Category Archives: Bollywood

Tuesday Blog | The Binary of it All

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Recently while watching a short film on YouTube, I came across a comment about the video which puts many things in perspective for me. “So cute! I thought its gonna end up being a psycho short film,” was a comment some anonymous viewer had made, and it made me reflect on the growing binary nature of our society. It made the stark reality apparent leading me to ponder upon the reasons for this development. Culturally speaking, though I am no anthropologist, I can see many factors pointing to this phenomenon and the all-pervasive nature of these factors only points to how deeply this has begun to take hold of us as individuals.

The seedling of this binary is placed in the clear-cut definitions as demonstrated by Indian stories, mythologies and heroes. There never has been the space for a grey character to assume full shape. Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana in Ramayana do not at any point take center stage. Their ideology belongs to the fringes with their personalities exalted only as a devotee of the God. This representation was further reinforced by the Indian movies of the time placing their firm belief in Hindu mythology and this polarity of choices to define the characters.

qissa-movieFirst, there is the historical perspective of partition. It is a wound we have never bothered to treat. It has festered and formed the menace we are seeing today in our country in terms of the various religious and regional hyperboles. The division of a country bound by a culture which dissected these very lines in times of slavery led to its unraveling during times of difficulty of the most inhumane kind. With the violence that followed in its wake, that generation grew up making their choices in clear cut and definitive terms. This split reinforced the idea of good and evil in their pure form leaving very little space for the grey. These were people driven by a very simple understanding of gaining back what they had lost as property, dignity and status, and armed with that they went forth to conquer the frontiers of this new world unfolding in front of them.

Second, the subsequent generation of this country, with its ideas placed in the newly-developing nation and its maturing structures, began displacing their father’s earlier dreams of survival and establishment with dreams of taking deeper roots in the society, providing security to its next generation and chasing power (sub-consciously, I think this was a direct reflection of the people’s perception that those in power are rarely hurt in turbulent times) in corridors of bureaucracy. With this thought at the centre of their activity, we saw that generation of Indians vying for spots in government, administration and politics. Those were the times when none of these were considered dirty. This sense of not wanting to be dislodged became the centre of all industries as well. The senior most authorities are not looking for dissent or challenges from the society. They feel threatened and turn vicious. The evolution of our culture guardians could be seen in this. Once their position as the sole compass of the society was challenged their rhetoric became more confrontational, poisonous and vociferous. Once again this is reflected in the cinema of the time. The emergence of the “Angry Young Man” meltin
g into a common man fighting against a system so rotten that its veins also pump poison is not a coincidence. Once again it was a question of a amitabh-bachchan-in-deewarlarger evil growing with its roots still absorbing the hurt, pain and anger from the past wounds and the struggles of a single man in this storm. The good v/s evil equation continued. The parallel cinema movement tried to present the middle ground but it could not sustain itself in the face of major lack of funding for cinema as an industry during the eighties and nineties.

Newer dreams came to reflect Indian reality with the Generation X questioning the sensibilities of their predecessors. The middle ground was growing. However, the inability to deal with our past always drives us in directions which are not of our choosing. The fact that we never addressed partition as a wound came to impact us in many parts of this country. The hero was rebelling against the system, still but the systems were becoming internal. He was fighting now the family, the friends, and the lovers and in that sense these smaller units came to represent the society in general. The struggle remained between good and evil however in social interactions these lines could not contain themselves. It was OK to let go of young boys teasing girls as frivolous and childish. After all there were bigger things to worry about. Patronage from these smaller units has stoked the fire for grey characteristics to emerge. In these interactions, our society continued to struggle with the larger image of good v/s evil while not clearly understanding the definitions of what it meant in real life. Ideological positions became the centre of all our discussions. We were seen busy discussing politics, religions, community life, morality, philosophies in cafes, streets, paan shops and public transport. We had an opinion on everything in terms of what is right and what is wrong. Our real lives, on the other hand, were fraught will contradictions. We professed that politicians should be clean, while as bureaucrats we pocketed money, we spoke about how Babus do not let any file pass through unless something exchanges hands under the table while we gave small bills to policemen for not giving us chalans for breaking the signal.

