Wallflower once more

Oscar season has come and gone, and Indian film came nowhere close to being honored with Rang de Basanti failing to even make the foreign films shortlist and Water getting passed over. Reacting to RDB’s poor showing in the BAFTAs (the British Oscars), actor Naseeruddin Shah had this to say:

“We just don’t make films of an international standard… I really don’t think we make films that can match those from other parts of the world. And I am not referring to Hollywood – we make copies of Hollywood,” [Link]

Criticisms of Bollywood’s lack of originality and quality are nothing new, but coming from Shah they carry more weight. When I make similar statements, my Bollydefending friends justly point out that as an ABD I just don’t get the genre-specific joys, but it’s harder to rebut somebody who has acted in both mainstream Bollywood film and alternative cinema in India, appearing in over 130 films with 3 Filmfare magazine awards to his name. Furthermore, his statements appear to be more than an indictment against Bollywood; as quoted they are a criticism of the entire Indian film industry.

This is not to hold Hollywood up as an exemplar of good taste and originality. M.Night won worst director at this year’s Razzies and this year’s Best Film, The Departed, is a less exciting copy of Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs. [Granted it really won as a deferred reward for Scorcese, but still ...]

What makes Shah’s criticism interesting is that he’s not saying India should be like Hollywood, instead he’s comparing India to other third world countries, saying that they produce better movies:

“We can’t match the types of films made in Iran for example, Poland, Japan, Mexico or Brazil, Vietnam or Korea… These countries are producing the most incredible movies and we are still plodding on with our boy-meets-girl safe, old formula. That is the reason I think our films aren’t taken seriously”. [Link]

Others point not to quality but to the lack of an adequate marketing budget (thanks Anil). The producer of The Departed had this advice:

… the financers who fund Bollywood movies must spend double or triple of the production costs they are currently spending just in marketing efforts and use it to promote the beauty of Indian cinema to a mainstream audience. As far as ‘The Departed’ is concerned, the promotion budget exceeded the costs of the production of the movie [Link]

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p> And unnamed “Hollywood Executives” in the same article pointed to market structure as an additional problem:

According to Hollywood executives, another problem is that Indian filmmakers don’t distribute their movies in mainstream theatres in key US markets. Instead, these are distributed among independent theatres in South Asian areas.

‘Hollywood is a business. Once Hollywood understands the business and the huge fan base of the Indian film industry and how much money can be made, the Indian film industry will definitely be taken more seriously in Hollywood,’ said one studio executive. [Link]

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p>Lastly, as a counterpoint to this gnashing of teeth and rending of hair, Manish argues that this was no great loss for India:

The Oscars were a joke this year… Who in their right minds wants an Oscar when these are the films they anoint? It’s a race to the bland bottom… And Bolly denizens are sitting here crying into their chai when a Canadian flick loses the affirmative action Oscar. Bollyflicks are about as foreign to most of the world as the World Series are international. It would’ve tarnished their reputation to have won in a year that’s a monument to flavorless parochialism. [Link]

Maybe the problem isn’t India’s film industry, or meager production budgets, it’s the Oscars themselves. What do you think? Should India stop looking to the golden statue for validation and do its own thing? Or was this year’s loss another “learning experience” for Indian cinema.

141 thoughts on “Wallflower once more

  1. When an outsider (yessir, when you come in from a distant land to shoot distress and pain, and runaway with the booty, that’s how you are seen) eavesdropped on the natives’ exploits, they got a bit angry. And the natives didn’t have any training of political correctness and the luxury of positive reinforcement. But if you see closely, both the RSS agitators and the suffering widows are fools. Cunningness lies elsewhere.

    Wow — I wonder what Satyajit Ray, who you eulogise so much on your blog, would have to say about such an analysis about a lynch mob formed to intimidate, bully, vandalise and make death threats to a film maker.

  2. The mainstream Indian cinema, and I do stress “mainstream,” has remained mediocre because it is a product designed and marketed to the entire spectrum of society. No automobile, food, software, clothes or entertainment product will be worth a darn if it must sell to every segment of society. It is a manufacturing and marketing impossibility.

    In a country with very few entertainment choices, at least until recently, the movies have been the staple for the masses. How can you create a worthwhile movie if your job is to make it appealing to the professional elite, college students, housewives, illiterate rickshaw wallahs and shopkeepers all at once? But Bollywood has done it superbly by fabricating an artistic idiom that I can only compare to a similar, counterfeited and highly manufactured genre like the American western. Any problems with that?

    Bollywood’s best years are yet to come and the reasons have less to do with the improved technical virtuosity of Indian filmmakers and more to do with the changing distribution and consumption patterns of entertainment products in India. As the number of TV channels in India mutiply, the increased disposable income makes travel, eating out and other forms of entertainment more available at least for the burgeoning middle class and the already wealthy, movies will no longer be the mass staple that it is in India. There will be, actually there are, different types of movies for different target groups, as there are here. The multiplexes in India are the market’s response to the niches forming in the Indian market. As an analogy, imagine an America without multiplexes. Instead there are still those huge movie palaces, and very few of them. Will that distribution model support a genius like Woody Allen who appeals to a very narrow demographics?

    It is ironic, but also quite understandable, that Naseeruddin Shah gives Bollywood its worst grades. It is ironic because he has given us the best of Indian cinema and understandable because his work, along with the fantastic work of a few dozen others, many of them named in the preceding posts, have not been considered mainstream Bollywood.

