The problem with cinema is its relative nature, what may be predominantly good for someone, maybe outrageously bad for others. Either way, do we take enough pride in Indian cinema, or is it a mere subject of jest or time-pass for us?
Sudhish Kamath, in his review of a recent release, Agent Vinod here, brings out an intriguing point about Indian movies that is anything but asinine, as touted by some. Lets go back. Indian cinema found its footing in the 1930s when Hollywood was already flourishing. Over the years, our cinema has teetered through its way to finally arrive at where it is now. Almost every other day, we are shamelessly pitted against our counterparts abroad and sneered upon for being incompetent in any parameter of comparison. Why cant we humbly accept that our cine-trajectory is strikingly distinctive from the West? India, as a country, was never independent before 1947 and never free after 1947. The socio-political-economic scenarios always jolted the growth of cinema as an industry. If that is not enough, we never had an efficiently working system in this industry, notwithstanding a callous lack of enough literature and opportunities for everyone. Films were made by a handful of people without much organization and were watched by most others like a broadcast from the outer world. We resided in our smugness to produce what we were producing, till we found our own niche. The niche, which I believe we do have today, but we still need to hone it and capitalize on it. I feel we may have gone wrong in an anachronistic rational judgement of our cinema when we start looking down upon it.
A small budget movie Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi came out this past weekend in August. A night before its release, I witnessed a bunch of duds already criticizing it on social platform without even seeing it. The same bunch of people were raving about another film, again without even seeing it. When did criticism become cynicism and not a feedback for improvement? Why do we have a set of people swanning over every mainstream release?
My aunt, Mrs Mahana really liked this year’s release Kahaani, but only when she was intrigued enough to get it on DVD (read pirated DVD). She would not pay for a ticket when it had released. Why do we complain about the quality of films if we are only interested in entering the theatre to feed the star system with a popular movie?
A friend of mine has seen Rowdy Rathore, Cocktail and Gangs of Wasseypur in the past two months, but has the audacity to complain that Indian cinema is predominantly crappy enough, since he also saw The Dark Knight Rises. He clearly didn’t see the better half of the Indian crop or the worse half of the Western. Why do we watch indian movies to assert how bad they are or what has been taken from where?
One of of my overseas friends' favorite movie is Vivah, because its prophetically cute. Another one's favorite is Thank You. There are many who still rave about DDLJ, DTPH, Mohabbatein etc. But they dont appreciate a comedy like Phas Gaya Re Obama because they are expecting it to be a Hera Pheri. Why do we still expect Indian movies to further the brand of that escapist cinema, where everything is allright, where you can laugh at how incompetent they are, where you have every ingredient that the cinema in our growing up years promised us? Why should we leave the intelligent and cool stuff for Hollywood to do it?
At the crux of this mental impedance lies a truth that is elusive to a lot of people. All film industries make good films and bad films, equally as much. Its your own fault if you have only seen the bad stuff or not seen the good stuff enough. You are allowed to an opinion based upon your perception but you are not allowed to call your opinion a fact.
Agreed, there are tons of independent films that still dont see the light of a theatrical release though they deserve to do so, but when did change start happening overnight? As Suparn Verma points out here, the film industry survives on these mainstream releases to make money to support other lesser known films, and this is not a happenstance. I would rather call it a case of synchronicity. Suparn argues that "It is commercial cinema which creates enough profit for a theater/multiplex/distributor/exhibitor and finally the producer to survive." Most cynics dont dare to step out of their own cliches and continue to run down things expectantly, coming from their pre-conceived notions about actors, directors and films. There is a strong influx of trends that adhere to fatuous trolling of something that you collectively dont like due to a thing in your head. Social media has aided thousands of people in this process to voice their thoughts, its not necessary that all of them make sense. As a simple example, our Twitter community never sang crooning praises for Vicky Donor like they did for a Paan Singh Tomar. Its not elitism, it shows up as an alternative version of campism that these flag bearers themselves chide at. More often than not, most cynics are not judging the movie on how well its made but on whether it follows their expectations derived from a previous ideology.
Whats worse than cynicism is ignorance, an ailment that engulfs majority of film buffs. Watching five Hollywood blockbusters and a mixed bag of Indian films in a year gives a housefull of people the audacity to pass the verdict that we have a long way to go. Dear sir, may we remind you we never declared ourselves to be in this race. Its only ignorance that leads to such prejudices. Ask them if they have paid for a ticket to go watch any indie flick that managed to find a few shows at their nearby multiplex? Sudhish Kamath points out in another very relevant article here, there is a major growing disconnect between the critics review and the audience and critics. Amongst the masses, most of the people watch the better movies on a DVD just because they don’t wanna pay for a ticket unless there is some must-watch element or their favorite star in it. If you didn’t market it well enough, its not gonna be sold. Less than 20% people read or watch movie reviews and even a smaller fraction actually find them credible. If they hear too many good things about the movie, they wait for the DVD most of the times. In such decreasingly intellectual times, the thresholds of entertainment have hit an all time low dispensing with a basic sense of belonging and respect for whats ours
On the other hand, these mainstream releases with big stars are the real flag bearers of our industry abroad. People know our industry abroad because of Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and their likes. The revenues have increased manifold for all films even in the overseas markets which allows for many other films to find a release there. Undoubtedly, some of these big films were also great films that have been emblazoned as cult classics on the face of Indian cinema but the problem there is much deeper. Most good films fall prey to obscurity in overseas markets, sometimes due to lack of proper awareness, sometimes due to the sheer preferences of the people there, engulfed in the hegemony of their ideas of what they expect in an Indian movie.
There are problems pulling Indian Cinema backwards everywhere, but the world cannot change with an epiphany. If you only enter a theatre for Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan, you cannot be sloaganeering a shortfall in Indian cinema. But one significant step in the right direction could be taking more pride in the films produced on this side of the world, supporting them for all the stupendous effort put into them, watching them religiously as an innocent experience and then deciding the reasons for liking them or hating them. There are a few people all around the world who follow this to the T, but we need to push those numbers. We are making a lot of good films here, some of which definitely need a broader perspective to watch. But we are also making a lot of bad films, which you can definitely troll. Just be fair and take pride!
Originally published at the online journal Long Live Cinema here