Monday, November 23, 2009

the david and goliath of film making

The following exchange between karrvakarela and me on my post on 'Tum Mile' seemed too important to be hidden in the comments section. Some of my Film & Television Institute friends, filmmakers themselves, The Third Man, Irene Dhar Malik and I, review films regularly, and we are often accused of hating Bollywood.

At the risk of sounding silly, I actually feel physically sick when I trash a film. As a film maker I know how difficult it is to get a film off the ground, and to actually see it through to the end. 

So I take the liberty of speaking for all of us, and other film critic, film maker and film lover friends, in saying that the fact is that we love films, and therefore hate the sheer waste of money, effort, technical skills and star power expounded in an obviously lackadaisical manner, to make what can only be called 'products' and are definitely not films.

This displays a callousness in the film industry towards the audience and leads to a desensitization of both film makers and the audience. The Times of India today carries an interesting article 'Directors on the Fringe' which introduces us to a few of the film makers who are struggling against the system.

Anyway here is the exchange between karrvakarela and me, and I hope that all of you will add your own thoughts to this.

karrvakarela said...

Hi Banno,

This has nothing to do with your review, or the film, which I will assiduously avoid, but is it just me or is the recent urbanization of Hindi cinema starting to get stale? Granted a lot of the audience is concentrated in the cities so it makes sense to make movies they can relate to but as an industry whose job it is to tell stories I think most new filmmakers have been willfully negligent in ignoring the rest of the country. I was watching Prakash Jha's Hip Hip Hurray the other with its charming portrayal of small-town Ranchi and it hit me how little we've seen this kind of story-telling of late. Films like Gulzar's Namkeen and Mausam, Shyam Benegal's Manthan, Basu Bhattacharya's Teesri Kasam; stories with local flavor and character. Where are they now? Will they ever be made again? I think Vishal Bharadwaj may be the only one who is exploring those possibilities and transcripting them into his own private genre. Everyone else seems too obsessed with the urban grind.

Banno said...

Karrvakarela, true. The trouble is not that those stories are not being written, nor that those films are not being made in the face of severe odds, but that those films are not getting distributed, and don't even have a chance of reaching the audience. When they are picked up by a distributor, they are released in a few multiplexes, where the audience is not necessarily interested in these films, and the ticket prices are too high, thereby killing the film.

I've watched several small films which are in fact fresh, interesting stories, different from this no-man's land, which is not even truly representative of any urban concern. In the last year itself I have seen, Sushil Rajpal's 'Antardwand' (not released), Paresh Kamdar's 'Johny Johny, Yes Papa' (not released), Paresh Kamdar's 'Khargosh' (not released), Ranjit Kapoor's 'Chintuji' (didn't do even one week), Shyam Benegal's 'Welcome to Sajjanpur' (did reasonably well through word of mouth), Pravesh Bhardawaj's 'Niyati' (today he is celebrating 2 years since he finished the film) . These are just a few off the top of my head. A couple of days ago, I saw Bela Negi's film 'Daayen Baayein' (awaiting release, and all of us waiting with bated breath hoping that this lovely film gets its due viewership).

Often, I am unable to review those films because they are still in the process of being sold. :(
Which usually never happens.

A lot of us now feel that unless there are exhibition spaces for art-house cinema, where ticket prices are low, there is no hope for it.

Marathi cinema, in fact, has made a huge comeback because of government subsidies in the making, and also tax-free exhibition, made compulsory for cinema halls.


pulkits said...

I agree with you Banno. Most of us are nauseatingly sick of the Love Aaj Kals, Wake up Sids, Karan Johar cinema. What happened to the likes of Naya Daur, Purab aur Paschim, Mother India, Awaraa, Pyasaa or Do Aankhen Barah Haath or Gulaal.. My knowledge of the documentary films is rather limited so I can't really talk about them.
As a film buff, I am so bored of the movies that deal with highly-urban lives. I want the rustic, a bit more meaningful, and a lot more real India portrayed.

memsaab said...

Urban-centered films could have good stories too ( a Metro eg)...I think mostly audiences are sick of BAD films with glitz and sfx substituting for content.

I hope there are better films being made, but unless I can find them online I have almost no chance at all of seeing them (just d/l Chintuji and can't wait to watch it).

I wonder if this general trend is part of the unfortunate tendency of DVD manufacturers to sideline old films and their audiences by putting out completely shoddy (chopped up, songs missing, poor visual and sound quality, gaudy logos superimposed onscreen, etc.) products or if they are unrelated? Either way, it smacks of disrespect for anyone with half a brain. Welcome to the modern world, I guess...

Unknown said...

I think the issue that I see is that in order to tell a story effectively, you have to have lived it to some extent. Its hard for the urbanites who populate Bollywood to think, conceptualize and finally realize a story set in rural or small town India.

I think they are doing the right thing: telling stories that they can tell effectively and genuinely.

The real problem could be then that we don't have enough people who have grown up/lived in small towns who are financing or green lighting movies.

I'm still waiting for ONE indie movie to make it big and change the equation in Indian cinema. It can happen just like Pulp Fiction happened to the US.

Banno said...

Memsaab, totally agree. In my mind, it's not about urban/rural, just good stories. Unfortunately, most of the so-called urban stories are also not about any recognizable urban milieu.

I think you are right, the disregard for old prints, bad DVDs, etc all point to a disrespect for film as a medium itself.

Aspi, I agree with you about that. People should tell stories that they know about. Even I would be hard put to write a rural/small town story. SInce I've never lived that life.

The real problem is that the story telling is not effective.

There are many film makers out there, who have made films with different mileus thanks to their own backgrounds. But the people in charge obviously think no one wants to see those films.

ajnabi said...

Totally exposing my ignorance here, I know... But would you say that a distributor who specialized in getting films to more rural areas, where there is an audience for that sort of thing, could make a business out of it? I mean, even without the arthouse theaters at least then the films would have half a chance, right? Or am I totally wrong. Please explain to the noob. :-)

Unknown said...

banno, perhaps the rub is in that 'rural india' is very diverse - so hard to pinpoint as a demographic and make a film for. For e.g. how many people across rural india (i'm talking across North/South/East/West) would have seen their life reflected in Welcome to Sajjanpur?

On the other hand, the urban experience is becoming more and more homogenized and hence a target demographic that you can speak to emerges. I can put a McDonalds joke in my film and pretty much everyone across urban India will identify with that.

I'm not debating your point about the treatment meted out to movies with a rural setting - just trying to get to the bottom of why this situation exists.

The Quirky Indian said...

Very well argued, Banno, and I would have to agree with most of what you say. It is finally about telling a good story and that is where people are going wrong. On the flip side, there seems to be a trend - probably as a reaction - to glorify and praise films simply because they are 'different', even if these films (like Wake Up Sid, Kurbaan, Jail, Fashion) really don't deserve any praise or appreciation. To make matters worse, we have the 'regular-Bollywood-type' but also horribly expensive films like Blue and Kambahkth Ishq which only serve to alienate the audience further. Is it any wonder they flocked to watch 2012?

Quirky Indian

Banno said...

Ajnabi, regional distributors are doing well in some cases, for instance, Bhojpuri films. As Aspi points out, the problem also is trying to make films which address the whole Indian market. Very difficult. And so we are left with a MacDonald's burger. Not identifiable food. :)

Wonder if as film makers we can start a movement with low budget films, and low cost projection, like a travelling theatre. Some of us are discussing it on FB. I know it probably sounds idealistic and unrealistic. But what is the alternative? Fighting for government subsidies?

The Quirky Indian, are Wake Up Sid, Kurbaan, etc, really different? Am not sure.

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