Our on screen heroes came to reflect this subtle change in the attitude of the protagonist towards good and bad. His definitions were fluid till a time of extreme crisis presented itself. He would be frivolous in classrooms, cheap and masochistic towards his women, however, faithful to a fault in his friendships. This bond came to represent the new hope that Indians were extending towards each other for finding the trust they had lost at the time of partition. Barriers were broken and friendships forged across caste, creed, political beliefs and religion. However, the Indian collective was shaken badly by the events of 90s. While the economy was opening up, throwing up choices for consumers the country was closing its doors towards the bonhomie it was pushing itself to create. Newer rifts were seen emerging, and newer areas of dominance for smaller groups became the norm. The hero was turning his anger towards these cliques forming on the edge of the society and threatening to engulf the peace of the neighbourhood. This neighbourhood hero came to fight smaller injustices hurled at him. His was no longer a fight with the family, as he was the antagonist of the goons, the fighter for justice at that level.

new_facebook_reactionsThe newer generation is disconnected from politics, religion, traditions, and rooted only in consumerism. This is not a critique of the society we have created but a mirror to reflect upon. In the wake of economic choices being created we have turned into binary creatures. This is good to eat that is bad to watch, this must be discussed that cannot be named and so on. The internet revolution with Facebook offering choices of reactions that have come to represent the range of human emotions and so many platforms that make up for the variety in our life has only turned our imaginations to futility. We refuse to create new ideas impacting a large chunk of our population, we fail to acknowledge the power that lies within the bounds of our urban imaginations and we ignore the population that works silently in turning the wheels of this country.

This binary has come to represent the news we consume today and also the opinions we form. That there are more than two sides to an argument, something that has been part of our shashtratha tradition and the culture of debate we have in this country, is something we fail to see today. A Bihari has come to represent certain slang in many cities no matter how many honest taxi drivers we meet coming from that region. A Punjabi has come to represent a loud, boisterous, masochistic, ruffian no matter how many mild mannered gentlemen we meet during our travels across the country. We have examples aplenty in the films we make, in the stories we tell and in the art we create pointing to the ill of the society if only we wake up to take notice. The stereotypes in movies point to how we view people, cultures, regions, religions and almost everything else in binaries. It is this restriction we have placed upon ourselves based in our evolving culture that forces us to break out in places where there are no fears of reprimands. On such occasions we go to the extremes and become the worst of us.

In these cultural misappropriations and the binaries they throw up we have lost the space for the middle ground. If you are not seen taking a stand you have no backbone and are only worried about analysis and if you do take a stance which is counter majority you end up being sidelined no matter how pointed your intentions are to encourage debate on the topic. That someone can be a Hindu believing in the divinity of Ram and Sita and be equally enamoured by the idea of multiple narratives of Ramayana (more than 300) is a contradiction most people find difficult to reconcile. That someone can be a loving caring daughter and still not want to visit her parents more than once a year is not understood by people.

yin-and-yangWe have to check our existence and define why binaries have become so necessary. If we are brought up like this and I am certain that forms part of the problem we become rigid structures unable to explore new ground and forced to repeat our cycles of existence over and over again. We are not given a chance to commit our own mistakes and are told in clear terms by our parents about what we must choose and what me must learn to keep aside. We are left tottering in these circumstances and never end up growing up really even though we settle down in quicker numbers compared to may be rabbits. We continue the binary approach and end up spouting, “I get all my entertainment from news channels (as in actually since they also end up giving recaps of saas bahu serials)”, “I am not interested in politics, since it is a dirty world (and so dirtier and dirtier people keep getting attracted to that world and clean, efficient people keep running away from it)”, or “So cute! I thought its gonna end up being a psycho short film (since that would end up making me face my realities).”

– Abhinav

Friday Fun Fact | The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau)

The Jungle Book 2016

The Jungle Book released in India a week ahead of its US debut, to pay tribute to the Indian environment of the novel on which the film is based.

The first time King Louie appears on the screen, he is sitting in a chair, his face obscured by shadows and talking in a sinister, slightly muffled voice about offering Mowgli protection before finally revealing his face. This is an obvious homage to the classic film Apocalypse Now (1979) in which Marlon Brando‘s character, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, first appears on screen similarly composed. Also, the scene where Louie first shows his hand to Mowgli is a homage to the Peter Jackson version of King Kong (2005) where Kong does the same thing upon meeting Ann Darrow.

Unlike the 1967 film, also by Disney, King Louie is an actual villain in this version, where he is more antagonistic and sinister, and though he is a bit more charming and convincing, he can be quite impatient and aggressive. Though many see him as a villain in The Jungle Book (1967), he is actually more of an anti-hero in it, and has been seen in his other appearances in film and television to be on the same side as Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo.

In the 1967 movie, King Louie was an orangutan. In this film, he’s a gigantopithecus, an ancestor of the orangutan whose range is believed to have also lived in parts of India. This change in species was made to make the film more fantastic, seeing as it would be a good way to represent him as king of the monkeys, and since orangutans are not native to India.

Right before he meets King Louie, Mowgli finds a cowbell in the monkey palace and proceeds to pick it up and shake it, causing Louie to appear. King Louie is played by Christopher Walken, who once famously stated on a sketch on Saturday Night Live in 2000, “I have a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!” Amid the treasures in King Louie’s temple, one of them happens to be Genie’s lamp from Aladdin (1992).

