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Copyright 2004


Cinema In General


Aping Hollywood

ONCE SATYAJIT Ray made a profound statement. He said that he learnt the craft of cinema from Hollywood. But, he used this knowledge to make films that were utterly Indian, in content, in essence.

More recently, Bombay/Mumbai movie director, Mahesh Bhatt, wrote in an article that, ``it would not be entirely untrue to confess that my success would not have been possible without the hours I spent in the theatres of Bombay/Mumbai , which screened only Hollywood films. These were the classrooms where I learnt the ABCs of story telling through sound and pictures.''

Most other movie makers will agree, at least in private, that they owe their know-how and idiom to American tinsel world.

However, unlike Ray and a few others, most film helmers in Bollywood and elsewhere in India not only picked up Hollywood's technique, but also its content, its narrative style and even images. And, often, these men flaunted all these as their own.

Bhatt avers, ``I remember once when I was struggling to put an `original' script together, I. S. Johar, the renowned comedian and Bollywood's first intellectual, laughingly advised me, `son, why don't you ask your rich producer to buy you a ticket to London, see an American flick, and come back and remake it with Indian actors. It is cheaper, less bothersome and guarantees success'. At the time, I was horrified. Little did I know that in later years, I would take that advice of his too seriously.''

Bhatt's "Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin" in the early 1990s was a frame-by-frame copy of "It Happened One Night" (1934).The difference lay in seeing Amir Khan instead of Clarke Gable and Pooja Bhatt in the place of Claudette Colbert in situations that were more or less Indian.

Originality stops at that point with the so-called auteurs who lean on VCDs and DVDs, pirated ones at that. Novelty for this kind of entertainment has also begun to wear off now.

Obviously. To begin with, American celluloid world has ceased to surprise us with its stories. They are monotonously banal. Much of the Bollywood stuff that shamelessly apes it and the mainstream movies in Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram which in turn copy Mumbai is uninspiring.

Unlike Hollywood, which still has one plus point its enormous money power that helps it to use fantastic technology and publicity campaigns to elbow out regional fare all over the world, Bollywood has pressing monetary constraints, a handicap that got it into a neat little mess with the underground mafia.

Although declared an industry some years ago, institutional funding for Indian cinema is not available for the asking. There is one important reason for this: Indian film companies do not think or behave like well-oiled corporate entities. Their account procedures and accountability leave a lot to be desired. Which financial body would like to lend to an Indian producer in such a scenario?

Beyond this, Indian cinema Bollywood especially makes little attempt to find a good story (can there be a dearth of it in India, given its rich history and folklore?) or write a tight script. The results are alarming. Let us focus on Bollywood, which makes roughly a fourth of what the entire country produces every year. Of the 132 movies made in Mumbai this year (2003), 124 crashed at the box-office. The loss is estimated to be Rs. 2.9 billion. The writing on the wall disturbs you: Indian viewers are bored, perhaps even tired of watching the same tales unfold before them. What changes on those frames are the faces, the costumes and the locales.

Take, for instance "Chalte Chalte". You are 30 minutes into it, and you begin to realise how similar it is to "Saathiya", which again was a remake acknowledged though this time of the Tamil picture, "Alaipayuthe".

Again "Raaz" was sourced from Hollywood's "What Lies Beneath". "Kaante" was a remake of Quentin Tarentino's "Reservoir Dogs".

Yet, despite this if people still go to the cinema, it is largely because they have really no choice, particularly in smaller cities, town and villages.

A few issues need to be thought of here. It is time that Bollywood and the rest of Indian cinema begin to look at European or other Asian films for inspiration.

France, Italy, Spain, Japan, China and Iran are creating mesmerising cinema that is hauntingly unconventional and gripping even to someone like this critic so used to the Hollywood pace and style.

So, innovation, not duplication is the call of the day. A good story, a neat script, imaginative direction need not mean boredom. Guru Dutt made some memorable movies. Bimal Roy too, and the early Raj Kapoor. What about Vijay Anand's "Guide" or Ashutosh Gowarikar's "Lagaan" or Mani Ratnam's "A Peck on the Cheek"? These are a few examples of what Indian cinema must strive to be.

It is fine to learn from Hollywood's technical expertise, but to take this relationship beyond this will be like refusing to cut the umbilical cord.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated August 22 2003)

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