Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thinking Out Of The Box (Office)

It is a silver lining yet one cannot deny the cloud is grey. Rarely does a Bollywood actor catch the attention of India’s intellectual strata for the brain and not the brawn, even more so a female actor. And when they do, videos go viral on Facebook. 

Kangana Ranaut had her claim to fame with many Bollywood indifferent folks with what they called her rather dignified and sensible interview on Front Row a few weeks ago.  She spoke with good composure and seemed to understand the questions enough to give relevant responses said they, doing their bit in moving the video around social pages. She was applauded beyond measure, having achieved a feat most actors couldn’t. All she did was make sense.

We revel in the glitz that Bollywood showers on us and they, in their ability to do that. When the moon turns blue once in a while, we come across an Actor who has some substance to show beyond his/her scenes and dialogues. It turned a shade of blue the day Kangana was invited onto Front Row.

Evolution is meant to take place everywhere, including the film industry. With every movie, with every role, the acting talent is supposed to mature and amplify; enthralling the audience and making them want more.  With talent, the ability to converse in the reel real world ought to get established as well… esp. with the media being their constant companion. This is where the cloud turns grey.

Most actors today are unable to hold their ground with the media and the common man. Unlike their predecessors the exposure actors have to the paparazzi is tremendous; they can either make or break them. In this struggle for stardom the actors often fall short and the media gets what it wants; juicy dishy news to fill up newsprint and news slots the next day.

It probably infuriates and makes their blood curdle but this love hate relationship is one they cannot do without. Good or bad, it is what gives them the celebrity status, the absence of grey matter notwithstanding
There is a mixed bag of them, some with degrees that would put yours and mine to shame, others belonging to the “elite” group of dropouts while many whose destiny shone the day they were born into a filmi clan - All gyrating to remixed music, overcoming society to win their love and fighting terrorism at the drop of a hat.  And there I suppose lies the problem.

Cinema has hardly evolved over the years; it has been frozen in time. There have been times when the ice might have shown signs of melting only to freeze again. With the genre remaining unchanged and there being a lack in variety, it is but impractical to expect the actors to grow.

In the yesteryears directors were ready to toe the line and explore literature such that it had an impact on Indian society, actors experimented with their roles and open mindedness was commonly accepted. There were your usual run-of-the-mill masala movies but we also had an Ankur and a Saraansh that molded the very definition of cinematic art. Neecha Nagar won the top honours at Cannes, an achievement yet to be repeated. The golden age of Indian cinema was said to last from 1945-1960 with many directors even defining a middle cinema that cut across main stream and art with movies such as Ek ruka hua faisla and Rajnigandha.

Unfortunately for us, realism in Indian cinema and the middle ground that directors arrived at was soon replaced with commercialization. Fast forward a few decades and we had only masala continuing. The only difference being the star crossed lovers, rigid parents, wicked step moms and dads had been joined by across the border terrorists and greedy backstabbing politicians. Hazaaron Khwaaishein aisi, Black Friday, Ship of Thesus and the likes do make an appearance once in a while, usually when the pigs begin to fly.

Pre-Independence movies dealt more openly with sex and kissing, come 1947, the mindset narrowed down and anything that remotely indicated towards these topics were considered a taboo by the censor board. Ironically speaking the negative effect on society was much less then, than it is today.

In recent times, Originality has taken the back seat and remakes have become the order of the day. Movies here cannot do without the song and dance. Whatever the situation maybe, characters break onto the dance floors and swing around trees. Melodrama and music are two wave’s movies ride high on today. Speaking of ironies, they peek in here as well. While Indian directors spend most of their time scouting around for the right movie to remake, western film makers take inspiration from Indian musical movies to make Moulin Rouge, Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia. Tit for tat one would say but inspiration and remakes are hardly synonymies now are they?

In the world of remakes one would still appreciate if movies such as Black Swan or As good as it gets made it to the list, alas we have to make do with Liar Liar more often than we would want. Why don’t they make the cut anyway? The answer lies with the lower middle and reserved classes- a large section of the movie going crowd, the one who bring in the moolah, decide the box office outcome and makes the movies makers and actors very rich and happy.

Masala and Item numbers are what they want to see, it is what they enjoy, and it is what they pay for. Parallel cinema seldom sells and is limited to the smaller theatre halls catering to a much smaller audience. One brings in the money and requires not much talent, the other demands skills but pays you peanuts, isn’t the popular choice made obvious? One shoots you to stardom, the other only wins you the Jury awards, and it isn’t rocket science to guess which path is chosen more often.  
Since talent is not in the reckoning anymore just about anyone who gets a second look makes it to the league. If you acquire some skills along the way, nirvana would be just round the corner.

Our reasoning power has long gone dormant as far as Bollywood is concerned. It pleases the mind when once in a while we see a Lunchbox come along; at other times we just make peace with what is put in front of us, letting common sense take a much needed holiday and allowing our overworks brains to recharge.
And we live, coexisting with a mundane form of cinema, over spilling with glamour and allure, celebrity antics and tantrums and page three’s that never run out of juicy bits of gossip and do not have an ounce of intellect to call their own.
… So when a Kangana Ranaut comes along and speaks a language we all understand, videos go viral. They deserve to. 


  1. Well-presented, Seeta!
    Yes, Hindi films are in their evolution phase...have a long way to go! But, they manage to catch our attention! :)

  2. Very nicely put and all the offbeat movies you mentioned are in my favorites list :)
    I don't agree with you entirely when you say that the masses( a.k.a the lower middle and reserved classes ) are the only people who enjoy movies like Chennai express where Newton's laws don't make any sense. A friend of mine, well educated and settled abroad, said she enjoyed Chennai express, Race 3 more than a movie like Gravity. So I am not sure what makes one go see such crap on the screen. A old woman I know says, people go to the movies to forget their daily problems, if only, for a few hours.
    On a personal note, I abhor the item numbers in Bollywood movies these days.

  3. @Anita- yes, i guess that is one of the reasons why the Industry gets by and slows down the evolution phase.. no? :)

    @Aragorn- so good to hear the movie list is mutual :)
    About the audience, well i still feel they are the ones who contribute the most.. like you said there are exceptions to the rule but those particular sections of the society rake in the most moolah dont you think?

  4. Yes, I agree with that analysis of yours :)

  5. Very well written. It was like a breath of fresh air, the interview. I did not view any of her movies so far, but now I will.

    sad and unfortunate that she is caught in the controversy with the controversy - Minister's attendance on the music release. Hope it does not affect her movies.

  6. I agree she spoke really well and was honest. Such an interview is a rare sight and we all know what standards Indian Film Industry is following these days.

  7. @Pattu Raj- Thanks! yeah, but given the acumen she displayed I think she will manage to survive :)

    @Saru- Very true!

  8. Great article. I too was impressed with the interview :)

  9. Among all the plus points of Ankur, I just enjoyed the music by Vanraj Bhatia.

  10. @ Pankti- Thanks :)
    @Haddock- I can understand, esp. after the munnis and sheilas we have now... i can def. understand :)


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