Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hindi Cinema: I believe I can fly...

Like many others I saw Rang De Basanti and liked it. But these days, after watching many Hindi movies, I have the vision of a fledgling butterfly trying to emerge from its cocoon, which is showing a lot of promise, but not quite fully making it. RDB was no exception. Hindi cinema is beginning a march towards high quality movies, but is still falling short on important points. One of the big factors for this is that our film makers still have to conform to the tastes of the common man of India. So they are mandated to include even unrealstic factors for the sake of making the movie sell.

Two factors contribute the most I believe, to mar the quality of some of our top movies. First of all, the melodrama. In many great American movies, we notice that the lack of melodrama is the factor that most packs a punch. Nobody bawls out their heart or dances around to show their happiness. And this is in fact keeping in tune with real life. How many of us display such extreme emotions constantly in our lives? Many of the most emotionally effective American movies have been the least melodramatic. The underplayed emotions and the quiet performances stun us the most and make the movie remarkable and memorable (How about "Driving Miss Daisy", to quote one excellent example that randomly comes to mind?). Melodrama for many years, has been the sine quo non for Hindi movies. In the last few years, many talented directors have taken exception to it. At the same time, most of our populace still warms to melodrama. Once they enter the theater, they want to be enveloped in a world that completely makes them forget their own difficult existence. They don't want a movie where they have to think or appreciate the fine points of direction. They want a movie where they are drowned in a flood of emotions that would make the experience an emotional roller coster, or a humorous roller coster, or some kind of evocative roller coster for them; enter Karan Johar, Yash Chopra, and Sooraj Barjatiya. That is still the problem which keeps putting Hindi movie directors between a rock and a hard place. If they try to make a high quality movie with subtle emotions, they may not recover the revenue spent on making the movie because the masses may not be very impressed. If they put in melodrama, they inevitably end up compromising the quality. In recent years though, there have been many directors who made extremely simple, unassuming movies which were hits nonetheless. How about "Hyderabad Blues"? The trick in that case is to make a movie that appeals to a select class of the population, those who are part of a defined culture, social opinion, and mental makeup. If it strikes a tune with the hearts of members of the class, then they will identify with it even sans the melodrama.

In recent years, this class emphatically has been the Indian youth. Many directors have identified the Indian youth as that section of society that is in the throes of a distinct transition, a transition to adopt modern western ideas and still retain their identity, as that section of society that balances modern education with traditional values. And there of course have been many movies that try to exploit these connections. Many of them have succeeded fairly well, and Yuva and RDB are two examples which represent sincere efforts.

If Indian movies are to become truly effective, they will have to do something that my musical heart and mind is devastated in saying, and which may be the most difficult thing to do. Throw out the songs. Or at least, as in the case of one of the songs in RDB, keep them in the background. No matter how accomplished the movie is, the moment somebody breaks spontaneously into a song of any kind, it's like a giant and majestic balloon suddenly having its air released with a wimpy sound. No sane and rational person can identify with this kind of abrubt transition. I think that this is one of the most unrealistic factors in Indian cinema. How can people who seemed rational and 'normal' a moment ago suddenly start singing songs, and especially when they are feeling bereaved or sad?! As someone pointed out, this may be the single most important factor why our movies don't get nominated for Oscars. Those guys just don't get it, and they won't. For someone who has been steeped in Hindi film music since childhood, this opinion seems like shooting myself in the foot. But there's no choice if we want to make effective, subtle, and rational cinema. In recent years, some movies do have adopted this trend, and the difference is noticeable.

So how does RDB stand in the light of these factors? The performances are very good, that's for sure. And that's related to another thing which is seen in the best foreign movies, and one which we definitely have picked up; there is no one 'hero' or 'heroine' and it is the combined acting talent of a large part of the cast that makes the movie memorable. While the hero still plays the dominant role in our movies, many movies boast of an equally strong other cast which contributes to the depth of the movie. "Satya" is a great example. RDB is another. Although the movie still rests on Amir Khan's not-so-young-anymore shoulders, without strong performances from the other cast, the movie would have lost much of its vitality and spirit.
The one song that is played in the background is a very nice one, the dialogues in general are good, and the basic idea of the movie is impressive.

