As another year of cacophony draws to a close, we wondered which big acts had commanded our recessionary wallets and attention
IN THE 1950s the Frankfurt School of philosophers sighed that popular culture is a factory producing standardised cultural goods (music, film, books) that manipulate us – the easily tamed lowest common denominator – into passivity. There is no high culture or low culture. There is only the culture industry and its deceptions.
That may be as it may be, we sniffed, and went on buying our records and movie tickets, uninterested in what grievously depressed Europeans say. The only time we start wondering about whether there might be something to this deception thing is when we hear repeatedly that a film is a hit, only to enter empty cinemas. India’s culture industry is gifted at hiding its bottomline. A lone bespectacled gentleman in a dusty office, one finds, is the actual source of frequently attributed ‘trade figures’. No one really ever knows what’s doing well, and with the slick onslaught of the PR machinery, the smokescreens are thicker than ever.
However, we shouldn’t avoid the ritual of examining the year past, and what follows are the results of a small hunting expedition to see which culture industry products jangled the cash registers in 2009. (The results of some omitted lists offer troubling insights about our nation and recall the depressed Europeans – in the Indipop category, most best-selling albums were anonymous dance mixes named by combining words like ‘push’, ‘play’ and ‘kick’.) The results must bear the further qualification that the fortnight that remains in the departing year may well change everything. We await the performance — and the inevitable accompanying smokescreen — of Three Idiots, for instance. Docile and lamb-like, as we are.
Bollywood is big. Bollywood is beautiful. 2009 had its moments. Two releases from a once-jinxed filmmaker. Older banners trying newer subjects like metropolitan angst. A film set in Dharavi. But platonisms persist. Love stories, foreign locales, designer outfits and superstars make up the matrix of a hit. Yet none grossed as much as a Munnabhai. Box offices failed to cash in on the charm of a home truth, well told.
1. LOVE AAJ KAL, GROSSED RS 66 CRORE
Director Imtiaz Ali (after Jab We Met) has struck box office gold twice. The film spans two generations of love and longing, portrayed by actors Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone. It imbues the past with kitsch. It keeps the present fresh. Maybe this worked for audiences. Maybe the music did.
2. AJAB PREM KI GHAZAB KAHANI, GROSSED RS 61 CRORE
A cute love story laughathon featuring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. The romantic comedy made many cry. Many more, apparently, laughed.
3. WANTED, GROSSED RS 60 CRORE
Directed by Prabhu Deva, the movie grossed record figures in Pakistan during its first weekend. The reason? K-h-a-n. Salman Khan.
4. KAMBAKKHT ISHQ, GROSSED RS 47 CRORE
Akshay Kumar plays swashbuckling stuntman. Kareena Kapoor joins in. So do grand big sets and fast, thumping music. Set as a Bollywood romance, this film is spelt ‘i-n-a-n-e’.
5. NEW YORK, GROSSED RS 46 CRORE
Kabir Khan weaves the starry tale of three friends living the American dream, till it becomes a nightmare. Glamourised jihadis? We’re loving it.
Sans sense. Sans sensibility. And yet, even as the idiot box earned its name, oases arose. A child bride in a Rajasthani village. A slum kid adopted by a rich family. The story of beauty being just skin deep. Stories from rural and real India, stories like so many waiting to be told, made viewers switch channels from star-hosted reality shows and saas-bahu sagas. So much for an audience that’s never ready for better.
1. BALIKA VADHU (COLORS), 10.2 TRP
Balika Vadhu has astounded the industry with its success. It’s a soap pegged on a joint family, set in small-town Rajasthan, themed on child marriage. The sets are not spectacular, but some excellent performances – including ones from the child actors – could possibly explain what hooked so many viewers on to this apparently far off issue.
2. UTTARAN (COLORS), 9.6 TRP
Ichcha, born in a city slum, is adopted into her mother’s employer’s household. 20 years later, Ichcha and the daughter of the house are fighting it out over an ideal groom.
3. SAPNA BABUL KA… BIDAAI (STAR PLUS), 9.5 TRP
Fair-skinned orphan Sadhna vs darker cousin Ragini. Viewers love how Ragini’s mother tries to keep Sadhna from getting – wait for it – married.
4. RAKHI KA SWAYAMVAR (NDTV IMAGINE), 8.4 TRP
If not such a bindaas entertainer, Rakhi’d make a great moolahraking CEO. India lost itself in the unusually coy Rakhi’s search for a groom, and the finale got the channel its highest ratings.
5. YEH RISHTA KYA KEHLATA HAI (STAR PLUS), 8.1 TRP
Akshara, brought up like a Marwari princess, falls in love with her husband only after marriage. Thus does Star bolster our shaadi ke bandhan.
Indian listeners decided they were open to new sounds in old tunes. Album buyers kenned to the familiar filmi darbar and lapped up the international khichdi from music directors. The pop flavour in our ears all year round indicates our levelling towards the reigning international sensibility, and testifies to how traditional Indian sounds, packaged and produced in a hip international gift wrap, is a sure-shot seller.
1. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
The most-hyped movie of the year gave AR Rahman a chance to set aside his Sufi soul and try something he hasn’t in a while – jig the international dance floor in his trademark Indian folk shoes. And when you sang along and shouted ‘jai ho’ with the Pussycat Dolls, you suddenly felt so much better about being an Indian.
Poignant lyrics set for an Abercrombied Abhishek made Dilli-6 the perfect album to slip into your CD player as you headed with your lover for that perfect date.
3. LOVE AAJ KAL
The peppy, Punjabi pop beats worked as a perfect pick-me-up mantra on all those Saturday nights you were itching to dance. Sing along, ahun ahun ahun.
Indian clubs went into overdrive as Dhan Te Nan made sure people had their hands up in the air. The Pulp Fiction sound has finally got a desi makeover.
5. NEW YORK
The standard feel-good melodies made the teenybopper and the happy-go-lucky office-goer giddy with uncontrolled joy about who they love most – their friends, of course, silly
In our brave new sporting world, star endorsements are a prime gauge of popularity. A list of top brand earners reveals yet again how much sports in our country begins and ends with cricket. From Kapil Dev’s Palmolive to the ‘boost’ that powered Sachin (and now Dhoni), the selectors seem to be choosing not just cricketers but also the next generation of faces with public value.
1. MS DHONI, RS 25 CRORE
Dhoni has come to personify the aspirations of small town India evidenced by the 17 brands he supports and a face value that regularly fetches over Rs 3 crore per endorsement. The unflappable captain at ease on pitches both cricket and advertorial, has tasted a rise that shows no signs of flagging and with India making it the top of the test heap, set to rise further.
2. SACHIN TENDULKAR, RS 25 CRORE
India’s favourite son nears the end of his career as a tiring body takes its toll, but the phenomena that is him continues unabated at above Rs 4 crore per endorsement and could easily last well past his playing days.
3. YUVRAJ SINGH, RS 6 CRORE
The prodigal son with the badboy good looks is an easy sensation, whether hitting six sixes in an over or giving advise on hair styling.
4. SANIA MIRZA, RS 5 CRORE
Sania Mirza is the odd exception that put not only tennis back on the radar but became a lonely face for women in sports in India. On the court however, she remains a promise that hasn’t been kept.
5. SEHWAG, GAMBHIR AND HARBHAJAN, RS 2 CRORE
The swashbuckling openers that can turn games and the turbaned menace complete the one-sided picture of Indian sports.
(With Bureau inputs)