Saturday, February 28, 2004

Amita MalikSIGHT & SOUND
Catching up with films
Amita Malik

It is one of the ironies of Indian TV that while in other countries the cinema fled before television when it first appeared, here the cinema made TV its willing slave.

Vijay Anand
Vijay Anand

One cannot imagine a single Indian channel, except those exclusively devoted to news, which can dispense with feature films. And even news channels and all the non-news channels find it is as much as their existence is worth to show daily film-based programmes. Besides, hardly a single channel can get by without having an interview with a film personality, preferably a star, in its news bulletins or chat shows. And film personalities, beginning with Amitabh Bachchan and down to recent comers like Karishma Kapoor and Sri Devi are increasingly finding a second string to their bow in the small screen. In fact, Amitabh Bachchanís dramatic come-back can be largely attributed to his amazing success with Kaun Banega Crorepati, a quiz programme which brought out his in-built qualities of wit, gentlemanliness and affable communication with ordinary folk who came in awe of him and went away relaxed. He made a direct contact with audience material which must have greatly enhanced his box-office come-back.

In the beginning, the two drawbacks of cinema on the screen were the time-lag between the release of a film in the cinema and its re-run on the small screen. This particularly applied to popular films because distributors naturally did not want their box-office success being cut down because people could comfortably see the film at home soon after its release on the big screen. The resulting drawback was that box-office failures got a sudden boost and some much-needed financial returns for its producers whose flop feature films had been languishing for years in cans. Then suddenly, about two years ago, the picture changed. The time-lag became shorter with the result that one could see on TV outstanding successes such as Lagaan and Mr and Mrs Iyer within months of their release in cinemas. Some channels such as Sony Max and Star Plus are now on the alert for screening box-office successes as also off-beat films such as Jhankar Beats which make minority audiences into majority ones via the small screen.

With this upsurge of better quality films what is required is better planning. Retrospectives can be intelliegently timed and not stick to cliches such as an Amitabh Bachchan retrospective of frequently shown films, or Oscar winning films on foreign channels. Sadly enough, just before the sudden passing of Vijay (Goldie) Anand, I happened to wake up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. And I found running a rather faded print of Chetan Anandís black-and-white film Aandhi, with screenplay by Chetan Anand and Hameed Butt, the late husband of stage actress Uzra Butt. It brought back nostalgic memories. When Dev Anand got his belated Dadasaheb Phalke Award, TV interviews were badly lacking in proper research and stuck to the same old cliches about his evergreen personality and box office flops. Everyone neglected the fascinating story behind the making of the English and Hindi versions of The Guide, directed by a very young Goldie Anand. Only Shekhar Gupta, in his Walk The Talk with Dev Anand, went in depth into the many problems and controversies which went into its eventual success, which now makes it a classic and a reminder of Goldie Anandís distinctive qualties as a director and his professional detachment and firmness when directing his highly established elder brother Dev in the male lead. Surely now is the time for some intelligent distributors and TV producers to run a retrospective of Vijay Anandís films which could be the best tribute to him. Incidentally, I found it was insensitive and in bad taste for TV crews to go up to Dev Anand at the funeral and ask him for his comments on his brother. There are occasions when people should have their private moments when sharing their grief with close friends and should be treated with respect and left alone.

In the middle of the election and cricket frenzy on all TV channels and the different kinds of sad news which has dogged last week, one relaxed over two items which brought back with, humour and good cheer into our TV lives. Jaspal Bhatti, as usual, was superb on the screen with his "Feel Good Party" and the snide digs he had at ideology, dynasties and feel good in general. There is no one quite like Bhatti when it comes to political and social satire.

Then Double Take, the NDTV masked take-offs of General Musharraf, President Bush, Indian politicians, Saurav Ganguly and the rest is going from strength to strength in both English and Hindi and one cannot have too much of it.

There is a long list of cedits for the programme, so one can only congratulate the entire team for one of the most entertaining and sophisticated satires on the small screen. It already has some imitators but certainly no rivals.