Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lights, camera, action replay...

Had written this article on Sulekha a few years ago. Conversing with Pre, I suddenly chanced upon it and thought, 'hey, why not lug it to my blog?" So, here it is. A word of caution tho'. From the time I wrote it until now, a few of my own opinions about the article's content have...well, not changed, but let's just say I've grown up to accepting, and I realized later that I did in fact falter here and there writing please if you feel strongly about something I wrote in here, hold that thought a moment. The article's 4 years old and a lot has changed since then.

Making Films in India. It's Different!

Snippets from a typical Indian movie promo on TV:
Director: “Yeh film hat ke hai. It's different. Achchi story hai” (This film is different. Good story).We see a boy and girl dancing and singing in Switzerland. Great. What a different story!

Actor: “Uh, jab maine script pada, to mujhe laga ki yeh role bada hi challenging hoga” (When I read the script, I realised the role must be very challenging).We see some shots from song no. 2. True. Those steps are indeed challenging.

Actress: “Uh, mera role bahut hi bold hai. Do achche gaane hain”(I play a bold character. There are a couple of good songs).A wet number follows. It does take courage to prance in the rain with your saree clinging to you and of course, more than two dozen folks watching.

I've been watching movies ever since I was a little boy. Having grown up in a very culturally inclined family, dining table (heck, just about any table) conversations always began and ended with the arts.

“Which raga did Bhimsen Joshi render on television last night?”

“No, Shyam Benegal has not directed any regional language film.”

“Ma, stop making fun of my favourite actor!”

“I'm not gonna miss that Steve Martin movie tonight.”

Now I know for a fact that movies told stories and entertained. Then came music. Background score. Dubbing. The rest, as the clich├ęd phrase goes, is history. As technology advanced, so did the other aspects of filmmaking -- from the traditional 'drama' form of just mouthing written dialogue and emoting, we graduated to the more realistic portrayal of life around us. Real life locations, gripping dialogue in 'life-like' clipped tones, advanced cinematography, etc.

When movies came to life on the American screens, musicals were the in thing. The song and drama format captured the essence of life in a more surrealistic atmosphere. That was another era. Movies back here too started out pretty much the same way. A basic story. A love angle. Studio settings. Songs, dances, emotion, drama. The works. Good time pass.

Cut to present day India. People are more exposed to the outer world, thanks to cable TV. But in terms of our movies, I don't think we have made much progress. Oh yes, technically we have improved. Production values have gone up. But then the very foundation of a good movie has got buried in the process of churning out movie after movie, ensuring that the Indian film industry is the largest in the world, thank you, but in terms of quality -- uh huh, needs work.

Two things. Why only love stories? And why so many songs? Come to think of it, can't movies be made without songs? Why are we so stuck up on them? Doesn't it sort of make stories so very artificial? And kill the continuity of a good story? This song and dance routine in some movies goes to ridiculous lengths. Things were different back then when the only medium of entertainment was the movies. But now, after TV, do we still need to see those countless songs thrown into song-like commercial breaks? We have music video channels. We could watch them there. Why show them in well-made movies at all?

Suffering mother -- sing a song to cure her. Dying brother -- sing a song to make his dying easier. Boy falls in love with girl -- sing a song to show his feelings. Any eventful scene in an Indian film -- sing a song.

Just watch a movie of the 70s and then watch a present day one. How different is the treatment? How much has the basic premise changed? I'll bet my last penny -- not much. Why? “Because the people want that.” “Because we're Indians, we love songs and emotions. Loud dialogues.” “Because we are a country of villages, of the masses. And they can't appreciate quality stuff.” Bull. And more bull. We all know that these reasons are illogical and childish. We have the capacity to digest more themes and topics in movies than any other country in the world. And why not? We are such a diverse culture. Each family, each house has a story to tell. Our country's history has so much to tell. Then why this cheap fixation for 'boy meets girl, boy fights baddies, boy gets girl' theme that has been done to death? “Hey, that's not true! We have changed themes nowadays,” you may counter. Well, yeah, ok. It might have. But ultimately that's what forms the very core of the film. How many movies have you seen in the last few years and come out confidently telling, “Hey, this one was different.”

Bottom line: A good story doesn't need songs and heaving cleavages to set the box office on fire. What it needs is a good story line and a sharp script. Remember, it's how you put it across what sells a good story. Yeah, yeah, commercial interests, popularity charts and all that. The producer has to make money. Ditto the entire crew. But tell me something, isn't it high time we invested in quality projects rather than making this another 'assembly line' profession? Let the intensity show in the dialogue itself rather than the 'loud' way in which it is delivered. Silent anger can be more effective than shouting your lungs off. And love, well do you really think romance is only possible when a dozen nymphets shake a leg behind you? Doesn't it touch your heart when eyes speak? Cannot a gesture touch your heart? And most of all, do you think a dramatic situation really needs loud background score to chill your spine? If you ask me, deafening silence makes it more realistic.

