Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Mammootty condemns Bollywoodisation of Indian cinema

At the recent Indian International Film Awards at Dubai, when Mammootty lashed out against the Bollywoodisation of the country’s cinema, he was not off the mark.

He said: “The IIFA should be called the Indian International Hindi Films Awards. How can this festival be complete without movies from the South? I am forced to take such a stand to uphold the dignity of South Indian movies which are dynamic and booming.”

At Dubai, the IIFA was completely dominated by Bollywood’s Hindi movie-wallahs. Celebrities from Mumbai were continuously under the floodlights, while Mammootty, Madhavan, Vikram and others from the South found themselves in the shadows.

But, such imbalance is to be seen not just in Dubai, but also elsewhere. Look at Cannes, which hosts arguably the world’s top movie festival. I have been seeing there, year after year, a vulgar excess of Bollywood presence, which is merrily touted as Indian cinema.

The Cannes Festival’s Artistic Director, Thierry Fremaux, tells me that he finds it difficult to see beyond Bollywood. It is the Mumbai movie industry that aggressively promotes its fare, while the rest of India, despite some great cinema emerging out of Bengal, Kerala and even Tamil Nadu, seems so unsure of its work. It dithers in the background perfectly contend – or so it appears -- to watch a Karan Johar or a Sanjay Leela Bhansali or an Amitabh Bachchan taking the centre of the stage.

Otherwise, how can one explain a film like “Devdas”, so powdered and peppered that the very essence of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s memorable socio-literary novel is lost, making it to the official section of the Cannes Festival a few years ago.

Admittedly, there are oases of sense in this madness of moviedom. Stuttgart in Germany holds an annual festival, and titles it “Bollywood and Beyond”. In 2003, the Melbourne International Film Festival had an exclusively section called “Beyond Bollywood”. Every March, the small Atlantic city of Deauville in the north of France holds the Asian Film Festival, where the cream of Indian cinema (excluding Bollywood) is presented along with the celluloid work from other Asian nations.

These are but some instances where Bollywood is passed. Nobody denies that Mumbai is a part of India, but it is not “The India”, and the city’s movie mughals must realise this. And, the fact remains that a mere fourth of the total Indian films are from Bollywood. The rest come from other parts; a large number of this is from the South with Tamil movies leading the tally.

It is only once in a way that we have someone like Mammootty drawing attention to such crass Bollywoodisation of Indian cinema. I would suppose that in Mammootty’s case the lawyer in him gets him provoked now and then. He studied law, but had always wanted to be an actor. It was writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair who discovered him, and veteran director K.G. George who helped Mammootty by giving him memorable roles in “Yavanika”, “Vilkanunde Swapnangal” and “Valarthumrigangal”.

Joshi’s “New Delhi” saw Mammootty’s transformation into a superstar. He plays a victimised journalist here who ultimately brings to book the politicians responsible for his plight.

But it was “Oru CBI Diary Kurippe” which is considered a landmark in Malayalam cinema, that went on to create a box-office record. The film had no songs, gave a new meaning to villainy and presented a totally different concept of hero.

Later, Mammootty’s “Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha”, “Anantharam”, “Mathilukkal”, “Vidheyan” and “Ponthan Mada” not only fetched him national awards, but also gave him the honour of playing parts, which portrayed him as a social crusader.

Mani Ratnam’s “Dalapati” in Tamil and Jabbar Patel’s “Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar” in Hindi gave Mammootty further impetus to push a celluloid image identified with truth and justice.

Considered a thinking actor, Mammootty has always been vocal about injustice both on screen and off it. He feels that Indian cinema has a rich canvas of vocabulary and ideas, drawing from the nation’s vast multitude of cultures and socio-historic perspectives. These are reflected in the 1000-odd movies that India produces annually in a variety of languages.

So, the question is, must such diversity be condensed into just a single entity called Bollywood? Is it not unfair to present such a uni-focal view of India to the world?

(Posted on this website on July 8 2006)