And still, like some other movies, the devil is in the details. Inspite of all these merits, the small things that matter end up casting doubt on the movie's accomplishments. Just like the kingdom was lost for want of the proverbial nail, so can a movie, after the solid groundwork has been laid, be lost for want of good details. Gaurav has pointed out some of the unconvincing parts of the movie and I agree with most of his observations. The irrational and emotional ending simply added to the problems. I lost a cousin to a MIG 21 crash under very similar circumstances, so I can empathize with many incidents in the movie, but I can also see the irrational responses of the characters that seem to be woven into the movie in order to retain its overall integrity. It seems a pity that, when everything is going well, the movie suddenly is spoilt because of a song, or because of a few 'small' outrageous and irrational happenings. Has the director put those in simply to satisfy the proclivities of the masses? Even if I can empathize with that, it still does the change the fact that a movie which could have been better fails to be so. RDB is not exactly a movie which has been spoilt because of irrational factors, but they have definitely affected the overall effect. After all, after all the discussions and reviews, it is what you carry in your heart when you step out of the theater, that assesses the value of a movie. In the case of RDB, you get a not wholly satisfied feeling. Somewhere, you feel the pinch of something that was not thought out, or not polished to make it of high caliber. Somewhere, we still have to learn to first stand, before we think of sprinting. We can now see the horizon, but it's still the horizon for us.


Blogger Vivek Gupta said...

Movies are part of popular culture and like any "art-form" in popular culture strive to serve the lowest denominator in society because this is where the fortune lies. Our mainstream movies will continue to remain unpalatable to an intelligent audience until our typical audience grows up. If movies like No Entry are the biggest hits in India in 2005, then why would any commercially minded director would take the time and effort needed to make a quality movie, which may or may not succeed at the box-office. The only hope to see good hindi cinema lies with enterprising small directors who occasionaly churn out gems like Hazaaron Khwahishe Aiseen and Black Friday.

5:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it a little elitist to tom-tom the movies we like as 'good' and denigrate the movies the "common man in India" likes as otherwise?

The common man in India is not as dumb as we often tend to believe - the same 'illiterate peasants' have been rather shrewed, for instance, when exercising their ballots. They know what they want from movies. They are NOT looking for portrayals of real life. They have had enough of 'real life' and don't need to be reminded. They want to be entertained. They want to laugh at Salman Khan's ridiculous antics and have a good cry with the melodramatic 'hero ki maa'.

We will see more real life in Hindi movies when real life for the people of Hind becomes pleasant enough.

12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's Artharaja, BTW.

12:56 AM  
Blogger Kasturi said...

hey amazing! just found the link to ur blog! its good...havent gone through all the posts but i will soon...
nice one....i want to watch that movie....

4:53 PM  
Blogger SN said...

Please dont suggest dropping songs! Someone might actually listen to your advice. My objection stems not from the love of music, but from love of the visual entertainment they provide. What is more funy than people doing completely insane movements in even more insane clothes?I can watch a movie just to see the extras dance.
On a more serious note, I feel we should stop comparing our movies to those that do well at the Oscars. IMHO it is unfair for us to expect these movies to appeal to people from entirely differently cultures. It is like expecting westerners to like zunka bhaakar, it won't happen till you make the bhakri softer and the zunka less spicier, and eventually turn it into bread and mashed potatoes.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

SN: There is great wisdom in what you say!! We definitely would be losing one great source of entertainment (and then what will happen to our govindas and jeetendras?!)

"It won't happen till you make the bhakri softer and the zunka less spicier, and eventually turn it into bread and mashed potatoes."...Niiiiice!

But we can always make movies like Shwaas or Dombivli Fast (truly amazing movie, serious though) with which most people can empathize.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Paresh Y Murudkar said...

This is a typical example of comparing bollywood with hollywood and quickly jumping to teh conclusion that hollywood moviwes are far superior than bollywood ones.
Fact is that you can not compare these two types. Because the audience is so different. IN India, in many parts, watching a movie in a theatre is 'once-a-year' kinda ocassion. SO obviously, the audience expects a typical masala movie packed with melodrama, action, romance and waht not! You can not give them some esoteric topic packed in equally esoteric dialogues.

7:52 AM  
Blogger The flowing river said...

interesting...found your link while doing some research for my son's project.

7:31 AM  
Blogger marina said...

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Do you want to act in a movie or be a playback singer or compose music for a movie?
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The location of the movies is finalised...they are getting shot in London by Shahrukh Khan company Red Chilies entertainment.

3:19 AM  

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