Bollywood Cinema 1980-89 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Bollywood Cinema 1980-89

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Bollywood Cinema up to 1949 | 1950-59 | 1960-69 | 1970-79 | 1980-89 | 1990-99 | 2000-10

For the Indian film industry, the 1980s was a decade in which anything was accepted by the audience: a movie that introduced a Pakistani singer, a patriotic film, an art movie, a man who turns invisible and more.


One of the most popular films of the early 1980s was Feroz Khan's Qurbani, meaning 'sacrifice', released in 1980. The film's songs caused a sensation as the music was considered to be ahead of its time. It also introduced a Pakistani female singer who was living in London at the time, Nazia Hassan. The late Feroz Khan, father of actor Fardeen Khan, starred in, directed and also produced this hit movie, which also starred Zeenat Aman, Vinod Khanna, Amjad Khan and Amrish Puri.

Rajesh, a thief, is blackmailed by Vikram and his evil sister Jwala, who happens to be crime boss Rakka's ex-wife. He must return the fortune that he stole from her. Jwala also threatens Rajesh that if he doesn't do this, then her brother will kill his lover, Sheela. In the meantime Sheela meets another man, the widower, Amar and becomes friendly with his young daughter. Amar falls in love with Sheela, who rejects his proposal as she loves Rajesh. Then one day, Rajesh and Amar meet and become good friends.

They hatch a plot to steal some gold and jewellery from a safe. Amar will escape to England with the loot while Rajesh will draw the attention of the police away, allowing himself to be arrested and facing the consequences - a year or two in prison is a small price to pay. But things don't go according to plan. Vikram, Jwala and Rakka get in on the act, and Rakka is murdered during the raid by the other two. The police blame Amar and assume that he has tried to frame Rajesh. Meanwhile, Vikram and Jwala try to get Amar to pay the gold and jewels to them by holding his daughter for ransom.

Filmed in both India and the United Kingdom, Qurbani was one of the biggest successes of 1980. The one song that everybody was singing was 'Aap Jaisa Koi' ('Somebody Like You'). Playback1 was by the London-based Pakistani singer, Nazia Hassan, and the music for that particular track was by Biddu; the rest of the music was by the duo Kalyanji and Anandji. The film also established Vinod Khanna's place among the ranks of the 'superstars'. The film received a total of six Filmfare Awards.


The following year saw two film stars, Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar, introduce their sons to the film industry in the film Naseeb ('Luck'). Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan also appeared in the film, playing a character with three names.

Naseeb was released on 17 March, 1981. Director Manmohan Desai had intended to use the same cast as in his previous blockbuster Amar Akbar Anthony, but this was not possible as one of actors had decided to take break a from films.

The story begins when a drunk who is unable to pay for a meal at a hotel hands over a lottery ticket to a waiter, Namdev. The waiter decides to share the fortune with three of his friends, Jaggi, Damu and Raghu, who work at the same hotel. But when the numbers turn out to be the winning ones, two of the 'friends', Damu and Raghu, murder the third, Jaggi, and the waiter Namdev is framed. In order to escape from the Police, Namdev jumps into a river and is presumed dead.

Time moves on, and a new generation enters the story. Raghu and Damu have built a successful hotel with their lottery money. Namdev's eldest son, known as John, Jaani, or Janardhan, is employed as a waiter in this hotel. John's best friend is Vicky, Damu's son, who is studying in London. John's girlfriend, Asha, eldest daughter of Jaggi, is a singer at the same hotel. Namdev's youngest son, Sunny, who is at college, is in love with Kim, Asha's younger sister. Everything goes well until Vicky returns from London and tells John about a girl he once met there, and admits he loves her. John realises it is the same woman, Asha, that he himself loves. John decides to sacrifice his own love so that Vicky can be happy. In the meantime, Namdev returns and plans to take revenge on Damu and Raghu for Jaggi's murder and for separating him from his sons. The plot is further complicated when Vicky finds out about the romance between Asha and his best friend, John.