    But mainstream versus alternate is a statistical debate, not a qualitative one. Let me offer an analogy. Savvy travelers consider food in Europe vastly superior to food in America because European cuisine is not as dominated by fast food. Yet in America, there are many great French and Italian restaurants, but in statistical terms, they are overshadowed by the much broader output of fast food. Indian cinema, likewise, has a quality segment which is totally drowned by the vast outpouring of mediocrity. The problem is not the mediocrity but its immense volume.

    I would not lock horns with my favorite actor, Naseeruddin Shah, over the quality of movies from Iran, Poland, Brazil and Mexico. I have seen many of them, and Mr. Shah, yours are infinitely superior.

  3. Hari

    Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha (particularly Chadha) are weaklings relative to Shyam Benegal, Jabbar Patel, Dev Benegal, Shekhar Kapur, etc.

    As a bit of a tangent on this thread, but otherwise a very interesting issue – how come all the diasporic directors one can think of seem to be female, and all the India-based directors one thinks of seem to be male? Ok, Night Shyamalan may be an exception – though he’s rather mainstream now and doesn’t interpret the diasporic experience to the natives much, does he? I don’t disagree with the basic premise here – Nair, Mehta, Chadha – don’t – can’t ? – stand up to Benegal et al. I’ve only seen Bhaji on the Beach by Chadha, and that was quite enough for a long while. Should I really bother with Bride and Prejudice? Has she matured any?

  4. I tried to watch Rang de Basanti, but fell asleep within the first ten minutes. What happened?

    *The Oscars are an American thing, after all, so why cry about it? I suppose the reason is that up until now, the American film industry was dominant in many markets, and in terms of making money. As these things change (and they will, nothing is forever), the need for approbation will change. Everyone likes a winner.

    **Even the non-Bollywood, arthouse offerings seem very boring these days. Is there any film-maker out there who can straddle the life and sheer and utter presentness of Bollywood with more serious narratives and themes? Must it be either candy or spinach, only?

    ***Also, if I have to see one more ‘dysfunctional white family as movie art’ independent film, I will barf. You know what would be really independent? A film about happy people that wasn’t Disneyfied or Bollywooded. Artistes, you are failing me……

  5. But, at the end of the day, those who win are honored to win, and those who don’t (no matter what they say) want to be similarly honored. Because, for good or ill, regardless of their origins, indeed regardless of certain still-parochial tendencies, those prizes belong to the world now. This is the West’s real genius. An inclusiveness that serves to, predictably, shore up their dominance.

    One of the most insightful comments I’ve read on this site. Well said, brother.

    It’s sad to see how much this power affects desis in desh who indulge in the why-aren’t-indian-films-good-enough kind of collective breast beating every year at Oscar time. This outpuring of the collective need for validation from the whitey is just sickening. My biggest dread yesterday was “OMFG – if, God forbid, that crapola of “fuckin’-misogynist-Hindoos” porn aka Water won the Oscar then that’d be unending topic of screaming headlines in desh for the next year or so”.

  6. I hold no brief for any of those film makers (especially not Chadha), but this accusation of ‘pandering’ needs to be understood. So what do you mean by it? Because the way I see it, coming out with that line about any artist should automatically set off alarm bells because it is thrown about so lazily and without explanation to stigmatise without thought these days.

    oh, please don’t ring alarm bells. a little discomfort will suffice. I called a spade a ‘bloody shovel’, instead of a ‘manual earth remover’. No hard feelings, the word was thrown about lazily. But here’s why: For Nair (Salaam Bombay) and Mehta (Water) – the villains are so easily understandable, without any nuance and shown in such black and white shades that the causes of misery and suffering are easily identified, and of course immediately understood by foreigners. That format is what I called pandering. Chadha’s film, i admit, is not in this genre, although I have only seen bend it like beckham.

    I do think it’s unkind and inaccurate to describe Nair and Mehta as panderers. It’s not as if they get up in the morning and say, “Alright, I’m going to pander today.” They tell the stories that matter to them, from where they are, with the resources they have. And, on average, the result is more interesting and watchable than your average Bollywood noisemaker

    .

    so please neglect the word panderers. but i hope you understand what i meant. and you are right – these films are only comparable to the average bollywood noisemaker.

    Wow — I wonder what Satyajit Ray, who you eulogise so much on your blog, would have to say about such an analysis about a lynch mob formed to intimidate, bully, vandalise and make death threats to a film maker.

    ‘eulogize so much’? i haven’t. although i am passionate about Ray’s movies, i refrain from too much praise, from behaving like a drunkard who is afraid of the sober intervals.

    well, the lynch mob is a law and order problem. Mehta can only bask at the reflected glory of that controversy, that’s all. and I don’t know what Ray would have had to say about it. Probably he would have complained about the increasing problem of shooting in public places in India. He faced that difficulty himself. Probably he would have ignored the ‘cops and robbers’ kind of mediocre portrayal. btw, if you have noticed, villains are almost absent in Ray’s movies – even in Ashani Sanket which was about the 1943 Bengal Famine.

    The crux of the matter is: as an outsider, when you have the audacity of taking a normative stance, and preaching to the audience the lack of humanity in society, there are chances that you lose authenticity. (It does. I am an example. n=1).

    On the contrary, if you are plain descriptive, you can convey the complexity of society in greater depth. but doing that requires you to work much harder, noticing the nuances, the daily habits, the small objects, the detail; btw, i think one scene in Water that manages to show some detail – where Mehta shows the wall paintings of Varanasi – bears an uncanny resemblance to Ray’s Aparajito, where Apu and his friends play hide and seek. Watch that portion. But I am stopping here, partly because of the inherent stupidity in the comparison, as if they are of the same league.

