Bhopal , MP Mar 3, 2011 Thu 9 : 59 PM
Immersed in the words and feelings of my Father for most of the day … and then suddenly to switch gears to talk about Indian Cinema is like leap frogging backwards ! Father’s literary genius will live for thousands of years, my very mediocre contribution to the arts of cinema will be forgotten within years ! The two cannot be bridged. Or if they can, shall most certainly cause a most dramatic vacuum - one that shall perhaps never be seen, but shall exist.
Cannes Film Festival’s brief to Shekhar Kapoor is to bring an Indian film to the festival, and when he regretted that it was not possible to do that by him, Cannes not finding any Indian film ‘worthy’ of its presence at the international arena, asked if he would do a documentary on the song and dance routine in our films in such a manner that after it was over, would provoke the audiences at the festival, to get up and dance in the aisles !!
I am surprised to say the least at this request. Western cinema and its propagators, its critics and its opinion makers have always been most cynical and ruthlessly critical about the content of Indian Cinema. Particularly its over fantasized, escapist fare. Why would they now want to give it ‘a pride of place’ in an environment that is considered the epitome of all that world cinema professes to be, in its most decorated excellence !
I asked this as a question in return to the many that the two celebrated directors conducting this interview -Shekhar Kapoor and Rakeysh Mehra - asked of me and I could not get an adequate answer. The interviewer is always going to be in an exalted position than the interviewee. They ask, and we need to reply. Which is why media is always in an exalted position. They have the ‘liberty and authority’ to ask and we jolly well need to respond or face dire circumstances. Anyway, I drift away from the issue. To me the reason for Cannes wanting something Indian is not necessarily a sudden acknowledgement of our creativity. I believe it is governed by many factors, all not essentially equated to the art of film making. I mention here an oft repeated phrase and theory - economic strength ! The opening up of the economy in India, the potential of its strength as a result of it, the boundless limits to which this would enhance consumerism, the fact and manner in which India managed itself and its economy in the dark periods of it that went by throughout the world recently and still does, the projected assessment of India becoming the largest economy of the world by the year 2050, all has in a sense, brought great notice to India. Suddenly then, everything Indian is now attractive. Our food, our tradition, culture, the music, our politics and yes our films !! And .. what the West appreciates the most - a country with the largest practicing democracy in the world today ! With so many benefits surrounding its present status, whats the big deal with a ’song and dance routine’ in films. Nothing ! Its a welcome creative expression, better to accept it than be critical of it. Is what I would like to believe how the west addresses us. And why they feel the reason or need to entertain an aspect of it in a festival that is patronized by the largest and most important elements of international cinema !
So the next question is whether we would ever change this format to suit ‘world standards’. And my answer is a definitive no. We designed this as an integral part of our cinema. How or why it came about is another topic for discussion. But it is there to remain so and I shall not be happy to ever want to change the USP of any commodity. As a retort to that, I would ask Hollywood if they would change their routine to resemble ours. Why, you had great results when it was fleetingly brought on by Laz Burmann in ‘Moulin Rouge’, even using our sound track for it in ‘choli ke peeche’ and ‘Slumdog’ could not resist its very modest yet award winning presence in the film as well.
No sir ! Despite all the negativity that came our way, we pursued without giving in. Yes we are handicapped by resources, by language and suitable ‘realistic’ and ‘aesthetic’ content in comparison to the West, but our reason for our cinema being the way it is is far far different from the West. Box office is perhaps the only common denominator, but picture this. In a country as vast and as diverse as India, where language and cultures change every 100 miles, where the average earning of the poor in the country is a pittance, where other sources of entertainment are limited, keeping aside the recent boom and advent of TV in the country, it is a wonder that it is our cinema that brings us all together under one roof - an achievement that is rapidly evaporating in a complex world before us every day. I will not ask the religion of the person that stands in a queue ahead of me at a cinema hall, about to release an Aamir, Shah Rukh, or Salman film. I shall be least interested in knowing whether the person seated beside me is Hindu or Muslim or a Sikh or a Christian. I shall be unconcerned about his caste and creed or the color of his or her skin. But I do know that we shall, when the film starts, laugh at the same jokes, cry at the same emotion, sing the same songs. Where in the world, do we find today examples that exemplify this. They are few and far. Cinema today in the country is the greatest integrator. It brings people together, in a world where every effort is being made to keep them disintegrated. I am proud of this and proud that I represent in a very small way this wondrous magic. I would not want any change. Many attempts have been made in the past and some today as well, to bring change, to revolutionize concepts within us that keep us alienated from Western appreciation and concept. But they have all failed. And they shall continue to fail till the masses do not ask for them to be altered. Yes we cater to the masses. We are guided by public opinion. Is that such a grave wrong. Look around us even as I write, and see how public opinion has the strength to bring about change. Why then would I or anyone connected with our vocation want to disturb that.
We conversed on the aspect of fan following and why it was diametrically different to the West and why divinity played such an important part in the belief of the Indian fan as opposed to the one from Hollywood. The building of temples and the relevance of reverence in the psyche of the Indian polity remained almost incomplete in argument. We have not been able to explain that. The closest we could get was the reenactment of our great mythology through our great epics , the Mahabharat and the Ramayan and derivatives of them. Of many stars from the South in Tamil and Telugu and Kannada and Malayalam cinema actually enacting the mythic Gods and Goddesses and perhaps that image remaining as a lasting impression of particular star. NTR from Andhra Pradesh comes to mind immediately and how this figure was indeed instrumental to a large degree in his political avatar later when he fought an election and remained in power for several terms in office. In Tamilnadu too, there is a great awakening to the celebrity in film. MGR, played the common man, the worker, the labourer in most of his films which then successfully got converted to his political stature and leadership in the years after. Jayalalita and the present Karunanidhi have all had connections and still do deeply with the art of creativity and cinema. The leader of the State or country is nothing short of being godly to the common man. He looks upon them as a benefactor of his destiny, one that shall bring change in his circumstance and existence. So he worships. Its a question of belief. We believe that when we pray in our respective temples and mosques and churches, that we shall be redeemed, fulfilled, heard, delivered. The front bencher, and he or she is the one most responsible for box office success, believes that his hero on 70 mm canvas shall deliver. The quality of Indian Cinema has been, that it delivers poetic justice in 3 hrs. You and me shall not get it in a lifetime, perhaps several lifetimes. Its deliverance then in the eyes of the viewer can be nothing short of being godly. The star being nothing short of divinity, even though we are far away from it in reality. But reality is not what is expressed on film. Forget the story that unfolds in front of us. Where are the close ups and edits and flashbacks and background musical scores in our daily lives ! No where ! Its the fantasy of cinema and it is this fantasy that manifests itself into belief. And reverence follows then, unabated without blemish !
O ! dear !! I have extended my stay here today .. something that I should not impose ! And so must I end ..
With love and the hugest appreciation to those that make us who we are, or who you profess we are - my extended family !!