Hema Malini received the Best Actress award for this film. What makes the film really memorable, however, is that it had a song, 'John Jaani Janardhan', sung by playback singer Mohd Rafi and lip-synched by Amitabh Bachchan. During the song sequence, which takes place inside a hotel, film actors come in to celebrate the success of the director Manmohan Desai's previous film. Here he had almost everyone from the film industry – Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, Randhir Kapoor, Simi Garewall, Mala Sinha, Vijay Arora and Bindu, just to mention a few, appearing as themselves. Raj Kapoor is approached by Amitabh, requesting him to play his favourite instrument, the accordion, which it is believed that Raj Kapoor could play. This type of theme was repeated 26 years later when Farah Khan released her film Om Shanti Om, which starred Shahrukh Khan and introduced actress Deepika Padukone. Here, once again, almost everyone in the industry was invited to participate as themselves. The difference was that this time, they were all at the party celebrations which take place after the Filmfare Awards.

Sanjay Dutt

Born on 29 July, 1959, Sanjay Dutt is the son of the late Sunil Dutt and the late Nargis. While at High School, he struggled to overcome his drugs problem and after his mother Nargis's death in 1981, he underwent treatment at a rehab centre in Jackson, Mississippi, USA; this helped him to kick the habit.

Dutt made an appearance as a child in the film Reshma Aur Shera, but his first real film was Rocky, directed by his father. He married Rich Sharma, who later suffered from cancer and passed away, leaving him with a daughter, Trishala.

In 1993 there were bombings in Mumbai, one at the Stock Exchange in the city. Dutt was arrested and charged with illegally possessing arms purchased from gangsters related to Dawood Ibrahim, an underworld figure, and his gang, known as 'D Company'. He spent 16 months in prison and was granted parole in October 1995 by the Supreme Court. This would go on for many more years and in 2007 Sanjay Dutt was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for possessing three AK 56 Rifles. Parole was not granted, but he was cleared of terrorism conspiracy charges which related to the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. The actor was visibly shocked, as he claimed that he had feared for his life after Hindu–Muslim riots which had taken place earlier in the year.

Sanjay Dutt has been released on parole and more recently has joined the Samajwadhi Party to contest the elections, but he withdrew his nomination when the Supreme Court refused to suspend his conviction.


This should not be confused with the Hollywood movie of the same name, which starred Sylvester Stallone.

Rocky was the film in which Sanjay Dutt was launched as an actor by his father, Sunil Dutt. A small child is traumatised after his father, who works for a construction company, is killed and his mother is advised not to go anywhere near him. The child is then adopted and is renamed 'Rocky'.

As he grows up, Rocky leads a carefree life and is not aware that his real mother is alive until he falls in love with Renuka, played by the actress Tina Munim - wife of the industrialist and businessman Anil Ambani. He then finds out that his real mother is alive and that his father was murdered. He starts to seek revenge.

Just before the film was due to be released, tragedy struck. Dutt's mother, Nargis, veteran actress of Mother India, who had been suffering from cancer, passed away. Rumour had it that the real reason why Rocky's father, played by Sunil Dutt, was killed off in the story was because the actor had to accompany his wife to New York for her cancer treatment. Though the film was a success, Sanjay Dutt's career as an actor didn't really take off until much later.

Umrao Jaan

A film in which the actress Rekha was able to show her talent was Umrao Jaan. She received a National Film Award for it.

The film was based on the novel Umrao Jaan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa, which in turn is said to be based on the life of a famous courtesan in the North Indian city of Lucknow. In 1840, a young girl, Amiran, is kidnapped by her neighbour, Dilawar and is sold to Madam Khanum Jaan, who operates a brothel where she trains courtesans. Here Amiran is renamed 'Umrao Jaan'. She learns to read, write, dance, sing and also charm wealthy men. As she grows up, she catches the eye of a young Nawab and the two fall in love. However, he soon marries another woman and Umrao Jaan's heart is broken.

She then meet meets a bandit leader and hopes to marry him and leave her life of a courtesan for good. But he is killed in an encounter with the police, and, once again, Umrao Jaan is left with no option but to go back to her previous life. But then the Great Indian Mutiny of 1850 takes place, and the British begin to retaliate. The city of Lucknow becomes a war zone; Umrao Jaan and her companions are forced to flee along with the other residents. One night, they come to a village near the city and Umrao Jaan immediately recognises this as the village from which she had been kidnapped. Here, at the request of some of the villagers, she dances and sings. Later she meets her ageing mother and her younger brother, who had thought that she was dead. The mother is willing to take her back into the family but her brother, who is now the head of the family, is not.