Man’s ‘Red Flower’ (Laal Pushp in the Hindi version) has a bigger role in this film. In the older version, it is mentioned briefly by King Louie but in this version several animals mention it and it is implied all animals apart from Louie fear it. This possibly explains why Louie wanted to know how to make fire so he can use it to his own advantage so that all animals including Shere Khan fear him.

 

Tuesday Blog | Dark is the City: Cities in Cinema

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A scene from F.W. Murnau’s silent classic, ‘Sunrise’ (1927). Photo: Special Arrangement by The Hindu

“A lot of modern anxieties and pathological conditions are rooted in the experience of the city. Fears like agoraphobia and claustrophobia, the fear of heights or acrophobia are all essentially associated with modern urban space and architectural forms — small apartments, elevators, stairwells, high-rises — and perhaps even occur as a result of such spatial constraints and demands. A number of films have explored these ideas in a variety of ways.” – Sucheta Chakraborty for The Hindu

Sucheta astutely observes and deconstructs the ways in which spaces are used to set the mood and tone in the movies – how they are given a character that will interact with the actors and propel the story forward. She links that to directors and movies which pioneered  these ideas comes up with a wonderful article.

To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday Blog | Anurag Kashyap’s Exploration Of Urban Lives & Its Decadence!

Anurag Kashyap

PC: Jamuura.com

 

Kashyap has a special relationship with Mumbai and especially its underbelly. Some might say he is Mumbai’s Orpheus who constantly makes a journey to those hellholes and back so that he could tell us their stories. Be it UglyThe Girl in the Yellow BootsBombay Velvet and now Raman Raghav 2.0, the city has always been Kashyap’s muse. And it is not surprising. For it was under the tutelage of his mentor Ram Gopal Varma, Kashyap wrote that famous Bombay gangster movie of all time, Satya.” – Sayantan Mondal for Jamuura.com

Anurag Kashyap is among the most revered directors in the country today with cinegoers thronging the theatres every time one of his films release. And although he began in the indie/underground space (his first film Paanch remains unreleased but very widely viewed, thanks to torrents), he has very meticulously built himself into a brand that grants his movies very successful openings at the multiplexes. As a youth icon, he echoes their views – whether radical or pragmatist and progressive – and his anti-establishment statements via his movies have won him fans. He has been open with his stories of struggle while trying to find a foothold in the industry and his personal life, making him a rare director that people love to hear talk in front of an audience, as well as from behind the camera. His recent films may not exactly have set the box office to fire, but he remains a solid inspiration for aspiring filmmakers.

Read more about Kashyap’s commentary on urban life and decadence; strong statements that he makes through his movies.

Tuesday Blog | An interview with Gulzar

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Gulzar. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

“Love has changed, so stories also will change. Tell me, if you fall in love, will you send your special someone kitaab mein purza daal ke (notes hidden inside books)? Now, the grammar of relationships has changed. Now it’s all about a boy saying, “Hi Mom. This is so and so..we are friends..and this weekend we are going to Darjeeling.” Conversations and connections are becoming easy now. Pehle the boy would stutter and stammer in front of his mom. He would be like, “Maa.. Maa.. yeh yeh.. he wouldn’t be even able to take the girl’s name..and just say, yeh mere college mein..” And it was up to the mom to fill in the gaps. Time, people and language have changed, so scenes also have to change. In today’s films, mothers speak in English and drive cars. This is good progress. If the woman has changed, then stories will also change.” – the inimitable Gulzar

Read this brilliant interview of Gulzar’s by Harneet Singh.

*This extract has been reproduced from Mint, published on May 10, 2016.

Tuesday Blog | Aligarh: a review

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The frame opens and stays where it is in possibly one of the longest opening shots in Hindi cinema in recent times. Watching from where you are, you become a voyeur, peeking into the windows of a house in a colony barely lit by street lamps in the fog that is characteristic of north Indian winters. For a long time nothing happens on screen, but your mind is already abuzz and sensing what is to come. And then the movie begins.

Aligarh, directed by Hansal Mehta is  the true story of Prof. S. R. Siras (Manoj Bajpai), who was the Head of Department at the Department of Modern Indian Languages in Aligarh Muslim University. Not one to shy away from telling the truth, Mehta has not changed much about this man and his identity. Which is why the film has unofficially been banned in Aligarh, which is so telling of the times we live in – commit atrocities on those who do not conform, and disguise your inability to adapt as defense. When it is you who attacks someone not from your tribe because you cannot empathise, the excuse then is generally, “but his immoral ways are ruining our culture.” Suddenly, you gain the higher moral ground and become the victim as well – such a delicious combination for those seeking sympathy. This line of thought is exactly what Mehta is challenging: Who is the oppressor and  who is the oppressed?

