"Convergent Cinema - A cinema where, in the grand and gentle tradition of India, heritage and modernity, the East and the West, the seer and the upstart converge and collude."
So runs the tagline of the cover story on the latest issue of Outlook. As a cover story, I am not sure what the intentions were. Because it does not tell you anything that you don't already now. And it also makes the frivolous assumption that Bollywood is the SOLE representative element of Indian cinema. Or mebbe I am dumb enough to miss the point here.
I think it is time someone did a cover on the "Real Indian cinema" - the ones churned out from the sets in Chennai, Calcutta and even Hyderabad and Kerala (I have always had the idea that Malayalam cinema works more out of locations than sets and hence the use of "Kerala" should be ok). I think these are the places where Indian cinema has relocated in recent years, thanks to the Johars, the Ghais, the Bhatts and the ilk who are in it just to exploit the front benchers and the juvenile crowd. Do "show men" know that in places like Chennai, the only set of seats that still qualifies (by ticket price) as "front bench" is the single row that the theaters are forced to sell tickets for at Rs. 6.50 or 7.00. We Indians harp on our increasing literacy rates and I am sure that the majority of the people (regardless of what some women claim) do not think with their sexual organs, but I get the idea that the intellectuality offered by Bollywood movies is fast moving in a downward spiral.
This is not to say that movies made in Calcutta or Chennai are better. But the percentage of unique (a original story or an adaptation and NOT a scene to scene, if not shot to shot remake qualifies here) seems to be much higher. In the 80s and the early half of the nineties, film makers from Kerala seemed to have made it their birth right to express their views with a good movie. Then, most ppl incl. me rubbished the long drawn 10 minute conversations over a cuppa tea and the un-comfortable silences right in the middle of a interesting conversation as too dark. But I was just a school kid who wanted some entertainment during a long Sunday afternoon forced to sit at home by a mom who worried more about her son getting darker than his batting average. That DD1 movie was my only chance at spending an afternoon and two cynical adults musing over their life's fallacies did not play to the gallery, at least the one where I was the sole specatator.
Now the opposite exists, with an overkill. Who wants to see 3 remakes of the same steamy movie about a wife's infidelities? Why is Bollywood turning out these flicks a dozen at a time? Mebbe the college kid who does not have to worry about his attendance, wants to watch like 2 movies or more each week at the theatre or wants to spend quality time with his girl friend in the cool confines of a air conditioned theatre with no body to stop him from executing his POA for the day. Apparently these kinda ppl seem to be around all over India in millions. And then you have the reviewers who get paid to write reviews and contribute to this malaise by hiking up the prospects of certain movies over others.
So where does the other Indian cinema lie? In the background, running the rounds of a multitude of film festivals around the world, garnering appreciation from where-ever they are invited to. I wonder what would have happened in the last few years if whoever chose India's entries to the Oscar chose worthy movies instead of banalities like Kabhie Kushi Kabhi Gum or Devdas. Some of the movies that were passed over have won accolades from a number of international film festivals. So why is the mainstream press both in India and abroad ignoring these movies?
But Bollywood has perhaps understood what it is doing wrong. The rise of the Young Turks led by Farhan Akthar and several young script writers has resulted in movies like Ab Tak Chappan, Haasil etc. that have been completely against Bollywood cliches, points to this regard. But it is not enough. The majority still is these people behind all these look-alike, steamy, ripped off pot boilers are probably all over the hill individuals who want to earn their money with minimal efforts (hence the increased newsprint for the half naked bodies of people like Mallika Shekawat) should understand that while a Aishwarya Rai Time magazine cover will not be remembered by anyone other than a good quizzer (like I remember the Parveen Babi cover, when Time magazine apparently mistook her for Zeenat Aman), good movies are timeless. So celebrating such trivial pursuits would not help advance the image of Indian cinema overseas, at least where the Indian expat population is not big enough to cause an impact on local tastes.
Coming back to the Outlook cover story. Anurag Kashyap, the guy behind Satya, Kaun and Shool and more recently in-charge of the dialogues for Yuva, vents his fury on the Ghais and the Bhatts. And furious he must be, considering the travails he has faced over the last couple of years over his pet project Paanch (featured in the Hamburg and Italian film festivals last year and yet unreleased in India). Abbas Tyrewalla, another Bollywood "Young Turk" (credits incl. dialoques for Darna Mana Hai, Munnabhai MBBS, and Maqbool) reveals all this and much more in this Sulekha column (circa 2001).
Bollywood needs not more Kashyaps and Tyrewallas and the Amins, it just needs much more clarity of thought and a recognition of the simple fact that the days of the rain drenched sari and cleavage revealing costumes might now be numbered. It needs more support to the likes of RGV, MR etc. They may be relatively new to Bollywood, but as far as good cinema is concerned, they have achieved much more in the last 5 years than some others did in a 20 year period, nuturing and guiding the Kashyaps, Dhulias and the Akhtars and in essence the future of Bollywood through a better path, a road less travelled.
(P.S Thanks J.R for the Outlook link. Check out the Abbas Tyrewalla's description of Paanch's trip to the censors. It is disheartening. And fyi Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday is making a trip to the Locarno film festival.)