By UMA DA CUNHA
Thur Jan 16, 2014 - http://thecitizen.in/
These belonged to mainstream cinema. Will that concern return to occupy the same space/time dimension today, with the aamaadmi coming into its own?
Fast forward to today’s 300-crore grosser with revenues blown sky-high with no connect to quality. These record breakers are flights of fancy of the well-to-do – the Krrish’s and Dhoom’s topping the charts in their 3rd incarnation.
Cinema in 2014 promises more star-studded escapism aimed at the global Indian phenomenon rather than the common man in our midst. True, Marathi cinema has brought ordinary family folk to the fore, as has the occasional independent Malayalam and Bengali film. But these films make good, if at all, in their own region and at festivals. But there is a hint of a silver lining.
Indian audiences are beginning to be choosy. They bypassed many an action extravaganza: Himmatwala, Besharam, Bullett Raja, Vishwaroopam and Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. Creativity was a quiet theme in several Bollywood-type offerings, even the modest ones with lesser known stars like ABCD – Anybody Can Dance, Shuddh Desi Romance, Chashme Buddoor and Raanjhanaa.
The film industry’s comfort zone is less cozy. Despite buoyancy triggered by a few all-time high grossers, the hits accounted for just 20 per cent of the releases. But masochist producers keep bouncing back. Weighed down by rocketing production costs on high risk projects, Mumbai’s film factories are looking at a balancing act of lower spends and safer returns, backing smaller, content-driven films.The golden eggs come in more sizes now and not all in one basket.
Film studios are backing lower budget films that have a contemporary human appeal. The ploy seems to be working. UTV-Disney led the way with their successful and acclaimed Ship of Theseus and Shahid, as well as money-spinners Chennai Express and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.
Think of Raj Kapoor’s poignant caring for the have-nots of his time, V Shantaram’s feeling for ordinary folk and Guru Dutt’s searing depiction of the human saga.Superstar Akshay Kumar stepped out of frame to fund a small Marathi film 72 Miles about a destitute woman tackling destiny head on. Both Amitabh Bachchan’s company and Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts have backed the Marathi film and plan to move to other languages.
Kiran Rao has played an inspirational role with Ship of Theseus, a film she admired so much that she decided to be spokes-person for its distribution. Such has been its box office success that its lessons are likely to play out in 2014. Is this a beginning where commerce backs art and art gets to a wider audience?
Money, in India and elsewhere, remains the name of the cinema game. Seeing where the lolly lies, the big studios are leaning on established successes of the South and other shores. Statistics speak for themselves: of the 223 Hindi films released in 2013, 46 were dubbed from other languages (mostly Tamil and Malayalam).
Despite market manipulations, audiences turned sleepers into marquee names – films with no stars, no sinuous dances, and no cheap thrills. The films they favoured dealt with themes that matter today in our clime and country. Examples: Kai Po Che!,Jolly LLB and others whose commercial undertones were over-written by a story that connected with the young.
More surprises: Films, troubled in content and intent, drew plaudits and audiences, for example B A Pass, with nothing to it except a small-town story of a young man becoming a stud for rich ladies; high caliber Shahid, an emotionally charged film that potrayed a real-life Muslim lawyer as the martyred hero he was.
Appreciative audiences lauded The Lunchbox, another scaled-down budget film showing how distanced loners connect accidentally and make decisive life changes as a result.
The New Year, 2014, will be an eye-opener for film addicts. Many a festival lauded film such as Miss Lovely, Qissa and Ugly will release through the year. Distributors/ exhibitors are finally expanding the canvas of films on offer.
Art is a no-no in the seventh art in India’s dream factory. How do small deserving films combat the promotional barrage of brain washing that triggers a big release? In such a system, smaller films settle for low promotional costs. The films quickly come and go, largely unseen by their niche followers. Why can’t filmmakers themselves use digital media to win viewers? There is an inertia here that should be addressed.
When filmmaking is dominated by leading stars, huge budgets and high production costs, a key question remains unanswered. With a century of cinema behind us, there is no venue where the young and old of today can imbibe our cinematic heritage. Where and how do we see films from other regions of the country? We want to see the classics from the masters, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and Shyam Benegal. There is a total lack of the art-house cinema in India. This is where the aamaadmi would find a place and aamaadmi lore a meaning.
PS: A praise-worthy advent, dusky skin is nudging its way into the club of the ‘fair and lovely’ ones on our screens. Take a bow, the tanny, brawny stars of the south and elsewhere, led by the irresistible Dhanush and NawazuddinSiddiqui, and closer to Mumbai, the endearing Anjali Patil. May your numbers grow.
(Uma da Cunha is a renowned film critic and currently the editor and publisher of Film India Worldwide)
Courtesy: http://thecitizen.in/ - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014 reproducing Uma da Cunha's column from the first edition