Monday, March 13, 2006
The importance of being relevant
Hollywood’s current obsession with controversial themes and indie producers is a great wake-up call for the Indian film industry. Just to recap, the best picture nominees in this year’s Oscars were Good night and good luck, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Crash and Munich. The winner of course was Crash, a view I completely agree with. (As I’d said earlier, I loved the movie and believe that Ms. Proulx’s post-Oscar unhappiness at the verdict was, as she put it, a Sour Grapes Rant).
Closer home, many believe that the Indian Film Industry is in the midst of a transition. The three-hour-tear-jerkers are out, but no one quite knows what’s in. A “Kya Kool Hai hum” has rubbed shoulders with “Page 3”, “Black”, “Bunty aur Babli” and “Iqbal” last year. A sex comedy seems to be as popular as a movie based on the travails of a blind woman, a deaf-mute cricket-enthusiast and criminal duo. Star Power? Er… I can’t remember the lead pair of “Page 3” or “Iqbal”. 2006 has started off with “Rang de Basanti” rocking audiences (again I loved that movie, my blog is here) and I have no idea what’s going to work next.
My take is that the audience today is far more receptive to new ideas than ever before. Why? Because they’re younger and (hopefully) more aware (thanks to news channels, newspapers, blogs, word-of-mouth reviews, etc). Increasing urbanisation should spread the multiplexes across smaller towns and cities and make more movies available to wider audiences.
Isn’t it then a good time for some enterprising directors to look at tackling serious (past and present) ideas? Or, to use a cliché, the “thinking man’s movies”? Past experience isn’t encouraging with last year’s critical acclaims and commercial failures for movies like Sudhir Mishra’s brilliant “Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi” , Kabeer Kaushik’s under-rated “Sehar” and Shoojit Sircar’s sensitive “Yahan” to name a few.
One stumbling block might be a lack of backing by biggies. Contrast this with Hollywood where heavyweights like George Clooney (Syriana andGood Night and Good Luck - both official movie websites are a great read) and Steven Spielberg (with Munich ditto) have put their weight behind controversial topics probably because they believe a story must be told.
I saw “Syriana” recently and was impressed. As
The NY Times review puts it, “Syriana is a movie that demands and rewards attention”. Of course, and as Robert Barnes (an Oscar-winning performance by George Clooney, and rightly so) puts it, “It’s complicated”. But again as the same review puts it “the mental labor of figuring out just what is going on is part of what makes the film such a rich and entertaining experience.” You can also read other reviews by The Guardian, The Observer, The New Yorker, Roger Ebert and Rotten Tomatoes.
As for Mr. Clooney’s belief in making meaningful cinema, these interviews with the BBC and The Guardian are must-reads. As is this bit he says in Syriana’s official website. “Movies, at their best, can initiate discussions……You want people to be standing around the water cooler the next day talking about it, saying 'Here’s what I agree with or here’s where they’re wrong'. We need that discussion”.
The path to serious cinema is one-less travelled. It’s as true for Hollywood as it is for India. Yet it is one as the Indian Film Industry must take. These are after all changing times. For example, wouldn’t movies on, say, the Mumbai Mill Land Case and Best Bakery Case be relevant because these are stories that must be told?
While I’m sure that there’s enough talent to develop these themes, they should not be lost for lack of backing. Producers, at least the big ones who have tasted success in the past, could take a leaf from Mr. Clooney’s book, as he says in the BBC Interview, “I've been pretty lucky. I've been able to get away with some things and do the things I wanted to do and that probably won't last for very long. As you and I both know, you don't get to keep the toys for a very long period of time. So you do it for as long as you can.”
Picture credits - IMDB, Official movie websites of the movies (links above), Eros Entertainment, indiafm.com, Amazon.com and clooneynetwork.com.