aligarh2Siras is an outsider, no matter how you look at him. He is a Marathi man in a Hindi and Urdu-speaking city. He lives alone, surrounded by families in the quarters identical to his own. He plays Madan Mohan’s compositions and sings along with the nightingale-like Lata Mangeshkar in his own soulful, but broken and tuneless notes. He probably gets himself drunk every night so that he can sleep. He occasionally gets a consenting rickshaw wala home to quell his loneliness. But don’t call him ‘gay’, for he cannot understand how three letters can convey the vast range of emotions, urges, and baggage (in a society like ours) that make him the man he is. That word reduces his identity to make it uni-dimensional, and he dislikes that.

aligarh3Aligarh is also the story of the young reporter Deepu Sebastian (Rajkumar Rao), who befriends this man he set out to write stories about in his newspaper. He understands Siras, his loneliness and his pain. He finds Siras’ quirks endearing: the peg he needs to have every evening after he comes back home, the autograph he needs to sign with his own pen, his poems in Marathi that he translates into English while his case is being heard in the court (he doesn’t care to be an activist and doesn’t understand legalese), the way a blush creeps up his face when he is told he is good looking, his mild manner even when he is affronted, and many more such small things that make the man someone you’d love to know.

Their personal stories also move parallel to each others’. Both try to ward of intrusions into their privacy, and both are outsiders (Deepu is a Malayali living in Delhi). However, while Siras is the quiet timid man satisfied to be able to stand against the tide, Deepu is full of energy, fighting his daily battles with gusto. But while in a flashback, we see Siras gently kissing the face of his partner in a closed bedroom; we are told they has been doing this for eight months now. We also see Deepu kissing his coworker passionately on the roof of their workplace after office hours. As the movie progresses, you begin to take stock of whatever Deepu has said and done, and you wonder if he is in love with Siras. Is his  fling with his female coworker something he becomes part of to avoid being in the kind of situation his friend Siras is in?

aligarh4The backdrop against which the interactions of these two men is set is the painful realisation that despite the raging debate on the criminalisation of homosexuality in India, there is an utter lack of sensitivity. The judiciary can declare homosexuality legal, but the general public will continue to look at gay men and women with absolute disdain and refuse to accommodate them in whatever small manner possible. Even the champion of gay rights, the giant of a lawyer Anand Grover (Ashish Vidyarthi) gets offended when Siras thinks of him as gay too. He is possibly in this for the name, fame and a certain standing among his peers. The other lawyer (Balaji Gauri) is too steeped in age-old prejudices to be able to even want any kind of justice for Siras. She even wonders how a 64 year-old has the “strength” to have sex. She is most likely from that section of society that look at sex as something that a man and a woman have with each other after they are married. There is no more sex in such marriages after the desired number of children. Sex for such people is strictly procreational.

Here, the case around Siras’ dismissal from the University takes the shape of a man engaging in consensual sex with another adult of the same gender versus the breach of his privacy, when TV reporters break into his house, beat him up and film him in a compromising manner. They are followed by Siras’ colleagues who had set this up to settle old scores with the man who had worked with them for over 20 years, and grown to become an HoD despite being a Maharashtrian. There are so many injustices against this man who has only kept his head down and done his work well, only because he is an “outsider” in every respect.

I feel Mehta must have interviewed everyone on the crew various questions pertaining to gay rights and sensitivity and only then upon being satisfied with their answers, taken them on the film. Writer and Editor Apurva Asrani and Cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul have collaborated with the director and the actors to create a masterpiece that will possibly go down in the history of Indian cinema as he most sensitive and nuanced portrayal of gay people in India. While those in the metros walk the Pride, there has barely been any small city/town/rural representation of homosexuality in any media. Aligarh is named so because it is about the city more than it is about Siras. Aligarh is the lead character in this film. Aligarh, the city is so claustrophobic for Siras. In contrast, his small apartment makes him feel freer. He can be himself when he is there. When that shred of liberty is also snatched from him, he becomes lonelier than ever, trying to find a space to call his own. Aligarh and its people drive Siras towards his eventual end. Aligarh still continues to be in character and refuses to have anything to do with this beauty of a film. And Aligarh is just one of many places in our country that looks at men like Siras with absolute contempt.

If Siras humming along to Aap ki nazron ne samjha pyar ke kaabil mujhe doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

 

 

A Shot of Short | Cafe Regular, Cairo (Ritesh Batra)

Ritesh Batra’s short film from 2011 is all about a conversation at a cafe in Cairo. A woman (Mai) has just returned from a trip and is waiting to meet her boyfriend (Alaa), whom she has been seeing for two years. The couple is obviously close, but struggling with local cultural traditions – Mai wants them to consummate their relationship even before they are married and Alaa is worried about the repercussions for her and is difficult. It is very refreshing to see a woman ask for something taboo here while the man is the more passive one.

