wanting the popcorn to save the film is in bad taste

Friday, February 28, 2014

Starring the Director

6:54 PM Posted by Gautam Chintamani , , , No comments
What’s common between a Karan Johar, a Farhan Akhtar, a Farah Khan, an Imtiaz Ali and a Rohit Shetty? Besides belonging to a breed that usually calls the shots behind the camera, they are nothing less than the very stars they direct. In a few days from now Rohit Shetty will host Khatron Ke Khiladi, the reality TV series that was previously anchored by Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn; Imtiaz Ali is more visible across TV channels than Randeep Hooda, the leading man of his new film Highway, Karan Johar is back with yet another season of Koffee With Karan and with the colossal success he has enjoyed as an actor in Bhaag Milhka Bhaag might just keep Farhan Akhtar from directing another film for a long time… never have been directors so busy in front of the camera.

In Hindi cinema most directors have traditionally towered over others. There have been showmen like Raj Kapoor, stalwarts such as K. Asif and Bimal Roy, auteurs in the form of Guru Dutt and Vijay Anand, and general larger than life personalities like Mehboob Khan or Kamal Amrohi but rarely did one get to see most of these attributes rolled into one. Back in the day a star’s mere presence was enough to get things buzzing and a big director’s name attached to the project only made it more appetizing whereas today, the director is not just as important as the stars to sell a film but in some cases it’s solely their billing that makes all the difference. It’s not like films were never sold on the name of the director in the past, case in point any Raj Kapoor directed film, but in an era where a film’s pre and/or post release publicity is possibly more essential than the content or the actors in it, the director has become the biggest draw in most films. Thanks to an informed audience largely in the context of a 24x7 media, the persona of a filmmaker is inseparable from the film he/ she makes and therefore it’s practically impossible to disassociate an Anurag Kashyap from the subjects he tackles. Similarly the schematics of, for the want of a better term, small-town India are an integral part of a Vishal Bhardwaj or a Tigmanshu Dhulia film much like the overwhelming arc of the human condition cannot not be a fragment of a Sanjay Leela Bhasali film. Perhaps that’s the reason a food and travel based TV show that also shares its name with Imtiaz Ali’s new release gets him and the leading lady, Alia Bhatt as guests as opposed to the ‘hero’ Randeep Hooda.

One of the reasons for this lush idolization of the director as the star could also be the increase in the number of personal stories filmmakers have been tackling. Although new Bollywood still continues to adhere to a somewhat typical Hindi cinema template, the tales seem to be less formulaic. If Farahan Akhtar would have attempted his Dil Chata Hai a decade or two before he wouldn’t have been allowed the visible sense of freedom as far as characters and situations went. The emergence of this rather rare quality in a system that seems to lack a limit to the commodification of film in general could very well be the thing that separates this generation of filmmakers from others.  Ergo, in a larger sense, the director, today, is truly the star of a film and this’s why more people are keen to experience a Raanjhana because of an Anand Rai and that’s why an Imtiaz Ali or an Anurag Kashyap bring truckloads more to Rockstar or a Dev D. than a Ranbir Kapoor or Abhay Deol could possibly convey.  The advantage of this phenomenon is that it makes possible a certain kind of films that otherwise would have been extremely difficult to get made- Swades, Pyar Ke Side Effects, Mithiya, Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, and Shanghai to name a few. From an art versus commerce aspect this line seems to be one that can make everyone- the filmmaker, the viewer and the trade- happy as nearly everyone gets what they want but there is a grave flip side as well.

The non-stop spotlight on the creators as against the wares and the baggage of filmmaker’s image runs the risk of overburdening the films they make- Saat Khoon Maaf, That Girl in Yellow Boots and Shanghai. While a Rockstar enjoys the shadow of Imtiaz Ali as an artist on Jordan, which propels the viewer to look beyond the ill structured screenplay and even the abject lack of reason for the protagonist’s angst, the seeming lack of apathy on Dibakar Banerjee’s part towards the proceedings fetters Shanghai. One of the better films in recent time, Shanghai is chillingly real and yet, the audience maintained a safe distance from it. Unwillingly to judge on behalf of his viewer, Banerjee’s coldness to what transpires in the film could have forced a similar reaction on the viewer’s part. In spite of the pitfalls this is more than just a good time to be a director.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Second Shot

8:12 PM Posted by Gautam Chintamani No comments

There are favorite films that you keep revisiting and then there are those that, well…you just end up watching a few times too many. These repeat viewings are something like unforced errors from tennis- compelled into revisiting a film they change the thought you knew the story.

