Mumbai churns out more than 200 films a year on an average. Most – even in times when Hindi cinema is ‘going places’ – get lost in the sands of time or worse still die a premature death. Quite a few starring the biggest names become blockbusters strictly in terms of the money they make. Some are ‘critically hailed’ and a handful becomes critical and (moderate) commercial successes.
The last category has been on the rise for quite a number of years now. Surprisingly not all of them are feel-good light films (which are conventional money-makers) nor are they gloomy and despondent films bordering on grave art house (a stereotype that appeals to critics more often than not).
I try to be an objective viewer as much as is humanely possible. In a country that has a thousand faces, sensibilities, outlooks, social classification, class consciousness and an n number of palpable and not so palpable moods and hues, it does one little good to be rigid, judgmental and loaded with pre-conceived notions and inflexible choices. More so when we are talking of cinema which has time and again held up a mirror to society at large (one might argue there has been a role-reversal with time).
Having said that, it also becomes necessary to compartmentalize and contextualize the films one sees. Some films are made with overt social/political messages, some with individual/ personal perspectives, some with a very microscopic ideal and it is for the viewer to interpret that ideal if he wishes to.
Needless to say the last decade has seen many such films. These films succeeded in making people think in their personal space in some measure. At least I did!
To begin with let’s take the case of English Vinglish. It deftly dealt with a very obvious yet unaddressed contemporary truth of Urban India: the humiliation one has to face for not being fluent in the global language. It touched a chord with one and all and was one of the best films of the year gone by. Likewise Wake up Sid related the understated reality of the well-to-do youth leading a comfortable city life: aimlessness and refusal to grow up. In both the films the leads – viz. Sridevi and Ranbir Kapoor – did justice to their characters and got irreproachable support from the rest of the cast.
If the above films singled out characters from the city, Dhobi Ghaat and Shor in the City made the cityscape the most important character in itself. Broadly speaking both were human dramas. But the most interesting aspect was the dialectical approach of the films. Individuals belonging to different social strata were made to interact with each other as the films progressed and by the end each one of them reached certain realisations. Particularly Dhobi Ghaat employed this tactic very well.
Bollywood has not been kind to anthology films. Yet there was a time when quite a few anthology films were made. Darna Mana Hai pops up in one’s mind without a second thought. Some of the stories in the film were pretty okay as well. But my pick would be Dus Kahaniyan. I think I liked 6/7 segments. One called Rice Plate attracted me the most. It dealt with the Hindu-Muslim divide in subtle plot which was loudly executed. I later learnt it was ‘inspired’ from this brilliant short film called The Lunch Date. The more recent I Am was far more relevant and well made. Ditto with Bombay Talkies.
Luck by Chance and Udaan are films that were made with the aforementioned microscopic ideal. Luck by Chance is a story of the choices one makes and man’s quest for success and happiness. I am tempted to make a comparison with Flashbacks of a Fool in terms of the theme both the films laid stress on. Udaan is a film that talks about pursuing one’s dream. It depicts the limitations imposed on us by factors which we have to overcome by making difficult and at times painful decisions. A less known movie that I am a little bias towards in this context is Kal: Yesterday and Tomorrow. It revolves around a murder and subtly explores the deep dark crevices of the human mind.
Last but not the least I am going to mention two films that perhaps are not in tune with the films I have talked about so far; but as they say it a matter of perspective. Chak De! and Swades will round up this analysis. They are very different films and I have no intention of putting them in the same bracket. The common factor here is only the lead and nothing more. Chak De! is the best sports film made in the country so far. Not packed with an overtly social message, it however delivers two very relevant ideas: Every Muslim is not ‘anti-India’ and the Indian woman should not be reduced to a domestic worker/showpiece no matter what her social station is. In addition it also gave a much needed impetus to the national sport.
Swades on the other hand is perhaps a commentary on philanthropy and altruism. Mohan leaving a lucrative job in the US is too far-fetched. But upliftment at the grassroots level, the young and educated taking an active interest in the villages instead of shifting the blame on the ‘system’ and armchair philosophizing made one think for sure.
None of these films are great; nor are they ‘milestones’. But they definitely are a reminder of cinema having the ability to reflect the minutest and the more pronounced aspects of our social set-up. Hindi cinema irrespective of whether it ‘goes places’ or not have always been able to connect with the indigenous audience at some level.