    From description the audience can make its own judgment of the good and the bad.

  7. Excellent, excellent points, Naiverealist. I humbly doff my cap to you.

    The point about the absence of villains is particularly sharp.

  8. Indians are very hard working and good at studying. That being said, Indian’s are talentless piece’s of shiznitt.

    Indian artist’s in general just suck at everything. Painting, singing, dancing, acting, writing, and everything else you can think of. I mean how can you not make a good movie in India with all that crazy stuff happening around you.

    I said this before. There is no competition in India in the arts department. A poor person with talent will never make it in India because some rich brat will hire someone to set the poor guys mother on fire and he will spend the rest of his life taking care of her and thus making the compeition go away. Can anyone give me an example of a bollywood actor that does not some from a rich family?

    Have you seen indian movie and thought it was well done? There is always lazy elements to every movie that make you want to scream out loud. The other day I glanced at a Indian movie my sister was watching and in the scene there was a cow in the back ground that had explosive diarrhea and is shitting all over the place. You would think the director would yell “cut”, but the scene just kept on going. The budget’s are so low for these movies that they dont even close down street’s in public places when they are filming. They just put the fucking camera on and start dancing around with all these white people looking at them with this “what the fuck” look.

    If you are going to call your self a dancer then for God sake put the fucking samosa’s down and get your flabby ass in shape. None of the dancers in Bollywood have a dancer’s physique or a dancer’s grace when they move. My sister told me that they just sent this Indian woman back to London, who was a classically trained ballerina, because she wasnt beautiful enough. I mean who the hell tell’s a trained ballerina that she cant make it in bollywood? A business built on mediocre dancing should be happy someone with talent wants to be in there business.

    I truly am disappointed with the lack of success of Indian’s in the world’s events. The movies suck, the athlete’s suck, the everything else sucks. At least they have great call center’s.

  9. Probably he would have ignored the ‘cops and robbers’ kind of mediocre portrayal. btw, if you have noticed, villains are almost absent in Ray’s movies – even in Ashani Sanket which was about the 1943 Bengal Famine.

    Didn’t Ray’s Sonar Kella had a villian. Agreed, it was a comic triller.

  10. The point about the absence of villains is particularly sharp.

    thanks, Kobayashi. in college (undergrad) days, that was a common metric with which we used to critic movies.

    The real measure of Oscar (or of the Nobel, or Booker) is not the reaction of those who lose. It’s the reaction of those who win.

    that was right on. In the same vein, the focus should be on India’s own awards. They need to be accorded more prestige, highlighted more, the prize money increased, and so on – simply because the awards are tailored to suit India’s diversity. Wouldn’t it be nice if Hollywood makes a movie in Tamil or in Assamese or in Telugu? It took a Gandhi for a move in that direction.

    Kush – yes, you are right. :) even Hirak Rajar Deshe and Gupi Gyne Bagha Byne had.

  11. Great comment NaiveRealist (#58). Its good to see some real insight here instead of the usual knee-jerk reactions (of which I too am guilty).

    On the contrary, if you are plain descriptive, you can convey the complexity of society in greater depth. but doing that requires you to work much harder, noticing the nuances, the daily habits, the small objects, the detai

    That is very true, and that is why I don’t agree with the equation serious theme = good movie. Anyone can pile on the misery, but to take any situation, happy or sad, and provide some insight into it, is much harder.

    BTW, I was wondering if you (or anyone else here) have read Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Sei Samay (Those Days). Deepa Mehta was accused of lifting the story from the book without crediting the author. I read it a long while ago (a translation into hindi), and while I remember situations vaguely similar to the movie, I do not remember if the exact story was part of the book.

  12. Yeah, I did find it amusing that the Best Picture in Hollywood for 2006 was essentially a knock-off of some hard-boiled Chinese cop film. Granted, an extremely high quality knock-off– they don’t generally have $200 million of play money in the Hong Kong studios after all– but clearly molded around an original idea that coalesced in a foreign film. And yeah, poor Scorsese had to get the recog at some point.

    Funny in fact how foreign or foreign-ish films got the top nods this year, w/ Babel, Pan’s Labyrinth in there among others. It’s still good news for Desi filmmaking overall, after all for once, the Academy is looking outside of the Sunset Boulevard radius, even to S/E Asia for inspiration and for quality films themselves. And besides whatever they like to claim at the Academy, Bollywood films and stars have the global buzz thing going. Everybody knows Amitabh and Aishwarya. Except in the States I guess.

    BTW, and totally absolutely unrelated– anyone with tips on learning how to speak really good, at least subfluent Spanish, within 2 years or so? Starting from, uh, knowing how to say “Yo quiero una gordita mas, por favor?” (And it took me a while to learn even that.) For a variety of reasons I’m relocating to Arizona for my business pretty soon, and just like in Cali, TX and the sunny side of Florida, Spanish in AZ is like survival gear for businesses to get up and running, I guess for a whole gazillion other jobs for that matter. (I grew up in heavily ‘burban New Jersey, so my most intensive Spanish exposure outside of school came from Taco Bell commercials.) I’m not terribly gifted in this department in general, as anyone hearing my rather inventive versions of Kannada and Hindi could attest to.

