Padmaavat: With Bhansali's final saga of tragic romance, a look at Indian cinema's tryst with trilogies
With the release of Padmaavat, Sanjay Leela also completes his journey that he once started with Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
Filmmaker Karan Johar’s recent announcement of producing Brahmastra with a stellar cast comprising Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, was reported by every publication. The fantasy-adventure film hit the headlines because of the sheer scale involved and a dream cast. But what skipped people’s attention was the fact that the announcement also mentioned the making of a trilogy, meaning that two more films will follow Brahmastra, with a common thread linking all the three outings.
The current week also marks the completion of a trilogy of an auteur filmmaker. With the release of Padmaavat, Sanjay Leela also completes his journey that he once started with Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. The common binding factor of unrequited love which was witnessed in Ram-Leela could also be seen in Padmaavat, though love itself has metamorphosed into desire and lust in his current outing.
Bhansali, in the company of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, has successfully traversed the journey of bringing alive the saga of yearning and unfulfilled love in his last three films. Ram-Leela was a modern day adaptation of the doomed love story of Romeo and Juliet, set amidst the colorful ambience of Gujarat. On the other hand, in Bajirao Mastani, although Deepika's character found it hard to gain social acceptance, the yearning to be with the man was so strong, that she had no qualms being Bajirao’s keep. Padmaavat has the same core idea with a slight deviation. In the film, the passion of Alauddin Khilji is driven more by lust than love which till the end remains unconquered.
Roughly defined, a trilogy refers to any three pieces of art that are loosely connected to each other and have a running theme. Trilogy is a very common format, often adopted by western filmmakers but despite the long history of Hindi cinema the cases here are few and far between.
While filmmakers like Sergio Leone, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg often resorted to this format to tell their stories, there were also narratives of Dr Hannibal Lecter and celluloid versions based on books of Stieg Larsson which came in pack of three. Such instances in Bollywood can be counted on the fingertips. Although the films in question here are strictly related to Bollywood, it becomes imperative to mention Satyajit Ray, who started it all. It was in 1959 when India got its first taste of a trilogy when Satyajit Ray took the onus. Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar remain the best known trilogy that Indian cinema has ever seen. While Pather Panchali dealt with Apu’s childhood in a poor family, Aparajito dealt with Apu’s adolescent years and his quest of becoming a brilliant student. The final film in the trilogy, Apur Sansar talked about Apu’s struggle of becoming a writer and the hardships he encounters after his marriage.
It was only in the '70s that Bollywood got its own trilogy and that too by none other than Hrishikesh Mukherji. The common factor that binds Golmaal, Naram Garam and Rang Birangi is humour through the eyes of a common man. The recurrent format he adopted for his films was more on the tragic-comic side with a dash of comedy of errors thrown in the plot. Both Golmaal and Naram Garam had their essence rooted in the struggle of a common man trying to save his job. His final film of the trilogy, Rang Birangi, was a slight deviation as it showed the character of Amol Palekar as a grown up, wealthy man who has now sort of taken over the place that Utpal Dutt occupied in the initial films. While Rang Birangi was slightly different from Hrishi Da’s earlier two films, the goof up element and the joint might of Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt, more than made up for the lost components and merited as the final part of the trilogy.
The second trilogy that Hindi speaking cinegoers witnessed came after a really long gap, helmed by Mani Ratnam. Mani Ratnam began his journey with Roja and ended with Dil Se with Bombay in the interim. All his three films were love stories against the backdrop of terrorism. To sketch the love story idea further, all three were planted in The Taming of the Shrew concept. Roja talked about terrorism in Kashmir and at its core had a story of a couple trying to reunite against every curveball thrown at them. Bombay focused on the futility of riots with the protagonists of the love story being a couple with different religious beliefs. The film showed their trials and tribulations after the riots that ensued in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. Dil Se was Ratnam’s final work and this time opted for insurgency in the eastern part of India as the film’s backdrop. Shah Rukh Khan’s yearning for love, spread over a time period, towards Manisha Koirala, a suicide bomber, was the premise of Dil Se.
The last trilogy which was attempted in a very commercial set up, before SLB initiated his, was the Shakespearean drama trilogy by Vishal Bhardwaj. Vishal took the onus of interpreting Shakespeare’s work in his own fashion. He began with Macbeth and reinterpreted it as Maqbool which was seeped in the underbelly of the Mumbai mafia. Omkara was an interpretation of Othello and this time he took the story to the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh and gave viewers a close peep into the lives of henchmen of local politician plagued with caste and other social issues. Vishal’s final film in his trilogy was Haider, whose plot was inspired from Hamlet. Haider’s plot was set amidst an insurgency-ridden Kashmir and packed a powerful punch with its stark portrayal of a family drama overlapping with the politics of the region.
Bollywood did indulge in few more trilogies with the series like Dhoom, Masti and Race, but apart from minting big money, none could leave an impression. Deepa Mehta too attempted a trilogy based on the elements of earth. The common theme that linked fire, earth and water were social issues in its various forms but the filmmaker at best remains a Canadian filmmaker. Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Karan Johar should be applauded for reviving a format that for Bollywood has become synonymous with sequels. One can only hope that Hindi-speaking audiences in future are not bereft of such a pleasing genre.
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