Batra stages the entire 11-minute film in an outside cafe. There’s not much action, except a waiter stopping by to take an order and passersby on the street. The focus is simply on Alaa and Mai and their conversation. Because so little happens on the screen, there’s a greater emphasis on Batra’s words, which are beautifully written. The conversation feels organic and true, as if this were a real couple with real problems.

The film has won several awards across festivals, including the Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) for Best Film at International Short Film Festival Oberhausen , Jury Special Mention at Tribeca Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival, and the Best Short Film  – German Star of India

The Cult of C-Grade Movies | Sohini Chattopadhyay (The Open Magazine)

There is a special kind of love that we Indian who grew up in the 80s and the 90s have to C-grade flicks. Call it the nostalgia of having a large group of children watching a pulp horror film in a dark room, clutching each other, during their summer vacations, or the plain fact that most of us enjoy the unintentional hamming in these movies. Some of us watch it only because it is the best kind of comedy one gets to see on screen — think Gunda, Loha, Veerana, or Band Darwaza — and you will realise that you have probably never laughed harder.

This story by Sohini Chattopadhyay was published in The Open Magazine in January 2012.


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Among many other affronts, Teen Eekay—titled rather modestly by C-movie standards—has what is a preposterously comic scene. Writer-director-actor Joginder is looking for a spot in the bushes to defecate. Once finished with the business, he raises his lota and breaks into a frenzy of ill-choreographed bhangra. In another sequence from the Ramsay brothers’ Veerana, Satish Shah plays what seems to be an alter ego to the Ramsays: a wannabe director who’s writing a horror script on a spooky night. When the innkeeper gets him milk, he picks up a skull and instructs her to pour it right in: “Iss khopdi mein daal doh. Jab main is khopdi mein dhoodh peeta hoon, toh iss khopdi (pointing to his head) se naye naye idea mendak ki tarah uchhal ke baahar aate hain.” The YouTube clip of this scene has received 38,933 hits so far, and, for all you know, already has a cult following of those ready to try drinking milk out of a skull to get ideas frog-leaping out of their own.

What’s with these films? Who watches all this? And what explains their internet popularity? C-grade movies were supposed to be what manual labourers watched in India’s small towns to escape their wretched lives, but there is evidence that they’ve sneaked their way onto the viewing screens of a new generation of urban viewers in possession of an education; and in many cases, more than just an education, actual knowledge of the history of world cinema. The tackiness of such films appeals to them because they view them in the context of a sense of sincerity, raw craftsmanship and passion that most C-movies represent.

Aditi Sen, professor of history at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, was first introduced to C-movies as a teenager. Away from India, she is far closer to these films now than ever. Her father was a black-and-white movies buff and he passed on the interest to Sen, who gradually broadened her choice over the years. “I was never choosy about the films I watched. But, of late, I have been addicted to old low-budget films. Horror has a special place in my heart because I grew up on the Ramsays and the 80s’ Hammer Studio horrors.” During a trip to India earlier this year, she sought an appointment with Tulsi Ramsay and conducted an interview with him. ‘Finally, a word about my feelings,’ she blogged at the end of it, ‘Bliss is an understatement. All these years of dedication was well worth it.’

The Ramsays, originally seven brothers, emerged in the 70s and 80s as India’s leading exponents of horror. Their avowed fans, among whom filmmaker Sajid Khan counts himself, insist they must not be clubbed with C-grade filmmakers. “The Ramsays were mainstream and had built a reputation as good filmmakers in the genre they were operating in,” says Khan, “My strong belief is that they did not want to make a quick buck, unlike someone like Mohan Bhakri, who was called ‘the poor man’s Ramsay’.” And it takes a filmmaker to appreciate their craft. “The Ramsays are a family of technicians—they write, produce, direct, edit and photograph their films. When a film is born of so much passion, how can it be C-grade?” asks Khan, who is often credited with exposing India’s TV watchers—fed on saas-bahu soaps—to C-movie style gimmickry through his shows, Kehne Mein Kya Harz Hai and Ikke Pe Ikka. His other achievement, by self-admission, is that he’s one of the very few who own the entire Ramsay collection, and has seen these films repeatedly over the years. “In small ways, whether people catch on or not, I have tried to pay homage to some of the good things of C-movies. In Housefull, there’s a fight between Akshay Kumar and a monkey. I told the sound recordist to look up movies of the 70s and 80s. When he couldn’t find the appropriate sound, I volunteered to dub it in my own voice. Dishoom-dishoom was what I grew up on. Even in my shows, I tried to bring out my genuine love for such films,” says Khan, “it’s something I sincerely believed in.”

