This book is aimed at offering an insight into different aspects of Bollywood cinema that need highlighting now and for the future as an archival collection of concepts, ideas, realities and ideologies Bollywood Cinema represents, reflects, deflects from and critiques as well.
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Bollywood Cinema Kaleidoscope by
Shoma A. Chatterji
First Published January 2020
Shoma A. Chatterji, 2020
Shoma A. Chatterji has asserted her right under the Indian Copyright Act to be identified as Author of this work.
Crossed Arrows (An imprint of Doshor Publication) C/2 Ramakrishna Upanibesh, Regent Estate, Jadavpur, Kolkata 700092
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher
My grandson Ishaan Agarwal, 19, with the hope that he reads it, if not now, sometime into the future when he has outgrown Game of Thrones and world cricket;
The late Gulshan Ewing, the first editor (Eve’s Weekly and Star & Style) to accept my articles and letters to the editor around four decades ago and I kept writing for the two magazines till they went out of circulation;
The late B.K. Karanjia for opening the doors of SCREEN which I contributed to for 32 years and through several editors ranging between Udaya Tara Nayar, Sanjit Narwekar, Rauf Ahmed, Bhawana Somaaya, and Priyanka Sinha Jha;
Rajinder Menon who opened the window to my first ever weekly column in The Daily and marked a milestone for me
The late P. Lal, the first ever publisher to have published my first collection of short stories entitled YES AND OTHER STORIES under the Writers Workshop imprint many years ago.
It is really more challenging to put together an introduction to a collection of essays than it is to write the essays. And this despite having penned several books on Indian cinema and written an introduction to most of them.
Taking on the phrase, ‘Everything negative—pressure, challenges—are all an opportunity for me to rise.’ I decided to get onto the keyboard and do the needful. This book is aimed at offering an insight into different aspects of Bollywood cinema that need highlighting now and for the future as an archival collection of concepts, ideas, realities and ideologies Bollywood Cinema represents, reflects, deflects from and critiques as well. Keeping away from theory for me, was a conscious decision because I had somewhat wearied of the rather narrow readership that heavy film theories attracted. My singular aim was to attract the lay reader, the film buff and the student of film studies just beginning to skim below the surface. I chose some topics I had already written on and then expanded on them with more research and inputs. But there was much more left to be written and I had to put everything in a time capsule and let the ideas find fruit in language and opinion, in perspective and comment.
The term Bollywood is popularly used for the Hindi language film industry based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Bollywood is the largest film producer in India and one of the largest centres of film-making in the world. The movies are made in Hindi, a language that is widely spoken and understood by Indians across the globe making it popular not only among the Indian diasporic community but also with other audiences. Bollywood’s global circulations have been especially multifaceted and surprising in reaching beyond South Asian Diasporas to connect with audiences throughout the world.
Rajadhyaksha (2003) has described the international re-branding of Indian commercial cinema, as a process of “Bollywoodization”. Thus, while the majority of popular discourse in circulation now seems to present Indian cinema and “Bollywood” as synonymous, Rajadhyaksha is at pains to maintain a distinction between the two, claiming that, “the cinema has been in existence as a national industry of sorts for the past fifty years…Bollywood has been around for only about a decade now” (p. 28). He further insists on making this distinction between Indian cinema and Bollywood for two major reasons, firstly because the cultural industry surrounding the “Bollywood” brand extends far beyond the production and consumption of feature films, and secondly because the high-budget gloss and transnational themes of the major Bollywood films are far from representative of the majority of Indian film production.
Indian cinema has also been a major recipient of the processes of remediation occurring with the arrival of digital technologies and the new media environment. In search of content and visual styles, India’s internet portals have made a broad use of film-related material, promoting themselves with movie gossip and giving access to downloads of star images. Therefore, film producers, distributors and film fans in India were well placed to make use of the new medium for promotional purposes. Film magazines have put out extensive electronic editions and major film projects and film stars have commonly produced websites as part of their promotional strategy for some years now. Fortunately, these practices have also been instrumental in developing a global communication for promoting Indian films and film stars. Also, the dominant use of English language in all this Indian content, including much of the Bollywood-themed material, has also had the effect of privileging a vision of India that speaks primarily to Indians overseas and globally-oriented elites at home (Athique, 2011, p. 5) The short form NRI (Non-Resident Indian) is the most common term used in India to describe people of Indian origin living overseas. Therefore, “there is a strong resident elite and NRI alliance that shapes the Internet presence of India and Indians, just as in many other domains” (Gopinath, 2009, p. 303). In this sense, both the “Bollywood film and its cross-media presence are seen as consciously addressing the ‘non-resident audience” also referenced by Rajadyaksha (2003, p. 29).
