Editorial: Balancing The Act

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The millennium brought with it a desire by the Hindi filmmakers to modernize their films and challenge the ‘Bollywood’ genre. Directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Farhan Akhtar and many more introduced the audiences to a new brand of cinema unlike anything Hindi cinema had witnessed. They challenged the genre that had been called ‘Bollywood’ up til then. Whilst the likes of Kashyap and Basu braved some of the most controversial topics in society today, Akhtar and Bhardwaj did otherwise ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

Their influence spread far and wide and even the pioneers of Indian cinema questioned their brand of cinema. With audience demands changing towards this new genre of Bollywood emerging, even legends like Aditya Chopra and Sooraj R. Barjatya decided to that it was time to change (of course the latter went back to his roots rather quickly due to immediate failure).

However, today Indian cinema has progressed to yet another stage when audience demands have once again changed and now filmmakers are finding that the demands of the audiences are without a doubt varying dramatically. The rise of multiplexes enables every filmmaker to make the kind of film he/she wants and it also enables every film to find its audience, be it small or big. However what actually triggers audiences to fall in love with a film so dramatically for it to be declared a blockbuster is a formula that definitely has been tweaked in the last three to five years. We’re at a stage where many are experimenting whilst some think they have the secret to success and others continue to not give a damn about it! The experimenting types would include the likes of Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra who are trying to cope with the change with their respectful production houses by introducing new directing talent. The ones that think they know it all would have to be Boney Kapoor and Arbaaz Khan who both surprised themselves with their Salman Khan record breaking blockbusters. And in the group that couldn’t care less you’ll find the eccentric makers such as the likes of Raju Hirani, Vishal Bhardwaj and Anurag Kashyap, who continue to sternly follow what they feel is right.

In analyzing what audiences today demand it cannot be denied that there remains a distinct group of people who require cinema to be more than just masala and entertainment. At the same time there has emerged a new crowd who have simply had it with intellectual cinema! Who demand a balance of entertainment and substance. The rise of such demands goes onto explain the power of films like Golmaal series, Dabangg, Wanted, 3 Idiots, Ghajini etc. at the box office.

At the beginning of the millennium the rise of intellectual and so-called “hatke‘ cinema was seen and it is then that audiences decided we want films to be more than just entertainment. Taking this demand ever so seriously we launched a brand of directors who gave them just that. However, come today and there seems to be an overhaul of such writers and directors. Each one trying to outdo the controversy the latter dealt with in his/her film. Each one trying to beat the other in the race of who deals with the political issues first onscreen be it terrorism in Mumbai, floods in Mumbai, terrorism in US, societal pressures in Delhi, racism in Australia, homosexuality, the film industry, the fashion industry or any other topic that will get the film in the headlines.

Of course in the crowd of these makers are some who genuinely have ‘larger than dollar/rupee value’ reason for making the film however are large number of them seem to be simply greedy of the headlines in the morning papers. Their hunger for attention, perhaps more from each other than anyone else, has left us with a hefty number of films that have nothing to do with entertainment and might as well be a fictional take of the evening news.

The industry is yet to acknowledge this change however two popular film makers who have gone onto deliver blockbusters at the box office bared their crosses on a popular chat show and said it how it is, and perhaps said what many audiences have been screaming for a while now. And that is, that the industry is called the ‘entertainment industry’ and not the ‘information and analysis industry’. There comes a point in time when someone can only take so much of so-called realism and preaching onscreen and that point is now!

Many question the success of Golmaal and the two masala Salman Khan entertainers, however the answer is quite simple. The outside world is as complicated if not more than what our realistic-film makers have depicted, after-all truth is stranger than fiction. So, in such a point in time in our lives do we really want to pay our hard earned money on a Friday night to be told that politicians are corrupt, racism exists and terrible things/people are lurking in our neighborhoods? The answer is, NO!

If history is a witness to anything, it would be that cinema was initially always intended to entertain. Hollywood stood stunned during the time of the Great Depression as families despite all their troubles took a day out from the week to visit the cinema. Cinema and films were used as escaping mechanism and a form of distraction.

Today the situation is much the same. Be it in Hindi or English. How else do you explain the success of Hollywood hero films and fantasy-world cinema in which rules of life don’t apply and good always triumphs over evil? The Oscar nominees and winners may deal with the intellectual and serious topics of life but no one needs to be told that the figures these films reel in are nothing compared to what an Iron Man or Avatar does.

Of course, the real challenge in delivering this kind of cinema that acts as an escaping mechanism is to balance ones act. Audiences would like to escape however churn out the same sort of story lines and consider nonsensical stories to be the key to success and a maker will very rudely be reminded that audiences are not insane. Even masala and pure comedy is an art, although some of our so-called intellectual makers would like to deny that fact.

No doubt it will be interesting to see how the industry and its occupants progress after the very unpredictable 2010 that brought out many sleeper hits, unpredictable blockbusters and as unpredictable flops. Will they be able to balance intellect and entertainment perfectly? For the sake of the audiences let’s hope they can!

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