Sajid Khan isn’t alone. Farhan and Zoya Akhtar, Farah Khan, Shimit Amin and Anurag Kashyap all call themselves C-movie buffs.

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You know a C-movie when you see one. Relentless hamming, cringe-worthy direction, cheap thrills, continuity glitches, assistant directors ambling in and out of the frame on occasion are some of their obvious markers, though they span genres ranging from sex and erotica to violence and horror (often unwittingly). Unlike Western B-movies, science fiction tends to get a miss. “Indian C-movie audiences can’t relate to sci-fi,” says Sen, “Ghosts, demons and ghouls are very much within our corpus of imagination because of religion and mythology. Even in mainstream cinema, our sci-fi plots are still rather basic and immature.”

These films are mostly shot on budgets—some as low as Rs 5 lakh—that make ‘shoestring’ sound like extravagance, and make use of stock situations, non-actors and inept writers. What this guarantees is flaws that the cognoscenti enjoy, with much entertainment to be derived from films such as Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, Gunda, Daku Ramkali, Insaan Bana Shaitan and Shaitani Badla whose titles are a tickle in themselves.

That many of these filmmakers take themselves seriously only adds to their charm. Kiran Kotrial, screenplay and dialogue writer of the Salman Khan-starrer Bodyguard, says it’s the technical errors and inadvertently hilarious scripts that make them so engaging. “There was a film I was watching in which three guys walk into a garden and remind each other, ‘Yahan pe bhoot ka saaya hai [there’s a ghost’s shadow here].’ Suddenly, they start shivering from side to side while not a leaf moves in the background. Because they don’t have the budget for a blower, they express themselves through gestures,” says Kotrial.

For someone like Vivek Mandrekar, a senior visualiser, their real charm lies in the mind-bending dialogue. “Some of the lines are so baffling that you really don’t know what to make of them. Take this one from Paanch Faulad. Sonika Gill is getting raped by Joginder and Raza Murad. Unfazed, she dares them, ‘Mujhe phool mat samajhna. Main un paanch fauladon ki behen hoon jinse saari duniya kaapti hai.’ And Joginder replies, ‘Achcha, toh tu paanch fauladon ki behen hai, toh zaroor tu kachcha loha hogi jiski main banduk banaa ke hamesha khelta rahoonga.’” In someone’s feverish idea of repartee, a rape victim who declares herself steely (and no shrinking violet) can gruffly be told that she’s all the better then as hot metal for a play-gun to be forged out of.

Sajid Khan’s favourite is from the Ramsays’ Hotel: “Most of their films had a comic subplot with Rajendra Nath. He says something so profound in Hotel that it will take me a lifetime to figure: ‘Yeh Horlicks mujhe Howrah bridge ki yaad dilaata hai.’ It doesn’t make any sense.”

While Khan tries to wrap his head round why Horlicks should remind anyone of Howrah Bridge, C-flicks are busy gathering more and more fans not just for their absurdity of plot, odd locations and weird dialogue, but also as an austere form of cinema in its own right. Filmmakers, after all, are not their only fans. Management and medical students swear by C-movies too, falling back on them as stress busters. So too professionals. When Dr Amit Gaikar, a practising physician in Central Mumbai, shuts his clinic, the first thing he does is reach out for the newest VCD. “After a hard day at work, why should I watch a movie that gives me a preachy message? I put on the cheesiest of the lot and forget all my worries,” says Gaikar, who gets his fix from the neighbourhood DVD parlour. Or a fellow C-movie aficionado.

There are many to be found in big cities like Mumbai. For some of them, it’s something of an opium fix. C-flicks have its believers and non-believers, the devout and the rejectionists, and there exists no middle ground. One such devotee is Aseem Chandaver, a creative writer who works with Carving Dreams Entertainment. Inspired by the kind of movies he is addicted to, his description on Twitter reads like a C-grade title: Gina Kholkar @BabaJogeshwari — Mahim ka Maha Pralay, Vashikaran Yantra Free. A long-standing Bollywood buff, a Mithun Chakraborty worshipper to be precise (as affirmed by a Facebook picture), he has an incredible collection of strange-sounding titles and posters that he never hesitates to lend friends. Hyper-active on social media networks, he uploads clips of his favourite scenes, or sometimes entire movies, on YouTube as a ‘BabaJogeshwari Presentation’.

Chandaver traces his C-fixation to a CD of Khooni Panja he once picked up while travelling to Daman. What began as a simple exercise in comic relief (“A good laugh was certainly the origin”) has turned into an all-out passion supported by a library of some 400 titles (prime source:induna.com), through which he tries to study the mind of filmmakers. They strike him as auteurs, the sort who live their deepest fantasies via their work. As Chandaver began paying more attention to such cinema, a macabre thought suggested itself—that filmmakers who focus on necrophilia, paraphilia or the incubus myth could well be sexually deranged in their own private lives. “In one of Kanti Shah’s films, the duplicate of Johnny Lever who works at a morgue stitches the lower half of a man’s body to a woman’s upper half. So, the bhootni (ghost), once thirsty for man’s blood, is now lesbian. What kind of loonie mind can think of such a situation?”

