A filmi chakkar...

A filmi chakkar...

LIfe's like that

A filmi chakkar...

“I think cinema is the mirror of the world,” said Jeanne Moreau, a French actor who has the distinction of working with filmmakers like Orson Welles, and Michelangelo Antonioni. “Although for some people it means something superficial and glamorous, but it’s something else!’’

So true of Bollywood films too, despite the dollops of song and dance and dishum-dishum, it still does reflect slices of our lives. Something that confirms that cinema is part of zindagi ka safar. The countless situations, the varied emotions that is considered a business of life — be it hate, fear, anger, romance, love, compassion, happiness or loss — is luminously echoed on the screen.

No doubt, life in the new millennium has changed radically; thanks to the world becoming a global village. However, what has remained constant is cinema. So much so that there is no avoiding it and as Shah Rukh Khan says, “Cinema in India is like brushing your teeth in the morning. You can’t escape it!’’

Why not? After all we have a century-old relationship with each other. For 100 years the celluloid is silently noting down the transformation, recording the happenings, and continues to entertain each and every person, irrespective of his social background, education or even financial standing. And almost every citizen residing in each nukkad, galli, Metro, small town or village, including NRIs, relate to it.

So it’s but natural that the imagination or creative genes of filmmakers too imbibe and breathe in the same air like the audience, resulting in them writing or making films which, somewhere or the other, reflect what is happening in our society.

Take the recent blockbuster, Happy New Year, directed by Farah Khan starring Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and others which portrayed the present-day obsession of the TV viewing audience — dance reality shows. Channels after channels have splashed images of serpentine queues outside TV studios, where the qualifying rounds take place. These images represent the present day hysteria and desperation of the contestants to enter these reality shows. Indulging in all sorts of antics, at times giving sob stories or shedding tears, contestants are willing to go to any extent to please the judges. It was same in the SRK-starrer. In fact, the latter part of the film echoed what we have seen on the sets of different TV channels, in the elimination or judges round. Much before HNY, choreographer and director Remo D’Souza’s film ABCD based its plot on a behind-the-scene happening of a reality show.

Ad film maker Gauri Shinde, who debut-directed English Vinglish, the comeback film of actor Sridevi says, “Yes, our cinema reflects what is happening around us. At least, as far as I am concerned, it’s very true as I am living on planet Earth! And so whatever happens here is what affects me. My work does mirror my surroundings.

Homemaker Shashi Godbole (Sridevi), trying to create an identity in her nuclear family, echoed the aspirations of an urban middle class housewife. A typical Indian middleclass woman, Shashi, striving to keep her family happy and comfortable, was sacrificing her own happiness in the bargain. Shashi Godble could be a Vrinda Subramaniam of Trivandrum, a Shweta Bhatnagar of Jaipur or a Madhobi Bhattacahrya of Kolkata. Director Shinde represented a homemaker’s psyche so well that nearly every woman viewer could identify herself with the protagonist, and in the bargain, got a superhit film which won her many accolades.

Being sportive
Remember when sports other than cricket started playing centre stage in news what with many Indian athletes winning medals at Asian and Olympic Games? We had a line-up of sport-centric films like Bend it like Beckham, Iqbal, Apne, Chak De! India, Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, Victory, Dil Bole Hadippa, Paan Singh Tomar, Kai Po Che etc., besides the bio-pics Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Mary Kom. The genre has become so successful that many more bio-pics are in the making. 

Most filmmakers who think of good cinema agree with Roman Polanski saying that “cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theatre”. Interestingly, reflection of our daily lives isn’t a new phenomenon. Consider India’s’ freedom struggle reflected in the song Chal chal re naujawan from the 1940 film Bandhan, starring a young Ashok Kumar, is remembered even today. Raj Kapoor’s 1950’s films like Awara, Barsaat, Shree 420, Boot Polish, Jagte Raho and others were a glamorous representation of the country’s socialist movement. Same was the case with K A Abbas’s Saat Hindustani and Do Boond Pani, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Son of India and Aurat, Bimal Roy’s Do Bhiga Zameen, Sujata and Bandini. Reformation of dacoits and law breakers and bringing them back to the mainstream of life had echoes in films V Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath, Raj Kapoor’s Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Moni Bhattacharjee’s Mujhe Jeene Do. Films like Naya Daur by B R Chopra and Paigham by S S Vasan, made in the 60s, showcased the ushering of industrial revolution etc.

The 70s and 80s reflected the youth’s disenchantment with the establishment and ushered the arrival of angry young men, reflected in the roles of Amitabh Bachchan. Says veteran director and actor Tinu Anand who had cast Amitabh Bachchan in films like Kaalia, Shahenshah, Major Saab, Main Azaad Hoon and has acted in over 100 films, “In the 70s and 80s, the youth in India was angry for many reasons — high unemployment rate, inflation and corruption in all walks of life. So, when we presented Bachchan as the angry young man, the youth identified with his character. He became the face of their aspirations and frustrations.”

Escape from reality
Anand, who had acted alongside Bachchan in the 1990 film Agneepath, as the man who isn’t happy with the village elders, adds, “I enjoyed playing Nathu who expressed his anger by throwing stones at the so-called rulers of the village. Somewhere it represented my feelings in those years, and also the mood of the helpless janta against the establishment.”  

Identifying with the frustrations and aspirations of the main protagonist makes the film a narrative of its time — a feeling in the viewer that something has been endorsed for him/her about life in general. Brilliantly verbalised by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky of films like The Holy Mountain, The Rainbow Thief and others: “I didn’t want to make cinema, so a person forgets himself and has a lot of fun. Someone watching my films should say, ‘This is me! This is me!’”

