Friday, February 15, 2008

And the Oscar goes to...

Indian cinema is awakening to the need for intelligent cinema they say. Move over masala flicks and poor scripts; move over bad acting, over acting and no acting. The glory days are finally here and here to stay. Gone are the days where actresses were mere furniture on the sets, gone are the days where actors carried movies. Intelligent scripts are dawning on a new day for Indian cinema.

So what if the Oscars don’t recognize our talent and potential. “Bling” Khan won’t go to the Oscars even if they invited him. He wants the Oscars in India. He wants Cannes in India. He wants to focus on India’s wealth, prosperity and happiness. It is time we stop selling our shortcomings and showcase a whole new India to the west. Let’s have our song and dance movies, but let’s make them 90 minutes he adds.

But this isn’t about Shahrukh Khan. It is about the rejuvenated spirit of Indian cinema. It is about the Rang De Basanti’s, the Taare Zameen Par’s, the Dhamaal’s, and the Munnabhai’s. It is about how the west sidelines Indian cinema, ignoring the underdogs of International cinema. After all, we are one of the largest movie industries in the world!

Lagaan’s loss in the Oscars was sufficient proof for Indians that the Oscars were racist, politicized and one sided. Oh yes, movies like Amelie, No Man’s Land, Son of the bride and Elling had the big bucks.

The French film, Amelie, an Oscar nominee, is a huge hit, having grossed $20 million in America and $100 million abroad. The Golden Globe winner for best foreign film, Bosnia's No Man's Land grossed a modest $300,000 before the awards but won significant kudos including best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. 'Superb, fierce, funny,' declared Rolling Stone.

They lobbied hard and made sure Lagaan didn’t stand a chance. And why would a brown man win the Oscars? Oh yes. That has to be it. Lagaan with its 224 minute run time was a sure fire winner, if it wasn’t for racial prejudice.

I have heard reasons spanning its brilliant musical score to the majestic acting by the cast, to the reality of past India, in reviews praising the movie; some westerners too. This is hailed as an international audience accepting the movie and accepting Bollywood standards as satisfactory, if not excellent.

From The New Yorker
This Indian film-a period musical drama about a group of drought-stricken villagers who play a cricket match against the British authorities to avoid taxation (lagaan)-is pure Bollywood. The director Ashutosh Gowariker crosses a lavish romantic epic with a muscular adventure tale and comes up with an outrageously buoyant hybrid. The musical sequences burst from the story organically, and the outdoor production numbers are composed of brilliantly edited tracking shots and spectacular choreography. Not all the performances soar (the British actors seem particularly stiff), but the romantic leads are wonderful. Aamir Khan's masterly preening is worthy of a young Tony Curtis and his ladylove, played by Gracy Singh, does a Janet Leigh turn at getting her man. The daunting four-hour length leaves plenty of room for meandering subplots and misunderstandings, but the film is so visually alive and superbly structured-it also breaks for an intermission-that you will be happily taken in by its bighearted charms. In Hindi and English.

-Bruce Diones

But to the objective perspective, it hardly seems so. The attractiveness of this movie to international audiences was far from those reasons. People believed the movies to be a “musical” and I would strictly avoid that label. All Hindi movies have song and dance in them. What differentiates them from a musical is the fact that the songs stunt the forward motion of the script. It is filler, an intermission, a pause for the viewer to recover from the barrage of non-stop nonsense. The exotic nature of our staple song-dance rituals eventually dies out and cinema will eventually be graded on more than the exotic appeal of a region. Lagaan may have benefited far more from its cricket inspired, sing-song, David-Goliath theme, than it has lost. In fact, I am willing to stick my neck out, that on the basis of cinematic excellence, it would have failed to make even the 5 nominated.

But where Lagaan has succeeded, all other bollywood flicks (in the visible future) will fail. The sing-song is no longer novel and cute. The constant breaks in the flow of the movie will be perceived with the same level of annoyance as Lagaan’s 4 hour long tirade. Of all the Oscar nominations in this millennium, Lagaan is by far the worst of them (from the 9 that I have seen so far). Of the 2002 nominations, I can quite comfortably say Lagaan is at best the second from bottom. The reason it has managed this feat, is because I am yet to watch Elling, the Norwegian nomination.

But this rant is a little late, isn’t it? This story is 6 years old. Ancient history. But is it? The reason for our apparent disinterest in the Oscars (for all its political propaganda) is not for justified reasons. The Oscars (at least the foreign language segment), is mostly devoid of the big bucks. No Man’s Land, the eventual winner had hardly grossed millions. Amelie did, but that didn’t make it easier for the producers to lobby for the movie.

The fact remains, whether we like it or not, the Oscars are still considered the epitome of cinematic awards. An even more disheartening fact is our inability to use a common platform to measure our movies with those from around the world. The Taare zameen par’s would hardly withstand the onslaught of sheer brilliance in world cinema today. Yet it hails supreme, as epitome of present day Indian cinema. This is, in spite of there being several good movies launching all over the country. I could go on with this rant, but it is, after all, just my opinion; an opinion that does not outweigh the opinion of a person who is forcefully opposed to my views, even if he hasn’t watched the other nominations, or the eventual winner.

But to drive home the real purpose of this rant, movies hailed in the Indian media are so covered in hype, that it is usually impossible for an objective opinion. Taare Zameen Par, had a sub-par script, with even worse acting from its super-star, and a total lack of originality. When a movie rips off ideas from famous comic strips in a 2+ hour long movie, you know there isn’t a single creative bone! We remain content with our unsatisfactory movie industry, hailing award ceremonies as and when they please us. Cannes is great only as long as they do not shun India’s favorite. The Oscars met with quite the same reaction in India.

But to celebrate excellence, my deluded friend, you must create it. It is easy for the Lagaan's and TZP's to win filmfare and all those countless awards when it is contending against Dil Chahta Hai and Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham. But when it is pitted against the likes of Amelie, No Man’s Land, it falls short.

Some more (interesting) reviews:

Update Feb 17th:
"Shah Rukh admitted to the interviewer that his last year's home production, Om Shanti Om, was full of cliches of Indian cinema. "But it is full of heart. I think we need to make more movies like this and gradually more and more people will come to like that," he said."
That is absurd on so many levels. And if the world standard ever got to that level (god forbid), I will swear off movies! Though am I glad for DVD's and digital media...


Serendipity said...

I spread the hate?!!

Why no new post!

The Depressed Doormat said...

That is a good question, one for which I do not have an answer. Hopefully something will come up soon...