The New Wave of Filmmakers in Bollywood

Oh, sh*ts. I’ve been remiss about so much. I’ve got a backlog of things both shiny and smart to share with you, so please bear with me as I suddenly haunt the mutiny.

The first thing on my list: MTV Iggy’s special feature on Bollywood’s “new wave” of filmmakers. The idea is that, much like the French new wave of the 50s, Indian cinema is facing a radical change, with auteur directors leading the way with a new influx of talent, money, professionalism and creativity. And the audience in India is ready for it. 11smoking1-200x200.jpg Anuvab Pal (friend of Sepia alum Manish Vij) is now a screenwriter in Mumbai, and his funny, engaging, and very revealing article is a must read:

In fall 2003, I was asked by a friend of mine, the director Manish Acharya, to co-write a film with him. It would be about a Bollywood singing contest in New Jersey. We were influenced by the movies of Christopher Guest and Woody Allen, and had lived in New York for a numbers of years. At some point, in various coffee shops in Manhattan, as we wrote, I asked Manish who our audience might be. He intelligently remarked that we shouldn’t write with audiences in mind but just try to tell a good story. That’s the sort of answer auteur film directors give at film festival Q&As and grave audiences nod in agreement. It had a sort of nobility to it. I was far more interested in a petty middle-class answer.

“Still, who?” I insisted.

“Whom” he corrected, adding, “New India. This is a film for new India.”

[snip]

…Somehow, somewhere, someone said enough. The fiefdoms of old-school studios churning out regressive family sagas, the cartel of stars making unreasonable demands like stretch limousines during foreign shoots, silly Hallmark Channel soap conflicts, cheesy glamour, lazy storytelling, laughable dialogue that made us ashamed on airplanes when we read them subtitled, and the clichés of Bollywood (boy meets girl, coy dancing around trees, gratuitous wet sari scenes)… all, in the last seven years, somehow ended.

[snip]

“The only producers from the earlier era who will survive are those who are trying to change. You need to bring in new writers and directors to make that happen” explained a studio executive at The Indian Film Company. “Look at Aamir Khan-he starred in terribly silly movies playing lovers in sailor hats. Today he’s India’s leading cutting-edge producer of the new wave. And look at Subhash Ghai. Once with the Midas touch, now critics say he’s lost the pulse of his audience.”

As a writer of alternative films in Bollywood, I see the studios’ daily struggle to be relevant as every Friday some new director releases a cult hit. I’ve been in script meetings for a Bollywood remake of Motorcycle Diaries, an adaptation of “half” a remake of Steve Martin’s Bowfinger, and I got offered a screenplay based on “a story about a murderer/singer/dancer in Paris”.

11luckbychancee-poster (1).jpg

Clearly, producers are hungry for new material and simultaneously unsure of new ideas. Instinctually they recoil, but are worried the changing audience might think otherwise, so they second guess. “Today’s Bollywood is like the Jazz age America,” a magazine writer at Cine Blitz, India’s most popular film tabloid told me. “Everything is trendy, though no one knows the next trend”.

Into the middle of all this parachute-dropped Slumdog Millionaire, the global phenomenon which immediately made both old Bollywood and new Bollywood exhilarated and angry at the same time. Angry because new wave directors like Sudhir Mishra or Anurag Kashyap did similar (and arguably much better) films like Satya and Dharavi, on similar subjects — i.e. set in slums amongst Mumbai gangsters. Angry because no Hollywood studios swooped in with distribution deals that would have ensured a similar global (especially American) audience. Angry also because the term “poverty porn” was being thrown around as if India’s biggest cinematic export was its destitution. Exhilarated because Hollywood studios have flocked to India in the last few years, and Slumdog has cemented their stay.

Full article here. He’s a great writer, and the piece is interesting peek into an industry generally shrouded in mystery and wallpapered with winking/kowtowing celebrity profiles.

The feature also includes video interviews with directors like Anurag Kashyap (Dev D):

MTV IggyAnurag Kashyap: Bollywood = Stock Characters in La La Land
Anurag Kashyap

Rohan Sippy (Bluffmaster, producer of The President is Coming), Zoya Akhtar (Luck By Chance), actors like Naseeruddin Shah, slideshows, etc.

[full disclosure: I work for MTV Iggy and edited the feature. If you think it's stupid, now's your chance to tell me!]

71 thoughts on “The New Wave of Filmmakers in Bollywood

  1. It’s kind of off topic but..Anyone else notice the increase of blonde women in Bollywood?

    Those movies are kinda bad anyways, but this addition, I find, to not be helping..