I often revisit films I believed I wouldn’t bother about a second time around. Like for instance Tanu Weds Manu, yes, I now you were expecting something like Citizen Cane or Deewar but I’ll get to those in a bit, which I kind of enjoyed but the rather filmy and clamorous ‘third-act’ convinced me that once was enough. A few months later I ended up not only sitting through the whole thing again but this time around I enjoyed the enjoyable parts more and the climax wasn’t as laborious.

What had changed in the interim for me to enjoy Tanu Weds Manu as much as I did the second time around? Could it be that I knew an end was in sight and so it didn’t seem so arduous? I believe the effort one puts in a viewing a film in this day and age is directly proportional to the degree of liking that film. Taking out time, braving the traffic to reach the cinema hall, finding parking and finally shelling out an amount that could feed a family of raccoons for months, watching a film isn’t what it used. Thanks to the time that one invests in watching a film, the expectations become high and maybe that’s why anything halfway decent gets talked about as if the rules were being rewritten. Sometimes watching a new film for the first time a few months after its release and on DVD in the comfort of your home can make you as patient as the Count of Monte Cristo. Even the apparently weird and revolting stuff like No Smoking (okay, here I go again and no, I didn’t like it and yes, I have read Stephen King and Kafka so Anurag K’s logic doesn’t hold water for me and no, I will not revisit it) didn’t seem trouble me as much.

Watching a film again and seeing a different story could have to do with your frame of mind more than anything else. Dil Chahata Hai (DCH) is one film that I saw during its initial theatrical run and unlike many people I knew I couldn’t get myself to watch it for the second or third time. Half a decade later I saw it on TV and gave up midway. I shouldn’t have watched Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT) a day before DCH on TV and who knows I’d have sat through it. DCH is a film that is so dated even the first time around that sometimes you wonder why no one saw the regressive attitude of all the characters behind the snazzy hairdos and the flashy cars? By contrast QSQT is a film that might be 23 years old but it still looks fresh and real. In 1989 Mansoor Khan simply set the ageless Romeo-Juliet and in a Thakur clan and retold the done to death tale in a manner that Hindi commercial cinema hadn’t seen. The diminutive lass is as afraid of her authoritarian father as any Hindi film leading lady has been since the talkies but she still is her own person. Now contrast this with Preity Zinta’s character from DCH- a mute lamb that follows stupidity in the name of good manners. Rashmi’s friend Kavita (Shenaz Kudia), who taunts for being a Frankenstein of a father’s monster, never pushes her beyond a point and then goes all out to help her. Readily submitting to just about everything and everyone, Shalini in DCH has no friends and even her own inner child seems to have abandoned her!

Watching a classic is an entirely different ballgame. Many films that have existed for two decades or more automatically seem to be labeled classics. This is what the marketing machineries try- alter our perception of what ought to be measured as a classic and peddle their wares. Anything monochromatic and laden with bad acting and histrionics isn’t a classic. All Raj Kapoor films aren’t classics. Citizen Cane is a classic. The Killing is a classic. Tere Ghar Ke Saamne is a classic. A Touch of Evil is enjoyable watching but it ain’t a classic in that sense of the word; you get the drift, right?

A sure-shot test of a classic worthy of continued revisiting is the extent of cruelty of time. Time can be very rude towards films and many a times it simply kills a part of their relevance. Mother India is still a classic but decades have made its intensity slightly animated. A few days when I felt a shiver run down my spine at the end of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, I knew why the film has been consistently winning the tag of the 2nd Greatest Film Ever for years now. There is a great deal of datedness to the seminal classic but that’s got more to do with things like San Francisco of the 1950’s, the cars and the dressing sense more than anything else while in Mother India or Awara the age shows across the board.

A classic, a cult-classic, an under-rated gem, a disaster that time has been kind to…the reasons for revisiting a film don’t impact the viewing pleasure. It’s a nice way to (re)discover something that wasn’t there or finally notice something that’s been staring in the face for years, revisiting a films is always fun. It should be tried on a regular basis and much like dancing as if you don’t care who’s watching don’t shy away from films others wouldn’t get. Why else do you think I end up watching Govinda’s Sandwich every time I catch it while channel surfing!

© Gautam Chintamani, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Being Amitabh Bachchan

11:08 PM Posted by Gautam Chintamani No comments

From being someone who could do everything when did Amitabh Bachchan become someone who wouldn’t stop at anything?

Most actors become successful, many become memorable, some become unforgettable and a few become legends….but there are only a handful who become icons. In the early 1990’s Amitabh Bachchan became his own victim. There was nothing left for him to prove…he won an award for Best Actor the year after he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Filmfare. So he did the best thing he could- he took a sabbatical and grew a beard. Having seen a Marlon Brando fall to the unmentionable pits and resurrect himself in The Godfather, people believed the beard was an indication of things to come.

That wasn’t to be.