As romance returns to hinterland with sacrifice as the running leitmotif, Bollywood is once again looking for enduring love

It is raining romance at the box office. The cinegoers who gave a cold shoulder to Pankaj Kapur’s Mausam are now embracing Ranjhaanaa. People who made fun of symbols in Kapur’s film are being swayed by the plastic leaf painted by the lover in Vikram Motwane’s film Lootera and sacrifice of a loser in Aashiqui-2. Suddenly, Hindi cinema has come out of Barista outlets and is reaching out to the ghats of Benaras — in search of lasting love.

In fact, the return of old world romance with writers finding tragedy as new talisman is the big news from Bollywood in the half yearly review of the industry. Even the glossy and upmarket Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, the only blockbuster of the season, is not about breaking the shackles but about returning home.

After Ranjhaana, soon we will return to Benaras with Manish Tiwary’s Issaq, a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” on the banks of the Ganga. The magnitude of the wave can be gauged from the fact that Yash Raj Films, the big daddy of rom-com movement, is now advocating “Shuddh Desi Romance”. Set in Jaipur, the film’s trailer was recently launched at the city’s Raj Mandir theatre with “Ek Chidiya Anek Chidiya” playing in the background.

Mahesh Bhatt whose Aashiqui-2 made almost 100 crores at the box office says what people look for in films is something they don’t have. “That’s why I call the director a fairer God. What they are missing today is enduring love. All those notions of moving on and individualism have not been able to provide something tangible. So they rooted for a boy who dies so that his beloved’s career could soar. Those who called him a loser should know that the girl herself called him a coward in the film but she didn’t want to dump him. This devotion is part of our cultural heritage, our mythology. We moved out of it but it is time to return to the roots,” says Bhatt, adding that now his banner is moving away from erotic thrillers to cultivate purer emotions.

Tiwary says rom-coms are for those who are cynical about love. “It is a shortcut to entertainment. I wanted to play with truer emotions of love and hatred and Benaras provides the right canvas for the Bard’s drama.” It is being said that the cinema coming out of Bollywood has begun to show some variety because it is giving space to people who have experienced the reality; they want to narrate it on screen. “It is not that Bollywood which has given us space. We have stomped in like an elephant,” avers Tiwary, whose parents come from Patna and Benaras.

Ajay Brahmatmaj, seasoned film analyst who writes for a mainstream Hindi paper, says the Hindi media was annoyed with Bollywood for representing the region only as a hotbed of crime where women are only incidental to generate violence. “Films like ‘Ranjhaanaa’ and ‘Lootera’ have tried to correct that perception and with Yash Raj banner also joining the fray it is the victory of the Hindi heartland. I agree, you can’t take violence completely out of the Hindi belt but the region is known for its epic love stories as well.” As for the charge of the film glorifying stalking, Brahmatmaj says once upon a time when we failed to understand NRI romance, a section of critics in English media told us to understand the milieu where the film is set. Now, it is their turn to brush up their understanding of a region where girl and boy are not allowed to meet casually at a coffee joint. Holding hands is still a taboo there. In a small town you have to pursue a girl on a cycle if you have to reach her,” adds Brahmatmaj.

Himanshu Sharma, who wrote “Ranjhaanaa”, says the film doesn’t justify stalking because the boy ultimately doesn’t get anything out of it. “It is not that the boy gets the girl and they lived happily ever after.”

The self effacing Vikramaditya Motwane says these are early days to see a trend here. “I made the film because I felt the audience is ready to accept different kind of content. I was inspired by a short story of O Henry and felt that it could only work in a period setting where the separation is easier to show and justify.”

Sharma agrees that the biggest challenge in writing romance these days is to create the sense of separation and longing. “Mobiles and Internet have made it virtually impossible to keep two people separate but the significant change is that now people want the story to belong somewhere. So you can bring in the local ingredients. It makes the writer relevant.”

If you leave aside “Aashiqui-2”, the detailing has been painstaking. If Sharma wrote an elaborate Holi sequence to bring out the colours of Benaras, Motwane not only banned the use of mobiles on the sets but also admonished Ranveer Singh and Vikrant Massey for using perfumes. “He said archaeologists are not supposed to wear perfumes at work,” says Massey, whose performance as the Dev Anand loving friend of Singh is being appreciated. “The only person in the cast and crew who has lived the era was Bengali veteran actor Barun Chanda and he told us about the days when the colonial masters had left and Zamindari system was on its way out.”

Motwane says he employed the technique that suits the era but didn’t overdo it. “In the first half we largely used trolleys while in the second we had many shots captured through jimmy jibs and hand held camera.”

With these films, melody is also back in business. Melody never went out of business but romantic storylines are providing composers an opportunity to once again string together melodies. “Aashiqui-2 owes its success largely to its songs.” Bhatt agrees that the music articulated the core emotions of the film.

But if you think it is all about art you are mistaken. “It is pure business,” claims Brahmatmaj. “The numbers are coming from the North. Television realised it first and now it is the turn of cinema to follow suit.”