    I’ve had some people tell me to get a book to start with and then swallow my pride while embarrassing myself in conversation practice with amused native speakers, supposedly slowly getting better. Others say to settle down after work by browsing Spanish magazines/newspapers or by watching some telenovelas and other shows on the Spanish TV stations, although the last time I channel-surfed to one of those shows, I was so distracted by all the scantily-clad Latina beauties around swimming pools– they always seem to work those scenes into the telenovelas, don’t they– that I wasn’t paying all that close attention to the nuances of their spoken Spanish. Still others tell me to find some sneaky excuse (“business prospects investigation”) to spend a few months at a time in one of the nice modern Lat-Am countries like Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica or Uruguay, or in Spain. Apparently it’s so pleasant, while decently modern in those places that many visiting Desis decide to stay, they’re already getting little Desi-towns springing up around locales like Santiago and Barcelona, the way we’ve been taking over blocks of Marseilles, Berlin and Milan here and there. (So nice to be able to read Boccaccio and Immanuel Kant in the original Hindi…)

    Anyone have experience on this, and any starter language-learning software/tapes better than the rest of the pack? Thanks a bunch.

  13. “Funny in fact how foreign or foreign-ish films got the top nods this year, w/ Babel, Pan’s Labyrinth in there among others. It’s still good news for Desi filmmaking overall, after all for once, the Academy is looking outside of the Sunset Boulevard radius, even to S/E Asia for inspiration and for quality films themselves. And besides whatever they like to claim at the Academy, Bollywood films and stars have the global buzz thing going. Everybody knows Amitabh and Aishwarya. Except in the States I guess.”

    an LA Times article advocates doing away with the oscar foreign language category altogether because foreign language movies are increasingly snagging nominations in so many categories, including best picture.

  14. BTW, I was wondering if you (or anyone else here) have read Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Sei Samay (Those Days). Deepa Mehta was accused of lifting the story from the book without crediting the author.

    i have become a machine, a web 2.0 crawler. i have stopped reading. i only comment :)

    but here’s another, probably not-so-well-known, example. Sanjay Leela ‘Haveli’ Bhansali’s movie ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ is a straight lift from Maitreyi Devi’s ‘Nahanyate’ – which was about her and Mircea Eliad‘s brief love affair, when Eliad had come to study Indian Philosophy from her father, Surendranath Das Gupta. One of my favorite novels. The book was a response to Eliad’s La Nuit Bengali.

    Bhansali can be accused of petty theft. Even Aishwarya Rai’s chilli eating session in the movie is copied.

  15. Deepa Mehta’s struggles will dissuade any sane director from trying to shoot in India.

    Not at all! These days the Tamizh movie business is become an extremely difficult place to be in. Every splintered political group wants to prevent its rivals from gaining any traction through the movies. Now barring Kamalahasan (although he’s v.close to the CPI(M)) all others are aligned with one party or the other. Rajnikanth at one time backed the DMK but has remained aloof for some time. But fearing that he could end up backing some party or the other, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (represented by the quack “Dr” Anbumani Ramadoss in the Union cabinet) quickly tried pushing thru a ban on smoking scenes in the movies – whether old or new – with the ridiculous idea that such scenes in all movies should be cut when shown on DD. The target naturally was Rajnikanth whose classics are replete with scenes of the ‘superstar’ smoking. Naturally that led to quite a bit of violence with the Rajni fans retaliating and the PMK goons threatening exhibitors with violence should they screen rajni movies. About 3 years ago Kamalahasan’s Sandiyar had to be retitled Virumandi after riots by goons claiming to be representatives of a particular community. Maniratnam and Rajiv Menon were barred from J&K during and after they made Roja because it the terrorists in the Valley didn’t like being shown for the thugs they are. Maniratnam was attacked at home a few months after the release of his Bombay by a coward who threw a crude bomb and missed. Mani not only fought back but gave chase to the thug and chased him out of his street. As Kush and I have explained on these columns before, Deepa Mehta isn’t the first film-maker to tackle the evil of widow oppression. There have been a fair number of movies that have dealt with the issue, although none of them has dealt with exactly what Deepa has to say. According to Deepa, the RSS insisted (requested for?) on changing the names of some of the characters and Deepa obliged them.

    While quite a few of the top billed actors and actresses come from affluent backgrounds, most of the others – the technicians and artistes have come up the very hard way. Dammit, make up artistes I have met live in conditions not very different from what you see in Salaam Bombay. So it is not as if Bollywood lives in a cocoon while the ‘diasporic’ geniuses swoop in from far beyond and make ‘touching epics’ about the lives of the less fortunate. Well for 9/10 Indian movie professionals cinema is the only craft they know and ever will know. So they tend to be a little cautious about being ‘creative’. There’s no social security, no health insurance, no PF, gratuity etc. So the producer who has pledged his wife’s jewellry and home for the nth time knows that if his movie flops he is taking himself and a few 100 less fortunate people down with him. Yet every now and then the most commercial minded film makers will produce something that stands out. Amitabh rightly resents the tag Bollywood, as if Indian movie making is simply a faux imitation of a suburb of LA. And some day when Hollywood and the ‘diasporic’ geniuses decide to make a movie that really understands people rather than caricatures them – for even excessive sympathy toward one facet of the issue caricatures in the end – we will have a not only a polished film ‘good enough for Hollywood’ but also something that captures the essence of the popular mood. But then again if Hollywood can’t understand an Indian film, too bad. But no sweat. Last month I saw ‘Shree 420′. Now why didn’t someone screen it for Andrew Lloyd Weber? Now there’s a grest theme for a Bollywood inspired musical.

