Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004



Cinema In General


Pans & Tilts…Freshness, numbers, censorship…

Bollywood is blooming with freshness. The last few months have seen the emergence of a new kind of cinema that has been trying to go beyond just entertainment. I would place both “Parzania” and “Black Friday” on top of this list. The first was a hard look at fundamentalism, which robbed a small, intimate, caring family of its teenage son. The sheer horror of the 2002 Gujarat genocide is revealed to us through the agony of a man woman and their little daughter, and their sheer helplessness is contrasted with police brutality, callousness and indifference. “Black Friday” is set a decade earlier in 1993, when a post-Babri-Masjid-demolition Mumbai saw the slaughter of largely Hindus through a series of bomb explosions, engineered by Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. Both still roam free, and the film is based on an extensively researched book on the police investigations following the Mumbai massacre. Both movies are gutsy efforts to tell the truth.

There are any number of other films which happily do not follow the beaten path. “Hattrick”, starring Rimi Sen and Kunal Kapoor, is yet another, though contemporary, look at a game we Indians love. Cricket, of course. The movie will open now, timed to run along with the 2007 World Cup. Madhur Bhandarkar, who gave us “Chandni Bar”, “Page 3” and “Traffic Signal”, is all geared for his next venture. Called “Fashion”, it looks at this business of style beyond the glitz and glamour. Bhandarkar said that he was curious about the industry’s sidemen: the women who helped models dress up, the men who pressed their costumes and the ordinary folks who buy these designer creations. However, I am not so sure if the people who buy these are ordinary, because I know designer wear costs a bomb.

“Just Married” looks at the famous Indian arranged marriage by focussing the spotlight on Esha Deol and Fardeen Khan, whose anxiety at sharing space, often private, is explored. Sudhir Mishra analyses the golden era of the Hindi film industry in the 1950s in “Khoya Khoya Chand”. Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s “Namaste London” takes on globalisation, and to me it appears like a take-off on Manoj Kumar’s “Purab aur Paschim”. Shah’s star to narrate his story will be Katrina Kaif, and I am told that her current boyfriend, Salman Khan, hung around her like a shadow during the shoot.

I wonder when someone will make a movie about what goes on outside the camera field. One remembers Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” which is an engaging study of what conspires in the greenrooms, what actually happens in the hotel rooms before the takes. I remember the Jacqueline Bisset character sleeping with her co-star, who promptly calls up her husband the next morning to tell him what happened. Truffaut peppered his work with some of the juiciest stuff he must have come across both as a cinema critic and later as an auteur. Mr Bhandarkar, are you listening: You have the hottest theme of the decade.

India produced the largest number of movies in 2006. The figure is a staggering 1091, compared with 1042 in 2005, about 900 in 2004 and 842 in 2003. Curiously, Hindi cinema has now begun to lag behind other regional films. There were 245 Telugu banners in 2006 against 223 Hindi. The Tamil industry, which was number one five years ago, slipped to the third slot with 162 movies. Last year also saw a 50 per cent rise in international releases. There were 336, and predictably the largest number, 254, came from Hollywood. There were 35 from Hong Kong, and I know we are missing out on some excellent British productions, which despite being in the language we understand, English, seem to stay away from Indian cinemas. I suppose the British are no match for America’s brute money power and aggressive marking strategies.

Sharmila Tagore has at last spoken her mind. Heading the Censor Board, she has lambasted the new cinema guideline banning two-wheelers in films. She could not have been more apt. In a country like India, where censorship operates at many levels – the Government, the Board and on the streets, where lumpen elements often decide what people should or should not watch – such rules make a mockery of artistic licence. Men like Mahesh Bhatt and Shyam Benegal have often said that there should be no movie censorship at all. Films can be graded as they are in the U.S. and U.K., where a movie is rated according to, let us say, the violence and sex it has. So, something that is overtly bloody or sexy is forbidden for those under 13 or 15 or 18, whatever may be the case. This means, that adults have the right to see films which may have sex and nudity or excessive violence. In India, we just scissor those scenes, treating adults as children, and, worse, taking upon ourselves the right to determine and police what one can watch. How ridiculous! This is one significant reason why many foreign directors and film companies are reluctant to release their productions in India. After all, no helmer wants his work to be edited twice.

Big B has said that he had no qualms about his role in Ram Gopal Varma’s just released “Nishabd”. The movie, inspired by Vladimir Nobokov’s controversial novel, “Lolita”, first written in English and published in Paris in 1955, talks about an unusual love affair between a 60-year-old man and a 16-year-old teen (newcomer Jiah Khan). Bachchan quipped that such things did happen, and Varma’s work explores the psyche of these two people. There is nothing sensual or sexy about “Nishabd”, he averred. The novel has been twice adapted into a film - first in 1962 by Stanley Kubrick starring James Mason as Humbert Humbert, and next in 1997 by Adrian Lyne, with Jeremy Irons. It will be interesting to see how Indian audiences react to Humbert’s obsession for teenagers.

Tailpiece: Boman Irani’s life is pretty exciting these days. Not only did he get to kiss his screen partner, Shabana Azmi, in “Honemoon Travels Pvt Ltd, but he also got a sweet gift in return. And, Irani’s wife who saw the film while she was holidaying with Boman in Greece said, big deal. When the Honeymoon unit wrapped up, Shabana gave Boman a perfume called “If” along with a copy of his favourite poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Wow! Irani must have swept our lady off her feet.

(Webposted March 2 2007)