1997: A fast and furious year for Bollywood.
Superstar Sridevi married producer Boney Kapoor and gave birth to her firstborn Janhvi.
Shah Rukh Khan turned daddy when wife Gauri delivered Aryan.
Friends turned foes when Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla fought on the sets of Ishq and stopped talking for seven years.
The underworld posed a serious threat to the industry following the near escape of director Rajiv Rai and the fatal attack on music baron Gulshan Kumar. When investigations in the T-Series owner’s case named Nadeem of Nadeem-Shravan as one of the prime suspects, the composer fled UK-wards never to return.
We lost veteran film-maker Basu Bhattacharya as well as young whizkid Mukul Anand, whose under production Dus. co-starring Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan, Raveena Tandon and Lisa Ray was one of the most eagerly awaited biggies of the year. Its lively chartbuster Hindustani by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy gained popularity of anthem proportions and put the troika on the map.
While Hindi pop music scene and content on cable channels gained in momentum, audiences passed up on icons on a comeback trail and showed their loyalty for only ‘entertainment, entertainment, entertainment’.
Twenty five years later, Sukanya Verma offers a recap of its memorable imagery.
Kajol is the killer
Rajiv Rai’s glossy whodunit Gupt, starring Bobby Deol as a wealthy brat, falsely accused of killing his step-dad, in pursuit of finding the real killer is masala at its most stylish and suspenseful.
Replete with Viju Shah’s slick score and a cast bursting in humour and intensity, Gupt‘s biggest bombshell is Kajol on a murderous spree.
Rai’s killer twist is easily one of the biggest reasons why the film is still so talked about and earned the feisty leading lady her first Filmfare for a Negative Role.
War movie of the decade
Back when patriotism wasn’t propaganda, J P Dutta’s recreation of the Battle of Longewala fought between India and Pakistan in 1971 took a hefty look into the spirit and soul of homesick Indian soldiers defending their motherland while acknowledging the evils of war and an equal loss of loved ones on both sides of the border.
Hailed as one of the best among its genre, few have found the balance between urgency and aggression like Dutta achieved in his blockbuster ensemble drama, enhanced by Javed Akhtar’s sentimental lyrics.
Despite the several attempts (Refugee, LoC-Kargil, Paltan) to repeat history, even Dutta could not produce another Border.
More Power to the Material Girl
Money-loving Sridevi gave the term liquidate assets a new meaning when she sold off husband Anil Kapoor to wealthy heiress Urmila Matondkar in Raj Kanwar’s Judaai.
It’s an absurd premise yet Sri’s unapologetic greed and irrepressible joy while rolling on bundles and bundles of cash made us lap it up.
In Basu Bhattacharya’s Aastha, Rekha plays a dull housewife sleeping around for extra bucks only to learn a thing or two about sex, neither of which her nerdy professor husband Om Puri can provide.
Both are distinctly diverse set-ups and schools of film-making yet neither woman is punished for wanting the finer things of life and succeed in scoring a happily-ever-after.
Nannies and bawarchis for hire
Lovesick boyfriend masquerading as domestic help to win over her dysfunctional family.
Estranged father dresses up as a middle-aged nanny at his wife’s paternal home to spend time with his knee-high daughter.
Govinda and Kamal Haasan brought the house down with their antics in Hero No 1 and Chachi 420 respectively.
Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
Two movies, same duo, different reactions.
In Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai, the screen pretty much burns down from the heat caused by Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit’s scorching ‘Someone, somewhere is made for you’ chemistry.
In comparison, Rakesh Roshan’s Koyla felt like an interaction between their lookalike puppets. Zero magic.
Dance off of 2007
Long before Madhuri and Aishwarya burned the dance floor with their rhythmic leg work in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Dola Re, the dancing legend found a worthy challenger in Karisma’s nimble reflexes as they matched steps to contemporary choreographer Shiamak Davar steps in the aptly-titled Dance of Envy.
Year of laughs
Johnny Lever’s Abba Jabba Dabba yapping bride in Judaai, Gupt‘s Pattiwale shaiyar‘s observations on a slew of half murders, Mr and Mrs Khiladi‘w Akshay Kumar lamenting ‘Bachche ki jaan loge,‘, Govinda’s Chintukle Pintukle jibes at Pappu Pager in Deewana Mastana and ‘Main tere pyaar mein kya kya na bana Meena. Kabhi bana kutta kabhi kameena‘ cries in Hero No 1, Salman Khan’s twin trouble in Judwaa and, cellular ki kasam, Om Puri, Amrish Puri and Paresh Rawal’s bantering over Chachi 420‘s attention, 1997 brimmed in rib-tickling punch lines and heartfelt silliness.
Spot the future star
Be it Alia Bhatt as sister Pooja Bhatt’s younger avatar in Tamanna, Kunal Kemmu as Suniel Shetty’s beloved kid brother in Bhai, Fatima Sana Shaikh as Kamal Haasan and Tabu’s daughter in Chachi 420 and Shahid Kapoor (whose dad Pankaj Kapur delivered one of his milestone performances in Rui Ka Bojh that very year) as one of the group dancers making a blink-and-miss appearance during Karisma Kapoor’s Le Gayi number in Dil To Pagal Hai, little did we know these are stars-in-the-making back then.
