Considering the ‘new normal’ that the world has been enduring for a few months in the shadow of a global pandemic, the need for nostalgia has increased manifold. The desire to see things the way they once were has seen people rediscover films and television shows across different platforms, and even retrospectively appreciate some of them.
In this aspect, the news of Sooryavansham (1999), one of the most-watched films on Indian television, turning twenty-one attained a whole new meaning. The trite drama about a father and son both played by Amitabh Bachchan in a double-role, not being able to see eye-to-eye that bombed at the box office is far from being the kind of film that could be ‘rediscovered.’ But when seen in the light of the trying times that we are living through, can nostalgia actually rewrite the past and make it all not only bearable but in fact, sweet enough to be imagined differently?
A cult following
Remembrance of things past, as Proust put it, is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were. However, the time in the history of the world where the bygone is recalled can do wonders. Up until a few years ago, watching old films on television meant a completely different thing.
When it came to films such as Sooryavansham or Nayak (2001), not the one made by Satyajit Ray but the Hindi version of S Shankar’s own Tamil version Mudhalvan (1999), which most caught while channel surfing, it meant one would watch it for a few minutes, smile and move on. These films enjoyed a cult following as well and that variety would watch it ad nauseam. The repeated viewing on satellite channels was different from waiting for films to be shown on Doordarshan and yielded different results. It wouldn’t be completely incorrect to say that Sooryavansham and Nayak were probably also the films that somewhere started the trend of South Indian films being dubbed in Hindi.
The zeitgeist factor
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the market that dubbed South Indian films enjoyed on channels such as SET Max and Zee Classic was unparalleled. The mid-morning to late afternoon time slot somewhere replaced the habit of domestic help and housewives venturing out to cinema halls once the household work was done. Many of these titles cost the broadcaster hardly anything but gave the channel as much advertisement time, which in other words translated into a neat profit. One of the reasons why a certain film becomes wildly popular as the years pass is the way it connects with the viewer on a meta-level or the influence its narrative wields on the zeitgeist. Shankar’s Nayak, where a TV journalist (Anil Kapoor) becomes the Maharashtra Chief Minister for a day, found resonance with the rise of Arvind Kejriwal. Clips of the film, it’s dialogues and scenes were widely circulated once the reel and real seemed to mirror each other. Moreover, Nayak gained respectability, and in some quarters became more enjoyable as it entered the league of films that were labelled ‘ahead of their time.’
The passage of time saw people interpret Sooryavansham more on a metalevel and the film became a study of Amitabh Bachchan, the star, as opposed to Amitabh Bachchan the actor who performed two roles in the film. The time when Sooryavansham released was not a particularly pleasant time for Bachchan as the screen legend was facing a tough time to transition from the conventional leading man roles (read Angry Young Man) to something that would suit his age. This was one of the few films where thanks to playing a middle-aged man who has to come to terms with the failure of a son that he has, Bachchan could strike gold. The film didn’t work because the narrative’s ethos and the way it placed Bachchan seemed distant to the regular Hindi film audience. But over the years, audiences noticed the elements of Metacinema in the production such as Rekha dubbing the voices of both Jayasudha and Soundarya, the actresses cast opposite Bachchan, and this changed the way Sooryavansham was viewed. In the effort to deal with the stress of not knowing what tomorrow will unleash, most of us are reliving the past with a fervour that few knew was possible. Be that as it may, it would still be nearly impossible to think that the present nostalgia overdrive could change the way today’s audiences would approach a Sooryavansham or Nayak. The sheer effort to maintain the audience's suspension of disbelief today would be too high and some things are best left to the past.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)