  16. I remember the time when I used to rue how Bollywood never quite made “quality” films. This feeling, however, has been changing over the last few years. Recently, I was speaking to some collegues who come for some of the Eastern European countries. They said something that struck a chord. When they grew up, they really never had the freedom to choose what they wanted to watch or wanted to do. All of this was decided for them by the state. For eg. chick flicks were a strict no-no. They watched artsy types of movies all the time. These guys felt gratitude that they came out “refined” from this forced exercise. However, I realized, it is precisely this presence of choice in our society that gives us the movies that we get from the Indian Industry. And there’s nothing really wrong with it. If people want masala flicks, or light hearted entertainment, and they are the market, then it is only prudent that the Industry produces such movies. I don’t think there’s really any need to wait for Hollywood’s stamp of approval. There is a strong difference in cultures and a difference in priorities and sensibilities. I don’t see what winning an Oscar or a BAFTA really says about an Indian movie. People compete in ample number of film festivals. Why is an award at any one of those any less?

    There are some excellent movies being made in regional languages (esp. Tamil and Malayalam). And I do not think there is a dreath of good movies in other languages either. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences reflects the opinions of a bunch of white folks. I am not sure we desis ought to give them more ‘bhaav’ than they deserve.

    And Naseer bhai is Indian Cinema’s, Bishen Singh Bedi. Fine actor, bitter man. Let him rant. :)

  17. Great posts and a very entertaining thread. Kabayashi(#2) and NaiveRealist especially. And as always excellent point Floridian regarding the coming of the multiplex culture and how with the audience specific specialization of Indian cinema, the best might soon be round the corner.

  18. the villains are so easily understandable, without any nuance andFor Nair (Salaam Bombay) and Mehta (Water) – shown in such black and white

    How about some nuance in the comments? I think Salaam Bombay was a decent film; a fair representation of a certain part of the city.

  19. So much hand wringing over the state of Indian cinema. B’wood sucks. No big revelations there. What’s American Desis’ excuse? Go beyond the wildly inconsistent Nights, Nairs, Mehtas and it looks pretty grim. If people w/ access to the best education, film archives and technology can come up w/ such uninspiring stuff why beat up on friendly unit shifters from desh?

    OK someone reccommend me a movie that I can get on DVD tommorow something that will slap me out of my cinematic stupor and depression over the whackness of everything at the moment.

    Ri-fi-fi. Screw every 90′s hipster heist garbage. This is the real thing.

  20. None of these other countries mentioned have a film industry worth speaking of. They make films purely with award shows and film festivals in mind. In contract, the Indian movie industry makes movies for a mass audience. To me, that’s our strength.

    Oscars are not a benchmark to judge our films by given that the jury is culturally-alien. I’d prefer an RDB to King Kong any day.

  21. I don’t get it. “And I am not referring to Hollywood – we make copies of Hollywood”

    Naseer of all people should know that this is not true. At least not as the blanket statement he intended it to be. How many Hindi movies in the 1960s, 70s, 80, even early 90s were copies of Hollywood? Even in contemporary Hindi cinema, the number of films that are outright copies of Hollywood films are a minor proportion of the films produced in Bombay.

    If anything, the trend post Devdas has been towards period epics drawing on works by Indian authors, or episodes in Indian history (however kitschified and embellished). Very similar to the trends in Hong Kong and mainland China with all the period TV dramas and movies. Check the major blockbuster Hindi movies in the last few years -

    Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (inspired by Na Hanyate as per an earlier commenter) Kal Ho Na Ho (inspired by an earlier Hindi film Anand) Devdas (based on a story by a 19th century Bengali writer) Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar’s script) Rang De Basanti (Raykesh Mehra’s script) Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (Karan Johar’s script) Don2 (based on Amitabh’s earlier film) Umrao Jaan (Hadi Ruswa’s novel) Guru (based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani)

    The latest release – “Eklavya”, AFAIK, not Hollywood inspired In the pipeline – Jodha-Akbar (did Hollywood make a movie on Akbar I didn’t know of?)

    I’m not saying these blatant copies don’t get made. But to dismiss the creativity of an entire industry because of such films is absurd.

    Also, I do acknowledge that many of the criticisms expressed here are very valid, but may I also request that people who didn’t have access to a wide variety of Hindi movies when growing up at least try to see some representative films before coming to such sweeping conclusions about the merits of Hindi cinema?

  22. Actually… um… moderators, please delete the above. After having every YouTube video I linked to — or even mentioned — on my blog get immediately removed from the internet (within 24 hours — incredible!), I’d hate for whoever scans the ‘net looking for copyright violations to come after these people, particularly since they may be perfectly legal. Thanks.

  23. Being Swedish, I have very limited knowledge of Indian cinema.

    The very few Indian films I have seen were either the “commercial” type like Koi… Mil Gaya (2003), Lagaan (2001), or “social realist” movies like Bandit Queen (1994), of course .

    Now, that such different films co-exist is at least a positive sign. Nobody wants a Soviet system where “art-house” movies are forced on the public, or sappy boy-meets-girl musicals and nothing else.

    I’m optimistic: Cheaper and better digital cameras will surely make it easier for alternative filmmakers to get their projects realized.

    Having said that… Personally, I don’t mind that Koi… Mil Gaya ripped off many elements from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Nor do I mind the unintentionally hilarious moment where the plot stops dead while the hero praises a soft-drink to the camera (lots of American movies have ridiculous product-placements!).

