The big-screen experience is a distant memory in 2020. Cinema halls across the country have been closed since mid-March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Productions have stalled, big-budget releases postponed and entire careers recalibrated. The “Now” in the “Now and Then” is on indefinite hold.
It’s only natural to reminisce about the “Then”. About fonder times and box-office collections. About young superstars and old memories. The nostalgia of the 1990s is potent, back when the internet was still a strange word and streaming was something that water did. Given the number of 25-year anniversaries we’ve celebrated lately – Rangeela recently, DDLJ soon – it got us thinking: Was 1995 a landmark year for commercial Hindi cinema? Did so much manage to hit the screens in such little time?
I looked back, and it’s partially true. There were the obvious game-changing titles, but the sheer quantity of movies produced made for a diverse season. Simultaneous shoots expanded our concept of time, some filmmakers had 3-4 titles releasing in the same year, most actors and actresses appeared on the silver screen almost every other month. In fact, two Shah Rukh Khan movies released within ten days of each other. Mahesh Bhatt, who recently made a forgettable comeback after 20 years of no directorial action, had three films to his credit that year. Suffice to say a lot was happening. It was noisy, nutty, and B-town was firmly perched at the crossroads of history and post-liberalization.
Here are 10 things that typified the Bollywood of 1995:
DDLJ and the ones that got away
1995 was widely known as the year Shah Rukh Khan took the throne. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Karan Arjun were the top two grossers of the year. Both were blockbusters at opposite ends of the genre spectrum. But those are just the ones we choose to remember. 1995 was both SRK’s most successful and least successful season. That’s because it was his most prolific. He headlined five other films: Zamaana Deewana, Guddu, Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India! (does anyone else remember Anupam Kher exploding like a water balloon?), Ram Jaane and Trimurti. That’s a total of seven roles (two multiple-hero titles), two mega-hits, five massive flops. 7 may be an abnormal number today, but it was par for the course in the raging 90s. For some context, Akshay Kumar did 11 (!) films in 1994, and Govinda averaged 7 a year across the entire decade.
Rangeela and the ones that got away
Not that Aamir Khan was far behind. Rangeela may not have won the battle of the Khans, but 25 years on, the film has garnered the more “serious” legacy of the two. It won connoisseurs, not fanatics. (Ditto for his Salman collaboration, Andaz Apna Apna, which conquered time better than Karan Arjun). But Aamir had a similar arc in 1995 too, back when he, like most others, did at least 3 films a year. Rangeela was the tide-turning hit, but his other three roles? A pre-Lagaan Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Baazi, Godfather rip-off and Rajinikant starrer Aatank Hi Aatank and Mansoor Khan’s Akele Hum Akele Tum. Hot and cold doesn’t begin to cut it.
1995 was also the year of star siblings. Accompanying the two Khans in the top 5 of the box-office list: Anil Kapoor’s younger brother Sanjay Kapoor and Sunny Deol’s younger brother Bobby Deol. Deol made a barnstorming debut with co-star Twinkle Khanna in Barsaat, while Kapoor’s Raja with Madhuri Dixit became the sleeper hit of the year. Deol would star in several hits over the next decade, but Kapoor’s lead-acting career never quite took off. Except for the fleeting spark of Sirf Tum in 1999, nothing clicked. Which is ironic, because only one of the two went on to embrace the versatility of modern Hindi cinema. Sanjay Kapoor’s middle-aged second innings – he stole the show in Lust Stories and The Zoya Factor – has looked far more organic than Bobby Deol’s. It was Luck By Chance that proved that perhaps Kapoor was never meant to be a hero; his spirited cameo was one of several gems in the sparkling film. While Deol aimed for art in the recent Class of ‘83, his titles over the last decade feature Housefull 4, Yamla Pagla Deewana 3, Race 3, Poster Boys, Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 and Players. Not all comebacks wear capes.
A South state of mind
1995 introduced Hindi cinema to Southern regulars A.R. Rahman and Ram Gopal Varma through Rangeela. But it was the Hindi-dubbed version of Mani Ratnam’s Bombay in the first quarter of the year that served as a haunting prelude to Rahman’s entry. The first Ratnam-Rahman collaboration Roja (1992) had already set the stage, but one sensed that 1995 was the official beginning of a beautiful friendship. Not to mention Bombay hero Arvind Swami and Criminal’s Nagarjuna becoming household names for a hot second in Bollywood history.
A season of big (and little) debuts
Speaking of firsts, everyone who’s anyone seemed to have made their Hindi film debut in 1995. A.R. Rahman changed the sound of Mumbai in Hindi cinema forever. There were the actors: Sanjay Kapoor, Bobby Deol, Twinkle Khanna. But the list of filmmakers was just as curious: Aditya Chopra directed DDLJ in his early 20s. Ram Gopal Varma changed the grammar of Mumbai in Hindi cinema forever. Future slap-sticker Anees Bazmee directed his first (Hulchul), while late music mogul Gulshan Kumar (Bewafa Sanam) and late actor Shafi Inaamdar (Hum Dono) directed their first and only films. There was also a last: Mahesh Bhatt’s Criminal marked the legendary Ajit’s final role.