Ok, a few guys from the movie industry could rough me up and say – “Lay off, pal. You don't know a thing about entertainment. That's what people want. So we give it to them.” Oh, really? Why, have they taken a door to door consensus on what people want? Or have directors held press conferences and invited people to ask questions on how they want films made? If you bring up a tiger on grass, it doesn't know the taste of anything else. We have been brought up on songs and dances from Alam Ara, so it's obvious we don't know how to make any other kind of film. A formula is a formula is a formula.

The truth is, directors and producers have never really bothered with what people want. Aren't the recent debacles in the box office proof enough that this song and dance formula doesn't work anymore? People want to see substance. They want to see good stories being told. Considering India's cultural diversity, imagine her potential to provide stories. The topics that could be generated are immense. Not just urban, even rural stories that have substance can click. Why stick to the same old story of boy meets girl? Do humans have these feelings only for one another?

And please, stop blaming people for your inefficiency as a director or a screenplay writer (that's another article altogether, what say Abbas?). Ok, so you want to have a song in your movie, without which you will suffocate to death? Fine. Just have a background number when something important happens in a movie. Won't it work? Of course it will. We've never tried it. Never taken the risk. Remember, unless you show people what good films are, how will they know?

Stop feeding the tiger grass. Let us have some meat please. Bon appetit!


Prerona said...

very nice :) but the link?

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

A formula is a formula is a forumla --- yes. But you know what, what ultimately speaks is the jingle in the cash register. So if you find that the audience stops going to all these song-and-dance melodramas and keep religiously turning up for movies like, maybe Black, Herapheri, Anand... you make your point. The next time you see a house full when you reach the movie theatre which assures you a three-hour song and dance sequence, you will know that your words have fell on deaf ears. Never mind anyway, you too were there ;) So the reason is not the movie-makers, but it is more deep-rooted. The answer is education, knowledge, and yearning for more. As you are content in your own well, you will not seek the ocean.

Pretty long one, eh?

Goan Pao said...

well said...but then the literate reading folk don tfall for those right point made to the wrong people i guess....
But ramu I think is one director that is trying some different things..not that i like his movies..but atleast theyre different....
I think cinema in the 80s was a much better choice with the parallel cinema effort..but the 90s has given way to chopras and Johars churning out nonsensical stuff with some or the other incapable of acting khan gyrating in the alps..

Parna said...

and now they show semi-naked men too!

KJ said...

ramana, quite diff from ur posts but, extremely well written....

soemtimes songs convey what the words cannot convey ( of course, the exceptions being songs with funny or stupid lyrics)

usually i fwd all the songs, but in Parineeta, which i saw recently the songs were like icing on the cake. i did not fwd even one song...


Manish said...

hmmm grt post! Ur frustration with current state of Hindi cinema is justified to an extent .
But then I also agree to what sudipta & kj have expressed!

First about the change in today's cinema.
I think with the advent of Multiplexes new directors are trying to come up with different themes with low budget films. but the problem is that even well made films are also not setting Box office on fire.
see what hapanned to Maine Gandhi ko nahin mara, Iqbal these wre good films appreciated by critics but at box office they failed.

as for songs I still feel though they r not a must but well written lyrics with good picturisation can do wonders to the storyline & charecterisation. As already pointed above Parineeta is case in the point.

phatichar said...

Prerona: :) this is the article, what do you want the link for?

Sudipta: yeah..jingling the cash register is important, but come on, sometimes we do know what's good and what's not, right? just by including songs, a bad story doesn't turn good, does it? but oh well, like I said, quite a few things have changed now..if not all..


Parna: :) well, that means women's preferences are changing too..

KJ: :) wasn't a was just a posting of my 4 year old article in Sulekha. You're right, songs do infuse that much needed life into some movies..good songs, they do lilt..but my take was against the very 'song' format stories.. do we really need them in good stories? When you're telling a story, a good story, does it make sense if the main characters break into a song every now and then? is it realistic?

Manish: I said, the article's 4 years old...

KJ said...

No Ramana, i agree, it is not at all realistic... in everyday life u will not find anyone singing songs n running around trees...i had a friend who used to meet her boyfriend in small udipi restaurants so as not to run into some1 known.
but then who / what has escaped commercialisation in this age?
i saw an ad on the TV the other day, on the lines of "jaidev jaidev jai mangal murti" which goes as "brush kar brush kar" an ad for toothpaste..