May be it’s true of Chilean, Iranian, French or Italian filmmakers who claim to make realistic films and walk away with awards at all international film festivals. In India, things are slightly different. Out of more than 1,000 films that get made annually in several major languages, most of them are clubbed in what is termed as ‘escapist films’, films which are far removed from the real world. Films that make you forget the harsh reality of life, like the latest Rajnikant flick, Linga. 

In fact, these are the films which are lapped up by the masses and go on to rake in huge profit for their makers. Nowadays the profit is counted as the elite Rs 100 crore club — films which earn more than Rs 100 crore. Take the example of last year’s Hindi films like Kick, Bang Bang, Happy New Year etc. Or the 19-years-old film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Recently the film celebrated 1,000 weeks in the Maratha Mandir cinema hall of Mumbai. An absolute escapist film, but it did connect with the young and those in love.

“The real world is far removed from films,” says film and theatre actor and director Makarand Deshpande, and goes further to add, “Every film is a figment of imagination of the director and actor.” 

Known for quirky presentation of characters, like the bearded black-robed fakir singing Yun hi chala chal with Shah Rukh Khan in the film Swadesh, or Kallu, the butcher running after his brood of poultry in Makdee, Makrand feels that in reality one rarely comes across people with the kind of mannerisms or behaviour he presents either on celluloid or theatre. “An actor or director goes bananas over composing a character that gets ingrained in the memory of audiences. If every character remained true to life, then there would be no fun in filmmaking,” he says. 

There is an element of truth in our films, believes Sujoy Ghosh who became a household name following the success of the Vidya Balan-starrer Kahaani. Ghosh, who debuted with Jhankaar Beats and went on to make films like Home Delivery: Aapko... Ghar Tak and Aladin has penned the script for Hrithik Roshan-Katrina Kaif-starrer Bang Bang too.

His maiden film, Jhankaar Beats, is the story of a youth trio who idolise musician R D Burman. This is a common feature with all musical bands. According to him, in Kahaani the protagonist Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) could be any person searching for some truth in life. “And the feverish celebration and grandeur of the Durga Puja scene and that young boy in the hotel fetching water are very much a part of our real lives. Though it’s a fictionalised story, several scenes mirror our daily lives,” points out Ghosh.

It’s not only the happy moments that are picturised. Border conflicts and full-scale wars too have reached the movie screens. Films like Border, LOC Kargil, Lakshya, Tango Charlie, Children of War, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore and Madras Café on recent conflicts between India and Pakistan, and the civil war in Sri Lanka, have become staple fare. Even in the 60s and 80s, we had movies like Hum Dono, Aas Ka Panchhi, Haqeeqat, Hindustan Ki Kasam etc. Terrorist activities and insurgencies have graduated from newspaper columns to movie screens. The list includes Dil Se, Roja, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, Mission Kashmir, New York, Kurbaan and several others. We have had hordes of films depicting criminals, bank heists, scams, sex, rape, murder, kidnapping and whatever else one can think of when you utter the word ‘crime.’        

Mirror to modern India
While politicians and the media blame the increasing incidences of crime to the bad influence of films, filmmakers do not agree. Though filmmakers accept films do mirror the mood of the society at large, they refuse to accept that movies have malevolent influence on individuals in a major way. However, they concur that films do influence what you wear and how you like to look. “The youth does get influenced by what a heroine wears or how a hero carries himself. Bollywood does spark fashion trends,” they chorus.

Director Harry Baweja, of films like Main Aisa Hi Hoon, Imtihaan, Diljale and others says, “As filmmakers, we look around ourselves and each character sketched is perceived from day-to-day life and presented with a little bit of dramatisation. But in no way do we show the kind of crime and violence that takes place in the society. No censor board will certify our films if we started showing the harsh reality.”

Point out to the violence depicted in films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Shootout at Lokhandwala, Gangajal etc., and Baweja confers, “Crime in hinterlands is more gore. Even in an A-certified film, we restrict it to watchable fare. Real life violence is unimaginably violent.”

Shinde and Anand believe that films entertain rather than incite or influence people to become thieves, rapists or murderers. “Criminal minds originate at homes. It’s the upbringing and the surroundings that a child grows up in that influence his adult behaviour. Depraved men don’t need films to enhance their depravity,” says Shinde.
According to Baweja, popular films are far from real. “Visit any school or college and what you witness will make you realise that films are unrealistically prude and romanticise love. We are still portraying Victorian era!” he says. 

Going by the releases in the past five to 10 years, one can easily surmise that films are made for the urban-centric youth who watch the Friday releases in a multiplex with a bucket of popcorn and coke, so most of the films mirror their lifestyle. Describing them, Ghosh says, “They have never encountered the kind of hardship or the problem that our parents faced. So, today’s youth won’t identify with films showing depravity or debauchery. They even want their criminal hero to be glamorous.”

One of the reasons the sequels of Dhoom have become so successful. Then there are Don series, Bang Bang, Happy New Year and Kick. The hero, the main criminal, is suave, tech-savvy and rides the best of the superbikes or cars, plus he respects women and elders! And is extremely good looking — Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan!

“So criminals don’t copy films, nor do crimes mirror cinema. But cinema mirrors glimpses of life!” say the filmmakers.        
 As thriller master Alfred Hitchcock says, “Cinema isn’t a slice of life, but a piece of cake!”

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