A few simple things about Indian Cinema that are often not understood, forgotten or Ignored by followers of Indian movies, both here in India and elsewhere in the world.
If you ask a foreigner, who for the very first time in his life, has come out of a theatre, having watched an Indian movie, he will have this baffled look on his face. He would give out this usual reply, that one can hear coming from the lips of a tourist, who for the very first time, has come to visit India. “It’s so colourful, extravagant, exotic and the people are so wonderful”. You clearly know that he hadn’t really enjoyed it and was in fact taken aback by what he had witnessed, completely contrasting to what he had usually seen and expected. “Why should we even bother about what an outsider thinks of our films (or our country)? Indian movies are meant for Indians and if we enjoy it, it’s more than a success” would be the usual reply from an Indian, loyal to his country and to his film industry...correction... industries.
Unfortunately however as is the case with everything else in the world, whatever the west does, is considered universal and the proper norm. They’re achievements are seen as yardsticks to measure the greatness of a work, from all parts of the world. I have a lot to say on this “Universality” of the west, but I rather leave it to Mr. Edward Said (Orientalism). One cannot deny that Hollywood and several other film industries from Europe have produced some great works in every genre possible and surely they deserve to be given the honour of the “Best” or “Some of the Best” to be more precise. But is it fair to judge Indian movies, with the same standards, that people use to judge a western movie? Indian cinema is a whole different ball game.
Before we get on with the differences between Indian and Western Cinema (apologies for putting all the individual film industries into one category) on the whole, we have to first understand how Indian Cinema is actually viewed abroad. Many people outside India, who follow Indian movies, tend to brand every movie coming from India as a “Bollywood” film. But for people within India, “Bollywood” refers to films coming out from the city of Mumbai (Bombay + Hollywood= Bollywood). But Mumbai isn’t the only place where movies are being made. We got the Tamil films coming from Chennai (Kollywood), Telugu films from Hyderabad (Tollywood), Malayalam movies from Kerala (Mollywood), Kannada films from Karnataka (Sandalwood), Bengali films from Kolkata (also Tollywood) and so on...
There are more than a dozen film industries, based in different states and cities of India, with their own languages and their own culture being portrayed (not to mention their own version of some “wood”). There are sections of people within the industries and outside, who feel that the terms like Bollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood and Tollywood are very degrading. They prefer to refer to their industries based on the language they use (like Hindi film Industry, Marathi Film Industry, Bengali Film Industry, Bhojpuri) or refer to by the cities they come from, like the Mumbai film Industry, the Chennai Film Industry and so on. Since the films coming from Mumbai (We cannot forget the Marathi film industry, also based in Maharashtra, Mumbai being its capital) are in Hindi (the national language of India) it tends to have the most number of audiences compared to other film industries, therefore more money involved and has the potential to become more popular than works produced by other film industries. That however does not make it the industry producing the best of works. If we do study the success ratio of movie industries from across India, over the past few decades, the so called “Bollywood” industry has had several peaks and several troughs, whereas the regional industries have had a steady growth over the years. Catering to the diverse sensibilities of people from different backgrounds can be a tough prospect and that could be an explanation for the rise and fall of the Hindi Film Industry.
The migration of many people from different parts of India, to other parts of the world, has lead to the increase in popularity of Indian cinema abroad as well. This can be understood with the increase in viewers of Hindi, Tamil, Telugu movies, in particular, from regions outside India. Indian movies did have some following in Eastern Europe, Middle Eastern and in several South East Asian countries for several decades, but not as many as we have today. Shah Rukh Khan, the “King of Bollywood” is recognised by non-Indians, even in places like South Africa, Australia, Germany and a few other places where you normally would not expect an Indian actor to be recognised.
The increase in popularity of Indian Cinema, in these places, far and wide, does not necessarily mean that these films are being viewed for all the good reasons. There are a few movies genuinely appreciated for their great cinematography, good sets, colourful costumes, melodious or catchy tunes, overall plot and so on. But there are a few dance sequences, songs and videos with stunts of certain actors that get popular, time and again, all for the wrong reasons, to be mocked and laughed upon. Many outsiders might even consider “Bollywood” movies (not really being specific if a particular movie is from the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali film industry) to be a bit too unreal, with all its extravagant dances, songs popping up in rather odd instances, visual effects that are not as convincing as the ones seen in western movies and overall poor production quality.
The viewers however would not want to seem rude and when questioned in person, in front of a mike, they would try to give the whole “Exotic and colourful” routine. But the one place where every person would be more than willing to express his or her honest view is the internet. That’s where the true opinion regarding anything and everything can be received, despite the presence of a whole lot of trolls. Forums on world cinema and the comment section of you tube videos, give a somewhat real idea as to what people, who come from lands outside the Indian subcontinent, think about our films (there are however many Indians pretending to be foreigners, commenting on videos, trying to give out a feel that their films are getting really popular in faraway lands as well). But then again, their (people generally on the internet) comments do show a lack of understanding of how things really work in the Indian film circle.
