November 08, 2010

Waiting for Godard

Last week I walked out of the theater during the intermission of a movie, deciding to ‘abandon’ it. I have watched movies worse than this, but strangely, have never actually left one midway. I was feeling guilty, doing this for the first time, but mainly because it was a ‘small’ film sans stars, with honest intentions, but a terrible execution. This summarizes the state of independent Hindi cinema today.

Half a decade ago, there was this myth of an upcoming independent cinema revolution that would change ‘Bollywood’ for good. This myth rode on the success of a shameless rip-off of a French comedy, and the promise of new names like Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Imtiaz Ali, Sriram Raghvan etc. Today, some of these directors have turned to stars and are making big-budget films. Others have been inconsistent about the commercial and critical success of their movies. And worse, in spite of a mob of first-time filmmakers appearing during this period, hardly a few can match the talent and the aesthetic maturity of their predecessors. Let us summarize the situation:

  • Even the most talented and gutsy filmmakers, can not avoid the opportunity a star or a big budget provides.
  • Even the best and most interesting of small films have failed to achieve commercial success. None has replicated the dream-run of that ‘rip-off’.
  • Most, if not all, films made with ‘honest intent’ are so pedestrian in their aesthetic value that we are forced to think – whether this person should be making movies? Others are ‘almost there’ – in spite of having an interesting plot and characters, these films have an air of complacence and lose steam mid-way.

I have not yet talked about the problems of marketing and distribution that these movies face, because that was always expected, and we were hoping that these films will slowly, but consistently, help in changing the scenario. The hope has dimmed. The clout of stars and big-budget films is as mighty as before. The New Wave of Hindi Cinema seems to be dying a premature death, in utero.

And we can not blame the audience. The makers need to understand that ‘independent cinema’ is not the license to serve half-baked, technically poor specimens of ‘honest and brave attempts’. There can be no excuse for out-of-sync dialogues and annoying background score, leave aside improper framing and purposeless edit patterns. Bad ‘big’ films have less of these problems. And the presence of good-looking ‘stars’ and ‘sets and locations’ make sure you have something to watch. A big, bad film is bad. A small, bad film is worse. The number of patrons of small, meaningful cinema is rising. But it is the responsibility of the filmmakers to ensure that the audience sits-through the movie once they have entered the theater despite poor publicity, and not ‘abandon’ it mid-way. The unnecessary transfer of guilt does not, and would not help. The last thing we would wish is this wait for ‘the revolution’ to be an endless one.


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  2. the last time i quit a movie mid way (even before interval) was during Delhi-6 watch at the Eylex theater in Ranchi. but the reason was not the movie, but the post-release editing by the cinema theater. i sensed at least thrice something was going wrong at the 'cut points' before finally quiting in frustration. when watched the movie on the DVD, all my fears were redeemed: there were massive 'cuts' at those instances.

    however, the mood in which u might have walked out, encountered me when i was watching the deol brothers' movie on Bhagat Singh in Deoghar (a day before Vidyapith reopened after holidays). it may not have been that bad a movie (may be), but just 2 days earlier i had seen Raj Kumar Santoshi's 'moving' version of the same, and in comparison, the director's & bobby deol's portrayal resembled a pale and fake melodramatic attempt of the same, which i just couldn't bear after a point...

  3. on another note, your frustration is not uncalled for, but go a little more easy on ‘honest and brave attempts’ :)

  4. A brave and honest article - I think this is a question all of us on the fringes of Bollywood need to ask ourselves. What are we doing to nurture an audience for ourselves? Also, how much are we supporting each other as independent filmmakers? We are disenfranchised from within and without at the moment, and it's a battle for survival, or assimilation into the feudal system.

  5. @Priyadarshi: It seems really difficult now, to go easy. I was so much of an optimist a few years ago as far as this 'movement' was concerned...

    @sid: thanks for appreciating the article, one that i truly believed in. and you nail it with this line of yours: "it's a battle for survival, or assimilation into the feudal system. "... Also, helping each other is another virtue we lack. We all know what happened when a young and talented bunch joined hands in the Hollywood in the 70s. Apart from remembering them as Spielberg, Coppola, Lucas, Scorsese etc. we also remember movies by other filmmakers whom they supported. We do not even need such big names. Our state is such that even lesser individuals would help if they cared to join hands.

  6. Hope this disillusionment is a passing one and while it stays , brings out the best in you in terms of writing !! Probably a conincidence ,but was revisiting 'Pyaasa' last night and felt that Saahir probably would have not have come up with the brilliant poetry that he eventually did , had it not been for a considerable degree of disenchantment with the milieu ..
    Just trying to catch a silver lining :D

  7. Check this out
    a more positive statement than mine

  8. Hey Satyanshu....Watched this movie called Eternity and a Day by Theo Angelopoluos...Would be great if I hear your take on this..Do watch it if you get time..

  9. I watched 'Eternity and a Day' last year during the film festival, among 33 other movies. But as you can imagine, it was difficult to note things about it as there were so many movies i was watching those days.
    But there is something interesting i feel now. During that week of binging on movies in a sleep-deprived state, this film was very difficult to watch. But today, when i think of those 34 films, very few still stick out of the rest. "Eternity...' is one of those.
    I also remember its last shot was so long, and it must be one of the most celebrated closing shots of the film.
    I do not have a copy of this film. I would love to watch it the moment I manage to get one copy. I am sure, it is one of those movies that improves with every watch. And it is kind of text-book stuff for the way it paces its action.

  10. Amazing post sir ji..!!!
    As the stereotypical notion in India goes...a meaningful well made film.. is parallel cinema/art film... art film/parallel cinema are boring or need a higher level of understanding or are not mass entertainer... so they are meant for intelligent intellect audience.
    Wish if we could stop creating this huuuuuuuge humongous difference between commercial and art films in India... treat them with some what uniformity under the banner of 'meaningful cinema'... if only we could stop hegemonizing (duuno if it is the appropriate word to be used here or not) that the mass audience in India want to just see Rajnikanth and Salman Khan... If only we could start breaking those stereotypes and myths...then perhaps you wouldn't have 'abandoned' Daayen ya baayen ;) ;) ;)

  11. There are only two types of films:
    Good films
    and Bad films.....

    Thanks for appreciating the post....
    Hope you keep reading and watching good films...