    Heck, I can even forgive the censorship which bans kissing from Indian movies.

    But the only thing I can’t stand is the overload of singing and dancing. It’s a cultural divide no matter how you turn and twist it: the great majority of Western movie-going audiences (and award judges) do not like much singing and dancing in movies. (Quick: name the only musical film which Clint Eastwod and Lee Marvin starred and sung in, and which flopped badly.)

  24. The crux of the matter is: as an outsider, when you have the audacity of taking a normative stance, and preaching to the audience the lack of humanity in society, there are chances that you lose authenticity.

    Authenticity as defined by you and the RSS goons? That is the authenticity of the garbage dump and the insance asylum.

    ‘Authenticity’ is the club with which the cavemen of the ‘Authenticity Stasi’ hit any man or woman who steps out of line with as a writer or film maker. The lynch mob that wrecked Deepa Mehta’s set is not so much a law and order issue as a bunch of blockheads and bigots outraged that the lady who made a movie about lesbians was making a movie about Hindu widows. All the rest of the ‘authenticity’ spiel is so much cant. You could at least have worked a funny punch line into it though, something like when Naipaul said about Rushdies fatwa that he thought it was simply an extreme form of literary criticism.

  25. There is no competition in India in the arts department. A poor person with talent will never make it in India because some rich brat will hire someone to set the poor guys mother on fire and he will spend the rest of his life taking care of her and thus making the compeition go away. Can anyone give me an example of a bollywood actor that does not some from a rich family?

    Lol! funny bollywood movie like example. but seriously there are many talented actors, who arent born rich but come up through the film institutes and national school of drama, etc. some of them do make it to films and get a good career. Quality movies get made and these actors do their stuff alongside the mainstream bollywood masala stuff, just that its like an order of magnitude less in number. hence difficult to notice.

  26. Authenticity as defined by you and the RSS goons? That is the authenticity of the garbage dump and the insance asylum.

    Now please don’t set up a straw man. I don’t know how RSS defines authenticity. For me, authenticity is quite similar to a US Supreme Court Justice’s remark on pornography: “I cannot define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” I was commenting on the movie. You like blue, I like green. It is a matter of taste, and I have a jaundiced eye. What can be done?

    The lynch mob that wrecked Deepa Mehta’s set is not so much a law and order issue as a bunch of blockheads and bigots outraged that the lady who made a movie about lesbians was making a movie about Hindu widows.

    Yes, it is a law and order issue. That’s a crucial category, treating all those who are drunk on religion as equal.

  27. Vikram Chandra’s “Cult of Authenticity” essay is an excellent argument against, well, authenticity arguments. But I have to say I’m not completely convinced of his position (note that even in that essay he essentially tries to show his credentials, his knowledge of mythology and literature, that he then uses to support his creative use of it). And much as I wanted to love Fire (great story, my favourite actors, sticking it to the Bajrang Dal goons), it really did not ring true, and the English-speaking was particularly jarring and artificial. I had to turn it off after about twenty minutes because I just couldn’t believe in the situation enough to get immersed in the story. Playing with or taking creative license with a real historical place and time is tricky, and even Rushdie sometimes gets it horribly wrong.

  28. “To understand the soul of Indian Cinema, the masses need Sense, Sensibility, and Sensitivity”, thus spake Padmashree Mammootty many moons ago; sadly, you lot seem to have none of those qualities. If only you bigoted Northies would send a Mallu movie to the Oscars, we’d show you how it’s won. Our actors will enthrall the white west with their overall hirsuteness, superhuman stunts, and their ability to woo women less than half their age. Northie actors are hairless dandies who are at best cheap parodies of the western protagonist. There is nothing Indian or exotic about them. If only the judges got to see glimpses of Mohanlal’s hairy thighs as he deftly leapt over a horde of goons in a Mundu, justice would be served.

  29. A movie is just like any other product in a free-market. How do other Indian made products fare when compared to their Non-Indian counterparts?

    How do Indian-made calculators fare when compared to Japanese calculators? Is there any Indian-made software that can be compared with Microsoft or Norton’s products? Are Indian-made cars as good as its European or American counterparts? Don’t Indian-made T-shirts lose color and/or shrink within a shorter period of time when compared to Taiwanese T-shirts? How does Indian coffee fare when compared to Colombian or Peruvian coffee? Haven’t any of you nearly thrown up after sipping Indian-made wine? Is there a single Indian freeway that can compete with a county-road in any developed country?

    Is there a single product that India excels at? If there was a product-Oscars, would India even get an entry?

    Of course not.

    All the countries you see represented/winning at the Oscars are fairly comfortable financially and have some other products that they compete successfully in a globalised market. Rarely have they been colonised for centuries, and most of them are rich in natural resources. In none of those countries it is considered to be cool or superior to be able to converse in English – their mother tongue has primary importance in all walks of life.

    India needs to re-discover herself (after eight hundred years), and the process barely began about a decade ago. The progress since the late-90′s has been phenomenal, be it in precision machine tools, roads (Golden Quad), software outsourcing, shrimp farming etc etc. Higher education is improving. The middle-class has nutrition that paralells the developed world. Even movies are technically better.

    What needs to change in the obsequisness towards English, a better understanding of their own identity, a resurgence in colloquial thinking and communication and a return to a tradition of taking risks.

    Success will follow.

    M. Nam

    PS: Naiverealist – excellent comments.