Bollywood films are a much sought after entertainment source for Indians living in India as well as abroad. Moreover, Dissanayake (2006) argued that the diasporic communities are becoming more interested in Bollywood films that deal with Indian history, Indian heritage and culture and Indian nationhood. Bollywood movies are becoming an integral part of the Indian diaspora through which they can stay in touch and maintain Indian traditions and culture. As Chopra (2007) observed Bollywood is not just a style of filmmaking; it is a culture and a religion unto itself. He further observed that Bollywood films strongly influence dress codes, language, and rituals for both the educated person and a layman alike and also noted that members of a certain Bollywood film club from South Korea wore Shahrukh Khan (a popular Bollywood actor) t-shirts and sun glasses while watching a Hindi film. In fact, many ardent Indian movie fans of Indian origin copy their favorite actor’s mannerisms, dress styles, and body language with utmost sincerity, which relates to a concept called fan culture (Srinivas, 1998). This suggests the emergence of a particular Bollywood culture in India, which is now being spread by new media technologies even within the Indian diaspora.
The Kaleidoscope was invented by David Brewster in 1816 originally designed to produce theatrical phantasmata which in course of time, turned into a child’s toy to a world of colourful designs created by rolling the tapered, cylindrical instrument round and round each turn creating a new design of broken glass pieces inserted into the cylinder. I use this as a metaphor for the collection of topics I have explored in depth to offer a glimpse into new and colourful designs through the very existence and evolution of Bollywood cinema. The use of this term in the title also signifies to some extend, the globalization of Bollywood cinema in a certain sense.
Choice of Essays
The choice of the 15 essays was mainly hinged to cinema that many had already seen so that they could relive them through the essays such as Mother India and Amitabh Bachchan. Some of these essays are born out of my personal invention and innovation while some were strongly recommended by some of my journalist friends, For example, while I suggested an exploration of the Dalit Identity in Indian Cinema, they asked me to do a piece on the Out-of-The-Box Heroes of Bollywood like Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ayushman Khurana and so on who do not fit in either the chocolate-boy hero of the 1960s and 70s or in the action, six-pack abs heroes represented by the likes of Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan. It was a real discovery for me as a writer because I had to watch some of their films again and again and with each such viewing, I discovered something I had missed earlier. An essay on the emergence of the New Woman in Hindi cinema was an appropriate afterthoughtWhat defines the new woman in Bollywood films? The ‘new’ woman is fiercely independent. They do not need heroes to lean on, like Rani Mukherjee has portrayed in a number of films, or, the changing image of the prostitute who never talks about any sad, back story to gain sympathy but turns out to be a right-thinking woman who does not shy away from her profession or offers any apology for being within it. Brilliant While researching for this book, I also discovered how the celluloid representation of the LGBTQ+ person evolved in our films and the results were very encouraging never mind if they were feature films or documentaries. I have not dwelt on documentaries unless I had to but the space is well-deserved. The idea of the essay on Romanticising History or Historicising Romance came from one of the editors of the publications I write for when trouble was brewing around Padmavat and this gave me the opportunity of another window which revealed how most of the so-called historical films are based on pure fiction mainly around characters such as Anarkali and Jodha in JodhaAkbar. Manikarnika, I realised after watching the film, was mainly a platform offered to Kangana Ranaut who also took over the directorial reins of the film, perhaps as an ‘investment towards another National Award for Best Actress which she has already won twice. The Muslim Identity in Indian Cinema was extremely interesting from the research point of view and I acquired so much material that it made me feel this itself could be a full-fledged book. The area around sports films and biopics on sportsmen and sportswomen is relatively unexplored so far as writing on cinema goes so this offered a very good opening for me. The same applies to Mental Illness as depicted in Indian Cinema which suffers from medical inaccuracies either for want of proper research or for commercial issues or both. Often, conditions like Tourette’s Syndrome and Dyslexia are genetic disorders and not mental aberrations at all but the films concerning them do not go much into research.Two more chapters suggested by my friends are - Student Activism in Indian Cinema and Biographical Feature Films. I had not dwelt with the first at any time over these forty years and the second one I had touched upon within specific genres. So, specially, the first topic was quite challenging because not many had explored this field before. But it made me happy to accept the challenge for the research and then the writing. I chose the title Bollywood Cinema with the lay cinema buff in mind so that he is not confused by theory and can really enjoy reading about films he has alredy seen or films these essays may inspire him to see. Every book – the reading and the writing of it, is a long journey and I have thoroughly enjoyed this one as much as I did the others before this. It is a journey filled with trying to find out your own mistakes and setting them right, going through each sentence, paragraph and page as if through a magnifying glass and still not able to see them all. For me, writing a book is a journey undertaken with a lot of love and passion and fascination for cinema, filled with pitfalls, adventures, misadventures till the last word has been tapped into the computer. But complete fulfilment will come when a reader reaches out and says, ‘I have read your book and I liked it.’
Dr Shoma A. Chatterji
BOLLYWOOD AND THE CINEMA OF SPORT
India has produced immortal sportspersons in history, excelled in team sports like hockey and football, but sports and sportspersons as a genre in cinema has remained relatively lesser known among both filmmakers and audience. However, this anathema towards films based on sports and sportspersons has changed in recent times. The turning point came with Aamir Khan’s Lagaan directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar. Lagaan is a fictionalised slice of life placed within India’s colonial history. There have been feature films on great sportspersons portrayed by actors who are not into the sports they have performed and have yet come out with award-worthy performances. Examples are aplentyPaan Singh Tomar, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom, Dangal and many more.