First and foremost, movies of different languages do tend to have different number of followers. As stated earlier, the Hindi film industry has the most number of followers, followed by Tamil and Telugu movies. The presence of subtitles can mean that you don’t really need to know a language to understand the movie, but still when someone says that we are to watch a movie of a foreign language with subs, we would naturally have a bit of a hesitancy. We would not be as eager to watch a subtitled movie, as we would be to watch a movie of a language that we are really familiar with. Some people even consider the act of reading subtitles as a work and they prefer to avoid it. Some people even complain that all their concentration is on reading the subs that they are not really able to enjoy the other finer things on the screen.
Furthermore the English subtitles (let alone other language subs) really do not do justice to what is truly portrayed and conveyed in a scene through dialogues and lyrics. A song sequence in a Tamil movie, with all its poetic beauty and use of metaphors, simile and other word plays, tend to look rather retarded when roughly translated into English from the native Tamil lyrics. The same applies to dialogues in a powerful scene. A long dialogue in an emotional scene in a Marathi movie, expressing so many dimensions of a man’s feeling in the native Marathi, can be roughly translated in a line in English, leaving non Marathi speakers to sit rather impatiently wondering “What in the world are they talking about for so long. Are the subtitles really working?”
Dubbing of movies can work to some degree, but the body language and actions of people from different regions differ greatly. So the dubbing alone cannot make a film suitable for watching for people of all other countries. English movies work better all over the world as people from all continents have some time or another, witnessed the way of life of the west and are exposed to the body language of the people from there. Body language and reactions of characters in a movie is very important and what can be considered cool in one region, can be seen to be ridiculous in another. Also certain actions are acceptable in certain parts of the world, while certain others are not. Sex scenes are common in western movies and are not seen as something bad unlike in the Indian subcontinent, while beating of kids or women is common in Indian movies, but this is seen as something really wrong in western countries. The real moral right or wrong are not for us to judge, or at least in this text.
Language is just the first barrier, or what is considered to be barrier by many. Sure, some of the aesthetics of the language used in a movie is lost when it is dubbed or subtitled in English, but it still does not become completely incomprehensible. We’ve got bigger issues to deal with here. Audiences of International cinema cannot accept certain characteristics of a particular genre appearing in another completely contrasting genre. But in predominant of Indian movies, there is no proper classification of genre. There lies the main reason why a movie can be considered good within India, but poor outside India. This is the very same issue that makes the life of Filmmakers a whole lot difficult.
Indian cinema began with influences of theatre and street plays from centuries ago. In India, unlike the Shakespearean times, where actors performed without any particular costumes, or detailed sets, but started and ended with just trumpets going on and a dance jig, here everything was detailed, costumes and make up were so focused upon that they sometimes just blared at the audience rather heavily. Every play had to have its comic scenes, the serious scenes, lengthy, well crafted dialogues, songs with powerful lyrics and of course an engaging plot. Any of these missing in a play, would make the audience feel cheated and make them think that they have not been served for what they had paid. The same mentality carried over to people of later generations as well. They expect the same number of things from movies that their ancestors expected from street plays. They want the dance, the song, the costumes, the sets, beautiful performers and even more beautiful performances, the comedy routine, the stunts and the dramatic acting throughout.
Thus modern filmmakers tend to make movies with all these aspects, though the central theme of the story would not require many things that are being added to it. A science fiction movie based in the city of Chennai will have an abrupt song sequence with actors dancing in some far away land, like on the hills of Machu Pichu. A historic Hindi movie will suddenly have the actors singing in some remote deserted island in Europe. Not to mention the appearance of a whole lot of back up dancers out of nowhere. “Where did they come up from, all of a sudden? Why did they have a song when we are about to make an important discovery in the plot? Nothing makes sense here...” would be the comment from a person who is being exposed to Indian cinema for the first time.
There are also business motives here. It’s the songs from movies that get released first and the popularity of the songs can bring in more viewers to the theatres to watch the films as well. As for the dancers in the background, let us just say that more families are getting fed, thanks to the employment of these dancers. Of course their presence in dance videos do make the sequences more spectacular (this depends on their proper use by the choreographer), but there are instances when the song does not really require background dancers, but are used nonetheless.
