Less than a month ago, I went to watch Dhoom 3 with a friend on the night of 24th December for a 11:30 show in a suburban Mumbai multiplex. We had decided to catch the film instead of spending a bomb in some club, primarily because we thought the movie would be good fun. Frankly, I didn’t expect Dhoom 3 to be anything else besides being entertaining. I am someone who thoroughly enjoyed the previous installments of the franchise, though both of them had barely much storyline to boast of. I had committed a similar blasphemy when I got so curious about Chennai Express – it broke 3 Idiots’ record and I thought there would some merit in the film to do so. But man, both of them were so lame that they are insults to their own genre. I am someone who enjoyed Rajiv Rai films tremendously; I still swear by Mohra, Tridev & Gupt – Dhoom 3 and Chennai Express are films which fail even the word ‘entertainment’.
If you watch those Round Table talks conducted by Rajeev Masand or Front Row Interviews by Anupama Chopra or the sex-gossip and coffee show by Karan Johar, you would find something resoundingly uniform across all those shows — the hope that we are right now on the verge of a golden age for Hindi cinema. The conviction with which they speak is so amusing that you tend to believe that we are really living in the best days of Hindi cinema while, truth be told, a golden age is far away.
I remember having a conversation with Sethumadhavan (for the ignorant, he is the chief editor of this site i.e MAM) sometime in May 2013, where I boastfully declared how I had seen a ridiculously lesser number of films than he did. Well, it’s a different story that he watches three films a week and it’s once in three weeks for me. But, at times, I wonder whether I am really so selective as I pretend to be, when it comes to selecting which movies to watch on big screen.. as much as I thought I wouldn’t, I ended up falling prey to number games and marketing gimmicks and went on to spend unnecessarily large amounts in watching meaningless blockbusters – both CE and D3, though I saved myself from Krrish 3 (though I am a huge admirer of Hrithik Roshan films, I was appalled by the trailer and the songs).
I partially salvaged the same by watching a Ship of Theseus, The Lunchbox, B.A. Pass, Madras Cafe & Shahid, but what concerns me the most is the reducing faith in movie business — the entire golden age bullshit is so annoying at times that I wonder in which golden age are films like Dhoom 3, Krrish 3 and Chennai Express the biggest movies? It is the same golden age when a talented film-maker made his weakest film, Goliyon ki Rasleela…Ram-Leela, which turned out to be the biggest success of his career.
Yes, we are patting our backs for making small budget films which are now reaching to bigger masses; there’s a Miss Lovely making it to the theatres or a commercial flick Dedh Ishqiya daring to show an unconventional relation between the leading ladies, but we should lament the fact that we have reached here so late and even today, we can’t push the envelope to show the amorous liaison between the two actresses in full splendour (though the subtlety has its own advantages). Yes, we are toying with newer ideas but we are not reaching the standard of being extraordinary. B.A. Pass is bold but nothing to be labelled as great, The Lunchbox is beautiful but barely novel even if you compare it with regional cinema, D-Day & Madras Cafe did show us hope that we can make political thrillers here in India but both the films are so self-destructive with their commercialism and incoherence (respectively), that they fall way short of being great cinema. Maybe, the only “new” film we have made in the entire 2013 was Ship of Theseus, a film that delved into terrain barely explored before. Yes, people can argue that 5 years ago an SOT wouldn’t have made it to the theatres – and though it maybe true, it overlooks the fact that it needed patronage by a hugely popular actor’s arty filmmaker wife to identify the gem in it.
The Hindi film industry industry, for all its new brigade and knowledgeable people, is still pretty much the same sad place. People still keep making the same films, which makes a few different ones look like masterpieces. We don’t make movies on coming-of-age, corporate affairs, psychological thrillers, forbidden love / alternate sexuality and so many other genres. A small politically turbulent country like Iran keeps making better films on yearly basis, and we just make buckets of ridiculous flicks which earn fortunes. Pardon the references of foreign films, but America made Good Will Hunting in 1997, the same year a Happy Together came out of Hong Kong, coincidentally the very same year Iran gave us Children of Heaven. Forget 1997, we still haven’t gone anywhere close to any of these films. In 2013, there were around 20 films cumulatively made in France – Blue is the Warmest Colour and The Past being among them. French films or for that matter, movies made by any country may not all be unequivocally great, but the basic parameter with which we keep making films is odd. It’s not about how much appreciation we got; it’s about how many crores we made. Truly, we have proved cinema to be a derivative of the peepshow – deprived of the savoir faire to be called art.
Why international cinema – let’s look at Hindi movies made 40 year ago. In 1973, we made Abhimaan & Avishkar – two brilliantly real films on marital relations (I don’t think we have reached any closer than these two), Bobby – possibly the first Hindi teenage love story, Daag – the only (Indian) film that has ended on three people deciding to stay together, Dhund – a brilliant murder mystery, Garam Hawa – possibly the best Hindi film on partition, Namak Haram – a great movie on friendship and Zanjeer – the movie that kick-started the angry young man phenomenon, among others. And if you look at these films, two of them had Amitabh Bachchan as solo lead, two had Rajesh Khanna as the only hero and the fifth had both of them together. And compare the same with films starring the biggest stars of today viz Chennai Express (SRK), Dhoom 3 (Aamir Khan), Krrish 3 (Hrithik Roshan), Besharam (Ranbir Kapoor), Boss (Akshay Kumar) — need I say more.
Yet, we keep making ourselves happy, masturbating our own ego, by saying that we are on the verge of a golden age — that there will possibly be a time when we stop discussing box office figures and determine how much the movie has pushed the envelope or entered a virgin turf. But, that I believe, will never happen. We may have more skilled technicians, more adept filmmakers but the attitude isn’t going to change. People will still cherish their 26th Jan watching Jai Ho, the multiplex poster boys like Abhay Deols won’t produce another Manorama 6 feet Under but make One by Two and Sajid Khans will claim that they know the audience well and hence they direct Himmatwala. Just imagine the insult.
Oh, and to top that, we have censor board chiefs from insurance industry or railways, who come with the agenda of cleansing films. In a country which makes the maximum number of movies every year, one of the principal governing bodies comprises not filmmakers but bureaucrats. Pretty much the same reason that we have only 9 Gold Medals in Olympics since 1900, out of which 8 are from Hockey – the sport that we destroyed by not upgrading to international standards in time.
It’s not a time to celebrate but a time to be angry, pissed, furious, exasperated with the films we see on 50 of the Fridays across the year. Just claiming that we make bad films isn’t going to solve the purpose either — sadly, I know so many people who keep criticising all the mediocre films but are still found munching popcorn in the theatres whenever a big-ticket movie is on screen. It’s time to prove our criticism in a different way – by staying away from the theatres when the nonsensical films carpet bomb the screens. Unless the pockets are pinched, no filmmaker / producer is ever going to bother about making shitty films just for the sake of money. It’s time to abstain from a self-indulgent romanticisation and realise that we are very far from golden age. If we ever have to be reach anywhere close to golden age, we have to stop from making the same shit but make something which will lead to further works of flattery later. For that, we have to blame ourselves and have a better yardstick for our films, check if we strive to produce higher quality films, push the envelope or say something we haven’t spoken about before.