Set in the culturally evolving America of the 1950’s the movie tells us the story of Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko who meet and fall in love over the summer. But when naïve Sandy, who is originally from Australia lands up as an exchange student at Danny’s school, Rydell High, the romance takes a twist. Danny, who is also a cool ‘T-Bird’ had exaggerated narrating his summer escapade to his gang, and is now obviously in a dilemma as he has a ‘reputation to keep.’
Director Randal Kleiser’s screen adoption of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s runaway Broadway hit of the same name, Grease, went on to have a success story of its own, making it the biggest blockbuster of 1978, it also became the highest grossing musical ever and the third biggest movie of the 70’s after Star Wars and Jaws.
The movies soundtrack also went on to become the number one album around the globe and most of its numbers enjoyed being top of the charts for weeks. Though the title song from Frankie Valli, a disco number, was critically considered to be out of place for a movie set in the 50’s the song enjoyed an unprecedented run on the charts across the globe and was considered an integral part of the movie by most cine goers – The credit for this probably would go to the dashing 24 year old hero of the movie and his sexy strut in the title song.
John Travolta was probably the only star in the movie that people could relate to, he was still riding high on the success of Saturday Night Fever when Grease happened to him, secondly he had already played the stage version of the movie performing the character of Sonny, however he was familiar to the character of Danny Zuko. Right from the swaggering stride to the pseudo macho personality that he creates for the character, seeing him on screen gives us the feeling that no other actor could have been able to give justice to the role.
Clad in tight leather pants and jacket with hair neatly gelled and puffed ala Elvis Presley, John Travolta eludes an on screen magnetic presence that leaves his co-stars to fade away in the background – the song and dance sequence of ‘Grease Lightening’ is a suitable example to check out this near magical phenomenon in the movie as Jeff Conaway, Michael Tucci and the rest of the T-Birds fade away and viewers see only John Travolta doing what he did best, dancing. As for dancing, Travolta’s disco style steps are globally famous thanks to Saturday Night Fever, but he simply is too good and does dance a lot more and a lot better in Grease.
Olivia Newton John had a moderate hit in the form of the musical Toomorrow before Grease came her way. However what justify her presence in Grease is her naïve looks and her singing talents – she looks just appropriate to play the Australian girl who would end up in a catholic school and never ever be a part of the sexual and cultural revolution of the decade that America was facing during the late 50’s. Meanwhile her rendition of ‘Summer Nights’ and ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ brings out her skills as a soprano and her transformation towards the climax of the film from the goody two shoes to the cool titillating Sandra Dee is something worth a watch.
As for the rest of the cast, Stockard Channing the Broadway actress who had played Betty Rizzo in the stage version was in her mid thirties and was required to play a teenager in Grease, that she succeeded playing a teen with aplomb speaks in itself for a great performance from her. Jeff Conaway lived up the character of Kenickie to the T, though he had played the character of Danny Zuko in the stage version.
One of the reason for the movies success despite it wafer thin plot can be attributed to Randal Kleiser’s treatment. His narration of the adopted play with close shots of the actors, coupled with the song and dance ‘fun’tastically’ choreographed by Patricia Birch and the performance from the lead actors John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, Jeff Conaway, Stockard Channing, Michael Tucci, Kelly Ward and Didi Conn who created characters that were far from true, in fact silly at times, yet they were the characters that the young American and the young world at large wanted to be, they wre the characters that they could relate to.
The movie re-released in 1998 globally saw another round of success as audience in their late 30’s and early 40 throughed the cinema halls to view with the new crop of teens and relive the magic of Grease. Even to this day the sound tracks and the DVDs of the movie have a frisk movement – this fact is by itself a landmark to gauge the success of the movie and consider it as a must watch.
The Indian Perspective:
The Indian cine goers had been virtually divided into Bollywood movie watchers and Hollywood movie watchers as late as late 90’s. While a small portion of those who watched Hollywood movies also watched Bollywood movies, the masses watched only Bollywood movies and they never watched a Hollywood flick, mainly because they could not comprehend the spoken language.
This virtual divide came to an end only with the advent of the digital media and possibilities of easy and inexpensive dubbing of movies in the local languages by the turn of the new millennium.
However Grease released in 1978 and re-released in 1998 saw success mainly due to the Hollywood film watchers. While campus life in India aped its western counterpart, Bollywood could never churn out a decent campus movie, hence the success of Grease in India can be attributed to the fact that the young Indian could relate with the characters. Most of young India during the 70s was like Sandy, just out of the catholic school, weighed down with Victorian principles (after all British ruled over India for 100 years), but wanting to rebel and explore within the recesses of a newfound freedom (from school towards college). With Grease, most young college going Indian could pick up a role model in the form of Danny, Kenickie or Rizzo and wanted to look cool, this was mainly the reason for its success. How much the young India could pick up from these characters is all together a different story.