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The decade spanning 1980 to 1990 was dubbed as a dull time in Bollywood. Every film was more or less working around the same plot formula: a baseless narrative featuring an overtly macho hero with a tragic backstory, fighting a villain who could inflict all forms of violence imaginable. Not to forget, the damsels in distress getting happily objectified in some obnoxious songs and dance sequences.

While on the one hand was this plethora of cringe-worthy films, on the other were a few seminal offbeat films that challenged the very idea of 80s cinema,  fearlessly dealing with stories that might seem too bold even today! Actors gave all it took to breathe life into their characters and songs were meant to go down in posterity. In short, Art was for Art’s sake, indeed.

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Let us take a look at 80s Bollywood flicks that were way ahead of their time (and you must watch, if you haven’t already):

1. Nikaah (1982)

The story revolves around the life of Nilofer (Salma Agha), who is divorced by Wasim (Deepak Parashar) in a fit of anger and later marries Haider (Raj Babbar). Directed by BR Chopra, Nikaah raises important questions about the misuse of Sharia laws against women. In a noteworthy climax, Nilofer takes charge of her life and refuses to be treated as a piece of property, to be transferred from one man to another.

Earlier titled Talaaq Talaaq Talaaq, the film stands even more relevant today for its mature and liberating take on the sensitive issue. Receiving over 10 nominations at the Filmfare Awards, it went on to win Best Female Playback award for the evergreen ‘Dil ke armaan aansuon mein beh gaye’ and the Best Dialogue award for its beautiful yet hard hitting dialogues in Hindi-Urdu.

2. Arth (1982)

This partly autobiographical film by Mahesh Bhatt (portrayed by Kulbhushan Kharbanda), deals with his famous extramarital affair with actress Parveen Babi (played by Smita Patil), who was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. But this story serves as a mere background to chart the journey of his deserted wife Pooja (Shabana Azmi), as she goes on to forge an independent identity and chooses to live as a single mother.

Arth, still remembered for its soul stirring music and Shabana Azmi’s brilliant performance, was one of the earliest films to establish the trend of women-centric films in Bollywood.

3. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983)

In this age of proliferating start-ups, it makes much sense to revisit this film that applies the Murphy’s law to the lives of two young photographers Vinod Chopra (Naseeruddin Shah) and Sudhir Mishra (Ravi Baswani). They dream of making it big by setting up their own photo studio but after a disastrous failure, they go on to work with a newspaper that exposes the scandalous lives of the rich and the famous. On their first assignment itself, these innocent men are caught up in the nexus of politics, corruption and crime. Featuring a perfect ensemble (Naseruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur, Satish Shah, Satish Kaushik, Bhakti Barve and Neena Gupta), JBYD progresses as a slapstick comedy mixed with dark satire.

Had the film been made today, the classic climax that interrupts and hilariously inverts the staging of the Mahabharata, intervened by the Salim-Anarkali love story, would have little hope of being approved by the sanskaari CBFC!

4. Masoom (1983)

Much before Shakun Batra broke the spell of the ideal family goals created by Rajshree, the internationally acclaimed director Shekar Kapur paved the way with the realistic portrayal of a ‘dysfunctional family’ in his very first film. A young Jugal Hansraj portrays the titular role as the illegitimate child of DK (Naseeruddin Shah) through an extramarital affair, in spite of a happy marriage with Indu (Shabana Azmi). The disturbance caused by Rahul’s appearance in DK’s life, leading to a familial crisis before a final reconciliation is the subject of the movie.

With heart touching performances by the lead actors and its stellar music with songs like ‘Do Naina aur ek kahani’ and ‘Tujhse naaraaz nahi zindagi’, the film went on to win 5 Filmfare Awards.

5. New Delhi Times (1986)

This film featuring Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, Om Puri and Kulbhushan Kharbanda in the lead ran into controversy for its blunt portrayal of the corrupt nexus between politics and media. In fact, even film distributors and TV channels refused to telecast the film when it released (reminded of Udta Punjab, anyone?).

The plot line deals with stories of crime and corruption that have even more resonance today than the 80s, be it the assassination of a local MLA, scams than cost hundreds of innocent lives, communal riots, corrupt political figures involved in illegal activities, crime against women or the unethical media. This film finally got its due and went on to win three National Awards!

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