That 90s feeling

Two young men with longish hair, clad in white cotton kurta pajama light a pyre. As the camera pans out, a number of men and women wearing spotless white ensembles standing in dignified silence, come to the view. The air is filled with the poignant shahanai.

Cut to the next frame. One of the long-haired lads walks up to the other. After a short dialogue filled with bogus sentiments, they embrace. Now the sitar does the needful as the supporting characters join the reconciled friends -turned foe -turned brothers!

I suddenly find myself wanting to go back to the 90s (and early 2000s) and bask in its absolute unreality, tackiness, outrageous plots, weird hairdos, the must-have dialogue between the wronged hero/ mother/ heroine and Bhagwan (with a strange calm on his face although he’s ‘the destroyer’ or the serene devi perched on a tiger)

Here’s why.

Overdose of ‘credibility’

At least six biscuits is a must to be the contemporary hero. It does not matter if he’s the average guy spending most of his working (and relaxing) hours seated opposite to a computer screen.

Likewise for the women with tummies as flat as a steamrolled cartoon (remember Tom the cat?) , flawless noses, jaw lines, lips and hips!

Every third film is set in some foreign locale which surprisingly always has an Indian Diaspora who with the best living conditions, the best cars and the best fashion labels irrespective of what they do – which is mostly clubbing, flaunting their vocal range and dancing skills on the streets (and getting the local populace to join in as well) or at the most taking long walks with or without the soul mate.

The OTT hero in oversized shirt, hairy chest and the heroine who did not have the perfectly straightened hair, the not so fab ab, the loud make-up, looks more credible to me now. The amused white men and women witnessing lovebirds breaking into a song and dance sequence in the middle of the road feels more real than Gori Chittis gyrating tirelessly with a half-naked hero.


Mumbai Noir

It all started with one man’s fascination with the Mafia Raj in the land of dreams. Slowly the ‘genre’ brought under its wing, tales from the crummy neighbourhoods and slums. It also chronicled the trials and tribulations of the young, restless and ‘upwardly mobile’ in the city struggling with almost everything but strangely never has a hair out of place!

‘Realistic’ and ‘hard-hitting’ became the buzz words in Mainstream Bollywood a few years into the new millennium.

Gone are the days when Mainstream told a poignant tale of youth becoming a victim of politics, helplessness and failing ideals, soldiers having to put country before loved ones, families being torn apart in the name of religion and the honest police officer caught in the nexus of political criminalization.


He was better as the ‘kanta’ although he chooses to be the ‘fool’:

A certain tall dark gentleman became disenchanted with his ‘broody image’ epitomized in some of the typical as well as understated films of the 90s.  So he decided to go for a makeover. We have mostly seen him in absolute no-brainers that also have elements of brawn or not so memorable romances, post 2005.

The royal mess-up who turned the tide:

A fashion disaster and the proverbial sidekick who did not have a single ‘solo-lead’ hit to his credit in spite of being an ‘Industry Kid’, he suddenly turned the tables around.

Now he’s the uber cool metro-sexual whose first and foremost capacity is flirting and getting away with it. Then he has a change of heart and wins the girl back! But he doesn’t mind slipping into the rustic vein once in a while and is now a zombie-slayer!

He’s perhaps the only leading man common to ‘then and now’ who wouldn’t want to go back to his younger years for anything. Or maybe he will, if you cooed ‘Ole Ole Ole’ into his ears!

Give us some ‘action’ please:

This one was an out and out action hero (and the ill at ease romantic at times) who suddenly found his funny bone which was a rather welcome change. But as is the case with overcooked broth, his comic timing has waned and borders on torture more often than not.

Oh yes he’s also the one who gets to rub shoulders (and much more) with those Phoren bikini babes the most number of times.

Can you go back to being an actor (and not a performer):

He swears by intellect, content and ‘non-conformity’ but he made his name with a romantic drama and went on to deliver some of the most memorable romances with his chocolate boy good looks. His films did not have the overwhelming feel (distinctly associated with a certain banner) of the ‘King of romances’ but nonetheless had a different charm which lay in its ‘the 90s were so tacky’ treatment.

These days he is busy selling his ‘intellect’ and not a day passes by without him being moved to tears merely by listening to atrocities faced by the not so privileged and/or unlucky.

He was good as the ‘lover boy’ too:

If there ever was a study in contrast, here’s your man. The shy but mischievous romantic on screen and rowdiness personified off it, he is a league on his own. Not only did he make body building fashionable, but torn jeans cool and hairy men uncool! The original metro sexual man in B-Town is certainly a man of all seasons.

In recent times, he made Bollywood sit up and take note of the punch packed in the Southern flavor.

Surprisingly he is equally at ease with his past and his present.



She played the Mother to almost every young man with vengeance or otherwise, rang the Mandir ka ghanta till Bhagwan answered her with rain and thunder. Unlike the typical Indian mother-in-law she was nicer to her son’s girl than the son.  She also managed to be the silently supportive Mother to the heroine at times. Nirupa Roy had worthy successors in Rakhee ,Reema Lagoo and Farida Jalal , in that order.

Alas, she ceased to exist with the turn of the century (Oh no don’t even think of the one who accepted a ‘gay’ son!).

The man who could be anything:

He was the funny friend, the conniving Munshi ji, the bumbling cook, the random comic relief, the hawaldar and much more. Hardly makes an appearance these days.

