The Trouble with Bollywood

Bollywood

At the outset, let us admit something. Cinema is art, craft and commerce, all rolled into one – it has always been so, all around the world. It may have begun as pure art, but had quickly taken on essences of craft (it had to), and gradually morphed into a form of business. Now, wait a minute, is there something wrong with that? I wouldn’t think so, nor would you, perhaps. So, why is it that every single Friday, the largest cinema industry in the world churns out, almost as if on a conveyor belt, one film after another, most of which have very little to write home about? How many good films do we make in a year? And how many great films do we make in a year?

One of the troubles with Bollywood is that the art of cinema has taken such a nasty beating from the commerce of cinema that the former has gone into virtual hiding. If you listen to some of the people – directors, stars, writers – talk about cinema, you’ll realize, much to your surprise that quite a few of them are, contrary to what you may have deduced about them from their works, quite intelligent and sensible people, much unlike the image of tomfoolery and immaturity that they so easily don onscreen. Yet, every single time they embark on a project, they are lead by the business of movie making. One film of a certain kind does well, let us all happily continue to make the same kind of film, week after week. And by the way, what do we mean by “does well”? Here comes the oh-so-familiar phrase – “box office”. Being a cinema enthusiast, I often find myself in a discussion on cinema in various countries that I have travelled to, and trust me when I tell you, people from no other country is more familiar with the term ‘box office’ than Indians are. Now, I wonder why? Even if an innovative script comes along, no star will decide to do it, simply because they have an ‘image’ to portray. Challenging work be damned. Even if a star decides to do it, the script will not find a producer, because who would risk it? As long as cinema continues to be less of art and more of commerce, it will continue to evade glory.

Viewers-enjoying-a-show

An important question arises – given the sheer size of cinema going population in our country, if we were to make good innovative cinema, would it please the masses, especially in single-screens? And if it doesn’t, why would producers back such loss-making projects? And amidst all this, is our audience mature enough to appreciate good films? Can it be more of a rule than of an exception? This question has been asked several times, very recently by Naseeruddin Shah, who launched my book a couple of months ago. Mr. Shah argued that although most of the stones pelted by critics and intellectuals fall on the actors, what is the poor actor supposed to do? Unless we have more mature audiences, this trend of mindless movie-making isn’t going to change.

Now, as much as I love him and his art, I must say that I only agree partially with Mr. Shah. Yes, audiences need to be more mature. But how mature do you expect a poor uneducated construction worker in the heartlands to become overnight, or over any given period of time? For him, watching a 100 minute movie is like giving vent to all the frustration that has accumulated within him all week. He doesn’t have the luxury of scrutinizing and criticizing plot loopholes! In the protagonist, he perhaps finds an image of himself – a man he could not become. And every time that protagonist beats 30 thugs up with his bare hands, there in the dark recesses of the theatre, our poor, uneducated construction worker from the heartlands find joy rushing back to his heart and popping out of his lips in the form of a shrill whistle. And there are literally millions of such people in the audiences every single Friday. You want to make them more mature? Be my guest!

Bollywood-set

No – in my humble opinion, that is NOT the solution. I personally think that in any industry (for that is what cinema is today), segmentation and targeting is inevitable. Why, it is of the most natural order, isn’t it? You cannot make only one kind of movies for everyone. You need to identify various segments within your audience and make specific movies targeting each of these segments. The trouble with Bollywood is that this segmentation is all bungled up. I think no one would have had problems if a substantial amount of movies were to be made for all segments of the cine-going audience. In our country, cinema is made only for the masses. Since it is the so-called more ‘enlightened’ section of the society who has the pen and the keyboard in their hands and the social media and review sites in their pockets, and very few good films to watch, they usually cross over to the other segment, watch their movies and are quick to criticize them severely. The truth is that those movies are NOT meant for them. As long as we respect each segment of the audience, and make movies targeting them alone, and do it with all honesty, our movies will always be branded sub-standard.


Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author and translator. His books include “14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray”, “No Child’s Play” and “The House by the Lake”. Bhaskar is also the Founder of ArtSquare (www.artsquare.in) – India’s largest online art portal. Bhaskar lives in Bangalore with his wife Sweta and sons Ishaan and Emon.

Comments

  1. I know some good movies in the recent times – Udaan, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Ishquiya, Queen, Lunch box, Kahaani, Dirty Picture, Ship of Theseus, etc. These movies are also being made along with commercial “mass” entertainers. I think one needs to be selective about the movies they watch, and they will be treated to a good buffet.