  2. Thank God for India’s National Film Awards and for Doordarshan. Despite the bureaucracy of both, they made sure (and still do) that Indian film is not narrowly restricted to Bollywood. In the 80s and 90s, I remember National Award winning films being broadcast nationally on Sunday afternoons (with subtitles to help cross language barriers). That’s how I first saw the Tamil movie Nayakan while sitting in the Punjab and was able to appreciate what a truly fine actor Kamalahasan was.

  3. I prefer City on Fire (another classic from the dark ages) to Reservoir Dogs. Kill Bill was terrible. Death Proof plays like a Tarantino parody in which every female character talks like Tarantino about…

    Well, i said “usually” , not always. Besides, I happen to love Kill Bill – both volumes. I think it was a good example of Tarantinto borrowing a lot of trash and improving on them. Death Proof – the convesations between the first set of females was really boring, but I loved all the scenes involving Kurt Russell. The Deathproof version actually plays better because for some odd reason, QT chose to edit out some of the better scenes for the Grindhouse cut, while he left in some of the really boring stuff. Sally Menke really needs to exert some independence while editing QT’s stuff.

    I do think the indie movement in the US has become formulaic of late. They have developed their own set of cliches.

  4. And dear Debojit, in my moment of great extrapolation I failed to mention Bagdad Cafe and The Cook, the Theif, His Wife and Her Lover. And Really? Only Jarmusch?

    Bollywood had gone awry because of the influx of the VCR and Southern Producers

    Please explain.

    I was just thinking about how the VCR made it possible for me to watch so many independent and international films; films that would never have been in the theaters of my little po-dunk home town. Pravin, can you relate? Or was your home town loaded with Indie film houses when you were growing up?

  5. bess, I moved to India for my middle years. But in college and in my 20s, I had access to plenty of indie houses back here in the U.S. Recently, I have been watching most of my indie stuff on cable. I am having a hard time getting immersed in a lot of them as they have become too predictable. IFC has started showing Indian movies on some Sundays like Johnny Gaddaar. I thought it was actually pretty decent low budget movie. While it seemed similar to Western crime thrillers, it was still Indian enough. No stupid songs. Wasn’t too long. Pretty decent acting. IFC showed Gajini, a hilariously bad remake of Memento.

  6. Bess

    Pravin didn’t help there, did he? :( Anyways, you would be better suited in enlightening us how you acquired the VHS’s of those classics instead of carrying on a sardonic tirade against a fact – the VCR and the remote control pulled people away from the theatres.

    And why did you miss The Horse Thief, Boy Meets Girl, Ran, Kagemusha, Ballad of Narayana, The Last Metro, Raging Bull, Do the Right Thing? Sporadic spurts of great cinema in corners around the world will always happen. That doesn’t ensure the subjugation of an overall crisis that the medium faces. Any more films you liked from the decade?

  7. I am having a hard time getting immersed in a lot of them as they have become too predictable.

    Once the hipsters catch onto anything they sap it of all its fun and originality. So it was with flannel, facial hair, indie movies, and now indie films. It’s like Andy Dick showing up at a night-club.

  8. IFC showed Gajini, a hilariously bad remake of Memento.

    I sat through that one. Aamir Khan’s workout video had more suspense.

    Pravin didn’t help there, did he? :(

    You’re right, Debojit-ji. Pravin didn’t help me in composing an ode to the VCR. Pravin, it sounds like you’ve lived in some sophisticated places.

    Anyways, you would be better suited in enlightening us how you acquired the VHS’s of those classics instead of carrying on a sardonic tirade against a fact…

    I’m flattered that you’d accuse me of pitching a sardonic tirade – it’s my first. I truly am surprised that you think the 80s were a dark age in cinema save for Jarmusch, but I’m happy you’ve recognized that every Dark Age has its Charlemagne and…every podunk has its video store. Thankfully the fellow buying the movies in my local hometown shop was a film student.

    …the VCR and the remote control pulled people away from the theatres

    I do agree with you on that one. But the town I grew up in was busy playing the Schwarznegger/Reynolds/Stallone and Mad Max films of the day. I’m still working on that VCR ode ; )

    Any more films you liked from the decade?

    You’re just toying with me some more aren’t you?

  9. no mention of ‘taare zameen par‘ anywhere in the post, comments or cicatrix’s lists??? am i the only one who thinks it was one of the best movies in years? and as far as i can tell very original.

