Every great filmmaker has a phase of temporary insanity in between or at the end of his/her career – a chapter that makes you wonder who this imposter is. It’s perfectly normal to ‘lose form’ and make a few duds in between. But Indian directors are different. Once they cross over to the dark side, they almost never return. And this is not temporary; it isn’t just a brief moment of delusion or a complete loss of ability. It is our directors’ inability (or utter stubbornness) to move with the times. More often than not, they continue making the same kind of movies that made them famous – only now, these films are dated, and the grammar of filmmaking has changed completely. They choose not to evolve though, and surround themselves with starry-eyed crews and ‘yes men’ – people who will allow and encourage them to walk this tragic has-been road alone.
Here are five Indian directors, the most notorious of them all, who are classic examples of this syndrome. These are five guys we perhaps don’t want to even see return to any kind of form. Just drop the camera and walk away.
Karz, Hero, Meri Jung, Ram Lakhan, Saudagar, Khalnayak, Trimurti, Pardes, Taal…over decades, Subhash Ghai failed to achieve failure. He had a string of consecutive super hits in the 80s – masala films that defined the formula we know call ‘tired’ and ‘dated’; films that introduced the drama into melodrama and Hindi cinema.
Unfortunately, since 1999, the Whistling Woods founder has continued with the very formula, not realizing that his movies are now beginning to resemble bouts of permanent senility, and have become parodies of his previous classics. His exclusive film school has churned out a few unsavory products too, under his Mukta banner, continuing his legacy in a sad way. Since Taal in 1999, he has made Yaadein (which almost ended Hrithik’s career), Kisna, Black & White (his foray into ‘experimental’ masala), Yuvvraaj and the absolutely unforgivable Kaanchi in 2014. There is no hope.
The auteur who changed the face of Hindi cinema in the 90s has been missing for over a decade. If you log onto twitter after 8 pm every night, you’re likely to see a sorry, sizzled shadow of the man who was once hailed as the Scorsese of Indian movies. His nonsensical, opinionated tweets aside, he even continues to make ‘’films” with new incriminating camera techniques that seem to emulate a medical lens entering the body of a patient. From Shiva, Raat, Rangeela, Satya, Kaun, Daud, Mast and Company – to Naach, Shiva (again), Nishabd, the legendary Ramgopal Varma ki Aag, Darling, Contract, Phoonk, Rann, Rakt Charitra, Not A Love Story, The Attacks of 26/11, Bhoot Returns, Department – the list is endless and quite stunning. Never has there been a loss of sanity, form, class, spirit and technique so apparent, and never has a director de-evolved into an aspiring overzealous student director overnight in the noughties.
If one observes, Mr. Gowarikar has bookended his career quite nicely. He began with two disasters called Pehla Nasha (which dared to have Deepak Tijori as the solo star) and Baazi (Aamir Khan in drag), and his last two films over half a decade ago (because he takes 15 years to make a film, and these films are often 15 years long) were the Harman Baweja masterpiece What’s Your Rashee? and the Abhishek Bachchan gem Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. In between, however, the filmmaker made classics like Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar – with Aamir, Shahrukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan – to cement a legacy that has almost been tarnished by his inability to subscribe to the art of ‘editing’ his films.
To be fair, this chap wasn’t ever a decent director. He only had a couple of hit comedies to prove that he indeed did have an idea of what the audience wanted: hare-brained, self-spoofing, loud and crass multi-starrers fat-shaming, slut-shaming and animal-shaming in general. It’s no wonder that the ‘intolerant’ censor board has downed its shutters on references to animals and other obscenities in general. Many forget that Sajid directed perhaps the best uncredited segment of the horror anthology Darna Zaroori Hai, after which he dove full tilt into the mainstream with Heyy Babby, Housefull and Housefull 2 – which were, admittedly, funny in bits because of how they knew they weren’t all that funny. His humor mostly revolved around grown adults acting like juvenile fools, and referencing 70s and 80s Bollywood clichés, much like his tribute-obsessed sister Farah Khan. The moviesharebrained and Humshakals are solely responsible for turning family audiences away from multi-starring comedies forever. In a way, he made and broke his own legacy – all on his own.
The most prolific writer of the 90s – the voice behind guilty pleasures like Swarg, Shola Aur Shabnam, Bol Radha Bol, King Uncle, Aankhen, Raja Babu, Gopi Kishan, Laadla, Hulchul, Deewana Mastana, Pyar Toh Hona Hi Tha – has a somewhat monotonous, stubborn record as a director. No Entry, Welcome and Singh Is King were some of the biggest hit comedies of the noughties – and Bazmee was doing his own version of Sajid Khan. Between these two, every lowbrow joke, SMS pun and innuendo in the book was utilized by actors intent on proving that they have a funny bone. Welcome became sort of a cult film, especially for the duo of Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor. But then, with the new decade, Bazmee made the tasteless No Problem, followed by Thank You, Ready and, recently, the sequel to Welcome, which was panned by critics and audiences everywhere. Moreover, his title choices reflect an ongoing conversation he seems to be having with his disillusioned fans – No Problem. Thank You. Ready? Welcome Back!