By Vinod Mirani
Bombay, May 15 (IANS): One of the watchwords of cinema in India was the word ‘Identification’. The other equally relevant term was ‘Universal Appeal’. And to make a film with those two aspects in mind, a director had to deliver a wholesome entertainment program of about two and a half hours.
Basically, there are believed to be seven themes around which all stories are told and as such, films are also made. In India, the epics ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ as well as other literatures, like ‘Panchtantra’, provide all the themes one needs. The job was for the writers to weave scenarios around them to make movies.
The writers made the movies work. They created the plan and the rest had to follow that. The casting, the music, mainly, and the rest followed.
Speaking of writers, there was a lineup known to write jubilee hits. The producer made sure he had time for the writers and sat down with them as the story and script developed. And moviegoers knew the names of the screenwriters as well as those of the stars.
The media did not have such a wide reach back then. Now the media are all powerful but they don’t have movie writers to write about! There were famous writers such as Sachin Bhoumick, KA Narayan, Rahi Masoom Raza, Salim-Javed, KK Shukla, Prayag Raj, Gulshan Nanda, Kamaleshwar and Kader Khan as well as many filmmakers who were accomplished writers. Some writers excelled at writing “slapstick dialogue”, which brought viewers back.
The duo Salim-Javed and KA Narayan were considered modern-minded contemporary writers in their time, but their films lacked nothing that was not intrinsic to the values of storytelling in India. Mother, sister, ‘bhabi’, emotions, family ties reigned even in their films. Yes, some comedy movies were the exceptions where there was room for drama and melodrama. A lot of film makers copied foreign films but they had good screenwriters to give these heightened foreign films an Indian flavor
Things got worse for Hindi movies with the advent of video, followed by VCDs. New generation whizkids have started looking for subjects there, from Hollywood films, ready-mades. Some of them were wise enough to find subjects that were easy to adapt to Indian audiences. But Hollywood movies were shorter, so some brilliant brought two VCDs to star; one of them for the first half and the other for the second half and the climax!
It had gotten to such a point that there were instances of two producers making the same film and two musical directors copying the same foreign tune. Originality was compromised for readily available material.
Still, some filmmakers, the second generation of old production houses, like Suraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, continued to believe in films with the quintessential Indian formula and came up with films like ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun. !’, ‘Hum Saath-Saath Hain’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’, ‘Mohabbatein’, ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ and others. No wonder they were able to deliver major successes.
Finally, in search of Indian themes, Hindi filmmakers take refuge in the remake of films from the South. It was not the first time. This has happened over decades. But, at some point, the Southern filmmakers themselves remade their blockbuster films in Hindi. Now Hindi filmmakers are doing it – to remake a proven hit.
The main problem with film writing today is that there are no original thoughts, nor the skills to write in the language in which the film is shot: Hindi. There is a new generation, young people, girls and boys, very enthusiastic about the idea of making films, who run at full speed on the sets.
But they neither think nor write in their mother tongue, let alone in Hindi. They think, write scenes and dialogues in novel, which are intended to be pronounced in Hindi by the actors! And a lot of top actors have a problem with that, but all they can do is voice it sometimes.
Today’s directors do their work sitting on the monitor, not acting out a scene like directors used to do. How can you visualize greatness from a television screen?
And, speaking of language, who are you making these films for? Generally for all India audience but with specific Hindi belt market. So why do some directors fill a movie soundtrack with Punjabi songs? Simply because the music company insists and their music banks are full of these songs!
And some producers think they’re in Hollywood, probably trying to match them, that most of the dialogue in their movies is in English! Take ‘Track 34’, for example. Besides the limited audience in metros and big cities, who knows an airliner, let alone an airliner in distress mode? And the language is English most of the way! No wonder such movies miss their target audience.
A success and the filmmakers begin to take their audience for granted in the name of the sequels. Recently we had the movie ‘Heropanti 2’. What was it? Nothing, really.
You have a hero, Tiger Shroff, with a chiseled body and he’s a fighting machine. So you unleashed it on the screen, taking down hundreds of bad guys. What about some semblance of story, romance, music, etc., the ingredients that complete a movie?
You’re making a movie, ‘Kahaani’, where Vidya Balan plays a strong, driven, determined woman, single-handedly chasing the bad guy until she finishes him off. What is the sequel about? Vidya Balan is a woman scared to death, fleeing her detractors! Is this a sequel where you completely negate the characters of an established and successful protagonist? How can the basic characteristics of the hero or heroine be changed?
The examples are numerous. You don’t even have the imagination to give your new movie a title and just want to take advantage of the previous success by calling it a sequel.
To know the pulse of the public, you have to stay in touch with people and keep observing them. Many filmmakers, once successful, step away from the masses and it shows in their films. They fail. There was a director, Manmohan Desai, who realized this: that he was lost if he wasn’t among the people who inspired his films, his characters and his music.
Manmohan Desai lived in a middle class locality in Mumbai and indulged the locals as one of them, played cricket with the local boys and listened to their stories. With a blockbuster film lineup, he moved to one of Mumbai’s most expensive neighborhoods in a seven-storey structure where each floor was designed to be a bungalow in itself.
Soon he began to feel like a man abandoned on an island. He couldn’t take it anymore and went back to his old address to be with his family and mingle with them.
The problem with makers today is that they are isolated, having lost touch with the people they serve.
Films were called “the opium of the masses”. What are they called now?