Stunt sequences do often make a significant portion in Indian movies and there are instances when stunts are added for no apparent reason at all. There are a lot of Indian movies where the female lead stumbles upon a group of thugs, who tease her and harass her, only to get beaten by the heroic male lead, who appears in the next few frames to save the heroine. This regular scene can be seen in several movies even today and this particular sequence would have no connection to the main storyline. Dream sequences where the hero imagines dancing with the heroine or the heroine imagines singing with the hero is another regular in many Indian movies. These sequences are those that take these actors and background dancers to many foreign locations. “Why are these people in some far away land, when the story is taking place in India?” Well though Indians these days are found in almost every corner of the world, it still is not an easy affair for an average Indian to visit lands outside India that often. These people would love to be shown faraway, exotic locations within the few rupees that they pay for the movie. Of course this one feature of Indian films wasn’t really taken from stage plays of the past.
Speaking of money, people outside India, must understand that Indian filmmakers and producers do not have much money to deal with in the first place. Even though there are several producers who are millionaires and even a few billionaires, they aren’t going to invest in a trade that might not really fetch them a lot of money for certain. Most films fail in the Box office, while a select few succeed, making the “film business” a big gamble (like in any other part of the world). Successful Indian movies do bring in a lot of money after its release, but many people haven’t yet been able to figure out the success formula effectively. Even if that is figured out, we cannot forget the fact that even the most successful Indians films aren’t going to bring in money as much as those that the Hollywood films bring in. English being a language that is popularly used all over the world, Hollywood movies naturally have a larger following, from practically every part of the world, thereby a larger market. Even an average grossing Hollywood film can still bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. But Indian movies, due to the language barrier, tend to have comparatively smaller following. Even Hindi movies which have the most following in India do not fetch that large amount of money as a Hollywood movie. In fact the most successful Indian movie can still be at par with an average grossing Hollywood movie. One reason being the Dollar-Rupee differences. Another being the number of audiences these movies can attract and lastly the amount of money the Indian audiences pay to watch a movie.
While in the United States, a single movie ticket can cost around ten dollars, here in India, even the most expensive of theatres provide tickets for close to one twenty to one fifty rupees, (not even three dollars) while a majority of theatres catering to the middle or lower class people (who are the majority of Indian film goers) provide tickets for around a dollar. The most successful Indian movie so far 3 Idiots (2011) has grossed close to eighty million dollars (combining Indian and overseas ticket sales), but it is not every day that this kind of money is generated by Indian films. True that Indian films’ popularity has gone up several levels, in the past few years and it will continue to grow in the years to come. This would only put pressure on the filmmakers to make better movies with the increase (hopefully with better reception across the world) in resources. But still the lack of enough money can be stated as a reason for relatively lower production quality in India so far. But that is not the only reason why I have mentioned this here.
This uncertainty in a film’s success has prompted many directors and producers of the past, to take a safer path. Many producers are not art lovers or people who have ambitions of making great movies. They are there as businessmen and they want to make lots of money in quick time. These producers do tend to put pressure on directors to make a movie with a particular formula, which they think produces maximum appeal to the audience, based on the successes of past movies that have impressed many people and earned a lot of money. This often leads to similar kind of movies being made at different time periods. There are a few good filmmakers and producers who take the risk and change the trend, thereby getting successful having experimented with something new. This particular trend is then followed by other filmmakers and producers hoping to have the same kind of success as that movie which had tried new things. Little do these producers and directors, who go for a formulaic cinema, realise that the movie they tried to emulate succeeded because it did not emulate movies that came before it, but those people took a risk and tried to make something new.
This is one more reason why there are certain types of movies that keep appearing in different film industries at one particular time. Since I am more familiar with Tamil cinema, I can point out to the latest trend, that is seen in Tamil movies these days, that involving a village back drop, with little known actors, dealing with a very melodramatic subject, often focusing on the lives of poorer and downtrodden people and centering around the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Another thing that producers and filmmakers (who are more focused on money, rather than good quality work) often try to do, is to understand the mindset of the audiences. It is true that one must know their audiences well before producing a work for them. But are the audiences being correctly judged?
We in India have the habit of classifying audiences’ tastes and preferences based on the economic status, which is as wrong as the caste system. There is a general belief that people from a lower economic status enjoy the commercial type of cinema with all the above mentioned elements and richer audiences, having been exposed more to the world outside India and world cinema are loyal to the more “mature” artistic cinema. This is one of the silliest believes ever, as a person from a low income background can still admire and appreciate the intellectual films and a person from a sophisticated background can still only prefer the so called “Masala Movies” (One more way of referring to a movie that contains flavours of different genres combined into one, often making it seem completely ridiculous.)
But dividing films simply into two rough types is not a great idea either. What is an artistic cinema in the first place? Indian audiences have this thought that any film that does not focus too much on the songs or dance side of the film and concentrate more on the story is an artistic film. But dance and song are an art themselves and its absence can make the term “artistic” less relevant. Of course the way the plot is created, how dialogues are written and how the actors play their characters can all give meaning to the word artistic. But the real meaning of ‘art film’ refers to the focus given by the makers to particular subjects that might not be aimed at the mass audience, but focusing on a niche market, for their movies. Some people even think that any movie that is slow in its narrative and has absolutely nothing “entertaining” about it is an art film. Even some Indian filmmakers having been exposed to western art films, tend to make their films rather slow, thinking that these movies aren’t supposed to have a fast pace about it. But a good story does entertain and it is wrong to claim art films to be “dull, boring and not entertaining at all”.
Art films generally do not do well in India. Art films of course do not make as much money as other mainstream films, all over the world and that is understandable, but Indian art films have lesser success than even an average western art film, owing again to lesser number of audiences and the differing tastes between Indian and western audiences. But there are some really good filmmakers, despite the lack of proper revenue in art films, continue to make them and these few filmmakers have to be lauded.
Some of the mistakes made by the Indian directors, producers and actors themselves have to be given some focus as well. I have already stated that most producers are only businessmen who hesitate to try out new types of cinema, but it would rather be unfair to accuse all the film producers in the entire country to be of this sort. There are productions houses and film producers who have been in the industry for decades and they do try their best to produce quality film and these sort of production houses and producers are far and few, though they do exist and they are the reason for good films being made. But are these few good films really catching the eye of the world? Sure the people from the film circle, all over the world, do get to come across these good Indian movies and they appreciate it often. Many Indian movies have also time and again won prestigious awards at various International film festivals, but do the common folk from across the world, come to know of these films. Somehow many foreigners (not just westerners, but people from all over the world) have the thought that Indian films are all about romance, dance and fight scenes with “over the top” performances. It’s because only such movies often get the attention of those people there, as only things that are odd, often get noticed.
Even within India, people from different parts of the country have different views on the various film industries. Many followers of Bollywood, might consider Southern films to be just about insane stunt scenes and fast beat songs (‘Apadi podu’ from Ghili (2004), one of the Tamil songs that became popular in other parts of India for its fast paced music and dancing helped in stressing on this false belief.) Similarly many south Indian audiences might consider Hindi films to be full of crying and mourning scenes and some people might even consider Bengali movies to be very depressing because of the sadder plots that many films from that industry are ‘believed’ to have. However all these views are completely wrong, as all industries produce all sorts of movies, but only the things that are not very common in their own industries or better done in other industries, tend to catch the eye of the people. Malayalam films in India are considered to produce more realistic cinema and several films have been appreciated for that quality, but they do not produce just realistic cinema and they do often dwell in fantasy genre as well. Telugu films are more popular for their myth based story lines, but they also do produce romance and action films as well.
So different film industries are misunderstood to produce particular type of films, though they all do produce several good and bad films in all sorts of genres and formats, even though nobody can clearly define to what genre a particular movie might belong. Some Indian film makers, often inspired by works from the west, tend to make those movies in their own language. In many instances they openly declare that they have been inspired and they are making it, while in a few instances, the makers do not reveal about their inspiration and these films often end up being criticised for Plagiarism. It is very much necessary for any filmmaker to check if the movie that they are planning to make has been made in some other country in some other language. If one is truly remaking a movie from some other country, care should be taken that the credit to the original creators are given and they are asked permission first, before the project is taken for production. Several Indian filmmakers have often been accused for copying concepts and not giving credit to the original movies, but this sort of cases do not mean that all Indian movies are copied from movies from other parts of the world.
Some filmmakers often adapt from movies or books created in some other country and they duly announce that the movie is just an adaptation, but even then some people might accuse these makers for having plagiarised. Kandukondein Kandukondein (2000) was a Tamil film, the story of which was inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The makers had formally announced that the movie was based on the book, but many haters of the director accused it of being plagiarised. The movie actually deserved credit as the director had done a great job in telling a story, originally based on a family from the Victorian England, in the aspect of a south Indian family of the twenty first century. The difference between a plain copied movie and an adaptation can be clearly understood through this movie. This difference is not fully comprehended by many Indians and they often confuse plagiarism and adaptation.
One more reason why Indian movies don’t make as much money as the western industries is piracy. Western movies too get pirated and its copies appear online and in black markets across several countries as well. But western studios also officially release their movies in DVDs and Blue ray disks, whereas most Indian studios don’t officially launch their movies in DVDs. Even though many people do download English movies from the internet, there are people who buy original DVDs and Blue ray disks from markets or download movies by paying for it on Netflix and other similar sites that provide proper print for a good amount of money, legally. Sometimes the pirated copies can also help in more sales of the original DVDs of movies, as many people, who have watch the pirated version of movies online, feel less satisfied because of poor quality (in some cases) or even so impressed by the movies, that they would want to own the original copy. This leads to increase in sales of original DVDs of western movies.
In Indian film industries, only certain movies are officially released in DVDs, but a majority of movies are not and this leads to pirated versions of the movies, getting flooded in markets across the country, which get bought by a lot of people, who want to own a copy in their homes. And in India, the concept of collecting DVDs is not as popular a hobby, as taken up by many people in the west. Sure there are hardcore movie buffs, who enjoy collecting good prints of very good movies, but it’s still a minority. Even they have to resort to pirated versions sometimes, due to the studios not releasing their movies in original DVD formats. Many people are just concerned with watching a movie for entertainment and they might not be really concerned about the quality or how and where they see it. If an entire family of seven to ten members can watch a movie for fifty to sixty rupees (just around a dollar) through pirated DVDs, they are naturally not going to spend thousands of rupees for the same number of people watching the same movie in a theatre.
But people these days are beginning to understand more about the hard work of the filmmakers and how the reward for their hard work, can be lessened, by people not watching movies in theatres and instead watching in pirated copies at home. Also more and more people are beginning to understand that no matter how good a television set or sound system you might have at home, it can never stand in comparison to the experience of watching movies in theatres with all its effects and of course with fellow movie goers, who can be equally excited as you are. Hence piracy has to be curbed, in the following years, for Indian movies to do better, and western cinema as well.
There are several things that Indian filmmakers have to work on as well, to produce better quality of cinema. One of the things to be remembered by filmmakers is to give as much importance to the back ground score, as they would give for full length songs. Many directors over the decades have created movies with songs that have become tremendous hits amongst the audiences, but not that great a background score. The background score is something that most filmmakers tend to undervalue. A good background score can make a movie much more exciting and can give a pleasant or a haunting feeling (based on the kind of scene the background score accompanies) to the audience. Many people tend to not focus on the background score when watching a scene and this makes many filmmakers think that it does not need much attention. But the background score does enter the audiences’ mind without their conscious effort and produces a great impact on their emotions.
Romance scenes with a pleasant background score can turn a movie much more memorable and make a lasting impression on its viewers, without their own conscious knowledge. A terrifying movie with a lot of horrific scenes accompanied by a haunting background track can create a sense of restlessness and fear in the minds of the audience and that is certainly the aim of a horror movie. An energising, inspiring tune, accompanying a scene where a sense of patriotism or heroism is to be highlighted, can make the audiences feel their hair raising on their arms. A suitable and impactful tune can create the perfect mood and ambience for a movie, making a greater impression on the movie’s audiences and move them to different worlds. Surely movies with good soundtracks are much more remembered and cherished than ones without it, even if the movies have a good plot to it.
Use of Visual effects and Animations in Indian movies is another thing that has to be given great attention. While Hollywood filmmakers first used these highly complicated programs, to make animations and visual effects, whose sole purpose, was to create on screen, things that cannot be achieved in real life (like exaggerated, gravity defining stunts or fantastical characters like ghosts, aliens or magical beings), some Indian filmmakers think that just using visual effects and animated characters in their movie, can make their movie seem highly advanced and of world class quality. Filmmakers in other countries tried to make the visual effects as real as possible, so as to not make the audience differentiate, what is real and what is not, on a screen. Whereas some Indian filmmakers, thinking that the audiences must know that they’ve used advanced technology and complicated software to create something extraordinary, often create works that appear quite obvious, that they have been created in a computer and not real. This sort of a mentality must change and more meticulous work has to be done on the animation and visual effects front in Indian cinema.
Indian film industries have been blessed with some really wonderful stunt directors and stunt men themselves, but are they being properly used? Many men have given up their lives over the decades while working on complicated stunt sequences and many more have been gravely injured. But all this hard work by all these stunt men go to waste, as many stunt sequences are poorly edited, often with unnecessary fast cuts or extremely slow shots. In many scenes the ropes and harnesses used aren’t properly hidden by people in the post production department and the stunt sequences appear poorly made, despite the stuntmen risking their lives doing it.
Dance sequences are something else that the people involved in it, put their heart and soul into, but the end product becomes seriously messed up by poor editing. As stated earlier, the dance sequences involve not only the lead characters, but also dozens and dozens of back ground dancers, who appear just for the songs and have no other part to play in the movie. The shoot of dance scenes can take days together and a lot of hard work is put into it, to make the dance sequences beautiful, pleasing and energising. The choreographers, along with the back ground dancers, spend hours together to work on the various moves and perform over and over again, to get the perfect output. But these videos, when they go for editing, are often trimmed or extended for different reasons. Many directors often end up having problems with the overall run time of the movie. They often choose song sequences and stunt sequences to cut down on a few seconds. This leads for certain great moves to either be completely deleted or made superfast to reduce the overall timing of the movie.
Sometimes the editor or the director might even think that a particular dance move or a complicated stunt is really extraordinary and the audiences deserve to see it more. So they slow down the particular dance step or stunt, to show the hard work and the skill of the performer, but this really spoils the fun, as the real charm is in watching it in real time. So the awesome quality of the dance step or the stunt gets reduced because of poor editing. Sometimes the filmmakers would have even run out of footages to complete a song, in which case they try to copy a particular dance step that has occurred at one part of the song and paste it in another part, when the song moves to a completely different stanza and music. There are plenty of movies where one can spot such misplaced clips in songs and dance moves not really matching the background beats for a few seconds here or there.
I can state one particular song from a Tamil movie, which ended up being one of the biggest jokes on the internet. The song ‘Kalloori Vannil’ from the movie Pennin Manathai Thottu (2000) became a super hit on you tube with over a million people having viewed it. But it did not get popular for all the right reasons. The lyrics of the song in Tamil were misinterpreted and its homophonic translation in English was made to seem rather funny and crude, bringing in laughs for many of its viewers. But that is not our concern here. People, who saw the video, also criticised the way the dance sequence was made. Sure the song was catchy and the people involved in the dance video were top class dancers, but there were several instances of bad editing, many dance steps made to seem faster than they really were and some even slowed down, some re-winded and some just misplaced. It was a total mess and more than the subtitles of the vulgar translation, it was the poor editing that caught my eye. Surely the choreographer must have been really disappointed after seeing the end product.
Many mistakes are also made while recording voices for the movies. Before shooting the movie, most international filmmakers get the script perfectly prepared, with dialogues and screenplay and not much change is made during the shoot or during voice recording. But many Indian filmmakers start with some basic idea, then make changes as the filming takes place and a lot more changes are made during post production works. Dialogues are often changed even after shoots and this can be seen in many movies as well, especially in comedy sequences. The actor would be seen saying a dialogue which was written during the shoot and while recording voices during the post production session, the dialogue writer and the director might have changed the dialogue. The dialogues heard on the final movie would be a lot different to what the actor’s lips seem to say. These sort of small mistakes are to be avoided as well. Changes can be made, but not too drastically and the change in dialogues has to synch with the lip movement that was recorded earlier.
Some mistakes made by new actors are to be stated as well. There are two main types of movies that often get made in the various Indian film industries, one being the commercial movies showing the male lead to be the most perfect, heroic character, who can overcome any problem that might come in his way, with a super human quality about him. There are exaggerated stunts, so called punch dialogues, cheesy romantic scenes and a lot more features that make the movie completely unsuitable to be considered serious cinema. Then there is the other type of movies that get made, where the main lead actor plays a more realistic character, without anything too “over the top” or “ridiculous” and “invincible about them”. The films of the first type might not work for all actors, but the second can bring in lots of praise and recognition, provided he or she performs it well. Every major star now, who do make movies of the first type are appreciated and followed, despite the unreal aspect of the films, because the people have already begun to trust them, love them and admire them, after having seen them play the movies of the second type (the more realistic) during the first half of their career. A Rajnikanth movie has all sorts of unbelievable stunts and makes him seem complete invincible, yet people don’t ridicule them, but accept them. That is because he has already proven himself as an actor, by portraying realistic characters with great performances in the first half of his career and has already entered the hearts of the people.
So even if he does unbelievable things in his movie, people are willing to accept them, appreciate him and even see him as a Demi-God. Whereas if a newbie actor, performing in his first or second film, tries to do the first type of film right at the start of the career, he would certainly not be accepted by the audiences, as they haven’t seen him do the proper roles before. These actors must first show themselves real, like the audiences themselves, the common man, by making the second type of movies in the earlier part of their career. When such an actor turns into a hero in the first type of the movies, in the later part of his career, people will naturally admire the transformation and feel that they themselves have transformed like the hero (whom they had began to associate themselves with, see themselves in, when he did movies of the second type), making them praise him to be a super hero. Many performers becoming ridiculed artists is because of them trying to show themselves as ‘Superior Stars’ even before they have proved themselves as ‘Proper Actors’.
Screen writers aren’t given as much importance as they deserve. Many Indian directors write their own stories and dialogues and sometimes screen writers are employed. But the common audiences assume that all the movies that they witness are written by the directors themselves. In many instances, in the case of big stars, even the directors are forgotten. A Rajnikanth or a Shah Rukh Khan won’t be as awesome as they seem on screen if it hadn’t been for the directors who portrayed them in that manner and it would not have been possible if they hadn’t gotten a good story, written by a good writer. Even powerful dialogues are credited to the actors sometimes by the audiences, when it is the writers who are to be appreciated for their creation. More recognition, money, fame and appreciation has to be given the to the screen writers as well, along with lyricists and dialogue writers.
