Saturday, 27 August 2011

Unintentional comedies- Mard

How many times have you watched a movie that was so bad that it was good, the 'serious' movies which were so hilarious that you laughed till your stomach hurt? Bollywood has produced several movies which, depending on your perpective ought to have been nominated for the razzies or mark milestones in the development of comedy as a genre. This series of articles is dedicated such gems from the annals of Bollywood.

We flag off the series with Mard (1985), a movie directed by Manmohan Desai, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Amrita Singh.

The difficulty with a movie like Mard is that its hard to figure out where to start. Nearly every single scene of this movie is cringeworthy in a way that makes you laugh your head off and so this writer has absolutely no illusion of having done any sort of justice to the epic (unintended) comedy that is Mard.

Imagine a movie in which a man riding on a horse manages to evade bullets fired from a stationary machine gun and shoots a dozen enemies with a rifle in one hand even as he rides. Imagine a movie in which a man stops an aeroplane from taking off by throwing a rope over the aircraft wing and holding it with his bare hands. Imagine a movie in which characters spout gems like "Haraam zaado, nikalo khoon baahar jo tumne hamari praja ka kiya hai" or (sample this) "Yeh bol nahi sakti, lekin inke chehre ki jhurriyon mein dukh ke hazaar daastaanon ke saath likha hai ki jao beti tujhe maaf kiya." And on top of all that, imagine a movie in which all that happens within the first 10 minutes.

That's Mard for you. Its a movie in which you have Englishmen with names like Curzon, Dyer and Simon who speak among themselves only in Hindi (and pronouncing promotion as par-mo-sun by the way). Its a movie in which a horse is intelligent enough to know that the doctor who is about to administer an injection has dubious intentions, but its master doesn't. Its a movie in which a woman overcome by grief loses her voice in a touching scene that will make you laugh your head off.

Welcome to the world of Manmohan Desai. Its a world where a king who resides in a palace with over 100 rooms and has the wealth to gift away an invaluable pearl necklace takes on his opponents all alone, without his soldiers. Its a world where the king uses a horse as his only means of transportation eventhough the era of automobiles has already arrived. Its a world where a father's conception of a naming ceremony consists of scratching the word 'mard' on his new born infant's chest with a knife, leaving an eternal engraving that remains there several years later. Its a world in which a horse has the ESP to anticipate exactly what is going to happen next.

Its also a world where logic is non-existent. How did the British enter the Raja's kingdom with their troops and loot a fort without his consent? Where were the king's troops when his fort was being ransacked? Would the British imprison and torture a local ruler, given the fact that those local rulers were the bulwarks of their empire? Incidentally, given the fact that civil aviation did not appear until the 30s, it naturally follows that the events of the first five minutes (where Curzon is about to fly off to Britain with invaluable treasures) unfold sometime in the 30s. That being the case, the newborn cannot have attained maturity until the late 40s or 50s, when the British had long since quit India. To be sure, the script (assuming there was one) has holes big enough to drive a truck through.

Nevertheless, such analysis would be sheer nitpicking on what must rank as a landmark in filmmaking. The entire analysis that you have read so far is from the first ten minutes of a movie that runs into 3 hours. If you are thinking that it gets better from thereon, perish the thought my friends. This movie is an embodiment of the idea of starting as you mean to go. As far as unintended comedies go, Mard is right up there among the very best.

If you want to have a manual on how not to make a movie, go watch Mard. Its a touching, family drama that will make you laugh till you fall off your seat.

Rotten eggs rating: 4.5/5.

P.S: Please save your money and watch it on youtube. The producer of this movie does not deserve any more revenue from the DVD sales.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A different approach to film making

United Six, Patiala House, Masti Express, Game, Faltu, ThankYou, Love U Mr. Kalakaar, Naughty @ 40, Ready, Double Dhamaal, Chillar Party, Singham.

These are the titles of some of the Hindi movies released in 2011. Not one of these movies were founded on anything resembling a good script and its doubtful whether even one of them was based on an original idea. That, in short, sums up all that's wrong with Hindi cinema.

