My first experience of this great phenomenon happened, on a rainy night in Bangalore’s Infantry Road. Bangalore rains being very unpredictable and harsh, I was forced to take refuge at the nearby Sangeeth Theatre. With rain showing no signs of stopping, I decided that it may not be a bad idea to catch a movie. Since I had never watched a movie till then sitting along with the front benchers, I bought a ticket at Rs 5 for Marte Dum Tak (Till I die), circa 1995.
The movie is a prime example of all the B grade movies of the 80s, and most reviewers of the present day generation would have given it a half star. You have a bevy of buxom aunties dancing in the background while the hero and heroine gyrate; you have bad men and their henchmen wearing the most hideous of all wigs; and above all you have the one and only Raaj Kumar, sporting a wig himself mouthing the most nonsensical of all dialogues with such conviction that it’s almost convincing for the audience. They are loud, gaudy, and horrible.
I sat between an auto rickshaw driver (identified by the uniform he wore) and a wide-eyed restaurant cleaner boy (who later introduced himself), aghast! Normally, if I am watching something that outrageous, I would have walked out. But it was raining outside.
Now enthusiasm is an emotion that’s positively contagious. The restaurant cleaner boy, about 14 or 15 years old, had obviously watched this movie half a dozen times at least. In his excitement he kept pulling my shirt sleeves. Usually such an act would initiate an acute sense of irritation and anger inside me, but I decided to leave behind my intellectual cap and made friends with him.
Thus, the new, colourful, gaudy, brash but brilliant, raucous yet enjoyable, illogical and brainless world of B grade movies opened up to me.
Now for die-hard fans of Raaj Kumar a memorable scene from Marte Dum Tak.
According to a friend who worked as an assistant director in Bollywood before returning to a corporate job, while candy floss romantic flicks dished out by the Johars and Chopras of the world can flop; the B grade movies have a market that ensures that almost all of them get a return of investment. Their low production costs aside, they have a mass following in the cow belts of UP and Bihar, in the Gangetic plains, arid zones in Rajasthan and Gujarat, up in the foot hills of Himalayas, in rustic Punjab and Haryana. Yes, there’s a captive market, a 500 million population out there.
They are all enamoured by the many cliches. You have gun trotting villains with evil grins, firangs who can speak Hindi and even Bhojpuri albeit with an accent, sisters of the hero just waiting to be raped, villagers dressed alike in all the movies so much so it’s almost as if it’s a uniform! You have smart animals usually a monkey, a dog, or a horse with an IQ close to 140; a busty heroine with padded posteriors with an IQ of 40; middle-aged men with long hair wearing t-shirts posing as college students, and a hero who with all his stunts will undoubtedly make Rajni look like a school boy.
The story line invariably is about revenge, with gargantuan holes in the script. The action is gory and gruesome with a geriatric hero bashing up a million men, killing some of them with bare hands! Songs filled with double entendre at the best merely catchy have dances replete with obscene gestures that always bring in whistles from the front benchers. There are customary comic scenes usually slap-stick, placed to bring in relief that actually stand out like a sore thumb. The actors are over the top, hamming away like there’s no tomorrow.
Being an avid researcher, I started reading about B grade movies, though there’s little literature about them, since that night, Much to the chagrin of my intellectual friends, I even started watching them.
I discovered that there were many like me, who were equally enthralled and enchanted by the B-grade yore, but did not quite belong to the rustic class. There were alumni of IITs and IIMs, PhD scholars, CEOs, CXOs, other top honchos of multinationals, scientists, writers, and thinkers. Most of them as comfortable with the Mithun-da starrers as they are with French cinema, who consider both forms to be pure art. To quote a friend, “One is art, the other one is raw art.”
Consider the cult classics Gunda or Loha by the genius of the Z-grade movie making Kanti Shah.
Gunda has exclusive fan sites on Orkut and Facebook, reviews by fans and even an FAQ web site. According to a reviewer the movie is a favourite among IITians and has been shown in every hostel in the country. It is known to have grossed in excess of Rs 30 crores, and by today’s standards is a bigger sleeper hit than Three Idiots.
You have a PhD scholar quoting dialogues from Gunda and citing the movie in almost every other post on his popular blog.
Yes, the impact on the intelligentsia of such movies is real. Many of the brightest minds get inspired by similar stuff. These movies are so terrible that there are terrific. They are so tasteless that they taste great! They are so trashy that they turn out to be gems!
I will not write about any one of the movies, and especially not about Gunda, as there have been enough analysis by real fans over the years that any attempt from me would be a waste. Instead, here’s the intro from this cult classic. And if you feel like watching the entire movie, go here.
After the classic Heer Ranjah (1970) directed by Chetan Anand, perhaps no movie has had dialogues written in verse. Heer Ranjah was written by the famous Urdu poet, Kaifi Azmi, and the dialogues of the movie are still revered by its fans for its poetry. Until Gunda. The dialogues from Gunda not only rhyme, they resonate with a deep meaning. Deeper than what Kaifi saab could think of.