Where’s romance in Hindi cinema?

Are love stories no longer in the business in Bollywood? Or has it taken a backseat? Looking back at the range of films from 2016, we find that sequels, biopics, comedies and action films are in vogue. Yes, romance remains a substantial part of most of these movies. Both Baaghi and this year’s Baaghi 2 had love as the base for the action.

In that sense, R Balki even terms his PadMan (a dramatised biopic) as a great love story, for the husband’s contribution to society happens because he loves his wife so much. The same was the case with last year’s Toilet—Ek Prem Katha, another disguised biopic, and coincidentally also starring Akshay Kumar.

At best, we can thus say that love in the last two or three years has become either socially conscious or action-packed. Because what we actually mean by romantic dramas is, of course, the range from teenage love stories like Bobby down to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Cheeni Kum. And it does not mean this year’s Padmaavat, which was more like a historical version of Darr, that is, where the villain’s infatuation for the heroine was higher than the comparatively tepid love of the hero. 

A glance at forthcoming films also points out to a paucity of classic love stories. We have high-octane films like Race 3, Thugs Of Hindostan, 2.0, Saaho, Shamshera, Kick 2, Dabangg 3, Krrish 4, Brahmastra, Rannbhoomi, Simmba and even Aamir Khan’s planned mega-epic Mahabharat. For relief, there are socials like Bharat and Kalank and laugh riots like Total Dhamaal, Welcome 3 and Housefull 4. But where is the prem katha?

Love stories have had a dismal track record for over two years now. Happy Bhag Jayegi and Ki & Ka were different kinds of romantic comedies that did above-average business. Last year, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana were sleeper successes, but the true-blue blockbusters were not romances at all. The lone blockbuster among love stories, Sultan, was projected as a sports drama. 

As against this, we had mostly abysmal romances like Baar Baar Dekho, Fitoor, Befikre, Half Girlfriend, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM), and a recent extravaganza of boredom, October. While all these films collectively sounded the death knell for love, what was organically spotlighted in the process was that even the masters had seemingly lost connect, like Aditya Chopra in Befikre and Karan Johar in ADHM. Even a heartthrob like Varun Dhawan could not guarantee success for October. Hollywood has all but finished the world’s film industries, and Indian cinema, especially those from the South and Hindi, are fighting it like a resolute David against a remorseless Goliath. In this situation, with distribution improving and a rapidly developing fan base for our cinema in even countries as offbeat as China, the demand is for story-heavy, emotion-rich big-budget films. Romances can never have the scale and budgets of the Bahubali franchise, Dangal, Tiger Zinda Hai or even Golmaal Again

Survival is increasingly, and even more crucially, the name of the game. And what novelty can there be in romance that will justify great costs and returns?

This is also a lesson that Yash Raj Films has learnt. It has shifted to action for its biryani, even if they also make small films like Hichki for bread and butter. After all, in the last 15 years, their prime earners have largely been action capers like the Dhoom series, Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai, and they are now busy with Thugs Of Hindostan, Shamshera and the Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff action drama. And this is the banner that once gave us Daag, Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Chandni, Lamhe, DDLJ, Dil To Pagal Hai, Mohabbatein and Veer-Zaara. 

Thus, every trend in Hindi cinema is dictated not just by hits and disasters but also by the filmmakers and stars who are leading the market at that point. Today, the five superstars — Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan — are around or in their 50s and can, at best, do mature romances, if anyone would take this risk. 

Hrithik Roshan too is not getting any younger. Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan are more into variety with a dash of experimentation, while a resurgent Ranbir Kapoor has finally decided to focus on being a pedigreed and saleable star (Brahmastra, Shamshera, Luv Ranjan’s comedy) rather than remaining just a great actor in weird films.

Last but not the least, we do not have either the mega-talents or environs to create the most vital tool for a love story — fabulous music. Can any of our music makers, lyricists and filmmakers today collaborate on current music to match the calibre of Jab Jab Phool Khile, Bobby, Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyar Kiya, Aashiqui or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai?

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Where’s romance in Hindi cinema?

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