Music to the ears
Rangeela wasn’t just the album of the year, but it also introduced Hindi film audiences to the musicality of desire. Till Rangeela, the sounds were binary – either romantic or playful, either passionate or puerile. But 1995 was also emblematic of how iconic the 1990s Hindi soundscape really was – an era when earworms defined the destiny of the movies, when albums were a barometer of box-office success. Rangeela led a famous season of songs: Jatin-Lalit’s DDLJ, Nadeem-Shravan’s Barsaat and Raja, Rajesh Roshan’s Karan Arjun, Anand-Milind’s Coolie No. 1, Anu Malik’s Akele Hum Akele Tum and Takkar, M.M. Kreem’s Criminal and Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Trimurti. Yet, in a year of great melody, it’s ironic that a rap parody became the ultimate chartbuster: Who can forget Govinda elevating the forgettable Gambler by dance-crooning Meri Marzi in Devang Patel’s inanely inimitable voice? Madhuri Dixit mili raste mein, chane khaye humne saste mein…(Stop that!)
The King(s) of Comedy
Govinda starred in a whopping 6 films that year, but naturally history immortalized the only one he did with David Dhawan. 1995 marked the beginning of the “No. 1” franchise between the two with Coolie No. 1, the first and most popular of the lot. It featured the usual ‘90s suspects – Karishma Kapoor, Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Sadashiv Amrapurkar – and found a cult following over time, not least because of its kitschy-cool soundtrack. (Try eating bhelpuri on a street without Kumar Sanu’s voice ringing in your head). 25 years later, it’s 1995 all over again. After rebooting Judwaa with son Varun Dhawan in 2017, the Dhawans’ Coolie No. 1 reboot is slated to release in November this year. So much has changed and nothing has changed. But some of us 90s kids have memories to protect.
Peak Manisha Koirala
The conventional Hindi film heroine was defined by the big-banner power of the Madhuri Dixits, Juhi Chawlas, Sridevis, Kajols, Raveena Tandons, Shilpa Shettys and Karishma Kapoors of the era. While Urmila Matondkar became the breakout star of 1995, it was however a transcendent Manisha Koirala who had begun to subvert the superficial Indian gaze of a heroine. She wasn’t afraid to die, suffer, lose and grieve on screen, in turn feeding our worst fears of watching beauty getting “tarnished”. Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t as popular with mainstream audiences; she made people confront the idea that brokenness lies in the eyes of the beholder. From 1942: A Love Story to Criminal, from Bombay to Dil Se, from Guddu to Mann, from Akele Hum Akele Tum to Khamoshi: The Musical and Gupt, Koirala dared to displease. In 1995, hot on the heels of 1942, she was near the peak of her anti-stardom. Out of the 8 titles she did (including Mani Ratnam’s Bombay), she stood out even in the middling fare – a murdered wife in Criminal, a blind lover in Guddu, a shattered marriage in Akele Hum Akele Tum – before continuing her parallel reign till the end of the decade. Koirala’s slow-burning comeback in the last few years – as a recluse in Dear Maya and an adulterous wife (of Sanjay Kapoor) in Lust Stories – is well in sync with her ‘90s legacy.
Peak Mamta Kulkarni
For most of the 1990s, the omnipresent Mamta Kulkarni occupied the second-tier corner of the Bollywood-heroine spectrum. The first half of the decade saw her appear in 24 films (!) in less than 4 years. The names she worked with included Raaj Kumar, Dev Anand, Nana Patekar, Jackie Shroff, Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Saif Ali Khan, Govinda and Mithun Chakraborty. In 1995, her 7 credits finally added the three A-lister Khans to her burgeoning CV: Salman and Shah Rukh (in Karan Arjun) and Aamir (in Baazi). The results were mixed, but arguably her most iconic moment on screen came when she suggestively requested a villainous Amrish Puri to – here’s a loose translation – please forgive her for making a naughty mistake. Poignantly, the Karan Arjun “heroine item song” Mujhko Ranaji Maaf Karna sealed the Mamta Kulkarni legacy more than any of her performances ever would.
The age of egoless A-listers
The 2010s monetized and remixed the nostalgia of the 1990s, but the one aspect it could not recreate is the multi-starrer culture. The storytelling may have evolved, but so have the egos. So you’ll see a harebrained comedy bursting with bored stars, but not a drama/thriller with two-hero or multi-hero arcs. 1995 started with Karan Arjun, the biggest of them all, in an era that also had “pair packages” like Akshay-Sunil, Govinda-Dutt and Anil-Jackie. Cross-pollination was a norm back then, with Aamir co-starring with Salman and Ajay, Ajay with Salman, Saif with anyone, Shah Rukh co-inhabiting stories with Sunny and Jackie and Salman, Madhuri with Karishma, Karishma with Raveena, Kajol with Koirala. But nothing matched the success of Rakesh Roshan’s reincarnation saga, with not just two Khans but two double-roles. Until, of course, an entire family of superstars featured in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. The formula is not as frequent in the A-lister landscape anymore unless it’s an upcoming-star pad (of the Gunday/Kill Dil/Dishoom variety), one big fish and some little fishes (Dhoom franchise), launch vehicles (SOTY) or a Bhansali epic. It’s still a worthy tradition. Case in point: the Hrithik-Tiger bromance War. Perhaps it’s never too late to hope for the elusive SRK-Aamir film, or at this point, even a Ranveer-Ranbir noir drama.