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.
“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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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)
One 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.
Many 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.
Some 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.