Filmmakers like the Ramsays, Kanti Shah, Mohan Bhakri, NA Ansari, Harinam Singh, Vinod Talwar, Gyanendra Choudhary and SR Pratap are seen as torchbearers of C-movies. And if well-known stars like Dharmendra and Mithun Chakraborty have fanatical followings in India’s smaller towns, at least some of it is because of their roles in C-movies. In fact, Mithun’s record partnership with TLV Prasad in the 90s not only made the actor the darling of such filmgoers, it also enriched him enormously.

Sajid Khan, who is currently directing Mithun in Housefull 2, has had the privilege of discussing his TLV Prasad days with him at length. “Mithunda was following the age-old casino formula—bet small, lose small. At that time, he didn’t want to take up movies that were risky. He felt it wise to stick to formula and it worked for him.”

Such cinema is relatively risk-free not just because of the small sums spent, but also the more than receptive market in what the trade calls B and C centres. “Joginder—God bless his soul, he’s with us no more—was a successful filmmaker. He made a film called Ranga Khush, which ran for 50 weeks,” says Khan, by way of example. “Certain segments of the audience,” he adds, “connect with these films more than with mainstream Bollywood biggies.” Agrees Kotrial: “Kanti Shah’s Munnibai(starring Dharmendra) released around the same time as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan and ended up as a big hit. There’s a loyal audience for them.”

All they lack is scholarly appreciation, unlike in the West, where it takes a brave critic to ignore B flicks. With its origins in the early 40s’ studio system, such cinema has thrown up stars like Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson and John Wayne, who all began with low-budget quickies. What’s more, B-moviemakers such as Ed Wood Jr and Roger Corman—who the French consider an auteur because of his distinctive style—have been hoisted as legendary Hollywood figures, with a glowing roll-call of fans that includes Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Why, even today’s pulp fiction genre owes much of its existence to B-movies, while the first recognised noir film, Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) was in spirit and budget a valid B-picture.

Indian C-movies bear all the hallmarks of indie cinema, but seem destined to remain in the shadows. Khan believes most of us will find at least one aspect of the C-movie appealing, but the fear of peer mockery could keep us from talking about it. “Everybody watches porn but denies it. Similarly, people will never accept the fact that they find such films entertaining. They want to treat it as their guilty pleasure. Abroad, Ed Wood’s films feature amongst the worst ever made. That’s quite an achievement. In India, we don’t celebrate the bad, the ugly, so to speak,” says Khan, who has openly claimed that Manoj Kumar’s unintentionally funny Clerk is his favourite pastime. “Clerk is by no means a C-movie. In fact, it’s A-grade fun. It’s about time it attains cult status. There’s a scene in it where Shashi Kapoor enters an auditorium reed-thin but exits as a very fat man. You fall down laughing.”

Chandaver has another take: “Part of the problem is that we don’t have cerebral filmmakers who make lowbrow films on purpose. That’s why scholars don’t show any interest in Indian C-makers. On the other hand, someone like Corman is informed on the overall history of cinema and is allied with mainstream Hollywood.” In the West, he adds, Tarantino has a cinematic sensibility held in respect, and this is a filmmaker who reputedly spoke of rummaging through the history of B-movie bins to find ‘jewels’. “What our C-movies lack is that sophisticated sensibility,” he says.

Ask C-moviemakers, though, and their big complaint is the way their work is labelled. Kanti Shah, who famously never gives interviews but makes an exception for Open (after much effort, one might add), has a question: “What business do people have calling our films B or C grade?”

Kotrial, he of Bodyguard, agrees. “There shouldn’t be anything like ‘A’ or ‘Z’ movies,” he says, “These categories are made by the media.” But Kanti Shah wants more than just a dumping of labels, he wants a fair chance as a filmmaker. “Look at my films with honesty, because it’s the same honesty with which we make them,” he says, “Koi film chhoti ya badi nahin hoti, whether its budget is Rs 100 crore or Rs 1 lakh. When I make a film, all I am thinking about is making that film. I work from 7 am to 10 pm non-stop. I will make films as long as there are people to watch them.”

His Master’s Voice | Irrfan Khan

Irrfan_khan

Sahibzade Irrfan Ali Khan, aka Irrfan Khan (1967 – present)

Indian film and television actor

Recipient of the Padma Shri (2011), National Film Award for Best Actor | Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Filmfare Awards, Screen Actors Guild Award.

