I can no longer walk down the street without a nineties homage (in all its dated glory) sashaying its way towards me. Beit chokers, denim on denim or metallic eye shadow. They are all back. And I was fine with courteously tolerating their company. But then, the nineties comeback had to extend itself to films as well. And this, I cannot be alright with. Don’t get me wrong; I’m willing to partake in some nostalgia. But the punchline has to be how far we’ve come, not how we want to go back.
Wait, haven’t we seen this film before?
In 1997, David Dhavan furthered his brand of cinema with Salman Khan in tow by releasing Judwaa. It was the most nineties thing that ever crawled out of the nineties. Oh this movie. Basically, it combined bizarre plot-lines and bawdy humour in a food processor. Salman Khan was cast as identical twins Prem and Raja. Separated at birth, they share a bond so strong that if one is hurt, the other feels pain. Literally.
In 2017, Mr. Dhavan rehashed the script of his passion-project, cast his pelvic thrusting son in the lead role(s) and attached a ‘2’ to the title.
Judwaa 2 is the same story, dressed in modern attire. Swap Varun Dhavan for Salman Khan and two equally beautiful (and comparably useless) leading ladies for their yesteryear counterparts. Add some modern day renditions of old songs. Insert bikini scenes that would have been frowned upon in the nineties. Bid adieu to any strides towards intelligent filmmaking, and hope for the best.
We did it first
Strangely, this isn’t the only film to go this route. In fact, we kind of beat Bollywood to the punch (yay Pakistan?) with our own dissent into retro madness.
In 1998, Syed Noor’s Choorian was released and became a surprise hit. It starred Moamar Rana as a lovelorn lead who delivers his dialogues with the subtlety of a heart attack. Watch the film, this is not an exaggeration. It also stars Saima as the quintessential village belle, who has to be saved by the knight on horseback, carrying a shotgun. This is Punjab after all.
Earlier in 2017, Syed Noor decided that “dignified films” needed to return to Pakistan. So, he opted to carry that burden himself via Chain Aye Na. An homage to his heyday that the nation was not ready for. Again, we have Shahroze Sabzwari playing the lovelorn leading man who cannot take no for an answer. We also have the drama that made Choorian a perfect snapshot of its time.
The blood drenched hero. The scheming matriarch. The hammy villain.
Oh, the nineties are well and truly making a comeback.
Misogyny by any other name
Now, I’m not a Varun Dhavan fan. Hence, his homage to vintage Salman Khan would have escaped my radar completely. But then, I watched a video by Sucharita Tyagi, where she talked about Judwaa 2 and all its messiness.
One of the points she made, and really what inspired this post, was that under the guise of nostalgia such films were bringing back antiquated stereotypes. Women, in both films, serve the purpose of a hobby horse. To be played with and put away.
In Judwaa 2, the leading men are compelled to slap the bottom of any woman that passes them by. That is, unless she happens to be older than twenty-five. In which case we are treated to jokes about how disgusting older women are.
In Chain Aye Na, the premise of the story revolves around a man who has decided that he is in love with a woman. That she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings doesn’t matter. She will be his.
Syed Noor even defended this plot via the ‘there is passion in true love’ argument. No. Just no. When a film treats a woman as an object to fight over, that’s not cute. That’s misogyny, and we left it behind in the nineties for a reason.
The last hurrah?
Perhaps what truly bothers me is the casting of these films.
I first encountered Taapsee Pannu in Pink. Comparing it to Judwaa 2 would be like comparing a Kennedy to a Kardashian, but bear with me. Pink was a well thought out, beautifully acted, modestly produced movie that had something to say. Judwaa 2 is an expensive nothing.
Chain Aye Na had a well known cast including Behroze Sabzwari. Mr. Sabzwari became a national treasure via Tanhaiyan. Which continues to be one of the most empowering representations of women Pakistan ever produced.
In a way, their past endeavours make these films all the more difficult to stomach. Of course I can’t blame actors for saying yes to roles that I’m sure paid well. No I don’t blame them. I blame the minds that came up with these stories, took the time to pen them and then turned them into films.
Either twenty or close to twenty years have passed since their respective films. Yet, both Mr. Dhavan and Mr. Noor seem to be stuck in a convoluted past. They still believe that women should look pretty and do nothing. They still believe that a human being can have a ‘best by’ date. And they still believe that the nineties were a golden age.
I am actually scarred.