Jan 8, 2008

The movies to us... (By Kriti Toshniwal)

This post is written by my dearest Kriti Toshniwal, who tells me which movies to watch. And then we watch them together... She will post now and then on Indian movies from her perspective as an Indian viewer. Enjoy!

The movies to us…

The movies to us were always a source of entertainment. By us I refer to friends, family, the general public, and myself included; basically all of us anonymous film watchers in India who technically belong to the category of film science illiterates, and have always watched movies for the sole purpose of recreation rather than as insights to an existent culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the reactions Mark gets on disclosing his thesis topic to us are those of bewilderment. It can be understood that one is an avid film watcher and watches every single movie first day, first show, but studying movies in the sense of writing a research paper on them is a different ball game altogether. In fact, it is considered to be more of a ball game than a serious matter.

It isn’t that we Indians are narrow-minded in our view of the world, though I don’t completely put that beyond us, or beyond anyone for that matter. It’s just that popular film analysis for most of us extends up to the star rating by the critics declaring a movie as watchable or unwatchable, and the selection of the top five films every new year’s. Studying films from technical, cultural, historical or commercial perspectives however, is something relatively new to us in India. It’s only recently that we were exposed to the idea that Bollywood with its extensive reach both within and outside India, is such a major revenue generator that the rest of the world is also interested and hooked on!

But, discounting for the fact that I have never really had much film education, I am clearly opposed to the critical stance most foreigners and some overtly (and sometimes ostentatiously) intellectual Indians take on Bollywood and Indian films. The success of any endeavor cannot be measured in isolation from its targeted recipients. In that sense, how justifiable is it to form an opinion on an Indian film from an American/European perspective? No, this isn’t a question directed towards film academicians (if they can be called that), but more to the general people; the counterparts abroad, of the us here in India.

How then would I propose rating a film as good or bad? The answer depends on the way one looks at it. Take for example, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun; an extremely popular movie which came out in 1994. It was a big hit for several reasons, the star cast particularly Madhuri Dixit, the story line based on family values and sentiments, the intense emotional drama (which is not unusual J), and 14 songs (almost all of them where hits and reasons for the movie to be successful). My take on this movie, now with my urban sentimentalities, greater exposure and eccentric maturity (with a hint of sarcasm) would probably be different than back in those days as a child when I must have watched the film close to a dozen times. At the risk of causing some damage to my reputation, I admit that given a chance I could still sit through it again. And so I guess is also the case with quite a few people I know. Considering the fact then, that the film succeeded and is still succeeding in keeping its target audience happy, I think it can be called a reasonably good film; one successfully fulfilling its purpose. Its fate might take a different turn if one were to probably discuss its originality (which was practically zero as the story was a direct lift of an earlier film Nadiya ke Paar), practicality in reference with reality, or its cultural impact, but that sure didn’t keep the movie goers out of the theatres.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we Indians at large are sticklers for happy endings. We love the drama, the song and dance, the intense emotions. Movies are like a canvas of our dreams, where anything can happen; where we consider it acceptable and we enjoy that anything can happen. In other words, our movies are the way they are also because of the way we are, and not on account of some inherent lack of talent among our film makers. We’re faced with harsh realities every day of our lives. Spare us at least the big screen!

But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate serious cinema. In fact, Indian films are sadly always reduced to the flashy song and dance dramas by those who are inadequately informed. The beauty of Indian films, are that they encompass all genres. Afterall, we have also had out of the box films like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Fire, Monsoon Wedding, Kaun, Shatranj ke Khiladi… (and the list can keep going on). Just today I was watching a film Johnny Gaddar, a thriller which didn’t have any of the classic songs and dances that Bollywood is famous for.

Also, Indian films so to say, should probably not only be confined to Bollywood. Apart from mainstream movies, there are a number of art films and some regional cinema which deserve acclaim as well. I might have used Bollywood and Indian films interchangeably here, as is quite frequently done. But I’d like to also mention parallel worlds outside of Bollywood, but very much products of India that are often overlooked.

We have art here, and talent, not forgetting the big bucks. And these are not just movies, they’re also our culture. I begin to understand now why someone would want to study them, and appreciate the effort. What lies beneath flashy sequences might be much deeper. So all those Bollywood critics, both Indian and Non-Indian, how about dropping the skepticism and taking another look?

Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), one of the biggest successes of the 90's. This movie is often seen as the typical 90's movie, where it is all about romance and family. Watch the title-song:

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