Is The Tragedy Dead, Forever?
Isahqzaade’s boxoffice outcome can be interpreted either ways. many wud say that the lead pair dying in the climax is wat stopped ishaqzaade from becoming blockbuster, others wud say its the climax that saved it from sureshot below average status like ‘ladies vs ricky behl’ and added a lot of weight to an otherwise mediocre film qualifying it as a targedy.
for tragedy, since time immemorial, has been the genre in which the greatest works of literature and performing arts have been produced. the best of shakespeare is tragedy (othello, hamlet, macbeth, romeo juliet,) so is the ancient greek literature (like ‘antigone’). premchand’s best work can be classified as tragedy (gaban, godaan, nirmala) so also ‘jayadrath vadh’ and a lot of epic poems by hindi writers. i wud classify ‘mayor of casterbridge’ as tragedy, so also ‘dr faustus’ and ‘jekyll & hyde’. but somehow the audiences in the 2oth century, or at least in the later part of it developed an aversion to tragedy, an aversion articulated in screaming voices by the marketing gurus for their vested interests and it came to be stablished that ppl dont like tragedies. but is it true?
we will see whether suddenly the audiences became ‘frivolous’ and stopped liking tragic films or is something else the matter. but 1st tragedy in cinema. and we are focussing here on indian audiences as NG is a bollywood blog.
tragedy was the genre that flourished most as hindi cinema got out of the routine of mythological films and had an evolved ‘social’ genre. the greatest films of the 40-70s period were tragedies. i would even call ‘mughal e aazam’ a tragedy. Though nobody dies in the film, the lovers dont unite. ‘sholay’ was a tragedy in parts as amitabh bachchan dies and jaya bhaduri is left lonely, once again. so was ‘mother india’ clearly where a mother has to kill her son. ‘deewar’ has amitabh bachchan dying, so also muqaddar ka sikandar. Guru dutt’s most widely remebered films are tragedies though his tasted success with crime dramas mostly. most films based on legendary love stories like laila majnu, shirin farhad, heer ranjha were tragedies so also the contemporary ones inspired from them(baabul, andaz, sangam). and not to forget devdas perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of dilip kumar who became bollywood’s biggest ever star, dying in film after film like shaheed, mela, devdas, udan khatola, ganga jamuna and many more. come to think of it it was dilip kumar’s films that had a (usually forced) happy endings that did him in. in dil diya dard liya, instead of desotrying everything he satisfies himself with merely taking revenge on pran and is united with waheeda rehman (imagine heathcliff walking into the sunset singing a song). in gopi, sagina, daastaan, bairaag all the films where they had a happy ending, the audiences came out unsatisfied and the films flopped. the best remembered roles of amitabh bachchan are the ones where he dies (sholay, deewar, muqaddar ka ssikandar) so also of meena kumari, nargis, raaj kumar, rajendra kumar, madhubala, suriaya and many other stars.
infact in the 50s it was imperative for either the hero or the heroine (mostly both) to fall sick as the last 40 minutes of the film rolled on the deathbed. in fact in a lot of films this tragic climax was a rather forced one and perhaps that is one reason ppl started getting bored of it. two very frivolous heroes (in my opinion) dev anand and shammi kapoor had meanwhile a lot of hits thru the 60s to give the impression that tragedies were not working anymore. however there still were not too many huge tragdy films that had flopped at the box office. and since then everytime there has been a well made tragedy, its been a hit. as late as 1988 saw qayamat se qayamat tak becoming a hit and now ishaqzaade in 2012.
the market forces offcourse had a huge role to play in spreading the word that tragedies dont work. try to understand the intricacies. a film just needs to sell the tickets, to whoever (especially in those times of ‘even’ ticket prices) to become a hit. but there are peripheral industries around bollywood that have other vested interests and for whom the ‘profiling’ of the audiences is very important. like advertising and media for instance wud want to cater to a segment of the youth that is impulsive buyer. the ‘mature’ tragedy audience may not be it’s easy victim/target. now this target audience will read film magazines (which were very powerful in pre television era) only if they are interested in films and they wud be interetsted in films if their ‘kind’ of films are made. add to it the fact that most ppl working in the media themselves came from the same audience group. so media, especially english media (that are the opinion makers in the country) at the behest of ‘consumer goods advertisers’ spread the word that tragedies dont work despite there not being many huge flops in tragedy genre. And it started fizzling out as the film makers started believing the doctored version of the media. i mean so many comedies and action films flop but nobody says the genre doesnt work anymore, as both genres cater to the middle class youth. name one tragedy with as huge budget as say a shaan, that tanked at the box office. or if u take comedy, a recent tees maar khan. i think with the exception of razia sultan u wud find none. and razia sultan had many other problems, only two years before ‘razia sultan’ a tragic romance ‘ek duje ke liye’ had been a smash hit.
after english media, sometime in the early 80s, satelliet television, a much bigger manipulator than print, jumped into the fray. they also targetted the youth with spending power, rather impulsive spending habits, to be able to increase their income (thru ads) and therefore spread the word that old movies and songs, especially tragedies dont work. with satellite televsion being entirely dependent on the advertising amd marketinng industries for revenue in the initial stages, as subscription revenues were not coming in, it became much easier to force the advertisers’ wish (rather than the viewers’) on televison content.
however its nobody’s case that there were no larger socio-economic reasons for tragedy to lose out. two very important ones need mentioning.
1. change in socio-economic conditions of atleast the urban middle class – its common knowledge that films of distress, confrontation, etc are liked by those who are lower down in the economic strata while those who are comfortable in their lives like to watch lighter films. as an urban middle class became prosperous in india it did not need to watch a mother who struggled to find two meals for her children. not even a middle class widow usually had that much distress in her life. and this segment lost interest in tragedies. as the multiplex revolution started this audience segment became the biggest one and if you look carefully 2000-2009 period is the one where there were hardly any tragedies made. i cant think of anything except devdas, which was presented more as a spectacle, rather than a targedy and still had mix results at boxoffice. so did tere naam, perhaps the most powerful tragedy in a long time.
2. change in demographics – younger ppl like to watch light hearted stuff while older ppl are ususally open to watching serious films, including tragedies. post 1980 as the population of the country got younger and younger there was less and less scope for a tragedy to find an audience.
however both these factors are changing now. the audience ‘lower middle class downwards’ are returning to cinemas these days and that means we may get to see again films on the themes like social justice, poverty, the rich-poor divide and therefore have a scope for tragedies to be made. also in the 2011 census the population of 0-6 years is less than 6-12 years. which means that sooner than later population pyramid will reverse (as of now the 70% of the people are born between 1980-2005) and as the ‘average man’ so to speak, becomes older, slowly but surely india will have a more mature audience and tragedy may after all stage a comeback. Not as a modest freak hit like isahqzaade, but may be as mainstream genre in the centerstage.