The Angry Young Man is back with Vikram Vedha
By S Ramachandran
The original Vikram Vedha in Tamil by Pushkar and Gayatri had a humour running through the script even as R Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi played the cat and mouse game replacing the God with the Devil… and never getting into the detail early enough for the audience to pre-guess it. The dialogues were not just smart, they were funny too.
When Vikram Vedha was remade in the post pandemic era with two lead actors Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan who had a combined experience of over five decades, the anger and the angst of common man, the unemployment due to the pandemic, the sheer helplessness of families of people who had to trudge back home for miles longing for comfort saw the light of the projector. The anger metamorphosed into the character not just of Vedha the gangster, but also transmogrified into a sort of ruthlessness in SSP Vikram who possibly cared two hoots to what happened earlier.
The ability of the makers who were obviously more aware of the socio-political scenario in the country than other makers who released hi octane films with no relevance to the thoughts of the people, helped integrate the feelings of the people into the narrative rather seamlessly and perhaps unknowingly.
The seething anger of people fed with the curriculum from Whatsapp University led to the success of a film like The Kashmir Files, which was everything but how cinema should be made in the classical sense. But people didn’t care about cinema, good thespian qualities, riveting music and cuts. They accepted the content to satisfy the hunger that had built during the pandemic and TKF became more viral than Mr or Ms Corona Virus.
The Angry Young Man is Back!
The verity that OTT is for reality and cinemas are for an escape from reality seemed to be on the face now.
Cut to Circa 1975: It was on the midnight of June 25, 1975 when the Indian president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed a proclamation for a state of Emergency suspending civil liberties and elections. The country was in turmoil. There was anger and angst all around even before the emergency was imposed. The 1973 Amitabh Bachchan film Zanjeer was proof of that as well as the Kamal Haasan film Varumayin Niram Sirappu which spoke about how the idle mind could transmogrify into the Devil’s workshop.
The Yash Chopra directed film Deewar had released on January 24, in 1975. The film was running well at the box office till then. Bachchan’s performance in the film with the lines - “Tumhare usool tumhare adarsh – kis kaam ke hain yeh. Inko goondhkar do waqt ki roti nahin banayi ja sakti,” (Your principles and ideals are not needed. You can’t knead them to fulfil your needs) was being applauded.
The same year in March another film of Bachchan had released – the Ravi Chopra directed Zameer. The lyrics from the song ‘Zindagi hasne gaane ke liye’ had telling lines – “Jahaan sach naa chale wahan jhooth sahi, Jahan haque naa mile wahan loot sahi… Yahaan chor hai kayi, koi saach nahin… Sukh dhoond le… sukh apraadh nahin!” (Where truth doesn’t work, use lies, Where rights don’t work, rob it, There are many thieves here, but no truth. Search for happiness, it is not a crime) where the actor teaches a lesson to the cheaters and loots them to and gives the poor back much more than their dues.
By this time Bachchan had already shot for Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay which released on August 15, 1975. The emergency was still on. Amitabh who had turned criminal in Deewar and Zameer to fight against the injustice was playing a criminal yet again as Jai who has a change of heart along with Veeru played by Dharmendra. These three films were huge hits back to back. Deewar became a Platinum Jubilee (100 weeks) in the metro cities which it was an all India Golden jubilee running for 50 weeks. Zameer which was inspired by the Dev Anand film Bambai Ka Babu made it a silver jubilee. But then Sholay which had much more than Bachchan’s bravura performance to offer went on to notch achieve several milestones – All India Diamond Jubilee (75 Weeks), Platinum Jubilee in some theatres and Titanium Jubilee (150 weeks) in some centres. The film ran for over 265 weeks in Mumbai’s Minerva Theatre which meant for five years and was taken off the theatres only to facilitate Ramesh Sippy’s next film with Amitabh Bachchan - Shaan. That was a record broken only by DDLJ which ran at Maratha Mandir before the lockdown forced it to stop before the film could complete 25 years of a straight run in a theatre.
So, what did that mean? Bachchan also had some different genre Hrishikesh Mukherjee films like the comic Chupke Chupke which released in April and the heart wrenching Mili which released less than a week before the Emergency, but these three films overshadowed everything else and got Amitabh Bachchan the moniker of ‘Angry Young Man’ – a terminology said to have been coined by writer Javed Akhtar.
Rajesh Khanna was the reigning superstar till that time. He spread love and romance. The audience felt cheated in love and they looked for a solution. They wanted change. Their freedom was being supressed and society was being frustrated. The rich became richer and the poor became poorer. Amitabh Bachchan’s characters in his films told the supressed and oppressed that they could also use the illegal methods that he used to get what they wanted after being wronged by the society and the system. Amitabh Bachchan had managed to convince the masses that consumerism was the primary benchmark of success in life and the ultimate yardstick to measure happiness. Few may tend to disagree with the logic, but the subterfuge used by writers like Javed Akhtar, Salim Khan (Deewar and Sholay) and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi (Zameer) seemed to have worked and given the audience their hero – The Angry Young Man.