Salman Khan showed off his comic chops twice over as Raja and Prem smoothly alternating between a cheeky tapori and coy rockstar as the chalk and cheese twins separated at birth yet connected by body and soul in Judwaa.
Remade two decades later with Varun Dhawan in the lead and Sallu in a cameo, Judwaa 2 never quite measured up.
Akshay Kumar slipped into a double role for Aflatoon as a playful slacker finding himself in trouble no thanks to his evil lookalike.
Of course, our enduring memory of this typical ’90s baloney is the Khiladi frolicking about Mumbai streets in parrot green cargo pants.
And his co-star Urmila Matondkar changing into a zillion saris for just one song.
Deva ki adalat
Back then, action packed potboilers were the order of the day.
After a Jeet-filled 1996, Sunny Deol continued his reign in back to back hits like Border and Ziddi.
Fans lapped up his self-styled justice as Deva featuring all the indispensable ingredients of a box office rocking masala — threat filled punch-lines, violence and vendetta, flying cars, a roaring chemistry opposite glamorous leading lady Raveena Tandon against chartbusters like Ore Ore and Kammo.
Salaakhen, an obvious attempt to cash in on Ziddi‘w success, with the same team could not repeat the magic.
Sai, Saaz and Lata-Asha’s rumoured rivalry
Sai Paranjpye’s heartfelt story of singers and sisters engaged in professional rivalry and personal drama bears an uncanny resemblance to the rumoured discord between real life icons Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.
But the film-maker maintained any similarity is purely coincidental.
Controversies aside, Saaz made for a riveting watch that showcased Shabana Azmi’s command on her art and Aruna Irani’s untapped potential and remarkable restraint.
Hit hai, fit hai
With Bhai and Border, Suniel Shetty proved he’s more than a muscle man in mindless masalas.
Bhai released on the same day as biggies like Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai and Partho Ghosh’s Ghulam-E-Mustafa.
One a love triangle starring superstars like Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor directed by the last word on romances whose music was already selling like hot cakes, another a vendetta vehicle led by Nana Patekar on a success spree.
Nobody expected a small movie like Bhai to do well.
Only it opened better than both and cemented Shetty’s reputation as a bankable star.
Never acknowledged for his acting before, his earnest turn as the duty-bound army officer leaving his new bride home to dive right in the mouth of battle in Border impressed critics and public alike.
The surprise package of ;Virasat
Just when the world was waking up to Tabu’s intense talents in Maachis, the actress dazzled us yet again as the most chucklesome presence in Priyadarshan’s Hindi remake of Thevar Magan co-starring Anil Kapoor and Amrish Puri.
Who can forget her big puppy eyes and sound effects as part of her impromptu Payalay Chunmun rendition that instantly endeared her to Kapoor in the movie and us outside it?
Keep it short!
Less is more defined the style mantra of 1997 and everybody from Lolo to Salman Khan was happy to take the ‘short cut’ route with fashionable gusto.
It’s only words
Gibberish had a field day in Shina Gore Hazy Hazy Bobling (Darmiyaan), food for thought (Jab Tak Rahega Samose Mein Aloo Tera Rahunga O Meri Shalu, Mr and Mrs Khiladi) and metaphors (Strawberry Aankhen Sochti Kya Hain , Sapney) took a new meaning, Hyderabadi lingo inspired the street-style banter of Maine Paidal Se Ja Raha Tha Une Cycle Se Aa Rahi Thi Kiya Tring Tring Ka Ishaara (Hero No 1), India ‘is the best’s secular identity blasted through pedestrian lyrics like Raje Shivaji Wah Wah, Akbar Badshah Wah Wah Mahatma Gandhi Wah Wah Chacha Nehru Wah Wah (Judwaa) and the might of the mosquito was emphasised as Nana Patekar rapped Ek Machhar (Yeshwant).
Those were the days, no?
Uma Parvati and Daya Shankar’s fyaar
Daud‘w bizarre adventures and madcap characters have found a cult audience over the years. But at its time of release, the only thing that caught eyeballs was Urmila Matondkar and Sanjay Dutt’s gender reversed names Daya Shankar and Uma Parvati showing off their animal instincts and tanned and toned bodies in erotically choreographed love songs.
Beauty queens and bachelor boys on the block
1997 witnessed a bevy of beauty queens try their luck in show business.
Former Miss India-Canada turned model and veejay Kamal Sidhu played a spoilt heiress in Ketan Mehta’s Aar Ya Paar.
Former Miss India Pooja Batra registered her presence in two-heroine fares like Virasat and Bhai.
Hands down, it was former Miss World Aishwarya Rai’s Bollywood debut opposite Bobby Deol in Rahul Rawail’s by-the-numbers love story, Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya that everyone was most curious about.
