Friday, April 18, 2008

Wannabe Cinema

[Disclaimer: I wrote this after reading this column and a couple others. Some points are kinda-sorta restated]

U Me Aur: Hum The Notebook
Race: Goodbye Lover
Shaurya: A Few Good Men
No Smoking: Quitter's Inc.
Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna : Closer (loosely)
36 China Town: Once Upon a Crime
Naquaab: dot the i
Shakalaka Boom Boom: Amadeus (shudder)
Ta Ra Rum Pum: Cinderella Man, Days of Thunder and (shudder) Life is Beautiful
Partner: Hitch
Speed: Cellular
The Train: ......... : Derailed
Zinda: Oldboy
The Killer: Collateral
Humraaz: A Perfect Murder

... and so on and so forth.

The relationship is fairly obvious. Somebody outside India worked his ass off and produced the stuff on the right. Then Baweja, Bhatt, Darshan, Gupta, Abbas or Mustan picked up the DVD and shat out (in the literal and figurative sense) the stuff on the left.

This history of stealing plots is of course as old as the Aravallis. What's disturbing of late however is the frequency and backdrop of the Bollyversion. Not only are more and more films produced every year rip-offs, but they're stealing films that were barely out on DVD. It's one thing - a pretty contemptible thing anyway - to rip off, say 1954's On the Waterfront, throw in "Aati kya Khandala" and call it Ghulam, or 1938's Angels with Dirty Faces and call it Ram Jaane. It's a different thing to make the movies I pointed out above, most of which were made in the 90's themselves. That these honchos do so, shows their:
(a) increasing lack of creativity
(b) gargantuan egos
(c) contempt for the audience's knowledge and taste of cinema
Agreed, you and I are minorities to the aam admis whom we know puts money in their coffers. But we're significant in our own right, and I for one do feel insulted.

The second is the backdrop. How many big-budget films of late have been set in India ? Even the semi-mythical India that is inhabited by the stars of K3G ? New York and London are where Indians are to be found now, though Johannesburg and Cape Town will not be far behind now that Race is a hit (check friend lexicomaniac's review of it). These Indians employ Indians at home, frequent cafes where everyone from the busboy up is an Indian, work in offices where everyone save the copy boy is an Indian, have Indian rivals in business, are greeted by Indian managers and maitre-d's in hotels and even have Hindi-speaking cops investigate their crimes. To complete the ensemble, there will be an Indian peanut vendor when they sing songs on the beach and a white-boy/homie to do something stereotypical. When you come up with an expressive art form - story, play or movie - the most vital thing is the sense of place. Where do your characters work ? Play ? Eat ? Sleep ? Shop ? What kind of language is spoken there ? What kind of people are to be found there ? These things are as vital to the plot as the plot itself, which is where one has to give credit to people like RGV and Sriram Raghavan who set their plots in known places, or find details about Kenya or Singapore when they want their protagonists there. The Darshans and Johars and Advanis on the other hand, ignore the elements of place altogether, giving Indian cops Indian smugglers to chase, Indian men Indian women (even if they're in some place like Seoul) to fuck about with and I suppose, Indian dogs Indian cats to chase. To see films like KANK, Shakalaka Boom Boom and Race is in a way amusing because we are turning the tables on people like Lucas, Spielberg and the fucks who focus solely on cows and "Thank you come again" accents when their films are set in India. We are reducing foreign nations to featureless backdrops with a stereotype thrown in here and there. Nevertheless, there is something mind-blowing (or -sucking) about seeing XYZ rule the music scene in New York by playing a fusion of Himesh and Juggy-D. Or Desi ABC run the number one business in Hamburg, rivaled only by Desi DEF, when we really know they're there because the Western script required a setup on those lines.

Stealing however, isn't the only thing that cheapens the stuff on the left. The real issue is its unfaithfulness to the original. Consider, for example, Race (which I saw on DVD - it's a great if unintentional comedy). The film ripped off "Goodbye Lover". The premise of the latter, however was far more effective than this. Why ? There was no long romantic buildup to two characters getting married, the movie opened with the lead screwing with his brother's wife. There was none of the bull about the secretary making soft eyes and singing "Zara zara touch touch me" (which you need a cast iron stomach to endure by the way), she was abruptly brought in after the millionaire's murder. And the finale did not have a grand narration where evil characters realized their sins and took part in a final winner-take-all, it had all but two characters dead, with the bad guys (and I mean bad, no "I'm coolly Saif-style bad" bad) getting away with the loot. It was, in short a film noir and quirkily good (though overdone). And on top of all this, it was a comedy (intentional).

Why was none of this retained ? Why only the bare bones and some shit about twists ? Well, Abbas and Mustan lacked balls. No selling film-noirs to people who like such films. They want to sell their shat out product to everyone - to Chintu-Pintu, Mummy-Daddy, Dada-Dadi, Raju Chacha, his college friends and the autowallahs who brought all of the above to the theater, irrespective of their tastes in cinema. Net result - a lukewarm product that appeals to ... I dunno who or why, unless they analyze it as a comedy. Anyone who liked the film or any other released (Other than Johnny Gaddar and Taare...) this year, do write to me. Tell me just what the fuck it is that keeps you in.

The latter trend, of taking bare bones and doing nothing with them for fear of what the public will do, is what makes this post title. Mohabbatein wants to be a great epic coming-of-age love story, but ends up a hammed ultra-PG-13 version of Dead Poets' Society. Race wants to be a thriller, but refuses to provide any genuine thrills. Dus and Don want to be slick action thrillers, but are slow-mo wash-outs. Shaka...., oh fuck, this film wanted to be Amadeus, without a script or original idea in its head.

I actually respect films like OSO, Sivaji and the Sunny Deol action pics. The director very clearly knows what he's out to do and does it, unlike these people who're shit-scared to. Indeed, my favorite Hindi movie now, after Sholay and Andaz Apna Apna (both of which did what they wanted) is Mithun's 1998 classic Gunda. Here's the wiki explanation. Here's the film itself. Watch it. Laugh at it. And admire the director's courage at passing this off as a film.