Thursday, February 24, 2011

Boogieing to the Bollywood Beat

“Indian movies are extremely inane with no sense or story or message in them and it is time they stopped having silly songs.”, said a friend of mine to me. I was zapped momentarily at someone casting such aspersions on my favorite entertainment avenue!

“My dear friend”, I refuted him, “Bollywood is not a charity organization that makes movies for the sake of passing moral messages about righteousness or education or the evils of casteism or awareness about some obscure disease or empowerment. Movies are first supposed to be entertainment and then everything else is a bonus if it makes money. If they are not supposed to be entertaining, the producers might as well make documentaries which are a completely different genre. There have been wonderful commercial movies with meaningful social messages such as ‘3 Idiots’ on the education system, ‘Udaan’ on the ambitions of a young aspiring writer etc. However, if these social movies were not entertaining as well, who would watch them? The message wouldn’t hit the nail then anyway. A fantastic movie like Sholay would never have happened if it was only about the message.”

Melodrama, Romance, Music, Horror, Action, Titillation, Tragedy, Comedy, Meaningful cinema, Fantasy all bundled in one is one genre. Bollywood. In my head I agree though, sometimes movies get too silly for words. It is not uncommon to have a grisly death sequence in a comedy movie when the dying guy flashes back with his heroine dancing away on the Alps all of a sudden, and in the next moment onto the Pyramids with a retinue of dancers behind them! An audience not used to the Bollywood way of things might just get befuddled, but wait, there is more. As soon as the Hero’s ‘Mom’ is disparaged by the villain, the hero gets superpowers to thwart 10 goons against him, and he saves the heroine, the mom and everyone goes home happy while he goes to dance against the backdrop of an exotic waterfall with his heroine! But then, even Hollywood can boast of enough terrible movies. 2010 saw enough dumb movies such as Tron which was made from an old superflop, the Last Airbender by an otherwise wonderful director M Shyamlan, the Last Song, Sex and the City 2,..well you get the idea. For every one good movie, there are strings of ludicrous movies, be it Bollywood or Hollywood.

Scene from Raja Harishchandra, first Indian movie

The Indian Cinema industry has been prevalent for almost a century now with the first movie, Raja Harishchandra being made by Dadasaheb Phalke way back in 1913 (well, there’s a Marathi language movie on that too!). By 1930’s the industry was producing well over 200 movies per annum. And now, Bollywood comes up with more than 800 movies every year and that does not even include the other regional Indian cinema which has not all diminished in stature. Amazing. There certainly are reams that I can write on the history of Indian cinema and its development through the decades but you can just flip to Wikipedia for all that factual information. In a few lines, Hindi cinema has seen a wide variety of themes every decade, drawing inspiration and stories from epic tales such as the Ramayana and Mahabharta, history, social themes, books and ofcourse plenty from Hollywood including even the term Bollywood which has its roots in combining Bombay, the heart of Hindi cinema and Hollywood!

But what characterizes Hindi cinema, is its unique ability to be enjoyed by a widely different audience which I cannot stop emphasizing. Having studied marketing, I can well say, how difficult a task that must be. Catering to even slices of a teeming mass of culturally, politically, linguistically, economically, regionally, religiously and socially different billion people is certainly a daunting task. Just when I thought, Bollywood is transitioning to cater to a more urban intellectual and affluent audience that can afford expensive tickets at multiplexes and to international audiences targeting overseas sales, there came up ‘Dabangg’ a typical ‘formula’ movie with a super star as a cop hero, a villain with no scruples, interspersed with some unnecessary songs, an unnecessary heroine as an accessory, the omnipotent mother, plenty of action, melodrama and boom. A smashing hit! A movie liked by the so called urban intelligentsia as well as the rural masses. That is certainly tough to understand!

'Dola re dola' dance sequence from movie 'Devdas'

Refuting my friends point about not having the song and dance routines, “Well, that’s what Indian cinema is about!...I utterly detest the Indian movies without the songs and dances in them. All those beautiful haunting melodies by Lata, Asha, Mohd. Rafi etc, not ever existing! That’s unbelievable. And not having Shiela ki Jawani to save an utterly inane Tees Maar Khan or not having Dhan ta nan in Kaminey to keep the audiences grooving is terrible news too! Think about classics such as HAHK, DDLJ and all other fluffy SRK movies that the nation adored, and we are transported to exotic locales in Switzerland or US which most Indians would never have seen otherwise. No songs in those movies?! Bah! They wouldn’t be 1/10th as good as they are today. “

I guess, I am a die-hard bollywood buff with its melodrama and song and dance sequences and for all its detractors, I just need to say, we ought to be proud that our entertainment industry is one of the biggest in the world even as it caters to such difficult markets. Bollywood has so much potential to not just create entertainment, but also to showcase India’s rich culture in the international arena, delineate positively the burgeoning intelligent population and foster self confidence in Indians. Again, entertainment first, and then the messages!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When I started reading this first book of a triology, I was entranced by the very strange storyline. It started normally enough with the protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl giving the description of the aftermath of an apocalypse and the remains that became Panem ruled by the Capitol.  Panem was divided into 13 districts, one of which was razed because of a rebellion, and then, as punishment, here comes the interesting part- ‘The Hunger Games’ were organized.   These games were no ordinary games, not dissimilar to a regular reality survival show we see on TV, but dissimilar in the fact that, to win these games, participants had to survive from other participants, which meant, they had to kill all the others. As punishment for the rebellion, these participants were kids or ‘tributes’ from the twelve districts chosen by lottery. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist was chosen along with Peeta to be a part of the Hunger Games.  The prize for the victor was a continuous food supply to their district and a lifelong of comfort for them.  The book goes on to describe the violence and blood thirst as well as compassion that goes on in the arena as the reader begs to stop it all, at the same time being riveted to it.  Chilling concept isn’t it? A story which makes adults want to shield their kids from this very stuff, but can’t,  given today’s violent day and age. Watch kids play a video game, and see how they don’t bat an eyelid as they blow up hundreds , hundreds of times!

The second and the third part of this triology, ‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Mockingjay’ continue with the second Hunger games and with organized rebellions and revolutions against the Capitol buoyed by the symbol, surviving Katniss Everdeen.  I guess, the first two books did grab my attention because of the novel concept even though I hate even watching less brutal reality shows. I got wearied by the time I reached the third part and I wondered, did I really like the first two parts?  Kids killing kids! Really?! Even if they felt remorse or spent sleepless nights after that,still! Too bloody.  All the same, Suzanne Collins has been able to keep the reader hooked to her books.  Though I hate to admit it, her books were rather entertaining  if I actually stopped thinking it could be for real!