Columnist – Pritish Nandy;Let’s get back to making movies
Three things happened in three weeks. First, 2012, the disaster movie, became a huge hit. It had no big star cast. Its strength lay in its impressive FX and its ominous message: The end of the world is nigh. Second, another Hollywood movie, a vampire love story this time, New Moon which released last week against Bollywood’s current hot favourite Ranbir Kapoor’s Rocket Singh outperformed it on opening weekend. (Interestingly, Rocket Singh got rave reviews; New Moon was widely panned.) Third, after releasing five or six films every week, Bollywood has suddenly stepped back to allow James Cameron’s Avatar to get a solo release this week. Six films were there as usual, but they all backed off. No one wanted to take on a $400 million movie from the guy who made Titanic.
Does this mean Hollywood is suddenly a force to contend with in the box office? Not really. At last count, Hollywood films grossed 3% of our box office. More liberal statisticians give it 4% and this includes all their language versions. I doubt if they can better that without actually getting their hands dirty and making Indian films. So what does it actually auger?
To begin with, it means Hollywood is making a bigger play for India given the recessionary pressures at home and in other Western markets. China restricts their entry. So India is the only big market left to conquer if they want to get ahead. Luckily for them, India has a huge population that speaks and understands English. It also has the world’s largest movie going population. Till now, we have never really warmed up to Hollywood’s overtures and had stuck instead to watching our own films. That is now changing. We are opening up to Hollywood culture and trying to ape the way they make movies. In fact, some of our producers are even funding Hollywood movies. No wonder Hollywood thinks it’s time to have another shot at the one huge English language market they could never quite crack.
So now they are coming in from all sides, trying to fill in the gaps. FX movies, vampire movies, alien movies, monster movies, all the stuff we had stayed away from is now coming in. Aliens, avatars, werewolves, blood sucking lovers, Mayan prophecies of doomsday, scary paranormal phenomenon, colleges of magic, super heroes, larger than life villains, monsters. witches, huge robots, mutants, giant lizards, creatures from outer space are storming our theatres like never before. Many of these are, in effect, FMCG products brilliantly marketed by Hollywood’s hit squad that can sell a kulfi to an Eskimo and a iPod to the deaf. As they are designed to blitz all markets at the same time, they have no cultural roots, only an inbuilt desperation to be bought. They reach out to a restless, bored generation as eager to be colonized as our parents were to break free.
It’s exactly the way McDonalds, Coke, Vogue and Mickey Mouse plugged into all cultures by making the world one big mall. Globalisation has quickened the process. Anyone asking questions about Hollywood’s road roller tactics is instantly accused of being xenophobic. I am not but I do think it’s tragic to see our great film makers like Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak, Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee walk into oblivion. Today’s movie watching generation doesn’t even know they existed. This is partly out of our own disrespect for contemporary history. But also because mass culture is constantly redefining what’s cool. I respect this crying need for the cool but to not look beyond it means losing perspective on who we are, as a people, a nation, a culture. This does not only apply to movies. We are losing our many histories of music, art, poetry, tribal crafts. Anything that cannot be explained in easy, popular terms gets the heave-ho. Does anyone recall Allauddin Khan’s Maihar Band? Do we know that popular cinema once showcased our finest classical music? Yash Chopra was the last to use Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia to write his scores. Just as Guru Dutt was the last to use poets like Sahir and Kaifi for his songs.
No, we have no reason to fear Hollywood. Not as yet. Great marketing is no substitute for cultural connect. But what we certainly need to do is make much better films than we are currently making if we want to continue this connect. We must stop indulging trashy film makers and realign ourselves with the great creative traditions that once produced memorable cinema. Big Money has this awful habit of destroying talent and I see this happening around me. The best of our actors, directors, writers, are being constantly seduced to work in ridiculous movies backed by illiterate financiers masquerading as producers. The art of handcrafting movies is slowly disappearing and Bollywood, like Hollywood, runs the risk of becoming just another factory of big tiresome movies that no longer give you the highs they once did.
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