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That familiar feeling

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Some musings on celluloid love stories and why they set hearts beating and cash registers ringing

Everyone has that one (or five) movie(s) that just cannot be flipped past when channel-surfing. It has to be watched. Perhaps for the 27th time. But it cannot be ignored. It is a comfort zone you slip into like that pair of raggedy pajamas you’ve never quite been able to throw away.

At age 16, down with chicken pox and quarantined, I watched 11 times in one week. Sure, it took my mind off the itching. But it was also funny, sweet, a little crazy, and it warmed the heart. It played at odd hours on HBO, and I would wake up, watch it till the skyscraper ending, and fall asleep smiling. That’s what love stories do; they put a smile on people’s faces. It’s usually a silly smile. But that’s okay. A smile is a smile is a smile.

Down the decades, films about love, tear-jerkers, classics and romantic comedies, have given us stories to cherish, to hug close, to watch on weekends or with girlfriends, and often with a box of tissues at hand. I’m not saying we think love is all there is to life, but talk of and the ladies get a distant look in their eyes. Mention and voices choke over lumps in the throat. When Scarlett swallows her pride but it’s too late for Rhett, didn’t you wish he would turn back, just once? Remember and falling quietly in love in Notting Hill? Or and rubbing each other up the wrong way in when all the time you just know they’re meant for each other? And Richard Gere perched on the fire escape in Pretty Woman? Closer home, Shahrukh Khan won over Kajol’s extended family in and swept us along, too. And when Aamir and Juhi sang and built that ramshackle house on the mountain wasn’t it just perfect? Besides, while we did wish he’d die quicker, SRK sure got a few tears out of us in Kal Ho Na Ho. 

BOX-BUSTERS
Until Avatar came along in 2009 and crossed the US$ 2 billion mark, James Cameron’s romantic film Titanic (1997) was the highest-grossing Hollywood film of all time, having earned US$ 1.8 billion. Here are the earnings of some other Hollywood romantic films at the time of release: 
Casablanca (1942)  US$ 1,711,189
Dirty Dancing (1987)  US$ 61,294,138
When Harry Met Sally (1989)  US$ 90,351,322
(1990)  US$ 178,396,916
Ghost (1990)  US$ 214,288,325
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)  US$ 125,636,987
You’ve Got M@il (1998)  US$ 115,731,542
Notting Hill (1999)  US$ 116,089,678 
As for Bollywood, while official figures are rarely available, the cult action classic Sholay (1975) is the all-time winner, with inflation-adjusted earnings amounting to Rs 768 crore. Compared to it, this is how some Bollywood romantic superhits fared at the box office:
Bobby (1973)  Rs 85 crore
Maine Pyar Kiya (1989)  Rs 66 crore
DDLJ (1995)  Rs 98 crore
Kaho Na…Pyaar Hai (2000)  Rs 34 crore 
Jaane Tu … Ya Jaane Na (2008)  Rs 56 crore 

Movies like this make us want to fall in love. To make extravagant, unforgettable gestures of love. Or at least, to be at the receiving end of them. Every woman watching Dirty Dancing wanted to be in Baby’s heels when Patrick Swayze held her close and sang, in front of her forbidding father, “I’ve had the time of my life.” It’s so easy to fall in love with a man like that. Of course, as the times have changed, so have the men. From smoking, suit-wearing, walking-talking testosterone men like Gregory Peck, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson, we’ve grown to love shaky dancers like Shammi Kapoor, chubby pink-lips Rishi Kapoor, and bumbling idiots like Hugh Grant right down to smooth-cheeked and underage-looking Imran Khan. George Clooney, on the other hand, is a man for all seasons, or so all the swooning ladies of different ages would have us believe.

So when the hero in the latest Bollywood release protested, “I Hate Luv Storys”, I started wondering. Who are these people who profess to hate love stories? The film industry knows we love love stories. That’s why even this one ends up being a love story. In the movies, the love-cynics always eat their words. They’re asking for it. Before the movie ends they’ll have sung at least one mournful song to a slow beat where they manfully wipe their tears when Cupid strikes after the girl has packed up the candy-floss and left. Now they have to go and confess it at the girl’s wedding, embarrass themselves and waste all the money and planning that went into wedding number one (think Aamir Khan in Dil Chahta Hai).

Or worse still, have to pack themselves into a box as a wedding present and hope she opens it before the wedding (Pyaar Ke Side Effects). Okay, so it was a large box and Rahul Bose isn’t that tall, but it couldn’t have been comfortable. Eventually though, they do walk off with the girl and live happily ever after. Because “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

And so, we realists know it’s wiser to believe. To yield with abandon to sweet, sweet movies that remain etched on our hearts. To fall in love with the idea of love, and with those absolutely charming heart-breakers who walk off the celluloid and into our fantasies. It works well for the hormones. It works well for daydreams. And it works very well for the film industry worldwide.

Introducing…

Are you a star from the yesteryears dreaming of launching your son in the movies? Are you looking for the ideal script for his debut film? Oh, and you’ll produce the film yourself? This way please.

Industry stars have always favoured romantic films as the ideal debut for their children, sometimes even directing/producing the film. Rishi Kapoor charmed his way to the top in Bobby (1973), directed and produced by father Raj Kapoor. Kumar Gaurav, son of superstar Rajendra Kumar, debuted in Love Story (1981), a superhit directed by his father. Continuing the trend, Sunny Deol arrived on the scene in 1983, in Betaab. Directed and produced by Rakesh Roshan, Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000) saw Hrithik Roshan rake in the fans as he danced, sang, fought and joked his way to super-stardom.

Salman Khan, son of successful scriptwriter Salim Khan, had debuted in a minor role in Biwi Ho To Aisi (1988) but it was only his central role in Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) that made him a star. Even Aamir Khan, nephew of producer Nasir Hussain, had a bit part in Holi (1984) before he played the doomed hero in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) and never looked back again.

Tanushree Ghosh

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