We often tend to give in to movies which are rich. In Indian cinema, and I am talking about the contemporary Indian cinema, it is mostly uneconomical. There are many shots, many shots with many props, and at the movies we also have the sound as a prop, other than visuals and faces. Sound is more than a prop now, despite the fact that you can make a film without sound, it is a major part of the medium called films, and most of the greatest films of all time are, indeed, sound films.
I am getting this urge to write what I am writing now, because I have seen the first look of the TV serial “Samvidhaan” directed by Shyam Benegal. The camera begins with a very simple title card, to some extent it feels like it is done using windows movie maker, but that’s ok. Followed by, probably, the most important people in Indian Politics, like, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Dr. Ambedkar, Dr. Radhakrishnan and so on. And the camera moves slightly, slowly, without calling attention towards itself, the lighting is mostly bleak, and the video is practically muted of most of the warm colours.
It’s a morning, and the birds are chirping outside, framers of the constitution discuss the problems our socio economic structure is facing, and will face in the future. They are all talking meaningful things, they are about to disagree on certain things, they have agreed on a few things, and they will have to agree and compromise on a few things. But there is no villain that poses a big threat, like a terrorist, or a thief, or a goon who has captured the heroine. No Mogambos and Shaakaals. But in ideological terms, the villain is the broken Indian social scenario that is hell-bent on creating problems for upcoming generations to face. In practice, that is a bigger problem. A villain that will probably smash the harmony, peace, and the gladness of being human in the first place.
But that is not the agenda of this serial, or a film I watched last week, called “Phata Poster Nikla Hero”. The only agenda of this serial, or any promising visual product of art, is that it simply wants to recreate a time, a sense of warmth, an organic phase that existed, and give us an idea of what could have happened. A writer’s/director’s interpretation of a time, and how the events were conducted inside the parliament.
Talking about the film Phata Poster Nikla Hero, though it had a very harmful villain, and that was what I deemed to be the greatest mistake Santoshi did in his film, it was a very easy watch. It did fall into the pitfall I am talking about, but the only intent behind the film was to amuse. Of how a silly character would behave if his mother were to visit him thinking he is a policeman when he is not. Of what a girl is supposed to do when the boy she is smitten with, is held by a gangster, who in turn is silly and cartoonish himself. Of how an actor, albeit a bad one, will perform a priest. That when he is so pretending earnest, he’d touch feet. A priest? Touching feet?
That is the histrionic weightlessness a movie should have. I am also talking about a time of, again, Santoshi’s, Andaz Apna Apna, when the on screen drama is dramatic. It is cartoonish, and the story; all its asks is recreation. Santoshi creates a city out Ooty which isn’t Ooty at all. In no way, and it is a story in which only the characters of the story the ones who matter, it is a place in which characters other than only the characters of the story dwell. There is no one else to interfere, no one else to ask what’s going on inside the house.
By lightness, I am not saying that all such movies do not talk about heavy things. Like Samvidhaan, in Jaagte Raho also there is a very strong social commentary. But then, there is a sense of ease to the story. The sense, that a director is behind the screen controlling the story, is there. The sense that the director is well assured of what he wants us to see. There aren’t always a lot of things to see, but a lot of things to understand, and realize.
It is, perhaps, that sense of openness that I find in Bharadwaj’s movies like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola this year, that relaxes my senses, soothes my mind, and I can just sit back and hear the story, full of skits and drama. The lightness of drama, that was there in an age of Indian cinema when comedy movies like Chashme Buddoor, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Jaagte Raho, Golmaal or serious dramas like Maachis, Droh Kaal, Zubeidaa or murder mysteries like Khamosh, Gumnaam, and Bees Saal Baad had. Or thrillers like Jewel Thief, and Johnny Mera Naam.
Not that these pictures were short of subject, or depth. And these pictures, any day, look better than, say, a Special 26. Special 26 is a decent film, I am just saying how much more it could be and, with that deft hand of a fine film-maker, what it could become.
Now you are going to say that “Johnny Gaddaar” could do it. It’s a good film, yes. But that sense of relaxation is there? Not to me, no. Manorama 6 feet Under had more of it, in comparison. Which in its own way didn’t have that much, that relieving factor that I am looking for. Ironically, Phata Poster that released last week had more of it, despite the fact it wasn’t a very good film. Had it been a very good film, its assurance in its craft would have taken it to another level, like Ghanchakkar this year did. Had the makers added that confidence in content and need for economy to Shuddh Desi Romance, I am pretty sure it’d match the two great Indian movies released this year.
To some extent, even “The Lunchbox” couldn’t achieve that sense of openness despite being a film that needed it most. It had it, to some extent, but I am talking about achievements here. “The Lunchbox” is a great movie, nevertheless.
That cinematic lightness is missing these days. Occasionally an “Aaranya Kaandam” comes along. I love to point out that, there is a scene in which a policeman stops the car at a police checkpoint, and somewhere far off someone is striking something metallic, it echoes. It creates some sense of loss of baggage of the scene, so that you can realize, that, only the on goings within the scene are the on goings that matter at that point, and you can imagine what characters are thinking, or are going to do. It gives the characters some room to breathe, and I as a viewer can get immersed into that world. Aaranya Kaandam, in my book, is a classic. A film that surpasses expectations, takes those giant leaps that many great Indian films don’t. It is a proof of directorial prowess, one that really deserved to be sent to the Oscars (just saying).
And yet, Aaranya Kaandam in places did foray into that uneconomical, conventional Indian cinematic zone of short takes and dynamic camera. But I don’t mind, and will never. In that movie, Sappai and Subbu talk by the balcony, sometimes on the footsteps of a water tank. They see the skies, see each other, they walk down, and talk with organic, pragmatic ease. And the world nearby cares not, not one bit. I talk to my friends like this, and in places like this, like rooftops, grasslands by highways. We stop our bikes and cars by the far ends of OMR and ECR (highways connecting Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram, and Chennai), and talk about our careers, dreams, and ambitions. Like Subbu and Sappai do. And I hear, many times in such cases, that clinking of metal. Or, somewhere far off, I hear a woman washing clothes and cleaning them with a wooden bat, and that sound echoes. That sense of freedom, relief, and living the moment is what I am talking about.
Probably this has to do with my personal love of open spaces where there is no one to ask me what I am doing at a place all alone. But never mind my personal liking, that open and light environment of that moment, where there is no one to answer to, and that introspection, I wish I got it more in movies I watch.