  10. Looks like you can’t please the snobs no matter what! Ok, I challenge everybody who is so incensed at the ‘new wave’ categorisation to point me to anything in the history of Hindi cinema that makes Oye Lucky!… or No Smoking or Khosla… a run of the mill been-there-seen-that. I would agree that it may be a tad early to celebrate the ‘wave’, but I’ll take it even if it’s no high tide.

    There’s basically two snob camps here, ones who aren’t quite convinced Indian (Hindi) cinema is there yet, and the other would refuse to acknowledge anything that is not high minded (hence all the talk of Ray, Guru Dutt and so on). I have been going through Ray’s entire work and while I have enjoyed watching most, there are a few weak ones there, including some that are quite acclaimed (Ganashatru for one, Shakha Proshaka was very uneven in parts). Personally, Oye Lucky… was a great movie for me, with brilliant dialogue and characters, and excellent performances, especially from Neetu Chandra and RIcha Chaddha. One of the great things about these movies is they are redefining expectations of how a movie could unfold, while still managing to pull in audiences in multiplexes. I think putting these down as ‘timepass’ and ‘profanity laden’ is completely misreading what they are about. The worst kind of condescension is to say ‘I would watch Tarantino’ if I wanted the real thing. Please, you don’t like it, fine!!!

  11. Whoever said this that today’s entertainers are tomorrow’s classics is a genius. Absolutely. When philharmonic orchestras present a take on Led Zeppelin (as did a v.v.renowned Midwestern orchestra 2 years back) you know that the popular has become profound. A few months back when I heard that Prakash Mehra had passed away, on a whim, I decided I must see one of his classics. So I tuned into youtube.com, and there I find Muqaddar ka Sikandar. Wow! When Nihalani made Ardh Satya everyone commented how the villain is not a crazily dressed caricature ensconced in a cave or fortress but a portly mundane character housed in a simple flat, but utterly venal. Did they forget Ajit’s Seth Dharam Dayal Teja, a peddler of spurious pharmaceuticals? His “hideout” is an simple bungalow (probably located in Juhu VPS) but obviously only hte very rich can afford them in Bombay, so was the character sketched. And talking about the innovaive filmmakers, everyone has forgotten Bharatiraja’s Tamizh classics, starting with his first one – 16 Vayathinile.

  12. dear all, This is an interesting thread, and also one that discusses the very obvious new wave in hindi cinema. I just read a blog post http://wiralmenongitis.wordpress.com/2008/12/04/4-12-2008-an-exciting-phase-in-hindi-cinema/ a few days back that actually lists some of these new directors: basu, misra, bharadwaj – al the usual suspects are there, ion addition with people like mathew (?) who made “my wife’s murder” recently, that was taut and gripping. Well, to come back to the discussion, I feel that the wave was actually begun by the movie “hyderabad blues” released in 1998, and which brought about the much-maligned “multiplex movie” trend. watsays, everyone?

  13. Aravind, It’s me, Dorian Gray. Funny meeting you here!. Anyway, I must say you have done a really good job with the blog. Nicely covered most of the recent ‘new wave’ movies that I liked. Do you remember when we went to see Hyderabad blues? I think they were handing out free Charms cigarettes (Charms blues)- how the times have changed.

  14. Nanda Kishore,

    Agreed on all except I feel Basu Chaterjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Aziz Mirza etc. made films like Oye Lucky etc.

  15. Gee, have I hread about the revolutionization of Bollywood befre? yes, I have, every couple of years, in fact. Especially if you are a reader of India Today, you would have heard every 6 months or so how “hip young directors with global outlooks” were going to change Bollywood forever. Then their films come out and they turn out to be the same garbage as before, albeit with bigger budgets and slicker production values.

  16. 1) Watch the interview with Nassruddin Shah 2) Bollywood is crap copies of western material 3) Most of Real India doesn’t even speak Hindi..the whole industry needs a genuine revamp 4) Why do we desis love talking about Music, Actors models et al? Why don’t we pay this much attention to high level ( not English) Indian Literature? Surely there are many ideas in them that can be turned to original stories?

  17. Most of Real India doesn’t even speak Hindi

    Where is the ‘Real’ India situated, Wanderer, and what language does it speak?

  18. dear literati, according to the 2001 census, a lttle over 41% of india speaks hindi. thats more than 422 million native speakers, not including persons like me whose first language and second language is somethng else, but can fluently converse, read and write in hindi. if u include urdu, which is similar in grammar and syntax, this number swells to more than 650 million. these are impressive numbers, surely. then where is the “real india” u (and mister shah) talk about? regards, nirvana demon