Finally Umrao Jaan returns to the looted and deserted brothel in Lucknow, where she finds that there's nothing for her except her profession and poetry.

Rekha's acting as Umrao Jaan was very much praised. Several songs were sung by Asha Bhonsle and they are considered to be classics. The film received four Filmfare Awards and Rekha received a National Film Award. Unfortunately, the film was not a big success at the box office.

This movie was re-made in 2006, starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as 'Umrao Jaan'. Unfortunately, the box office proceeds of the re-make were even worse - it was a disaster.


One of the most remembered movies of 1982 was Mahesh Bhatt's Arth, which is the film that really made him a successful director.

An advertisment film maker has an extra-marital affair with a sultry model. When his devoted wife finds out, she is shattered and leaves him. As a single working woman, she struggles to survive in a conservative Indian society. But when a male friend declares his love for her, she resists going into another relationship. In the meantime, her husband's mistress begins to feel guilty for having ruined a married couple's life. She begins to worry that she too will be left alone and becomes violent towards the husband. The husband leaves the model and tries to return to his wife. When he asks his wife if he can return to her, she asks him:

If I was the one who had been unfaithful and was asking you to take me back, would you accept?

He replies 'No'. She triumphantly repeats his answer: 'No'.

Mahesh Bhatt's first film, Manzilen Aur Bhi Hain, had been banned because of its over-the-top sex and violence, but with 'Arth', he found his first major success. Said to be based on his affair with actress Parveen Babi and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage, the film had rawness of emotion, real insight into a man/woman relationship and the honest depiction of an extra-marital affair. The movie went on to re-introduce ghazals2 to the cinema-going public, as the husband and wife duo, Jagjit and Chitra Singh, known for their ghazal singing, provided the playback.

The late Smita Patil, who played the role of the 'other woman', was cast perfectly as the insecure model, worried that she will be left alone, paranoid and feeling guilty about wrecking another woman's marriage. The actress Shabana Azmi, now married to the lyricist Javed Akhtar, is also cast perfectly as the weepy but still resilient wife. What also helped this was Pravin Bhatt's shadowy camera work, which captures the intense and emotional turmoil of all the characters.


The following year saw the release of Coolie. During the filming of it, superstar Amitabh Bachchan was injured in the abdomen.

Coolie had a theme that had been shown before in films such as Amar Akbar Anthony, Yaadon Ki Baraat and Kismet - a family being separated and uniting at the end. The film had already been much talked about before it was completed and released, because of the injuries that Amitabh Bachchan sustained while filming a stunt scene. At the time, the superstar was performing his own stunts and in one fight scene, he was required to fall on a table and then onto the ground. But as he jumped towards the table, the corner of the table struck him in the abdomen causing a rupture of his spleen; he lost a significant amount of blood and required an emergency splenectomy. He remained in hospital in a critical condition and at times faced death. The public response to this was absolutely amazing. Thousands would gather outside the hospital every day and pray for him while millions of others, not only in India but in other countries as well, went to the temples and prayed for him to get well. As soon as he recovered, the filming re-commenced. However, the original ending, which had Amitabh Bachchan dying, was changed by the director as he felt that it would have been inappropriate for the actor who had just fended off death in real life. The new ending had Amitabh living after being seriously injured by the villain and going through surgery.

To commemorate the accident during filming, the director chose to use the footage in which Bachchan was injured, freezing the action at the point where the injury occurred and putting a caption explaining this. The film went on to be a success.


The year 1985 saw the release of Saagar starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. This brought back memories of Bobby, released 12 years before, as the pair had not worked together since then. In the meantime, Dimple had married and then divorced the actor Rajesh Khanna. Everyone wanted to see what it would be like to see the two, Kapoor and Kapadia, back together and whether they would be able to recapture the atmosphere with the audience that they had done before.

Directed by Ramesh Sippy, whose previous work included the super-hit movie, Sholay, the theme of the film was a romantic love triangle, with Kapoor and Kapedia being joined by Kamal Hassan.