  30. Always a pleasure, BidiSmoker. It’s well known that I hate all things Indian and am engaged in a nefarious campaign to degrade, disparage, and otherwise slander the culture of the subcontinent and its diaspora. You and I should really have coffee some time. You say such smart things!

  31. Always a pleasure, BidiSmoker. It’s well known that I hate all things Indian and am engaged in a nefarious campaign to degrade, disparage, and otherwise slander the culture of the subcontinent and its diaspora. You and I should really have coffee some time. You say such smart things!

    Preston and Siddhartha are obviously two big India haters and they along with that Hindu hating Ennis are out to destroy everything Vedic and pure.

  32. Bidi, you really should learn how to read and to follow a discussion. The whole thrust of this thread is about India’s need to be validated in a western popularity contest. The Indian film board isn’t very good at playing this game. The game is shallow and stupid, and yet it is somehow important in India. Everyone know this, and no one disputes the fact that there are talented directors in India.

    Bidi, your willful ignorance and shallow righteousness are really tedious. If you don’t like what I have to say, you are free to email me or call. My info is readily available by clicking on my name. I am not some anonymous online cipher like yourself. If you want to call me a racist (again), I suggest you pick up the telephone or make your way to New York.

  33. Now please don’t set up a straw man.

    Errr….no mate, that straw man was shaped and stuffed and dressed by you in the first place, when you categorised Deepa Mehta as a satanic and crafty scheming ‘outsider’ who violated a nebulous ‘authenticity’ for which she payed an understandable price of being threatened by a lynch mob, vandalised, censored and received death threats. Your aesthetic sensibility being in accordance with the outrage of the RSS philistines and their hysterics about the virginal cultural rape of them by, ahem, Deepa Mehta, is all par for the course. Silly woman! If only she’d paid more attention to the detail and didnt represent ‘bad guys’ (by the decree of the Authenticity Stasi) she might be OK then. Aesthetically and socially.

  34. ‘Authenticity’ is the club with which the cavemen of the ‘Authenticity Stasi’ hit any man or woman who steps out of line with as a writer or film maker. The lynch mob that wrecked Deepa Mehta’s set is not so much a law and order issue as a bunch of blockheads and bigots outraged that the lady who made a movie about lesbians was making a movie about Hindu widows. All the rest of the ‘authenticity’ spiel is so much cant. You could at least have worked a funny punch line into it though, something like when Naipaul said about Rushdies fatwa that he thought it was simply an extreme form of literary criticism.

    Oh come now Red Snapper, what will we dismiss next? The cult of creativity? I am no fan of the RSS and Deepa Mehta had every right to make those movies, but heck, there were teleserials in India 15 years ago (Srikanta, the totally awesome Yugantar), that covered the plight of widows in the same period with far greater insight and subtlety. I still remember the female characters from Yugantar, can you say the same of Water a decade from now? If I had to make a movie about slavery and segregation in the US which was only to be shown in desh, I’d make a movie like Water. I guess I could get a fair run in desh with it, but I won’t expect Americans to find it any good.

  35. What’s your point sakshi? I can’t work out what your point is. What are you taking issue with?

  36. What’s your point sakshi? I can’t work out what your point is. What are you taking issue with?

    The idea that authenticity is some kind of RSS creation and no way to judge a movie. What do people mean when they say something does not ‘ring true’? To say authenticity is some kind of cult is absurd.

    I agree with naiverealist’s statement that

    For me, authenticity is quite similar to a US Supreme Court Justice’s remark on pornography: “I cannot define pornography, but I know it when I see it.

    Anyway, I have to go now. Catch up with you guys later.

  37. The idea that authenticity is some kind of RSS creation and no way to judge a movie. What do people mean when they say something does not ‘ring true’? To say authenticity is some kind of cult is absurd.

    Oh right. Well, in the context of this particular movie and the history of it’s first wrecked production, it is very much an issue and not in the slightest bit absurd. Also, if you want to discuss ‘authenticity’ in art, and how this relates to cinema and literature in the context of India and the Indian disapora, hit me up when you come back from your sojourn and we’ll shoot the breeze on it.

  38. Which recent movies do you count as high quality? Not being snarky, just looking for opinions.

    Omkara Guru * Eklayva ** Rang de Basanti ***

    • I haven’t seen the movie but read reviews, and they all are very positive ** I did not like it at all but people are loving it – It does have John Woo, Brian De Palma touch. It is the buzz right now. *** I thought parts of the movie were quite good, some parts not so.
  39. What’s surprising to me is that not only are great movies on the foreign scale of City of God not produced in India, there aren’t even many MEDIOCRE Indian movies of the independent, artistic vein. Where are the young risk takers, making movies on maxed out credit cards, shooting on location without permits while running from the cops? Where is the equivalent of Clerks, Pi, or Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (budget = $6000)?

    In the US, independent cinema didn’t really come into its own until there was a wholesale re-structuring of the studio system in the late 60s. I wonder if some similar structural business problem is inhibiting the evolution of Indian cinema.

  40. You need to be crazy and driven to make good films. Look at Brazil: there’s only one in “City of God” in that vast country of a million stories. It’s not as if they are producing a “City of God” every year. Once Fernando Meirelles succeeded with that film, he followed it up with the craptastic dwarf of a film “The Constant Gardener.”

    So, I’m not sure the problem is structural. For those who believe that films are mere product, that films ought to be tailored to the market and sold strategically like aloo bhaji, maybe there’s a structural solution.

