IT MAY SEEM UNIMAGINABLE to a generation brought up on Abhishek Bachchan's Bluffmaster! rap and Kareena Kapoor's size-zero diet, but 20 years ago, Hindi films were not cool. In large numbers of upper-middle-class, English-speaking Indian families, children were banned from watching "that trash". Even if they grew up watching Hindi films on television (and later, video) in the company of grandmothers and household help, they would transition, by their teenage years, into thinking of them as a sort of guilty pleasure.
But a decade and a half ago, something changed. The reemergence of the teenybopper romance, now enclosed in the cloying folds of the family, began to wean the middle-class audience away from their TV-VCR viewing and back to the cinemas—which were themselves being revamped into multiplexes. In a kind of reaction to the saccharine-sweet, sanitised, mostly foreign locales of these films, there emerged the gritty urban gangster film. For 42-year-old Navdeep Singh, who had been working as an advertising professional in the US, the moment of transformation was coming back home on holiday in 1998 and watching Satya. He went on to direct Manorama Six Feet Under (2007). For 27-year-old scriptwriter Ishita Moitra (whose credits include 2009's Kambakkht Ishq, and this year's Always Kabhi Kabhi), then barely in her teens, it was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). "Earlier, you spoke to your friends about Batman, but not about the Hindi films you watched. That changed after DDLJ," says Moitra.