Mona, played by Kapadia, owns a small bar on a beach in Goa. Her neighbour Raja, a fisherman - played by Hassan - loves her but is unable to show his feelings for her. In the meantime, a rich industrialist's grandson, Ravi, played by Kapoor, arrives, becomes good friends with Raja and falls in love with Mona.

Ravi's grandmother hears about her grandson's love but does not think Mona is suitable, so she tries to stop him from meeting Mona. Raja continues with his dream of one day approaching Mona and telling her of his love until one day, his dream is shattered when he sees Ravi and Mona together. He decides to go away for a while on a business trip and plans to start up his own fishing business.

Ravi's grandmother tries to bring her grandson around to her way of thinking. She asks Mona's father to visit her on the pretext of getting Ravi and Mona married. Instead she insults him and has him thrown out of her house. Ravi, who has been living with his grandmother, learns of the incident and in protest leaves the house. When his best friend Raja returns, he decides to tell him about his and Mona's affair but, upon reaching Raja's house, he overhears Raja talking to his landlady about how he had dreamed of marrying Mona.

This movie had all the ingredients that the public wanted to watch. The film received five Filmfare Awards, including the award for Best Actress and also Best Male Playback singer. The role of Ravi's grandmother was played by Madhur Jaffrey, the TV chef who has written many cookery books. Mona's father was played by Saeed Jaffrey, who at one time had a role in the daily English soap, Coronation Street.

Anil Kapoor

Mention Indian sci-fi films and one immediately thinks of Mr India, which was the biggest hit of 1987 and had a cast led by Anil Kapoor, more famous recently for his role as 'Prem Kumar' in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire - just think of the phrase 'chai wallah'.

Anil Kapoor made his debut in 1979, with a minor part in Hamare Tumare (Yours Mine), directed by Umesh Mehra. It was not until 1983, in Woh 7 Din (Those Seven Days), that he got recognition as actor in the main role. His father, Surinder Kapoor, was secretary to Geeta Bali, who was married to Shammi Kapoor.

Anil Kapoor met his wife, Sunita Bhambani, a Sindhi model and married her in 1984. They have three children – the eldest is Sonam Kapoor who made her debut in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya in November 2007.

In 2002, Anil Kapoor started to produce films such as Badhai Ho Badhai (Congratulations) but his most memorable film as a producer was Gandhi My Father, which was based on the real life situation between 'Mahatma' Gandhi and his eldest son, Harilal. The movie starred Akshaye Khanna as Harilal Gandhi and Darshan Jariwala as Mahatma Gandhi. In 2009, another of Kapoor's films, Short Kut The Con Is On, was released.

Mr India

But the most memorable film with Anil Kapoor as the hero is Mr India, a sci-fi movie released in 1987. It was directed by Shekhar Kapur and was written by the duo Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, known famously as Salim - Javed.

Orphaned as a child, Arun Verma dedicates his life to helping and taking care of orphaned children, although he struggles financially to get by. To make ends meet, he hires out one of the rooms of his house to a female journalist, who simply hates children. In the meantime, the evil Mugambo shows interest in the house as he intends to use it to store illegal weapons and firearms. With this in mind, he sends his henchmen to force Arun and the children to vacate the house.

One day, Arun bumps into Professor Sinha, a scientist and a family friend, who informs him that his father has left him a secret and that Arun should collect it from him later on. Arriving at the Professor's house, Arun soon finds the secret: it is a device that will make one invisible at will. With this he decides to fight the evil Mugambo and his men; he decides to call his crime-fighting persona Mr India.

The movie starred the late Amrish Purii, who had acted in Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with Harrison Ford, as the evil Mugambo. His most famous phrase, repeated throughout the movie, was 'Mugambo kush hua' ('Mugambo is happy'). This was the movie that is considered to be the Indian Invisible Man and the first science fiction movie in the Indian Film Industry. It had everything needed to receive an award.

The songs are all memorable and especially 'I Love You', in which Anil Kapoor keeps on turning invisible and back to visible while the heroine, played by his now sister-in-law, Sri Devi, dances. But unfortunately there were no awards ceremonies held that year. Some of the child artists that featured in the film are now well-known actors in the industry – Sonam Kapoor (Anil Kapoor's daughter), Karan Nath and Aftab Shivdasani. The following year, Anil Kapoor went on to receive an award for Best Actor for another film, Tezaab.

