And now we reach the era that the majority of us are actually aware of! Yaaaaay! Which is also why this is the shortest post, because I didn’t feel the need to give nearly as much background. Feel free to take off in the comments with your on details for these films, if you want.
Non-Usual Disclaimer: This list is from wikipedia, if anything is wrong, blame them not me!
1986: Karma (Subhash Ghai) Never heard of this movie until just now, sounds wonderful! A mish-mosh of The Dirty Dozen and Sholay. And the first time Nutan and Dilip Saheb costarred, which is kind of amazing, that they hadn’t overlapped before. A great start to a new era of Indian film, in which story is (briefly) king, not stars. I mean, there are a TON of stars in this film, but no one full lead role. 14 crore (equivalent to 133 crore)
1987: Hukumat (Anil Sharma) Dang, Dharmendra!!! 52 years old and the top film of the year. Plus 7 more hits that same year. This film is a bit of an old folks reunion, Prem Chopra and Shammi Kapoor are in it as well. Everyone’s kind of waiting for the next big thing this year, and in the meantime, nostalgia sells! 11 crore (equivalent to 96 crore)
1988: Tezaab (N. Chandra) WOOT!!! Big thing alert! The arrival of the divine MADHURI!!!!! And also, Anil Kapoor. Although he’s been around for a while, he was in Karma too and plenty of others over the last few years. But in general, this is a big thing. Two new stars, surrounded by a new supporting cast (Chunkay Panday!). And it made more money than anything had in years. 16 crore (equivalent to 128 crore)
1989: Maine Pyar Kiya (Sooraj Barjatya) VERY BIG THING ALERT. Salman Khan, obviously. But more importantly, the rise of the young love romance. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak had come out the year before, and Tezaab had a fair amount of romance in there as well. But this was the first massive hit of the romantic genre. And just generally, the first truly massive hit in years, really since the early 80s. 28 crore (equivalent to 222 crore)
1990: Dil (Indra Kumar) Another romance! And Aamir’s first appearance on this list, supported by Madhuri. A super fun movie, by the way, highly recommended if you haven’t seen it. But more importantly, another very young movie. Even the father actors were young, Anupam played the villain in Karma, and now he is playing the aging father at only 35 years old. We are now officially into the era of the new generation. 18 crore (equivalent to 128 crore)
1991: Saajan (Lawrence D’Souza) Salman, Madhuri, and Sanjay. Sanjay, an odd hangover from the previous era. Not that much older than the “young” folks, but with a career that started much younger. However, he definitely found a home in this new love story era, the soulful brokenhearted one. 18 crore (equivalent to 109 crore)
1992: Beta (Indra Kumar) Madhuri!!! Again!!!! Have you noticed that if it weren’t for gender bias, Madhuri would be considered the biggest star of the era? 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992, all the top hits. That’s as good a record as Amitabh. 23.5 crore (equivalent to 127 crore)
1993: Aankhen (David Dhawan) Govinda!!! There is a great old column from Anupuma on this surprise hit, in which she admits that she has always kind of liked Govinda, but it wasn’t “cool” to say that until Aankhen came out and suddenly he was everywhere. Also, notice David Dhawan up there? He’d been working for years already, actually graduated from IIFT (the national best film school in India), but really found himself once he started working with Govinda and cranking out these comedies. 25.25 crore (equivalent to 128 crore)
1994: Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! ( Sooraj Barjatya) Okay, take a breath, and then read the following number: 135 crore (equivalent to 756 crore) Remember, the previous year? Top film was 25 crore? This is 5 times that much. We haven’t seen a jump like this since Awara came out. And this is the “real” start of the new era. Sure, the signs were there, the audience was swaying this way, but this is the rocket blast that shoots it off. From now on, it’s all stars and songs and romance. And young stars too.
1995: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra) Longest running film, not the most profitable. Never the most profitable, even when it came out. Aditya himself said something like that, when congratulated on his success “It doesn’t matter, we are all just chasing Sooraj” Oh, and yay! Shahrukh’s first appearance!!!! 122 crore (equivalent to 509 crore)
1996: Raja Hindustani (Dharmesh Darshan) And here’s Aamir again. Just like in the 50s, we are getting into a rhythm of the top 3 just trading off year by year. And yet another romance for us! 76.34 crore (equivalent to 390 crore)
1997: Dil To Pagal Hai (Yash Chopra) Shahrukh again! And Yashji, back on top for the first time in ages. No wonder he loved Shahrukh. But it’s also down a little from the year before, and even more from the year before that and the year before that. See? The box office always goes up and down a little, it’s not a steady climb. 71.87 crore (equivalent to 257 crore)
1998: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Karan Johar) Shahrukh!!! Again. He really was The King in the 90s. Although that isn’t to say the others weren’t doing almost as well. Salman will be coming back in the next year, and even this year he had Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya. 106.74 crore (equivalent to 337 crore)
1999: Hum Saath Saath Hain (Sooraj Barjatya) Sooraj rises again! Let’s take a moment for him. Only 25 when Maine Pyar Kiya came out, only 30 when Hum Aapke Hain Koun revolutionized the industry. And yet, he was also kind of the “old guard”, 8 years older than Karan and Aditya. The followed in his path, but also went a little beyond it. Hum Saath Saath Hain was a huge hit (clearly), and yet it was beginning to fill a bit of a “more of the same”, in a way that Adi and Karan wouldn’t for at least a few years more. 81.71 crore (equivalent to 246 crore)
2000: Mohabbatein (Aditya Chopra) Adi’s back! And also, Shahrukh. Again. And more importantly, Amitabh!!! This was the film that returned him to the top of the box office and generally re-introduced him to a new generation. 90.01 crore (equivalent to 260 crore)
So, what is the story of these years? Well, it’s a story of a successful search. Without Amitabh, there was a reach back into the past for other old stars (Hukumat, Karma), followed finally by a discovery of new stars (Madhuri, Salman, Aamir), and finally a new audience (the Hum Aapke Hain Koun NRI and family driven box office).
And then there was kind of a settling in. Everyone understood the new rules now, romance and family was where it was at, the 3 Khans were on top, that was how the industry was structured. What is revolutionary about the 90s is how unrevolutionary it is.
I said in one of these posts that no one really knows when a new era starts or an old one ends, you just sort of know once it has happened. This is the “once it has happened” section. By Hum Aapke Hain Koun and DDLJ, suddenly everything was romance and Khans. Was it Maine Pyar Kiya that tipped the scales? Amitabh announcing his sabbatical in 1992 (remember, Shahenshah and Khuda Gawah came out these years, he was still making hits)?
I think it was Dil that did it. Because Dil is really not a great movie. A fun movie, not a great movie. But a sign that a fun okay romance with one of the hot new young stars can be the biggest hit of the year, it doesn’t have to be brilliant or groundbreaking even, it just has to fit the template. After Dil, the only film that doesn’t really fit the pattern is Aankhen. Let’s call it the exception that proves the rule.