Like in a breakup, Bollywood wraps things up messily.
A girl I know grew up believing that The Sound Of Music ended with the “So Long, Farewell” song. What with parents turning off the videotape before Nazis and high drama took over, her version of the film finished up — somewhat confusingly, she now admits — with a dinner party and little Greta Von Trapp lisping Auf Wiedersehen. This idea, however, of editing a film just by pretending part of it doesn’t exist, is an inspired one, and I feel most compelled to try it next time I show someone Silsila, distracting them right before the farcical plane crash climax, changing channels and saying the film’s over.
Excising that horrific, tacked-on ending would let that masterpiece shine even brighter, and I doubt many would disagree. One of my all-time favourites, Silsila is a compelling drama about marital infidelity, made almost ridiculous by the last few minutes wherein a plane crash causes a very convenient rethink on the parts of all people concerned, and they just go back to their formerly unhappy married lives. Basically, they choose — repeat, choose — to love other people instead. It is a shamefully lazy end, but because the film is that phenomenal, we choose to overlook it.
It’s not the only time Yash Chopra, one of Hindi cinema’s most consummate storytellers, copped out and gave his story a lamer ending than it deserved. Kaala Patthar, Faasle and Chandni were all films that petered into ‘safer,’ more conventional endings despite them being strong stories that merited emphatic finishes. The last time he stuck to his guns and carried his bat right to the end gave us a striking film with an incredible finish — but the film crashed and burned.
On 22nd November 1991, both Chopra’s Lamhe and Kuku Kohli’s Phool Aur Kaante released — and blame it on the story, the bold ‘ahead of its time’ end, Anil Kapoor’s hairless upper-lip or that model who couldn’t say Pallo — but Lamhe was a washout, while the unwatchably cheesy Ajay Devgan film rocked the box office. That Friday was a tipping point. Two diametrically opposed results — to two dramatically different kinds of films — shaped the following decade of our mainstream cinema, allowing the masala brigade who had tasted blood in the 80s to come in and take over entirely. The rest is history too recent to write about without wincing at the thought of Karan and Arjun.
The failure of Lamhe also frightened our filmmakers from unconventional endings. To this day, fine features chug along solidly before nosediving into mediocre climaxes. Relationships are smoothened with insane, abrupt ease; there is a mad twist that belies other twists; dozens of loose ends are tied up with lazy convenience; stirring drama is made maddeningly happy; and even in films where protagonists die, the scene is suffocated by star-worship. Less mainstream filmmakers do this better, but not by far. The weakest parts of the very best films of the last five years have mostly been the final moments.
And so conditioned have we become to these slapdash finishes that we take them in our stride. We’ve made our peace with even gripping narratives meeting a predictably Bollywood end, because that’s what we get to see all the time. “Not bad for a Hindi movie” just isn’t good enough. We have the writers, we have the stories, and we need to have the faith.
A massage parlour can give you a happy ending; a movie is for so much more.
First published Mumbai Mirror, April 18, 2012