Most of the big-budget films hitting the screen these days appear high on promise
THE French have a wonderful saying which fits pat on Bollywood: Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. The more things change, the more they seem the same. Easy access to the latest technology in filmmaking, availability of corporate funding, growth of multiplexes, emergence of fresh talent and audiences, receptive to newer concepts and idioms ... are significant changes Bollywood has been witnessing of late. Together, these developments should have changed the complexion of Hindi cinema by now.
It has not. Our filmmakers remain stuck in a rut, struggling hopelessly to make sense of the opportunities opening up before them. If recent releases are any indication, they would continue to draw upon dog-eared scripts, hackneyed plots and done-to-death clich`E9s rather than venture into unexplored areas and take their chances. This does not only apply to such low-budget films as Paying Guests, Sankat City, Short Kut and Dekh Re Dekh which count for nothing. The biggies like Kambakkht Ishq, Luck and now, Love Aaj Kal are the biggest bunglers.
Take Kambakkht Ishq. This is Sabbir Khan’s film on a Hollywood stuntman (Akshay Kumar) trying to tame a surgeon (Kareena Kapoor) who moonlights as a supermodel in Los Angeles. She calls him ‘bastard’ and he addresses her as ‘bitch’. She operates on him and leaves her heart-shaped watch (with an alarm that goes ‘mangalam mangalam’) in his stomach. Even if such absurdities are to be overlooked, how would you take the filthy, sexist and crude gags (somebody actually farts into co-star Amrita Arora’s face) the film is ridden with? And this is supposed to be a comedy on the battle of the sexes.
Before this, there was Kabir Khan’s New York. Another big film, it had John Abraham, Katrina Kaif and Neil Nitin Mukesh as friends in a New York college, singing songs and playing rugby till one day, the World Trade Centre collapses and everybody becomes a terrorist suspect. Abruptly the pace and tenor of the film changes to a melodramatic, action-packed thriller and in true Bollywood tradition, you are served with an assortment of emotional triggers, sweet and sour, hot and cold. The ‘thali approach’ of trying to pack too much in a single film not only ruins the seriousness of a subject, but robs the story of all credibility. You cannot even connect with the characters.
Vivek Sharma’s Kal Kissne Dekha offers yet another case in point. Here again, the attempt is to pack in everything for everybody, ultimately resulting in Jackky Bhagnani’s hugely ambitious launch vehicle failing to take off. After all, how do you relate to an all-in-one lover boy who can sing, dance, do comedy, beat up the baddies and to top it all, ‘see’ the future? The story itself of a Punjabi munda moving to Mumbai University (never mind, if you saw South Africa there) and getting involved with terrorists was a hoot. One moment he gets beaten up by the baddies and the next, inspired by visions of his girl (Vaishali Desai), gathers the strength to bash up five guys while 10 others run away. This is the film’s climax.
These are not stray cases of filmmakers who have everything going for themselves (including money for the asking) failing to make anything of it at the box-office. Almost every film hitting the screen these days appears high on promise and low on delivery. Somewhere, between the launch and the last pack-up call, the makers seem to lose the plot. Try probing them and the explanation would inevitably be one of "compromises" forced by budgetary issues, uncooperative stars, shooting schedules running haywire and so on. Owing to such "unforeseen circumstances", the final product bears no resemblance to what the filmmaker had initially set out to create.
The truth however, lies elsewhere. Let alone having his fingers on the pulse of the marketplace, the filmmaker rarely has a clue about how his film would shape up till it is complete. He usually starts off with a seed idea, ropes in a star or two, obtains the finance and everybody has a ball till the film is released and bombs. The conditions prevailing today are scarcely any different from that of Bollywood’s anarchic days when there was no accountability and filmmaking used to be considered a gamble. Only a rare Yash Chopra or Subhash Ghai now bides his time till he finds a good script and feels suitably inspired to make a film.
Nowhere else in the world is filmmaking subjected to such arbitrariness. In Hollywood, it is a well-calculated and deliberated activity, the objective being to constantly raise the bar and offer audiences an experience better and different from what they have already seen. Recent releases like The Hangover, Night At The Museum and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince are indicative of the variety on offer. That such heavy-duty Hollywood blockbusters should be competing with Hindi potboilers in the same exhibition space (of multiplexes), poses a very real threat to Bollywood.
Already a sense of nervousness has gripped our filmmakers. Films are announced only to be suspended or scrapped within days of launch. All production houses are going slow, ostensibly because of recession. Finished films are gathering dust for want of distributors and many are being re-shot. Actors and actress are developing cold feet midway through the shoot and are either opting out or being replaced. In any case, all major stars have cut down on work. Even Shah Rukh Khan wants to lie low for a year (citing health reasons) and has reportedly pushed the launch of Anubhav Sinha’s sci-fi film, Ra 1 to mid-2010 from September this year.
Given this crisis of confidence across the board, it comes as no surprise that several producers are now restricting themselves to tried-and-tested themes with remakes. Films like Anurag Singh’s upcoming Dil Bole Hadippa (a recycled version of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) and Parmeet Sethi’s hitherto untitled Shahid Kapur-Anushka Sharma-starrer (based on Bunty Aur Babli) are two such instances of packaging old wine in new bottles. Indeed, the more things change in Bollywood, the more they appear the same.