As we near the end of 2023, let's look back and analyse which themes worked and were favoured in Bollywood movies throughout the year.
Bollywood has the habit of recreating or for lack of better words, copying successful patterns and themes from various film industries to the tee. In 2023 too, we saw some themes being repeated at the cinema. Some themes gained prominence while others didn't. Why does this matter? Because just as we make cinema, cinema makes us. The themes in cinema are not isolated, they are inspired by us and they inspire us. They not only raise debate but also affect actions. And perhaps the most intriguing thing is that themes tell a lot about the filmmakers as well as the audience. As you will read in this article, most themes are interrelated and they are proof of what the audience wants and what the current paradigm of society is. They reveal what earns a lot and what subtly makes its way into our subconscious. Hence, as we reach the end of 2023, let's analyse which themes worked for Bollywood this year and what it says about us as well as the very society we live in.
Check them out!
This seems to be a favoured as well as safe theme that also lets filmmakers be opinionated without being offensive as long as they stick to popular socio-political issues. In fact, almost all films directly or indirectly seem to indulge in social commentary nowadays. Films like Zwigato, Bheed, Sirf Ek Banda Kaafi Hai, 12th Fail, OMG 2, and many more did an impressive job with their commentary. Also, films do not exactly need to be about social issues to talk about social issues. A film like Shehzada, a comedy about a man trying to go to his original family, talked about the class divide whereas Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani , a rom-com, broke stereotypes about masculinity, political knowledge, traditional roles of women and more. Whether directly or indirectly, social issues formed a major part of Bollywood movies in 2023.
The year started with secure masculinity in Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan, but masculinity nevertheless. The hero always leads the way! Jawan had similar gender politics. However, as 2023 progressed, so did the rise of hyperviolent alpha males. Right from Bhai Jaan in Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan (KKBKKJ) to Tara Singh in Gadar 2, Ganapath in Ganapath, and Ranvijay in Animal, men who can fight, especially with gore, basked in all the glory. After all, Animal has just become the third-highest-grossing Indian film of the year while also being the most barbaric. While this theme can and often indulges in misogyny, it remains a favourite among the masses. And these aren't just misogynist, they also set ludicrous and toxic standards for men. This theme has always been commonplace, but this year, traditional masculinity acquired a renewed reputation. Part of this is because Bollywood has been lately taking ‘inspiration’ from the Telugu film industry and violent hero-worshipping entertainers happen to be a staple there. Also, with movies like Salaar, War 2, Singham Again, and Rambo, 2024 will probably witness numerous movies filled with masculinity too.
Action is a subtle word for violence and brutality, and it is interrelated with toxic masculinity. Movies are made with their only forte being violence. Action scenes are choreographed and glorified for our viewing pleasure. Animal boasted solely of brutality. In Gadar 2, Tara Singh indulges in violence after every other dialogue. In KKBKKJ, Bhai, with his saviour complex, cuts people with a knife in his mouth. None of this is new, but it is still consequential. Even though SRK's movies depict gentle masculinity, they still suggest that combat is the lone way to resolve disputes. Even a movie like Ganapath, which spoke of the class divide, was solely about fighting. Masculinity boasts of violence. Hence, in every movie where the hero is saving the world or women, action will follow. And every movie that treats violence as an easily 'accessible' commodity will further normalise it. We have actors and filmmakers normalising violence and audiences that actively prefer consuming violence onscreen. This shows that somewhere we need to pause and reflect whether this is really what we want.
Elections are not far away and in these politically raging and divisive times, Bollywood is increasingly making patriotic movies. Under the garb of nationalism, these films can also border on jingoism. In 2023, we saw movies that served a range of political ideologies and discussed controversial political issues. We had movies as extremist as The Kerala Story, 72 Hoorain, and Gadar 2 and as neutral as Gandhi aur Godse - Ek Yuddh and Pathaan. We had weighty cinema like Afwaah that commented on contemporary matters and we also had entertainers like Jawan. In fact, SRK, the king of romantic comedies did two movies this year, Pathaan and Jawan, and both deal with nationalism. His upcoming film Dunki seems to be portraying a similar theme. After all, filmmaking is a business and actors choose roles and films that will earn crores at the box office. Currently, politics seems to be one such successful theme. While some people go to the theatres to learn, most go to reinforce what they already believe. What has transformed over the years is that most films actively address politics. Movies more notably showcase popular politics because that is what hooks the audience and fuels discussions about the movie on social media.
Spies/ agents/ officers
Another theme interrelated with masculinity and action - thrillers revolving around spies, agents, police officers, and the like, remains prevalent. The year started with Kuttey and Mission Majnu. Then there was Pathaan, Operation Mayfair, Tiger 3, Sam Bahadur, and others. This theme doesn't come with a lot of baggage - there is no direct propaganda or advocacy for rights. Violence isn't the sole focus neither is masculinity. However, this theme indirectly involves all the popular themes. If there is a spy, RAW agent, or even a police officer, you will see violence, masculinity, nationalism, and sometimes, even social awareness, but the focus will remain on the hero or the mystery in the story. And because these themes are already popular, the movies based on these films might not be blockbusters, but they are high in numbers.
What do you think about these themes? Tell us in the comments below.