    Like

  2. The trouble starts with the name itself. Why does it have to be Bollywood? Why not the Indian Motion Picture Association ? The whole premise of the Indian Film Industry is based on a simple formula : “whatever works”. If cheap and sleaze sets the counters rolling so be it. If class and intellect sets it rolling, so be it.

    The problem also lies in education,or the lack of it, which leads to a lack of civic sense or sensitivity.Therefore, subtlety is not an option – it has to be direct, loud and in your face.A cheap movie like Humshakal or Entertainment (just to name a few recent ones) are still being made.

    Then there are the educated lot.Even at a common workplace a crass or cheap joke is often considered a good sense of humor.Mediocrity is best understood – brilliance is mostly mistaken for arrogance. If this is your majority audience mindset,then what movies are they going to appreciate? Humshakal or Oh My God ?

    Population is another factor. With so much competition,so little resources there no time to experiment. You see – whatever works will take precedence over let’s create a work of art. Keeping the socio economic and geo political factors aside – this land is also driven by manufactured mass consent. Its a vicious cycle.one feeds for the other to thrive.When mass consent is fed by paid media the result is a mixed society with no clear identity. Which is precisely why there is no definition of who is an Indian? I mean is it the middle class north India or Middle class south , or the intellectual east or the business savvy west? There is no homogeneity – it is pure hetero.

    So as a film maker – trying to make a movie to suit all sensitivity is like finding water on Mars.What would they rather do?Make a movie that suits all audiences and spread the risk – therefore making it mass appealing, or try a niche project with a limited audience who don’t even guarantee a movie ticket purchase – they’d rather download it . What does he do ? He makes Kick.

    That’s what I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to know somebody understands that the people running Bollywood are intelligent, which is a fact. To begin with, in any creative field, whether painting, sculpture, literature, the success rate (of quality work) is no more than 5%. By the success rate I mean that if 100 books are published, only 4 or 5 are really noticeable. If 100 painters are into painting, only 4 or 5 really carve out a name for themselves. Bollywood is no different. We must appreciate that good films are being made – most intellectuals don’t acknowledge it because they have already decided that Bollywood is insufferable. Look at Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Queen, 3 Idiots, Lagaan. If you’re going to judge Bollywood by demanding that 25 films made every year should be diamonds then it’s not going to happen. Another unfair comparison is with Hollywood. Most educated intellectuals want Bollywood to churn out stuff that will beat Hollywood. They do not consider the fact that the two cultures are antipodal. While we Indians are emotional, westerners are detached. While Indian parents keep a sharp control on their children, American parents give them a high degree of independence. Wherever marriage comes into the picture, American parents may not like their white son marrying an African-American girl or one of an Asian origin but if the two are adamant they will, however unwillingly, accept the girl as their son’s wife. Imagine the same scenario in India – even highly educated parents earning six-figure monthly incomes will do everything in their power to keep the two lovers apart, not flinching from using violence in most cases. Take the case of songs and dances. I have personally never been to a wedding in the past 10 years where baraatis have not blocked roads with their processions. No use blaming the poor or middle class because the loudest baraats are people who spend crores on marriages. Has anyone ever seen people singing and dancing outside churches in the US or UK? What happens in our society will be reflected in our films. What is shown in Bollywood is 70 to 80 percent an accurate picture of our society, whether you like it or not. Some filmmakers may put the same story in a subtle manner while others may be too loud which intellectuals find repulsive. But just because you find something repulsive doesn’t mean it’s false. Just because you live in a penthouse on the 25th floor of a posh area in a metropolis doesn’t mean all of India enjoys the same luxuries. The most important point is cinema is a medium for the masses. Most intellectuals in India and of Indian origin living abroad live in a cocoon. They don’t have the imagination to see that the percentage of population they make up is not even 1% of the entire population of India. We are no different from our MPs who claim that in India you can get a full meal for Rs 5 or Rs 8. It is criminal to compare Bollywood with Hollywood. We are a unique nation with unique likes and dislikes. And Bollywood is catering to it’s clientele – nothing wrong with it.

    Like

  4. Emani Venkatesh says:

    Cinema, whether as an art form, a craft, or, later, as an industry, has never failed to reflect the gradual, sometimes sudden transformations of a young and untested Democracy into a confident and aspirational Nation. Where once, it became the as yet unconventional platform for musicians, lyricists, poets, actors steeped in, and representative of, the centuries old traditions, both classical and literary, the same cannot be said of the current currency of cinema today, soiled as it is by a different ethos, but still gamely telling us about our own selves, our struggles, our apprehensions, albiet in a crude manner.

    Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: