05 Nov 2020

A nice reality check, by the late Indian actor Irfan Khan's son Babil about the current state of Bollywood(Indian Cinema) in his Instagram post

You know one of the most important things my father taught me as a student of cinema? Before I went to film school, he warned me that I’ll have to prove my self as Bollywood is seldom respected in world cinema and at these moments I must inform about the Indian Cinema that’s beyond our controlled Bollywood. Unfortunately, it did happen. Bollywood was not respected, no awareness of 60’s - 90’s Indian Cinema or credibility of opinion. There was literally one single lecture in the world cinema segment about Indian Cinema called ‘Bollywood and Beyond’, that too gone through in a class full of chuckles. it was tough to even get a sensible conversation about the real Indian cinema of Satyajit Ray and K.Asif going. You know why that is? Because we, as the Indian audience, refused to evolve. My father gave his life trying to elevate the art of acting in the adverse conditions of noughties Bollywood and alas, for almost all of his journey, was defeated in the box office by hunks with six pack abs delivering theatrical one-liners and defying the laws of physics and reality, photo shopped item songs, just blatant sexism and same-old conventional representations of patriarchy (and you must understand, to be defeated at the box office means that majority of the investment in Bollywood would be going to the winners, engulfing us in a vicious circle). Because we as an audience wanted that, we enjoyed it, all we sought was entertainment and safety of thought, so afraid to have our delicate illusion of reality shattered, so unaccepting of any shift in perception. All effort to explore the potential of cinema and its implications on humanity and existentialism was at best kept by the sidelines. Now there is a change, a new fragrance in the wind. A new youth, searching for a new meaning. We must stand our ground, not let this thirst for a deeper meaning be repressed again. A strange feeling beset when Kalki was trolled for looking like a boy when she cut her hair short, that is pure abolishment of potential. (Although I resent that Sushant’s demise has now become a fluster of political debates, but if a positive change is manifesting, in the way of the Taoist, we embrace it.

Could it be this sad a condition and so shameful??
If Bollywood has to figure somewhere in the global cinema it has to shed its false pride, rise above the petty politics of nepotism, favouritism and produce some real cinema the likes of which is done, on a global stage, by Satyajit Ray, Shekar Kapur (Director - Elizabeth), Amrish Puri(Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom), Irfan khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World), Om Puri(City of Joy, Gandhi, The Wolf), Nasseruddin Shah(The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Finding Fanny), Shabana Azmi(City of Joy, A Decent Arrangement), Shashi Kapoor (Shakespearewalla, Gullivers Travels), Jennifer Kendal Kapoor(Junoon, Heat & Dust), Saeed Jaffery(Passage to India, The Man who would be King), Madhur Jaffery(The only Boy Living In NewYork, A Late Quartet), Freida Pinto(Slumdog Millionaire, Rise of the Planet of Apes), Dev Patel(Slumdog Millionaire, Chappie, The Man Who Knew Infinity), I .S Johar(Lawrence of Arabia, Maya) and Persis Khambatta(Star Trek) to name a few.

I wonder if the aces of Bollywood today have the mettle to break the stereotype Bollywood is and give us a cinema we can be proud of?? I am sure their years of experience can enable them not to only do commercial cinema but to also churn out some that are relevant and at par on the global stage or are they too blinded by the fame and fortune of their stardom?

In an article written in 1948 “What is Wrong with Indian Films”, Satyajit Ray wrote criticizing India Cinema’s move away from art and towards musicals....

The raw material of the cinema is life itself. It is incredible that a country which has inspired so much painting and music and poetry should fail to move the movie maker. He has only to keep his eyes open, and his ears. Let him do so.

The audience too must share responsibility for giving direction towards sensible and intelligent cinema. While some amount of commercial musicals would do no harm, however a healthy mix would eventually work in the benefit of the film industry. The demand for only a singular kind of cinema leads not only to undue exploitation within the film fraternity but also to storytelling that is pure fantasy far removed from the realities of human life and value system. While there have been quite a number of films produced that have been different from commercial cinema but these have been too few in comparison. In an essay from 1951 Ray writes....

The present blind worship of technique emphasizes the poverty of genuine inspiration among our directors. For a popular medium, the best kind of inspiration should derive from life and have its roots in it. No amount of technical polish can make up for artificiality of theme and dishonesty of treatment. The filmmaker must turn to life, to reality.

Here is a list of Indian actors and actresses known for their work in Hollywood - https://www.imdb.com/list/ls003265738/