Madhuri Dixit

Known as the 'Ek Do Teen' ('One Two Three') girl, Madhuri Dixit was born in Mumbai on 15 May, 1967 in a Marathi, Brahmin family. She is a trained and acclaimed Kathak dancer and was awarded the Padma Shree Award, India's fourth highest civilian award. Her first film, Abodh, released in 1984, went relatively unnoticed. Her first big break was the movie Tezaab, in 1989. She was nominated for a Filmfare award for her work in it. After this, she went on to work in other successful films.

Dixit's career as a superstar really belongs to later decades but we will describe it here because her first hit was in the 1980s. In 1994, Dixit was nominated for Best Actress award for Anjaam (Consequences), in which she starred opposite Shahrukh Khan. In the same year, Rajshri Productions released a film that would become one of the most successful ever, Hum Aapke Hain Koun! (Who Am I To You). This had Madhuri Dixit in the lead role, and also starred Salman Khan, son of writer Salim Khan (of Salim-Javed fame). Dixit could now claim the position of 'superstar', but for a while after that her films didn't do particularly well. Then in 1997, she starred again opposite Shakrukh Khan in director Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai (Heart Is Mad). She received her fourth Filmfare Award for this performance, although she faced stiff competition from Karishma Kapoor, granddaughter of the late Raj Kapoor. The film was a success, both critically and commercially.

In 2000, Indian artist MF Husain turned to direction and released Gaja Gamini (One With a Walk like an Elephant). Once again, Madhuri Dixit was nominated for a Filmfare award. Two years later, film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali released Devdas in which Dixit featured alonside Shahrukh Khan and Aiswarya Rai (now Aiswarya Rai Bachchan). This would be her last film until 2007, as she got married to Dr Sriram Madhav Nene, a cardiovascular surgeon, and took a few years off from her acting career.

In 2007, she made a brief return to the silver screen when Yashraj Films released Aaja Nachle (Come and Dance). This did not do well at the box office but her return was welcomed by many. Unfortunately up to the time of writing, this has remained her last film.

Madhuri Dixit is now a mother of two sons and lives in the USA but goes to Mumbai whenever she can.


Tezaab, meaning 'acid', was the film that rocketed actress Madhuri Dixit to fame, and one for which Anil Kapoor received a Filmfare award for Best Actor.

A young man, Mahesh Deshmukh, joins the armed forces so that he can serve his country honestly and patriotically. While in college, he meets a young woman, Mohini. He bets his friends that she will fall in love with him. Then he realises that he has fallen in love with her and that Mohini reciprocates his approaches.

Mohini's drunkard father, however, has other plans for his daughter and forces her to take up dancing and prostitution in order to pay for his habits. But Mohini takes refuge with Mahesh and a fight between the latter and Mohini's father takes place. Mahesh is arrested and is sentenced to leave the city and not to enter its borders. Some time later, Mahesh does return but his character has changed. He is now a gangster who has scores to settle. One of his friends, however, persuades him to save Mohini from her father, who has threatened to ruin her face with acid if she attempts to escape.

Directed by Narvekar Chandra, this was the biggest hit of the year. Anil Kapoor career was taken further by this film, as he received the award for Best Actor. Madhuri Dixit was nominated for the Best Actress award, though she did not receive it. One of the highlights of the film was the Dixit's song 'Ek Do Teen' (One Two Three), which led to her being known as the 'Ek Do Teen' girl as well as 'Mohini', her character name in the movie. The award for Best Female Playback Singer was given to Alka Yagnik for this song, which is still remembered today. Many members of the public, on hearing the song, went to the cinema for the song and the style of dance that Madhuri Dixit lip-synched and danced to.

The decade also saw the passing away of two Bollywood legends – Raj Kapoor on 2 June, 1988 and the famous male playback singer, Kishore Kumar on 13 October, 1987.

In the meantime an actor who would go on to be one of the superstars began his career in a TV series entitled Fauji (Soldier). The next decade would see his rise to fame.

1It is normal in Indian films to have actors mime to songs sung by professional singers. This process is called 'playback' and the singers are 'playback singers'. Playback is not uncommon in the Western Film Industry too, although not publicised.2A ghazal is a poem or song with a particular pattern of strict metre and rhyme.

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