If, after watching Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, you agree that romance on the big screen isn’t what it used to be, you might want to flashback to the times when the Hindi film hero was always a man and not a boy, whether it was desi Elvis Shammi Kapoor, eternal lover Dev Anand, handsome-with-toothy-grin Shashi Kapoor, He-Man Dharmendra, or the red-lipped Rajendra Kumar.
Raj Kapoor’s Bobby (1973) was a fresh take on young love with Rishi Kapoor and a stunning debut by 16-year-old Dimple Kapadia, but it also signalled a nearly two-decade long reign of young love over mature love stories.
The star son launches of the 1980s include Kumar Gaurav in Love Story (1981), Sanjay Dutt in Rocky (1981) and Sunny Deol in Betaab (1983). Melody made a comeback with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), in which Nasir Hussain cast his nephew Aamir Khan as the chocolate-faced hero. Sooraj Barjatya climbed on to the youth bandwagon with his smash hit, Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), starring Salman Khan. And Shah Rukh Khan became a household name with Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). Men were no longer cool. The Khans were Peter Pan, forever young.
But what about the mature love story – the working-class romances of Basu Chatterjee, Gulzar and Basu Bhattacharya that were based on relationships between ordinary men and women? The kind of film in which eyes conveyed more meaning than dialogue, the sari was a fashion statement and “size zero” was unheard of? The films that reflected modest dreams and the languid pace of life?
The mature romance genre has few takers now, with welcome exceptions like Saathiya (2002), Cheeni Kum (2007) and Piku (2015). Shaad Ali directed Rani Mukerji and Vivek Oberoi in Saathiya, a story about the trials and tribulations of a young married couple that is a remake of Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film Alaipayuthey (2000). Cheeni Kum, about an unlikely romance between 34-year-old Tabu and 64-year-old Amitabh Bachchan, has great performances and sensitive direction. In Piku, Deepika plays Bachchan’s strong-headed daughter. Irrfan eventually comes into her life, but it is she who gets to choose when and how.
One hopes that with such films, new-age directors will reclaim the space of the mature love story once occupied by the great masters. Here is a selection.
Rajnigandha (1974) Vidya Sinha is all set to marry fiancé Amol Palekar when a job offer takes her to Mumbai. Destiny sends her ex-lover (Dinesh Thakur) back into her life. She must make a choice between true love and an affair doomed to fail. A lovely soundtrack by Salil Chowdhury (especially the title track and Mukesh’s Kahin Baar Yun) make this Basu Chatterjee production a film for all seasons.
Khushboo (1975) Jeetendra plays an ideal doctor while Hema Malini is the child bride whom he had abandoned and who pines for him. She even agrees to look after his son from another marriage when he is away fulfilling his duties. Kishore Kumar sings the beautiful and haunting O Majhi Re, composed by RD Burman.
Chhoti Si Baat (1975) Amol Palekar loves Vidya Sinha, but is too shy to make a move. Enter Ashok Kumar, who trains young men in the seduction game. There are several funny moments, especially the scenes of one-upmanship between Amol and his arch rival Asrani. All’s well that ends well in Basu Chatterjee’s world. Salil Chowdhury’s evergreen soundtrack includes the title song and Jaaneman Jaaneman.
Palkon Ki Chhaon Main (1977) Rajesh Khanna plays the lovable village postman who is secretly in love with Mohini (Hema Malini). She is waiting for her soldier lover (Jeetendra) to return from war. It’s ultimately the postman who delivers news of the lover’s death to his beloved. The poignant tale, written by Gulzar, was directed by Meraj.
Anubhav, Aavishkar & Grihapravesh The trilogy of Anubhav (1971), Aavishkar (1973) and Grihapravesh (1979) was Basu Bhattacharya’s ode to mature love. In Anubhav, a busy newspaper editor (Sanjeev Kumar) falls in love once again with his beautiful but neglected wife (Tanuja). Aavishkar is about a young couple (Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore) who can’t live with or without each other. Grihapravesh, starring Sanjeev Kumar, Tagore and Sarika, is a sensitive film about infidelity. Geeta Dutt’s dulcet tones in the song Meri Jaan from Anubhav, which was also her last film, is simply divine.
Kinara (1977) Dharmendra and Hema Malini play a couple on the verge of marriage. When the man is killed in an accident, the woman, a dancer, gives up on life, and is persuaded to snap out of her depression by Jeetendra’s character. Outstanding songs by RD Burman, including Meethe Bol Bole, Naam Gum Jayega, Jaane Kya Sochkar Nahi Guzra, Koi Nahi Kai Nahin and Ek Hi Khwab make this complex Gulzar drama an engaging tearjerker.
Libaas (1988) This Gulzar film has never been commercially released. Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi play a theatre couple who drift apart. Raj Babbar, a friend, comes into their lives and Shabana rediscovers love. Gulzar’s sensitive treatment ensures that the film remains a love story without any judgment passed on the unfaithful wife. Powerful performances backed by beautiful RD Burman melodies such as Silli Hawa and Khamosh Sa Afsana make us hope that someday, this film will be shown to the world.