 All that jazz:

There was a conscious effort to have western influences only in specific cases unlike the current ‘fusion fever’. Apart from the main songs the background score was distinctly Indian. Sitar for happy, shahanai for sad, a male chorus of ‘Aaaa Aaaaa Aaaas’ for loss and dilemmas, the female going ‘aaaaaa aaaaa’ in a particularly distressing situation, and a menacing instrumental twang – which definitely must have sent shivers down the spine – when the baddie was conspiring aloud with his cronies.

Where’s the variation man? All you get to hear are guitar chords and soft rock or  high-pitched sufi songs! It’s another thing that they are good on your ears.


A fat woman accidentally falls over a man. When he gets up he’s an agitated dwarf with a voice thinner than a toddler’s!

A man with a lisp clad in striped underwear with the draw string was perpetually hanging out, a fake mole and oiled hair spells nothing but revulsion. But his ‘aauus’ and other obnoxious sound effects along with the suggestive pelvic thrusts  is nothing short of – wait for it- legendary. The curly-haired man with stock expressions and a fat ugly man with his musical insinuations and goofiness was funnier than the Aakhri Pastas and RDXs .

There used to be a Parsi gentleman who appeared many a time with his wife only to jam his car in a pond or to laugh in a certain manner that was meant to induce laughter as well.

They have simply vanished.

The baddie:

He was ugly first and foremost. He had to be a rapist, say things like ‘mamu’, ‘bloody phool’, ‘whatajoke’ to add to his menace quotient.

He somehow got the better of the hero till the climax when with all his mean men and machines he was no match against the charging man armed with the most effective shields one can imagine – grief, anger, pain and most importantly ‘lou’.

Now the baddie (when there is one) is as good-looking as our righteous man (and even better) or a Southern export. Whatajoke!

Bare essentials

And then there were those who defined the decade and its hangover.

A certain ‘Underdog’ who left his footprints on Beverly Hills; the aforementioned King of romances and his mannerisms; an overweight man who could carry off the most outrageous colour combinations along with his brazen comedies and disco moves; a rather ugly man with a lot of anger and some of the most hummable songs of the decade in his films; and the man with his ‘dhai kilo ka haath’ and deafening screams.

I cannot possibly leave out the original bad boy of Bollywood either. His haughty swagger, droopy eyes and long hair was outlandishly flamboyant but as 20th century was inching towards its end he rediscovered himself. His was not a makeover. He just played to his strengths and reached culmination with a career-defining role in the early 2000s .

The heroines did their job well opposite these men with their latkas and jhatkas, the- oh -so spontaneous yet-so-planned hug upon the cue from the kadak bijlee, changing into frilly asymmetric dresses an n number of times, defying their fathers (a bare essential in himself) for love and that should be it.


The women didn’t have much to do but be the second fiddle (not much has changed on this front) but there was one woman who challenged the stereotype and earned her fair share of flak and fortune.

She ran along the beach in a loose vest showing off her legs to a tune the 90s had not heard of, as a man in briefs threw lusty glances at her. She had no qualms about showing off her curves to get into the skin of her character and she became a phenomenon in a male-dominated industry.

The tune to which she danced and ran in her break through film gifted Bollywood with a maestro who was hitherto working down south.

The same film also emphatically sealed the position of a certain director who pioneered the original Mumbai Noir films and later started experimenting with little or no success.

With the turn of the millennium, sensibilities changed and the industry got the harbingers of the years that were to follow.

A period-film set during the Raj and involving the game the nation obsesses about made it to the Oscar short-list.

The coming-of-age story of three rich urban kids became a trend-setter of sorts with young college-goers sporting a goatee and spiked hair. Later years saw more ‘sophisticated’ films with the basic premise of male-bonding or rich urban kids.

A green-eyed lanky lad with incredible dance moves announced his arrival, a few social-issue based films were also made (most notably the one that satirically pointed out the inherent lack of humanity in a profession that is meant to save lives), and another ‘off-beat’ director emerged with a penchant for women-centric films and merging Mainstream with the Parallel.

The winds of change started blowing slowly but steadily.

Even then the kitsch and bizarre elements slogged it out for 3-4 more years to come. And then Bollywood discovered (or did it invent) the foreign market, the ‘multi-plex crowd’ and the ‘intellectual cinema-goer’ (this was perhaps a re-discovery).

Simultaneously the stars (big and small) appointed stylists and designers to give them their ‘makeovers’, doctors to give them the perfect features and voila Mainstream Bollywood was more realistic than ever!

The aura of the 90s is simplistic in that it was unreal yet rooted in reality. It was not pretentious or manipulative. Neither was it selling itself shamelessly. It was making money without feigning otherwise.

When I was growing up, I did not watch too many films in theaters  nor did I follow the releases ardently. During later years, I avoided all the ‘nonsensical stuff’ for it assaulted my senses. Little did I know I would be missing that 90s feeling this bad!


2 thoughts on “That 90s feeling

  1. Am glad you read…yes it is rather long. I wanted to take in almost all the elements. Well I can’t say I liked the 90s over the current crop. Obviously film-making has become much more nuanced and subtle. I just think that the 90s were more honest in some ways. Both ‘hatke’ and mainstream affair. For eg. if I am given a Choice between a Gulzaar film (say Maachis) and a Sudhir Mishra film (say Yeh Saali Zindagi), I think I will go for the former. Similarly if I am given a choice between Akshay’s current films and Govainda’s 90s hits, I would opt for Govinda! That is not to say I do not like films by Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Soojit Sirkar, etc. The 90s would have never given these film-makers a chance….phew…that was a long comment as well. 😛

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