It would not be an overstatement to say that Hindi Cinema has often been about love stories. A love story is not memorable unless there is an element of struggle in it, for that alone build up the drama. It would be a dampener if the boy and girl liked each other at first sight, parents agreed and they got happily married. There should be an act of fighting the odds before one wins the game – either you get the person you want or you get the audience shed tear for your lost love.
For an audience of today, the love stories of 1930s and 40s would look dated in terms of dialogues and expression. The likes of Achut Kanya (1935), Devdas (1935) and Anmol Ghadi (1947) were superhits of their time. The first modern love story in post independent India was perhaps Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1948). Andaz, starring Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Nargis, set the standards for any triangle love story to be made thereafter. Three characters, love, friendship, love misunderstood for friendship and vice versa, sacrifice, envy, shocking revelations and lots of music became the norm for triangle love stories thereafter and continue to remain so. Andaz set the tone for a golden era in the Hindi film industry.
Raj Kapoor and Nargis became independent India’s hottest pair starring together in as many as 16 movies. In 1951, they brought out a young passionate intensity and a never-before-seen romance in Awara. Watch out for the scene where Raj slaps Nargis when she jokingly calls him junglee and you know that romance thereafter was not anymore about theaterical dialogues professing love. Raj and Nargis got the sparks right. A romantic couple never looked cuter than they did in Shree 420 (1955), as they sang along in the rain in Pyar Hua Ikraar Hua with dreams of love in their eyes.
But if an image was to dominate the decade of 50s, it was that of Dilip Kumar, who as Devdas personified the tragic hero brooding over his lost love. In 1955, Bimal Roy cast the thespian in one of his best performances in the history of Hindi cinema. Devdas marked the pinnacle of unrequited love and its latent melanchony, which became a recuring theme in movies of the day like Mahal, Mela, Deedar, Amar and Babul. The love transcended not just societal barriers, but also those of birth when Hindi cinema got its first reincarnation love story in the Bimal Roy musical Madhumati (1958).
Bimal Roy’s neo-realism gave romance a new tenderness never seen before. The romance seen in Madhumati, Sujata (1959) and Bandini (1963) exuded a silent charm. Who else, but Roy, could pull off a hero crooning Jalte hai jiske liye over the phone for his love in Sujata. On a similar track ran the romance of Guru Dutt, who along with Waheeda Rehman spelt magic in Pyaasa (1959), Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) and Chaudvin ka Chand(1960). Watch Waheeda climb the stairs as the prostitute Gulabo to reach her love in Pyaasa as a Vaishnavi sings Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Laga Lo, and you will realise the point where love rises to touch the realms of divinity. There is a sorcerous moment of stillness in Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam in his Kaagaz ke Phool, marked by restlessness as cinematographer V.K.Murthy plays with light and shadows. It was nothing less than a magic.
Pyaasa: The perennial love of a loner and prostitute with a heart of gold
But when Anarkali challenged the might of an Emperor singing Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya, we knew that K.Asif’s Mughal-e-azam (1960) was a marked departure from the self inflicted suffering of the 1950s. In the most passionate scene on the silver screen, as Dilip Kumar stroked the silken cheeks of Madhubala in an unbelievable close-up shot, it was understood that Mughal-e-azam was arguably Hindi cinema’s finest romantic treat ever and Salim-Anarkali were enshrined forever in the league of legendary lovers.
The decade of 60s brought colour and glamour to romance. The heroine unrealistically danced wearing a chiffon saree in snow-capped mountains and the hero rampaged around the screen space mad in her love, the Shammi Kapoor movies being the best example for the lot. Love struck as couples danced rock and roll in night clubs. Themes were bolder by this time. Vijay Anand’s Guide (1965) broke conventions and showed its heroine living-in with her lover so as to further her career. In a performance of a lifetime, Waheeda Rehman lived every moment as Rosy and danced her way to popular mindspace. The limits of extravagance were stretched across the seas and Raj Kapoor’s Sangam (1964) showcased a modern-day triangle love story set across India and Europe. A love marathon that it was, Sangam became the first Hindi movie to completely exploit foreign locations, a trend continued to this day. On a parallel track of pompousness ran the Muslim socials with resplendent havelis, grand shervanis, colourful lehengas and poetic shayri. The hero made garlands of poetry in praise of his love, whom he didn’t even see ala H.S.Rawail’s Mere Mehboob (1963) and ballad after ballad went just desiring to see her! Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah (1972) formed the acme of this genre. Who can forget Raj Kumar’s baritone imploring upon Meena Kumari not to place her feet on the ground lest they get dirty! Pakeezah was an unforgettable extravaganza and the best of the courtesan love stories.
