Bollywood has always had a love-hate relationship with gambling. We’ve seen scores of Indian films where the protagonist or an important supporting character has a deep-rooted gambling problem. There are also films where the “hero” will use his extraordinary gambling abilities to overcome the odds and beat the “bad guy”.
Starting with the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, our fascination with gambling and betting is endless and enduring. While this fascination doesn’t just limit itself to cinema – there is a steadily rising interest in online casinos and sports betting in India – we do have to admit that cinema is where it is most creatively dealt with.
Films like ‘Dhoom’ chase the glamorous side of casinos, with opulent settings and luxurious brick-and-mortar casinos, while movies like ‘Jannat’ take a look at the seedy underbelly of sports betting. Then there are breezy films like ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ that feature a sub-plot related to gambling (in YJHD, Aditya Roy Kapur’s character is forever struggling with a wagering problem, be it poker or betting on sports matches).
Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘The Great Gambler’ is our favourite casino film though. He plays a guy with a perfect gambling record (has never lost a single match) who gets roped into some pretty shady stuff because of his gambling prowess. Similar films, like ‘Gambler’ and ‘Striker’, also follow a single gambler’s career, their rise and ultimate fall and then their redemption.
Well, most of these movies follow the same theme – the main character gets involved with gambling, becomes greedy, gets into trouble, or sacrifices their personal relationships, and then either has to fight for their redemption or the film ends in a tragedy. We do love the ones where the hero can be redeemed by the end.
But why are we, as a society, so obsessed with the concept of gambling? We believe it’s because humans, even heroes, are inherently flawed. And gambling too much (like wagering your kingdom, brothers, and wife in a game) is a flaw. But these films about a seemingly good guy getting caught in a downward gambling spiral and then ultimately making it out of the mess make us feel like we can come back from real-life mistakes as well.
And then, of course, there is the excitement of gambling itself – the nervous anticipation of high-stakes situations and how the character we’re rooting for gets out on the other side of these situations. Who among us isn’t guilty of chasing the thrill of winning even small bets on random stuff like “Which one in our friend group will cancel last minute when we have a plan?”?
This is because humans love being proved right. And betting or gambling gives a face to the idea of being so confident that we are right that we’re willing to bet money on it. That kind of confidence is super attractive, especially when it ends in a monetary win. And Bollywood heroes are nothing if not attractive.
So Bollywood’s fascination/ obsession with gambling and betting endures. We’re pretty sure we’ll keep watching more gambling-related films as long as B-town keeps making them.