In the next three years – Bachchan was back to similar roles of the man looting the rich –
# Prakash Mehra’s Hera Pheri with Vinod Khanna
# Narinder Bedi’s Adaalat where he had a double role and one of them is an honest villager who becomes a smuggler
# Desh Mukherjee’s Imaan Dharam where he along with Shashi Kapoor played fake witnesses in cases
# Rakesh Kumar’s Khoon Pasina where he plays a criminal and a don yet again
# A goonda in Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony
# Sultan Ahmed’s Ganga Ki Saugandh where he plays a naïve villager who turns a dacoit
# Ramesh Behl’s Kasme Vaade where he had a double role yet again and one of them is a wanted criminal who helps quell the rich bad men
# Deven Verma directed Besharam where he plays an insurance agent who changes identity and helps the cops catch the rich criminals who make his honest teacher father commit suicide
# Yash Chopra’s Trishul where he comes in penniless to take revenge on his now rich father who left his poor mother
# Double role as the don and his lookalike in Chandra Barot’s Don
# Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar Ka Sikander who makes money by turning over smugglers to the cops and becomes rich.
The only flop in these films was Imaan Dharam. Amitabh also managed to do films like Kabhi Kabhie, Do Anjaane, Parvarish, Alaap and Faraar in the process which were not really against capitalism, but Faraar saw him as a criminal yet again.
From 1980 onwards, parallel cinema took the baton and used the same analogy that western cinema had been using – to fight against the upper class and the corrupt powers that were to uplift the morale of the deprived and depressed. The phenomenon was not an original thought – but an inspiration from the real life and later the literature and cinema of the western world which had already gone through the same turmoil. It was just that India was a young independent country just out of its teens when Emergency was imposed.
Saeed Mirza’s Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai starring Naseeruddin Shah came in 1980 showed an angry young man fighting the capitalists. Om Puri did an Ardh Satya to fight against the criminals as well as the corrupt system and thus emerged as harbingers of change through what mainstream Bollywood dubbed as art cinema. Anti-heroes became the law as Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro starring Pawan Malhotra, N Chandra’s Ankush with Nana Patekar, Rabindra Dharmaraj’s Chakra starring Naseeruddin Shah and Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh starring Om Puri were films in the 80s where the angry young man ruled the roost albeit with cinephiles in Indian and international film festivals, but found patronage in the media and the intellectuals as well who appreciated the art and the mise en scène and the analogies used by the filmmakers without providing the song and dance entertainment.
The communal riots after the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya and the subsequent bomb blasts in Mumbai also gave birth to another angry young man who would do anything to take revenge or get his love – He could even kill his love or the ones that came in between – Baazigar released on November 12, 1993, Darr released on 24 December 1993, Anjaam released on April 22, 1994. Three angry roles by Shah Rukh Khan in less than six months went on to be huge hits telling the society perhaps that the audience was angry at their losses.
But then how can we forget the first angry young man – Birju? Sunil Dutt from Mother India (1957) was the first one who revolted against the rich moneylenders and wanted to end their regime and oppression by giving it back in their own language. Birju was even ready to outrage the modesty of a girl to rake revenge on the injustice meted out to his mother. Birju was the ‘sachcha beta’ (true son) and Ramu was the ‘achcha beta’ (good son). Dutt, who has also been referred to as the original angry young man by Bachchan himself who acted in Dutt’s film Reshma Aur Shera, also played angry roles in other films like Heera and Mujhe Jeene Do among others where he revolted against the unjust system and society.
Meanwhile the Mother India plot saw Yash Chopra replicating it rather differently in Deewar, Mahesh Bhatt in Naam (1986) and Subhash Ghai in Ram Lakhan (1989) with or without the wronged mother and the two sons. The audience somehow still identified with the angry young man.
It does seem now that the aftermath of the young 34-year-old Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, the youth is rather angry. Their frustration and angst are rather palpable. But it is not Sushant’s death alone. It is perhaps the lockdown and the coronavirus scare that will continue to haunt for a few more years – giving birth to perhaps another angry young man - or maybe an angry young woman as well.
Oppression leads to anger, unjust rules lead to rebellion, unemployment leads to crime, injustice leads to a movement – and what better than cinema to depict that through the ages of the angry young man be it due to the land grabbing by the land sharks, stifling of expression by the governments, communal disharmony and perhaps the new word that the younger generation have in their dictionary – nepotism which possibly reminded people of one word – Boycott.
While cynics do not credence to the word, and if we believe it for a few minutes, it is clear that we did not have good films coming out in the pandemic and post it as India had changed…
The angst came to the fore when south films like Pushpa: The Rule and then KGF 2 came out. KGF had released pre-pandemic but everyone saw the story of the anger of the poor man going against the system to claim what he felt was his and the angst of the common man supported the films to be what is now called as Pan India hits.
We forget that Mani Ratnam’s Roja and Bombay were also Pan India hits – they just wasn’t called so.
By the time the filmmakers figure out what the formula is – times will change, like it did with liberalisation and people searched for happy endings with films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge and Dil Toh Pagal Hai among others. The anger will subside in a few months or perhaps years and romance will be back.
Maybe Pushkar and Gayatri will get their Vedha narrate another story by then.