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1984, the year of political chaos in Bollywood

This year marks 40 years since a trio of Bollywood films were released in close succession, all centred around the theme of corruption in In...

This year marks 40 years since a trio of Bollywood films were released in close succession, all centred around the theme of corruption in Indian politics, providing a fascinating lens into the dynamics of the industry at that time. The three films—'Inquilaab' starring Amitabh Bachchan, 'Yeh Desh' featuring Jeetendra and Kamal Hasan, and 'Aaj Ka MLA Ramavtar' with Rajesh Khanna—were each vying for attention in what turned out to be a crowded field. One of the main talking points of 1984 was the mad race for the completion and release of these three films. 

Firstly, 'Inquilaab', directed by T. Rama Rao and headlined by Amitabh Bachchan, promised to be a compelling political thriller, especially given Bachchan's return post-accident (on the sets of Coolie). The narrative of an educated man who becomes a police officer and is then forced into politics by corrupt influences sounded enticing. Despite a strong opening buoyed by media hype surrounding its rivalry with the other films, 'Inquilaab' failed to sustain audience interest, suggesting a shortfall in the film's ability to captivate beyond its initial buzz. This perhaps highlights the critical importance of strong storytelling and execution in films dealing with socio-political subjects.

Similarly, 'Yeh Desh' and 'Aaj Ka MLA Ramavtar' grappled with similar challenges. 'Yeh Desh', despite boasting a stellar cast with Jeetendra, Kamal Hasan, and Zeenat Aman, and narrating a tale of an honest union leader manipulated and cheated by his corrupt politician relative, faltered and disappeared quickly from cinema halls. 'Aaj Ka MLA Ramavtar', riding on the success of Rajesh Khanna's recent hits (Avtar, Souten, Agar Tum Na Hote), failed to leverage its potential, succumbing to the same fate as its contemporaries. The story of a simple barber who is sucked into the corrupt cesspool of Indian Politics didn’t find too many takers.  

The shared theme of corruption in politics, while timely and resonant, was evidently not enough to sustain these films. The box office outcome starkly revealed that the public demanded more than just a topical backdrop. Audiences expected narratives that were not just politically charged but also well-crafted and engaging. The films' descent from anticipation to disappointment underscores the significance of nuanced storytelling and execution in this genre.

Despite boasting commercial elements like popular songs (Abhimanyu Chakravyuh Main Phaas Gaya Hai Tu and Bichhoo Lad Gaya in Inquilaab, Chalo Calcutta and Tukur Tukur in Aaj Ka MLA Ramavtar), the trio failed to resonate beyond their surface appeal. The cautionary tale here lies in the necessity for depth and authenticity when handling weighty themes such as political corruption, particularly within the context of mainstream cinema. The simultaneous release and subsequent underperformance of these films exemplify the perils of competition-driven rushed productions over substance-driven narratives.

The 1984 showdown involving 'Inquilaab', 'Yeh Desh', and 'Aaj Ka MLA Ramavtar' underscores the importance of quality storytelling and execution in films dealing with complex themes like corruption in politics. The failure of these films at the box office serves as a reminder that topicality alone cannot compensate for deficiencies in narrative depth and cinematic craftsmanship.

By Pratik Majumdar

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