    For those who think film’s work is to draw us out of our stupor–whether with the subtlety of “Pather Panchali” or “36b Chowringhee Lane,” or with the flashy aggression of “City of God”–there can be no structural answer.

    All you can do is wait for the genius to emerge and blow the art form open. Such a genius, of course, must work within the system to a certain extent, as Satyajit Ray did. “To be in the world, but not of it.”

    The system is necessary but not sufficient. Indeed, if the system is itself too successful and mechanistically money-making, the environment is made a little more difficult for works of genius–not just in terms of finances but in terms of creativity. Think of a mentally-stunted film like the recent “Morning Raga” for instance. Independent, featuring one of the best actresses in the world (Shabana Azmi), excellent locations and, for all that, an utter failure as a film. But, compared to the shlock out there, it’s “quirky” and “independent.”

    Naseeruddin Shah’s “Being Cyrus” was only slightly better, an off-beat script marred by wooden acting and cartoonish characterizations. Shocking, considering Shah’s talent, as well as Saif Ali Khan’s.

    As for the few excellent indies in local languages, the distriubution system conspires against them, and inevitably, they begin to make their own work with an eye on the box-office: i.e. melodramas, with song and dance sequences. Rituparno Ghosh’s “Raincoat” is an excellent film but only in comparison to the nonsense around it. It certainly can’t hold its own against a Tarkovsky or a Kurosawa films that were made with smaller budgets. Ghosh has the talent, but…?

    This problem, of course, is not unique to India, or to film. It is a human problem, not knowing where lightning is going to strike next, and yet wanting to control it, induce it.

    But all we can really do is wait for the genius. And when she’s ready, she’ll do the thing.

  41. I wonder if some similar structural business problem is inhibiting the evolution of Indian cinema.

    Floridian addressed this in paragraph 3 of #52

    However, interestingly uptil the 80s we had a lot of good movies being made and definitely till the 60s and even a little in the 70s these movies were even mainstream and still not the usual boy meets girl fare – be it Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, V Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Ray and a host of other people. It’s only in the 80s that we started seeing a bifurcation of mainstream and parallel cinema. My initial thinking was that maybe till the 60s at least some of these artsy movies were having socialist and rural India overtones and since the whole country was bitten by the Nehruvian socialism bug and the masses could relate to issues of social justice and poverty, these movies were commercially successful too. Thus despite there being poverty and no multiplexes, we still had non mainstream cinema doing well probably because society was more uniform.

    However, even before India started opening its doors to free market reform and we started moving away from the license raj era in the 80s, already the parallel cinema had seperated from the mainstream. It’s true that these movies generally explored more of human relationships but I can’t think of many movies of note in the same vein as the rural and socialist movies of the past and I wonder what caused this sudden change. I mean, why did all these art film makers suddenly start doing the cinema they did. I guess this new art cinema did not impress the masses as much and so we had the whole deal with art movies which did not sell as much.

    Of course, now the situation as Floridian says is different with various genres of movies addressing different demographies.

  42. But all we can really do is wait for the genius. And when she’s ready, she’ll do the thing

    That is in fact true – real genius is independent and above all of it and the system can hold it back only so much. However while there is only a certain amount of real genius, there can be a lot of sub genius – good at what they do but no Ray. So if we have a system that is in fact a hindrance to creativity, out of a lot of those really good people (but not geniuses), a few wont care and do their thing but a lot of them would succumb to ‘market forces’ and do what sells. And so far, the only thing that sold was always a compromise at best. Thus the overall quality of movies would in fact still suffer. Also,we should not forget that creativity builds upon creativity. Thus a good movie being made encourages more good movies to be made and a system which promulgates creativity instead of stifling will undoubtedly have a higher quality of art.

  43. This is a clarion call to all desis who, despite their education and sophistication, unabashedly indulge in good old fashioned desi fillums every so often. Call it mentally slumming it, or just a cerebral version of Friday casual. But a nice Indian movie with a saas, bahu, the big shaadi, the obligatory hero and heroine, some great songs – all washed down with a plate of samosas and chai (make mine masala) – and all’s right with the world.

    How many of you would admit to it? I fess up.

  44. Yes, Ardy. The layer just below the geniuses is the one to concern ourselves about, because that’s the one we can actually have an influence on. If we think of two categories of outstanding work, an upper first class and a lower first class, the upper is a very thin slice, the lower is a bit bulkier.

    I wonder if the “free market” is actually good for that lower first class, but inimical to the upper. Meanwhile limitations (political, financial and/or technical) are terrible for the lower first class, but paradoxically helpful to the upper first class who, in any case, need that starkness and relative purity in which to bring their work about. Because art is so much about the mental environment in which it is incubated. Deep art can hardly come from a shallow milieu. Karan Johar, I’m looking at you.

    Anyway, I’ve gone on too long already, and theories of art are boring. Pardon my prolixity.

  45. In the US, independent cinema didn’t really come into its own until there was a wholesale re-structuring of the studio system in the late 60s. I wonder if some similar structural business problem is inhibiting the evolution of Indian cinema.

    The studio system died in Indian cinema long time ago. Most of the movies in India are funded by fits and starts, all arranged on personal relationships, multiple underwriters, and by informal means – therefore, mumbai mafia steps in. Recently, some VC companies are getting in Bollywood.

    Yes, as shiva pointed out movie makers in India put everything on line while making a movie. Pawning your house, your wife’s jewelry to get immediate funding is not uncommon. A recent well publicized example Sanjay Bhansali for Devdas.