Indian viewers have long been aware of the lack of originality in Bollywood. There are far too many 'DVD' directors who simply rip off movies scene for scene, or borrow scenes from different movies to make a potpourri of a film. Few filmmakers until now have had the decency to give credit to the source of the original idea. The vast majority of filmmakers in the industry prefer reusing an idea that has already worked somewhere, rather than risk experimenting with an unproven idea- a fact which accounts for the number of formulaic movies currently reigning at the box office, which are but remakes of blockbusters from the South.

Even where there is an original idea involved, films usually fall short on the treatment- not least because filmmakers pander to commercial requirements and end up inserting passages or songs which are totally irrelevant to the script. Far too often, one gets the impression that directors had excellent ideas but most probably neglected to develop a good script and ended up making a mess of what was a pretty good idea. Movies like Khiladi 420, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Darjeeling Express, to name but a few, are striking examples of excellent ideas that translated into average or plain terrible movies. Perhaps there simply isn't enough importance given to the scripting.

Too often, industrywallahs bemoan the lack of good scriptwriters in the film industry. In a country of 1.2 billion, its impossible to accept the very possibility of a dearth of good writers. Clearly, the film industry is still unwilling to invest in its writers. Bollywood remains a star-obsessed place, with many leading lights having their own 'camps', a remarkable fact given the fact that even the biggest of stars have delivered far many more flops than hits in the course of their careers. 

It boggles the mind that despite so many movies sinking at the box office- that at a time when filmgoers are enjoying unprecedented purchasing power- filmmakers are still content to follow the beaten path. Based on data taken from www.boxofficeindia.com, 69 out of 150 movies released between 2006 and 2010, a staggering 46% of the movies released, were below average or flops. It may be added that the list is by no means extensive and as such, there might be many more flops slipping under the radar. Given how little innovation there is, the vast majority of those movies are run-of-the-mill products.

One only has to run a google search for 'raining flops in Bollywood' to know how this headline keeps coming back year after year, like a recurring nightmare. Given that background, it is only too obvious that the present, risk-averse approach is not working. Whatever filmmakers might claim in support of the present way of doing things, it is painfully evident that a new approach is needed.

For starters, Hindi filmmakers could start respecting the intelligence of their audiences and refrain from dumbing down their movies. Is it asking too much to demand some substance over form? Yes, glitzy locales and special effects add to the production values, but embellishments can only add to a product and not substitute it, just as excellent packing does not compensate for a poor product. Hindi filmmakers would do themselves and their audience a favour by cutting out the gimmickry and diverting some of the budget to the foundation of the movie: the script.

And yes, we the people, who love watching those movies would also request Hindi filmmakers not to embarass us by ripping off movies from other countries scene by scene. Is it unreasonable in asking for a bit of originality? Surely, that should not be a problem in a country overflowing with talent, if someone took the trouble to identify and nurture that talent. Right now, its only too evident that shiploads of talent are just being ignored.

Cinema is indeed an industry where the returns need to justify the investment that goes into the making of the movie. Nonetheless, profit motive and customer satisfaction are by no means incompatible. For all the talk of Indian viewers not being discerning enough, the number of disasters at the box office tells a different tale.

Clearly, Bollywood needs to adopt a fresh approach.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Champions no more

Over the last ten days or so, the chinks in India's armoury have been brutally exposed. The lack of firepower and the slowness of the aging feet in the outfield have left the world's No.1 side struggling against a much younger and fitter England side which has fielded a vastly superior attack. It does not matter from here on what the outcome of the series will be. The truth is that England have proved themselves a vastly superior side and a side that deserves to be No.1. It is merely a question of how soon the fact becomes official.

The manner in which things have turned out is hardly surprising for any discerning fan. The extent of India's dependence on Zaheer Khan was evident. Given the fact that Zaheer is now in his mid 30s, he was going to be one injury away from the end of his international career. We also knew that at some point in time in the not so distant future Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman- all in their late 30s now- were going to retire, leaving behind gaping holes in the middle order.