With his NRI drama Pardes, showman Subhash Ghai launched Apurva Agnihotri and a certain Ritu rechristened Mahima keeping with the director’s M (M-named leading ladies Madhuri Dixit, Meenakshi Seshadri, Manisha Koirala) fetish.
Vinod Khanna’s son Akshaye began his innings with newcomers Anjala Zaveri and Shazia Iqbal in the ill-fated Himalayaputra, but went on to make his mark among veterans in Border.
Of sex and sexuality
Film-makers boldly dwelled on the larger complexities of sex and sexuality.
Basu Bhattacharya’s Aastha examined how a housewife’s decision to have sex with strangers and fulfill her materialistic needs empowers her as well as her marital life.
Kalpana Lajmi offered a sympathetic look into the lives of an actress and her transgender son in Darmiyaan: In Between.
A 26-year-old Pooja Bhatt turned producer with Tamanna centred around the emotional bond between a transgender raising a girl child he rescued from a trash can.
High on heartrending performances by Arif Zakaria and Paresh Rawal, Darmiyaan and Tamanna work well as unintended companion pieces of one other.
Heroines No 1
Kajol’s wicked surprise in Gupt, arm candy fervour in Ishq, photogenic allure in Hamesha and emotional exuberance in Sapnay had the audience going Ooh la la la.
Karisma Kapoor continued her winning streak with Hero No 1, Judwaa and, of course, Dil To Pagal Hai for which she won her first National Award.
Madhuri Dixit recovered from the debacles of 1996.
Sure, Koyla was a non-starter, but her radiant romantic sashaying in dreamy chiffons and potent chemistry opposite SRK in Dil To Pagal Hai set the box office on fire. Equally commanding was her fiery feminism in Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand, where she received accolades for her hard-hitting portrayal.
With Chachi 420, Virasat and Border, Tabu proved what a valuable player she could be even when the focus wasn’t on her.
Sridevi’s spectacle in Judaai was enough to rock the scene even as she took off on a long break to raise her newborn Janhvi.
But it was Juhi Chawla’s flair for feel-good and comic expertise that dominated 1997 across entertainers like Yes Boss, Ishq, Deewana Mastana and Mr and Mrs Khiladi.
The Khan report card
While Sunny Deol and Govinda held onto their post as box office darlings, the Khans didn’t do too shabbily either.
Aamir Khan’s prankster on the loose in Ishq raked in the laughs and moolah.
Ditto for Salman Khan’s twin trouble in Judwaa.
Shah Rukh Khan bounced back from the failure of Koyla with the lovey-dovey fundas of Dil To Pagal Hai, middle-class ambitions of Yes Boss and as the nice guy finishing last in Pardes.
Big doesn’t mean better
Big budgets. Big stars. Big bombs.
No longer anxious to watch an ageing icon repeat himself, audience was quick to dismiss Amitabh Bachchan’s hugely hyped comeback Mrityudaata.
Sanjay Dutt’s return to screen after doing time in prison in Daud didn’t find any takers either.
Despite the auspicious K in the title, Rakesh Roshan’s Koyla received ghastly reviews and sank without a trace.
David Dhawan’s film factory
Director David Dhawan was on a roll.
Judwaa, Hero No 1, Banarsi Babu, Deewana Mastana, Mr and Mrs Khiladi… almost all his movies and its trademark wit made a killing at the box office.
Sound of music
It was a terrific year for music.
Uttam Singh’s melodies in Dil To Pagal Hai soared the charts.
Songs from Viju Shah’s Gupt are beloved to this day while the under-rated Aar Ya Paar enjoys its small but solid fan club.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s whimsical Chachi 420 and enchanting Betaabi made a swooning impact.
Jatin-Lalit’s merry Yes Boss brought a happy smile on every listener’s face.
Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen’s tunes in Ziddi and Aflatoon rocked the popularity charts.
Anand-Milind kept it infectiously lively in Hero No 1.
A R Rahman’s slick sophistication was deeply felt across Daud and Sapnay.
Though the movie was shelved, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack for Dus received tremendous love.
But it was Anu Malik’s show for the most part, be it Border, Judwaa, Hamesha, Tamanna, Ishq, Mr and Mrs Khiladi or Virasat.
It was also the year of…
Bobby Deol inventing COVID testing
Long, long before the virus even came into existence. Go find your copy of Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya. NOW.
Danny goes to Hollywood
Danny Denzongpa appeared in a Brad Pitt movie: Seven Years in Tibet.
Daddy bana Dulha
From step dad in Barsaat to lustful suitor forcibly marrying a girl half his age in Itihaas, Raj Babbar and Twinkle Khanna’s on screen relationship took quite a beating.
Raveena’s metal claws
God knows whether it was Freddy Krueger or Wolverine behind Raveena’s pointy-nailed inspiration in Vinashak.
Typo in The New York Times
Only a ‘billionair’ could have gotten away with that typo in a headline of one of the world’s most reputed newspapers.
Only Bollywood would remember to frame it too.
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