On a scale of 3 Idiots to Humshakals, the films below lie somewhere in the grey. People either loathe them or adore them. Although Bollywood loves to play safe most times, some films break stereotypes and create nuclear holocausts between best friends. Here’s a look at some of the most polarizing Bollywood films in the recent times. Let the debate rage on!
1. Dev D (2009)
This film had divisive opinions since the narration stage. When Anurag Kashyap narrated the script to UTV studio, half of them hated it and the other half loved it. It was a brave decision by Siddharth Roy Kapur to green light the script.
Admirers: Solid technique — surreal cinematography, scintillating music, fabulous performances (especially from the two ladies Mahie Gill and Kalki Koechli). The story wasn’t too much to speak of but it bore the stamp of Anurag’s boldness blended in modernity that lifted the writing.
Haters: Too bold, nothing new to offer. In fact it was a below par effort from Anurag considering he gave us gems like Black Friday and Gulaal before Dev D. Most Anurag fans considered Dev D a sellout, catering to the studio demands only to make money.
Universal acclaim: Music by the first timer Amit Trivedi and performances.
2. Dear Zindagi (2016)
I blame the promotion team for this polarization. The promos and trailers suggested this was a lighthearted, fun take on the psychiatrist – patient dynamic. With Shahrukh as the psychiatrist, it was criminal not to have fun. The film turned out totally different.
Admirers: People appreciated the fact that Bollywood was finally talking about mental issues. Ideas like psychological stigma, accepting responsibility and divorce problems were handled deftly. Alia and Shahrukh were perfectly restrained and shunned histrionics for efficient storytelling.
Haters: Kaira was unlikable, arrogant and an all-round asshole to all her boyfriends in the film. Half the audience did not feel any sympathy and flat out refused to accept Kaira’s horrific and manipulative behavior. This could have been mitigated if the trailers showed us a flawed protagonist rather than a happy-go-lucky Alia smiling throughout.
Universal acclaim: Shahrukh Khan was perfectly cast as the psychiatrist. I mean who wouldn’t want to see the charming, sorted, seemingly happy actor tend to their issues.
Recommended: Rewind: 10 Best Hindi Films of 2016
3. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)
Karan Johar himself is quite a polarizing personality. To add to this, he went on to make the most polarizing film of all time. The amount of conflicting reviews I heard from people were beyond belief.
Admirers: From pyaar dosti hai to friendship is not always love, Karan Johar has matured as a filmmaker. Some of the scenes resonated strongly thanks to great cinematography (Anil Mehta) and one take shots. Anushka and Ranbir poured their hearts into the performances. Themes like jealousy, isolation, friendship over familial bonds were handled beautifully which is somewhat unexpected from a Karan Johar film.
Haters: Fake emotions. Rich people problems. A huge section of the audience was alienated since this was not their world. The final act was a mess. Half the theater was empty when Alizeh is revealed to have cancer. The ultimate facepalm moment from which it could never recover, that point onwards.
Universal acclaim: Fawad Khan in a 9-minute role stole the show. The music was probably the best of all Karan Johar films.
4. Shuddh Desi Romance (2013)
This is another classic case of mismatched expectations. Audience expected a regular Bollywood rom-com and the makers shoved a tad too bold story down their throats. Half of them took it jolly well. The other half spitted it out with disgust.
Admirers: The film made some bold statements about marriage and longing. It resonated with so youngsters with clouded ideas of love and commitment. It didn’t preach and managed to convey youth conflicts in a fun way. Both Parineeti and Vani were fabulous.
Haters: The idea of ridiculing the the institution of marriage apparently offended the conservative moviegoer. Commitment was portrayed as evil. The audience were clueless why the protagonists were so averse to marriage?
Universal acclaim: Parineeti Chopra reinvented herself with this character, in a restrained performance.
5. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006)
This is where it all started for him. KANK took a flight from Karan Johar’s usual films. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Light-hearted dramas about love, friendship and familial bonds. No one was quite expecting a serious take on marriage, betrayals and the aftermath. It was possibly well ahead of its time.
Admirers: It was refreshing to see Karan Johar make a mature, honest film, rather than the escapist stuff he fed us with earlier. He forthrightly dealt with issues of infidelity and friendship. It was Karan’s attempt at making a statement without letting go of his over-the-top manipulative tactics.
Haters: The subject of infidelity and its treatment didn’t wash, particularly with married couples. It was hard for both the husband and the wife to admit they liked the film. It might have meant they were okay with the idea — accepting or even endorsing infidelity. The film put Indian audiences in the spot and we hate that. Needless to say it bombed at the box office. Karan gave the audience flawed characters in an era when the protagonists needed to be an epitome of goodness.
Universal Acclaim: Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy’s brilliant music and the lovely locations.
6. Rockstar (2011)
Imtiaz Ali has a way with storytelling. This one did too, but only for the first half. I had a firsthand witness of how the single screen theater audience decimated the film post Sadda Haq in the second half. The same audience that cheered enthusiastically through the first half.
Admirers: The film had a technical finesse like no other. Imtiaz, AR Rahman and Anil Mehta (cinematographer) created magic on celluloid. Every frame was perfect. Each song carried the situation so beautifully. Audience resonated with both the naïve and the rebellious nature of our protagonist Janardan/Jordan.
Haters: Why the hell was Jordan in love with that woman? She was boring, had no morals, and was just plain annoying. Nargis Fakhri made it worse with her acting. Like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Heer dying of some incurable disease seemed too manipulative for the audience. Maybe the Indian audiences judged the subject of extra marital affair a bit much or it was the problematic execution.
Universal Acclaim: Ranbir established himself as a supremely talented actor, a league of his own. Irshad Kamil and Rahman’s compositions.
By Shridhar Kulkarni