Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Sarkar Raj, Dasavatharam, Prakash Raj, Damsels in distress…

Ram Gopal Varma’s “Sarkar Raj” opens worldwide June 6, and it is an entirely Bachchan family affair. The Senior B, the Junior B and Mrs Junior. What more could have Varma asked for. The director, badly bruised by the terrible flop of “Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag” (a film, he should have never attempted in the first place, for it is foolish to take on classics like “Sholay” -- and “Aag” was a remake of it), must be hoping that his latest work would be seductive enough to draw audiences to theatres.

“Sarkar Raj” is a sequel to the critically acclaimed 2005 “Sarkar”, loosely based on the life of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. It caused controversy, and naturally, for Thackeray is a powerful politician, and despite having been a great cartoonist is touchy about criticism.

“Sarkar Raj” is no less controversial. It is reportedly based on the infamous Enron power plant project in Maharashtra that did not take off because of political interference. The movie has a character strongly resembling Thackeray’s nephew, Raj, whose animosity to the Bachchans is well known. While Raj has been questioning the Bachchan loyalty to his State, the same family plays characters who fight for Maharashtra’s welfare. An interesting dichotomy.


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One of my most vivid off-screen images of Indian cinema has been the anointing with milk of Tamil film star Kamal Hassan’s larger-than-life wood cutout by his fans outside a Chennai cinema. Now that his Dasavatharam is set to open on June 13, not June 6 as earlier announced, the scene may well rerun. Such fan frenzy affirms the enormous appeal of Indian actors.

The star system has demolished the importance of studios and directors. Studios and banners, such as Prabhat, New Theatres, RK, Gemini, AVM, Navketan and Guru Dutt among others, may not have exactly perished, but their glory has faded. Once, audiences thronged theatres because of a studio or banner: they knew what to expect from an RK or a Gemini.

In India, the studio/banner system gave way to the Director’s Chair. Guru Dutt or Raj Kapoor or Vasan began to dwarf the system they had created. However, things changed, and Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool traced the decline of not only the studio system in India, but also the director. The movie signalled the rise of star power.

Dev Anand became mightier than Navketan, Raj Kapoor eclipsed RK and institutions like Gemini, Vijaya and AVM fell by the wayside, forced to play second fiddle to colossus like Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran. Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan rose to tower over the men who directed them.

Dasavatharam’s release may start another round of milk shower and madness.

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The first casualty of movie stardom is professionalism. Often, celebrity actors and actresses throw humility and etiquette out of the window. They get hasty and haughty, throwing tantrums and making the most unreasonable demands. They refuse to report on time, leading to huge losses for producers, and enormous inconveniences for the rest of the crew.

South Indian star Prakash Raj has been banned by the Telugu Film industry for “ his unprofessional ways”. It is reported that he did not honour his commitment to Sidhu. Principal photography was held up because the actor refused to shave his moustache for his part in the movie.

This move is clearly an exception. For, Indian cinema’s slavish reverence for stars is often shameful. They are treated like demi-gods, and usually paid such vulgar amounts as fees that there is little left for production. It is, therefore, not surprising that most Indian films look so shoddy.

I strongly feel that the Indian cinema industry must take a cue or two from Hollywood, where the biggest of stars are being cut to size. They would now take home smaller salaries. Indian cinema must make it a rule that not more than 40 per cent of the budget would be allocated for star fees.
But giants like Bachchan and Rajnikanth among others dwarf producers into submission. And we do not have Hollywood’s power producers like David O’Selznick or Louis B. Meyer to rein in some of our wild stars.

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Damsels are in distress. Hollywood diva Sharon Stone, whose seductive performance in “Basic Instinct” enslaved men, now finds herself in steaming hot broth. At the recent Cannes Film Festival, she made a harmless comment, which most Tibetans themselves would make. She said the earthquake in China might have been Karmic. I would probably agree with Sharon. It is only a belief. It is personal, and there is nothing rational or logical in feeling so.

But Beijing was livid. It has banned the actress from the Shanghai Film Festival, which opens June 14. French fashion label Christian Dior decreed none of Sharon’s advertisements would appear in China. All this despite the diva’s virtual grovelling! She said she was even willing to help in quake relief.

Women are targeted often unfairly, and they could be in America or Europe or India. Some time ago, Tamil star Khushboo was dragged to the dock because she told a journal that she found nothing wrong with premarital sex. If a woman desired it, so be it, and men should not be obsessed with virginity. Hell broke loose in Madras (Chennai), and now her case is the country’s Supreme Court.

Women are particularly vulnerable to this kind of malicious attack. Whether it is a Sharon or a Khushboo, society seems bent on shackling them. So much so that, they are not allowed to voice an opinion, let alone, perhaps, think. Are we still living in the Dark Ages when men fettered women in chastity belts?

(Webposted June 6 2008)