India, unlike other countries, isn’t about monuments or history...or should I say, JUST about monuments and history. It is not a place where one can go and visit just for a few days, like people do in France, Italy or Germany. This is not the place where everything can be expected to be perfect and provide the ultimate satisfaction to the visitors...In fact it can please you more, if you are open to the ways of the local. India is about her people, her culture and her way of life. But there is no single Indian culture, it is in truth a blend of cultures, languages, religions and life styles. The real greatness of India can only be understood by people who make the decision to stay here long enough to understand the differences, the chaos and the confusion that exist and how despite them all, India remains as wonderful and as prosperous as any other nation can. By understanding the problems and flaws within the country, one can understand its greatness, seeing how it manages to survive each day and progress towards a better tomorrow. The order amidst the chaos has to be realised by the visitors to understand the greatness of India.
Like the Indian cities, languages, cultures, religions, Indian cinema too is greatly varied and one cannot appreciate its values unless one spends enough time to observe a series of Indian movies over different time periods and across different Indian industries and the challenges that the filmmakers from India face. The standards set to determine Indian movies can only be understood when one observes Indian cinema on the whole, with all its diversities and differences. Certainly the standards set by the Oscars, Golden Globe, BAFTA and other academies and film fraternities cannot be applied to judge Indian movies. One needs a better understanding of Indian cinema, its audiences, their expectations and the unique difficulties that Indian filmmakers have in making a good Indian movie that can appeal to the audiences of all sorts of backgrounds (locales, tastes, languages and cultures)
I’ve seen some articles on some Indian movies and their directors, written by various non-Indian writers, critics and fans stating that some top level Indian directors aren’t still as good as many other western filmmakers, but are still quite good enough to impress some western audiences. One particular review about one of Mani Ratnam’s films, by a normal film follower (like me) from one of the western countries had stated that “Mani Ratnam might not be as good as Coppola or Scorsese and he does add particular things to his movies that might not allow him to enter the same league as Spielberg or Cameron, but he is one of the top directors in India”. While that comment was meant to praise Mani Ratnam, it also in a way put him down compared to other top directors in the world. But I would like to state that a Coppola or a Scorsese, a Spielberg or a Cameron might make movies that might appeal to the people of the world, but still they wouldn’t be able to please people with tastes as diverse as in India and surely they won’t have as many obstacles as faced by Indian filmmakers. Sure many of their movies have run well all over India and they have been appreciated in the subcontinent by many as well, but the people who watched these movies were in fact a small percentage, a minor group of people spread across the country, who do recognise how western films work and appreciate the movie based on their recognition. To appreciate Indian movies, people from all across the world need to recognise how Indian films work as well and then make their judgements.
Coppola or Scorsese might never be able to please as many Indian followers as Mani Ratnam can across all states, languages and cultures. They would make good movies of International standards, no doubt, but they can’t make movies that can appeal to the varying sensibilities of the Indian populace. Being an Indian director means you first have to make a movie that can appeal to the followers of a particular film industry and language...not to forget the various expectations within the people of this particular language or industry. Then comes the even more difficult task of spreading the popularity of a movie among followers of various other languages and cultures of India, by impressing them with your work. Beyond this is the prospect of mesmerising the audiences from across the world, who knows very little about the culture from which the particular movie has come from.
Many Americans, English and Western audiences on the whole still consider Bollywood (which they think as all movies Indian) to be about dance, fights and songs. They still do not recognise the other finer aspects of Indian cinema. To appeal to the masses, you need song, dance, exaggerated emotion and fights, but to appeal to the critics and international audiences, you need to make realistic film. How can an Indian filmmaker work through all this? Also in India, good movies more often than not, don’t do well in theatres and make very little money, whereas the so called “Commercial” or “Masala” movies succeed in the box office, but get very little reception from the critics. Money and critical acclaim often appears inversely proportional. This sort of a problem, every filmmaker faces across the globe, but nobody suffers as much as an Indian filmmaker.
So for a movie to succeed at the box office, also to receive critical acclaim and also to appeal to audiences of all the diverse backgrounds, the filmmaker has to work with great intelligence, talent and skill. He has a very little ground to work on, where he might slip to either side of the spectrum, the two ends of which seems to be money and critical acclaim.
And there are other filmmakers, who having been exposed to too many international movies, tend to make movies in India where the characters and their lifestyle seem much more similar to the west than to the people of ‘real’ India. Several Bollywood directors have been criticised for making such movies and almost thirty percent of the Hindi movies that have come in the past four to five years have been made in this fashion. But Bollywood filmmakers cannot alone be criticised for it, as such movies are being made in other industries as well, but more in the Hindi film industry. The stories and settings in such movies are completely different to what is really seen in India. The Indian audiences are often detached from such movies and there is very little they could relate to in such movies.