Truth be told, it was an extraordinary effort by India to not only get on top but also remain there for nearly two years. An aging middle order in its last legs and an attack that holds no horrors for any opposition is hardly the stuff of champions. There never really was any doubt that Dhoni's India was not even comparable to Lloyd's West Indies or Waugh's Australia. It was no more than a very competitive side that consistently punched above its weight. The fact that most of India's wins abroad in recent years were 1-0 wins just goes to show that the Indians were consistently keeping opposition sides at bay while doing just enough to win one game a series. The 1-1 draws against Sri Lanka and South Africa last season just showed how vulnerable the table toppers really were.

Those vulnerabilites have been mercilessly exposed by a side that not only had the attack, but also the belief and the sheer bloody mindedness to pull all punches. In the face of England's onslaught, the Indians have been left totally defenceless. Missing the spearhead and the regular openers would be a huge setback to any side. The fact that their best spinner has been a shadow of the champion bowler he once was, has only made things worse. What should be most worrying though, is the manner in which the batting has imploded. Far too many wickets have fallen to bad shots, the captain himself most culpable in this regard. It is most probably due to the relentless pressure that England have exerted on the Indian batsmen. 

England have been the very anti-thesis. Everytime they have been confronted by adversity, they have managed to find someone to hit back emphatically. In the first test, it was Pietersen in the first innings and Prior in the second, who took the game away from the Indians. With the ball, it was Broad in the first and Anderson in the second innings who sent the Indians scattering. Broad returned to torment the Indians, single-handedly blowing out the lower half of the batting to contain the deficit to a most manageable 67. Ten behind with two wickets down, it was Ian Bell who pulled the carpet off from under the feet of the Indians. In many ways, the manner in which England have played has been reminiscent of Australia in the late 90s. This is a side that can genuinely contend for the top slot.


The Indians on the other hand have looked the pale shadow of a top drawer side. The bowling has been good without being extraordinary. The fact that their bowlers have not had anything vaguely resembling the support their opposite numbers have enjoyed on the field has meant that they have not been able to exert the kind of pressure England have consistently managed. Exposed to the new ball everytime, the middle order has struggled to stand up to English pacemen. The tail has just fallen apart time and again, in contrast to England's tail, which has stood up to be counted everytime.

The defending champions have looked defenceless. Thanks to the ridiculous scheduling, which has left their bowlers are playing their fifth test in six weeks, there have been far too many tired bodies ont he field. Perhaps that, more than anything else, has resulted in a team that no longer has the stomach for a scrap- the one quality that has brought them so far. Watching this series, its hard not to remember that famous battle between Mohammed Ali and Larry Holmes, when a once great athlete was bludgeoned into submission by a much younger, fitter and fresher opponent.

Nevertheless, its not all doom and gloom. With a host of young batsmen like Raina, Kohli, Mukund, (Rohit) Sharma and Pujara, India can look forward to fielding a pretty decent line upin the future. In (Ishant) Sharma, Patel, Kumar, Mithun and Sreesanth, India have some pretty decent pace bowlers. Ojha, Chawla and Ashwin are pretty promising young spinners. With such talented youngsters to call upon, India can remain a pretty competitive side in the future.

Right now however, its time to bid goodbye to the golden era of Indian cricket. Never before had India reached the top of the pile in test cricket. Never before had they consistently won home and away. Only once before had they won a World Cup. This was the generation which was the first Indian side to win a series in Pakistan, which won a test series in the West Indies after 35 years, a series in New Zealand after 41 years, a series in England after 21 years and was the first ever Indian side to come back from a tour of South Africa without losing.

Long after the legends are gone, with the benefit of hindsight, we will truly appreciate the extraordinary work they did in transforming a directionless and underperforming side once rated at No.7 on the ICC rankings to a top ranking one without a strong attack. Its an achievement that is unlikely to be ever matched by any side. India owes an ode to the men who made it possible.