Extra marital affair was explored in B.R.Chopra’s Gumraah(1963) but the stories were tweaked to suit hte sensibilities of the audience. But as the decade came to a close, Shakti Samanta’s Aradhana (1969) set the tempo for a new kind of liberated romance. For the first time on the cine screen, pre-marital sex was being celebrated full-on as Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore got cosy in Roop Tera Mastana.
Cinema was never more cinematic as it was in the 1970s. Rajesh Khanna was now King of romance, with Kati Patang (1971)and Amar Prem (1973) adding feathers to his cap. Raj Kapoor set the box-office afire yet again when two teenagers cuddled in each others’ arms in Bobby (1973). As the adolescent lovers sang Chabi kho jaye behind closed doors, one knew that Hindi cinema had come of age. Bobby made love look young and cherubic. Post-marital relationships were beautifully showcased in Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav (1971) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimaan (1973). Who can forget Amitabh playing the piano singing Tere mere milan ki ye raina as a coy Jaya watches him with the clothes for laundry in her hand? And when he sang Kabhi Kabhie mere dil mein in Yash Chopra’s romantic treat Kabhi Kabhie (1976), the audience got a love story spanning across generations.
Triangular marathon: Sangam
The clashing egos of Abhimaan
In the 1980s, Yash Chopra returned to romance with an unbelievable star cast in Silsila(1981), starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Rekha and Sanjeev Kumar. This story of an extramarital affair was full of punches with smart dislogues, melodious music and memorable performances. When Amitabh flirted openly with Rekha in the presence of his wife on screen in the Holi song Rang Barse, it was nothing less than a magic weaved by Yash Chopra. Holding each other tightly, they walked along serenading each other in Lodhi Gardens. But the supposed real-life similarities failed to click at the box office. The audience still did not approve of any transgression in the system of marriage. K. Balachander’s Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981), a North Indian girl-South Indian boy romance enthralled the audience and became a raging musical success, launching Kamal Hassan in the Hindi industry. Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan (1981) brought back the familiar tale of a courtesan and Rekha gave the performance of a lifetime portraying a series of unfulfilled relationships of the fabled geisha, perhaps mirroring her own life.
Romance lost its sheen by now and skin show became the norm. Cinema degenrated to an all time low in the 1980s. A few gentle doses of breeze did hit with Sai Paranjpai’s Chashme Buddoor (1981) and Gulzar’s Ijaazat (1987) but they were an aberration in this decade.
If a breakthrough happened it was in the late 1980s, with Nasir Hussain’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and Sooraj Barjatya’s Main ne Pyar Kiya (1989). For a while it was thought that Barjatya’s kabootar would break the record of Sholay as well. However, QSQT and MNPK ushered in a new era of romance. They carried forward the baton of gay abandon popularised by Bobby and handed it over to the new decade.
In1994, Barjatya’s Hum Apke Hain Kaun quaked the cinema theatres across India and spawned the genre of family dramas for the next decade. The saccharine romances won hearts as the masses laughed along as much as they shed loads of tears along with the goody-goody characters. Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1955) became the hottest toast of this genre. Raj (Shahrukh Khan) and Simran (Kajol) became the new sweethearts in the town and young lovers instantly connected with them. Every girl dreamt of being serenaded with a Tujhe Dekha toh yeh by a Shahrukh Khan kind of lover. Shahrukh became the synonym for candyfloss romance. The trend continued with Dil toh Pagal Hai (1997), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). Movies were now being made with the NRI audience in mind. The lovers were now pompous, decked in stylish outfits, singing along in Switzerland and London. The stained walls and local trains were all but forgotten.
Post-2000, there is an air of nonchalance about love. Dynamics have changed. Urbanisation, Liberalisation and multiplexes have in many ways shaped the new norms of script writing. Yash Chopra’s Old man-young girl romance failed in Lamhe (1991) but it clicked in Balki’s Cheeni Kum (2007). Hindi cinema has become more Urban and global, losing the local touch in the process. This has resulted in booming local film indistries in the Hindi belt. Sooraj Barjatya’s Vivah with its small-town sensibilities might be an average grosser in Mumbai but rings cash registers in Lucknow or Bhopal. The heroine is regaining her lost ground after a long time and her say is taken seriouly in the relationships being portrayed on-screen. No more is the heroine seranaded by a Ghalibisque ghazal. Be it Baghban, Jab We Met, Parineeta, Guru, Jodha Akbar, or more recently Band Baaja Baraat the the new approach is working. But take a look at Guide and Band Baaja Baraat, you will find, that more the things change, the more they remain the same. Somethings are too basic to be changed such as love. Hindi cinema has still not got enough of it muse.