It (the film) not only celebrates the potential of unknowns but launches the country’s best-known dancer and choreographer… Prabhudheva onto a world stage.”
Another remarkable first has been the elevation of the casting director to a professional level. A theatre actor from Delhi, Mukesh Chhabra has masterminded the choice of actors in some path-breaking films like Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011), Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012) and Kai Po Che. The likes of Anurag, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Rajkumar Hirani and Abhishek Kapoor seldom look beyond Mukesh when it comes to casting.