Films of Note: Salaam Bombay (1988), Ek Doctor ki Maut (1991), Kali Salwar (2002), Haasil (2003), Maqbool (2003), A Mighty Heart (2007), Life… In a Metro (2007), The Namesake (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Life of Pi (2012), The Lunchbox (2013), Qissa (2013), Haider (2014), Piku (2015), Jurassic World (2015),

TV: Bharat Ek Khoj (1988), Chanakya (1992), Chandrakanta (1994)

Why children need (good) cinema

stanley ka dabbaOne of the things we do is take film appreciation to students by collaborating with schools and colleges. Needless to say, there is a big resistance not just from teachers at school but also parents, who do not deem cinema an art form that needs teaching, or even very simply, viewing. It is this very mindset that we seek to transform by exposing children to films from around the world, making it a vehicle for the exploration of distant lands, communities and their cultures, people and the universality of their behaviour, but their very personal ticks and traits that make them different from one another. These observations of the text and the deciphering of the subtext is what we believe would make children sharp and perceptive, leading to tolerance and empathy becoming dominant aspects of their personalities.

Considering this is the day and age when every kind of everything is easily accessible, one cannot keep children away from mainstream entertainment. They go to the movies with their friends and family, they watch soap operas and the latest box office hits on the television, music videos are on air 24X7 promoting unhealthy body images and spouting lyrics that have long blurred the lines between art and vulgarity, and the king of them all – the internet. In a scenario where all these are constantly bombarding children with questionable images in their formative years, we believe it is time we learned to guide these inquisitive minds in a healthy direction, and let them focus on the creative and constructive, rather than the kitsch.

sunny leone baby dollMany schools have told us that they use films as teaching aids. Kudos to them. But what we intend to do, is take that one step further and engage them with the medium in a manner which leads them to opt, in their spare time, say, for the National Award-winning age-appropriate film over one that stars the biggest name in Bollywood but doesn’t go beyond gimmickry, cheap thrills, sleaze and glorified violence. While the latter also has a right to be made and find a space to run, it is disturbing how it gets more than its fair share of attention and money than projects that are made with a deep respect for the art form that has constantly been evolving and surprising us for a little over a 100 years now. So rather than just show them movie adaptations of literary classics, we would like to bring to children original stories that were written to be made into films, and have a socio-cultural,economic, and sometimes, a political context that gives these stories depth – just like any literary masterpiece.

It is always sad to hear how cinema is dismissed. Just because it is relatively new, and just because it has a “popular entertainment” tag attached to it, we tend to disregard it as nothing more than just that. We would rather have children read books to expand their knowledge of the world and gain maturity. Fair enough. But there are two problems we see with that understanding of the what and how of cinema. First, just like popular films that set new records at the box office every weekend, literature also has its share of popular authors who have written unsubstantial books but have received as much popularity and fame (money too). For every Humshakals, there is a Fifty Shades of Grey. Second, not everyone processes information and the written word in the same manner. Some people read and learn, some listen and learn, some do and learn and some watch and learn. None of these are an ability or a disability. They are just the way our minds function the best. So for those who learn best from watching or listening, cinema is great way to do that. Even from those who learn from doing, cinema often proves to be a wonderful simulation exercise.

While most public debate about children’s film viewing focuses on protection rather than entitlement, the debate leading to the British Film Institute (BFI)’s compilation of “50 films children should see by the age of 14” shows how passionately people care about children’s film heritage.  Participants at the debate included a number of children’s film organisations across Europe and individuals including BFI staff, filmmakers and teachers, as they were invited to submit nominations. We know that the films on the list aren’t just there because people think they would be good for children: they are films that people have shown to their own families or to pupils and they know how much children have enjoyed them.

Billy_elliotSome of these films also tell us how people treat art-loving children as relatively mature beings – willing to expose them to cinema set against the backdrop of the UK Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 (Billy Elliot), the Iranian political scenario (The White Balloon, Where is the Friend’s Home?), the Holocaust (Goodbye, Children) and ideas of film noir, corruption of religion (The Night of the Hunter), class divide (Kes) and sexuality (Show Me Love), . Why are we so afraid of using these examples to open up our children to the world around us? They are definitely not learning the right things about sexuality by watching skimpily-clad women gyrating to lyrics about booze, drugs and money. Or about religion from seeing movie characters throw discriminatory expletives at each other. Teenagers are extremely impressionable and often, very stubborn in the habits and perceptions they pick up. It should be our responsibility to guide them and their choices in what means of entertainment they seek that will form their opinion about important facets of life. The BFI list is a great place to start. India has also recently seen a sudden spurt in focus on children’s films – Killa, Fandry, Kaakkaa Muttai are are immensely brilliant. It is time we counselled our children in movie matters more responsibly.