Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Lean Bollywood, Missing India, Idly-Dosai at Cannes…

Bollywood has had a lean phase. Of the 19 movies released from January to April, just two – “Race” and “Jodhaa Akbar” – captured the hearts and heads of the masses. Besides, the number of releases dropped in comparison to the same period in 2006 and 2007. They were 28 and 27 respectively. A number of reasons may be attributed to this, but I have just one. Audiences are growing tired of hackneyed plots, and disgusted with copies. With many viewers having the means to watch Hollywood cinema, either on the big screen or DVD, it would seem pointless to watch a re-run in a different language with different stars. Worse, the performances and productions values are often inferior to the originals.

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The Cannes International Film Festival is undoubtedly the Queen of it all. Anybody who is somebody in the world of cinema loves to be there. To unspool on May 14, the Festival has had no Indian movie in Competition since 1994, the year Malayalam director Shaji N. Karun’s “Swaham” (My Own) was included. What is worse, there has been no Indian entry in A Certain Regard since Murali Nair’s “Arimpara” (The Mole) screened in 2003.

However, what are the reasons for this abysmal showing at Cannes? A recent story in “The Hollywood Reporter” may well be our first clue. Here is what it says:
”Indian film specialist Rohit Sharma has formed the Shingle i-Dream Pictures International with the aim of bringing a new wave of Indian-themed movie to the world's burgeoning Indian diaspora -- films with Indian themes and locations but with an international flavour”. He gives one example, apt enough: ”Though Bollywood output remains popular in cinemas, the burgeoning Indian diaspora is hungry for movies that aren't all singing and dancing when it comes to scenes of a sexual nature, Sharma believes”.

A cinema can be local to the core. It can talk about region-specific themes. It can use very Indian symbols and signs. But the style of narration must be universal. There has got to be a certain flavour that will uniformly appeal to viewers at Cannes or Locarno or Fukuoka or Marrakech. Indian producers and directors must learn this and put it into practice.

And, despite the credit India takes at being the largest producer of films, it falls far behind the rest of the world when it comes to original plots. Let me take “Paruthiveeran” as an example, which screened at Berlin’s Young Forum. I have no quarrel with this Tamil film being rooted firmly in the local culture. After all, Satyajit Ray made brilliant cinema with Bengal as his base and inspiration. But “Paruthiveeran”, apart from lacking in a certain global flavour, deals with a hackneyed plot that resembles Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. I fail to understand how India’s rich folk and classical history and literature have not been used more often in cinema.

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The National Film Development Corporation of India is off to Cannes with three films: “Via Darjeeling”, “Lucky Red Seeds” and “Bioscope”. These will be part of the Cannes Market screenings, which does not mean that they are in the Festival. They are not. The Festival has only four sections, Competition, Outside Competition, A Certain Regard, and Classics. Except for Vijay Anand’s “Guide” as part of Classics, there is no Indian entry.

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Tailpiece: Last year at Cannes, a well- known Tamil star was there. We got around talking at a party, where we spoke about everything except the films at Cannes. He was not very keen to discuss them. Maybe he had not seen enough. Maybe he did not like them. Maybe he could not understand them. But when we parted, he said something that shocked me. “Next year, I must return to Cannes with a 50-strong Tamil contingent and set up a food stall of idli-and-dosai! “ This is what he misses most, not the absence of world-class cinema back home.

(Webposted May 1 2008)