Many filmmakers think that to catch the attention of international audiences, they have to make movies with stories, like those seen in Hollywood movies, but little do they realise that it is the difference in the story and setting that makes audiences from across the world want to watch Indian movies. But this difference or uniqueness is not just about song or dance, but the original depiction of India and Indians in all their glory. Veteran Actor Kamal Hassan rightly pointed out in one of his interviews “The more ethnic you get, the more universal you become”.
The more we focus on India, her good, her bad, her culture and the lifestyle(s) here, the more attention it can gain in the international arena. So it is towards that one must work. Movies are not only to entertain, but also to educate and make people realise what is happening around us and in our country. The more successful one is in waking up the audiences to the truth around us, rather than to put them to sleep with all the imitation of the west, the more successful the movies will be among audiences of all backgrounds, all languages, all cultures, all classes and from all across the world.
We criticised the various branches of filmmaking so far, but we haven’t yet criticised the audiences. Yes, audiences too have several errors in them that need to be corrected to judge and criticise a movie in a fair manner. Star power is something that needs a great check in India. Every star has a large following for himself or herself and the fans of these stars try to oversell the work of the star they love, not really concerned if the work is good or not. Even worse is the act of trying to undervalue the works of other stars, who they consider to be competitors or rivals to the stars they love and support. The stars or actors in truth might not have any enmity towards one another and can even be friends, but the fans of the stars fight with one another as to who is superior. There are often arguments between a Salman Khan fan and a Shah Rukh Khan fan, a Rajnikanth fan and a Kamal Hassan fan, a Venkatesh fan and a Nagarjuna fan, a Ajith fan and a Vijay fan... so on, as to who is the superior among them. Sometimes the fan of one of the stars might try to create false rumours about the other star or his work, in the hopes of trying to show their own star to be superior. Such acts would only degrade the value of the star they are supporting and bring bad name to him or her.
Sometimes a good work can actually be wrongly criticised, just because the actor in that movie is not very much liked by fans of other actors, who might be rivals to him. The audiences should not really see who is performing and whether they like him personally or not. Instead the actor’s work has to be observed and appreciated in a fair manner. If the actor, who might be considered a rival to the star you follow, gives out a wonderful movie with a great performance, he has to be appreciated and given due credit. Every time you try to make a good movie seem bad by giving wrong reviews about it, just because it has a star that you might not personally like, you are only making a good movie not get a proper place in history that it truly deserves. And is it fair on the part of all those other people who have worked so hard in the movie, that is being wrongly criticised by fans of the stars, considered rival to the actor playing the lead in that movie? Just because of the hatred of people on one actor, the entire team gets a bad reputation and get criticised on. All their hard work becomes nothing. So audiences have to correct their attitude and give proper credit to good actors and their movies.
Lastly I want to mention that all the things mentioned here do not really represent or denote all the people involved in the Indian film fraternity. There are good directors, bad directors, good producers, bad producers, great actors, bad actors, good editors, bad editors and so on. Not all the fans of the actors mentioned here are truly unruly and not every issue discussed here points towards every movie made here. It’s for the readers to judge and identify to where and what the things mentioned in this text, really apply and that could be found only by proper observation. I’ve just tried my best to explain both to followers of Indian cinema within India and outside, about a few things that are not really recognised, but need to be recognised and understood, to truly comment and judge Indian movies.
After reading the entire text above, you might be wondering “What does the author of this text think of himself? Has he been part of a film project himself? Does he have degrees in various aspects of filmmaking? Has he achieved anything big in the film fraternity? Has he even met great directors and actors at least once in his life time? Does he even have any experience, judging movies for a long time? What eligibility or qualification does he even have to judge the entire Indian film fraternity?
Well to put it simple, I am none of the above mentioned. But I am a simple, passionate follower of Indian cinema. I also do recognise the differences between the various film industries and the view of Indian cinema outside India. I can clearly sense what’s going wrong where and what can be done to make Indian cinema a lot better to what it is (they are) now.. As a simple fan and follower of Indian cinema I think I have the rights to express my opinion and I have done so to the best of my abilities. More can be added by more followers of Indian cinema, who recognise these and many more simple errors, flaws and mistakes that can be corrected to take Indian cinema to a whole different level. We are meant to conquer the world and more importantly, to conquer the hearts and minds of people across the world. If we can successfully conquer the hearts of Indians of diverse backgrounds with different tastes, we surely can conquer the world with all its diversities...
-A. Prashanth Narasimhan