Sports basically, are a way of life that demand a certain attitude, high moral values, focus and strict discipline. A sport is a concept and an ideology not limited to performance in the field or within the four walls of a hall. Interestingly, indoor games do not feature in Bollywood at all except cards that function not as a game but as an indulgence to gamble. Do these carry over in films dealing with sports through entirely fictionalised narratives or through real-life representations on celluloid? These are questions this essay will seek to find answers to, or, perhaps, discover some questions that may keep hanging in the air.
Sports in fictional films
Taking stock of notable Indian films dealing in sports down the years, the output is disappointing. This writer could count only eight Hindi films between 1984 and 2005. These areRaj N. Sippy’s Boxer (1984) starring Mithun Chakraborty, Hip Hip Hurray the same year directed by Prakash Jha starring the relatively unknown Raj Kiran as a sports instructorSaaheb (1985), directed by Anil Ganguly with Anil Kapoor that had sports as a sub-plot in the sentimental family melodrama, Mansoor Ali Khan’s delightfully entertaining Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam (1998), Gul Bahar Singh’s Goal (1999) produced by the Children’s Film Society and Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan (2001) complete the list closing with Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal. The thumping box office and critical success of Kukunoor’s Iqbal (2005) produced by Subhash Ghai ought to have marked a turning point in the visibility and importance of sports in Indian cinema. Sadly however, the entire emphasis of the success of Iqbal was placed on the hearing disability and the socially challenged backdrop of Iqbal, the protagonist, played convincingly by Shreyas Talpade and not on the game. But one needs to compliment Kukunoor for the film’s unusual approach barring the cliché character of the alcoholic cricket coach who is persuaded to train Iqbal before he plays in front of the selection panel. We will keep away from Sultan because of its extremely patriarchal handling of the theme where the girl, a great wrestler herself, falls in love with Sultan and is forced to give up the sport. The same goes for films that did not do well at the box office and were critical failures such as fictionalised biographies of Mohammed Azharuddin and M.S. Dhoni. A sports film demands a completely different approach in the entire technique and aesthetics of filmmaking that would involve an equal commitment from the director, the script writer, the cinematographer, the sound designer and the editor plus the one working on the production design and on the costumes. How many filmmakers are this committed? Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992) is about a cycling race that goes beyond the race to extend itself to an exploration of class discrimination between students of two different schools, one a humble, Hindi medium one and one a prestigious English-medium one. It also is a model lesson on how negative competition can create havoc in the lives of dedicated competitors but also bring about a positive metamorphosis in the life and philosophy of the protagonist Sanju (Amir Khan). Sanju changes from a happy-go-lucky, irreverent, never-care-less young schoolboy to a responsible young son who is not only repentant about his past behaviour but is also determined to win the race which his brother was originally supposed to participate in.
The training sessions Sanju undergoes are handled extremely well. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar was such a big hit that it became not only a cult film but also a trendsetter that triggered the Telugu Thammdu ((1999), the Tamil Badri (2001), the Kannada Yuvaraja (2001) and the Bengali Champion (2003) Mansoor Ali Khan who directed his debut film, said that it was loosely based on Breaking Away (1979) produced and directed by Peter Yates and won many awards. Iqbal essays the dilemma of small town talents trying to make up the means to attend a sports school or clinics with a meagre family income and innocent guardians who do not have anything to do with such ‘costly affairs’. But Iqbal’s self determination and the guidance from an alcoholic coach Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah) with the limited resources available, prompted him to think big. It clearly shows how success can be achieved by an individual’s self confidence, optimism and hard work cutting across all odds that we face in our daytoday life. Life is not easy for many and for people like Iqbal it is all the more difficult to live a normal life. The drunkard coach and the owner of the coaching academy would represent the society which is filled with evils and impurity. All aspects of destiny, fortitude and diligence unfold in Kukunoor’s film so smoothly that viewers are taken aback by the emotional effects. The politics of sports is also regenerated to give a real sense of happenings and events in the world of sports.
Lagaan cannot be defined just as a sports film. It basically is a powerful patriotic statement in history that, though fiction, comes across with conviction and massive audience acceptance. Lagaan shows cricket as a matter of lifeordeath for the simple villagers of Champaran, a fictional village set in the Victorian era when the British were in full control. The villagers had never even heard the word cricket in their lives and objects like the bat, the ball, the wickets and the pitch were alien concepts. The final cricket match between the British officers and the poor peasants is played fiercely because the latter know that their lives depend on the outcome. Champaran is a drought-stricken village that failed to produce crops so the villagers could not pay the taxes imposed by the British. They are forced to accept the wager by the British officers that if they win in a game of cricket against the British players, their taxes would be waived for three years. Lagaan is the third Indian film nominated for the Academy Award for Best.