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The Making of………..

January 21, 2011

There is a Hollywood, the Mecca of film industry of America and then there is a Bollywood, the place where films are made in Hindi. The name Bollywood has been coined from the fact that the Hindi film industry was in Bombay and from calling it Bombay film industry, they started calling it Bollywood! Times have changed and now Bombay is called Mumbai, so should the Hindi film industry be called Mollywood or Mumbaiwood or whatever. Must there be a ‘wood’ as a suffix to indicate it is about films I am not sure.

There were times when films were made on the quiet and then released with posters all over the place. The most that the distributors or cinema houses would do was to  have a man go around on an auto rickshaw or a pedal rickshaw announcing the release of the movie along with the names of the actors and sometimes if the directors or the produces were well known mentioning them too. If it was sometime since the film had been released and some of its songs had become hits small clips of the songs were played in the interim and then the announcement would go on. Sometimes there was a man making those announcements and at other times it was a prerecorded tape that was played and replayed. The whole town came to know about the movie and families would throng to the theatres. It was a family outing and most movies were family dramas. A few rupees ticket gave you the balcony seat. A soft drink during the interval with a customary visit to the loo where the movie was discussed in monosyllables between friends and sometimes strangers was another tradition.  This was in the seventies, eighties and the early nineties.

Now let’s fast forward to the 21st century. There are multiplexes mow. There are limited seats in these multiplexes with Dolby surround sound. These have more comfortable seats. One can buy an assortment of popcorn from chocolate flavor to butter, masala to what not. Then you have sandwiches both vegetarian and non vegetarian, nachos with cheese dripping, burgers and of course a huge paper glass of cola that has a place of pride by your side with a specially created cavity for the precious drink. The tickets range from a couple of hundred rupees to as high as Rs 500 to Rs 750 with a coupon for snacks included in the ticket. For these high end theatre tickets you have sofas where you and your friends can sit as if you are in your living room and enjoy the movie. I think this kind of a theatre experience was an idea whose time had come. There was always a latent demand for such luxury – it is just that now there are enough people who can afford such luxury for theatre owners to cater to this market. A better living standard has meant that theatre is now a wholesome entertainment and not just a pair of eyes glued to the screen watching with rapt attention every move and every gesture of the protagonists on the screen.

Multiplexes have pushed away the traditional cinema houses and they are calling the shots.  The advent of 24 hour television and growth of internet has meant that cinema now has competition that it did not have earlier. Images are a way of life and one need not go to a cinema theatre to whet ones appetite for moving images and stories about lost brothers and honor and jagirs. But movies must be made. And they are being made. With this competition for eyeballs the movie industry is going all out to get people to theatres. They are using all sorts of gimmicks to make sure people throng theatres. Remarkably, the big screen big stars are using the idiot box the most to promote their films. One very common way is to be invited as guests on some of the more popular TV shows based on comedy or dance or even some children’s programs. It is an open secret that many times these stars pay for their appearance on these TV shows. Then there is that other trend that movie stars and movie makers are ‘invited’ to news channels where they are interviewed about the movie. Mostly leading pair makes the appearance together. I will not be surprised if they are handed the questions in advance too. There is one movie recently released where the interview of the husband-wife team was being telecast simultaneously on three different English language news channels – so that a class of people just could not but have to watch what the duo had to say. Interviews about the movie invariably lead to the making of the movie, about the bonhomie between the lead pair, the same camaraderie and then the same sickening stories about how one played a prank on the other and how the other got his or her ‘revenge’ – all very cute. One unwritten law is that the actors will discuss the Hindi movie that they have made only in – hold your breath – English and woe befall one who is not conversant with the English language, he or she will be treated as a pariah! All interviews will be in English and English only about a Hindi movie that they have worked in! Finding it all crazy? I call this insane!

If they had stooped at this it would have been tolerable. What gets unbearable is when there is a small movie made on the ‘making of the movie’. Which is basically a documentary on how the lead stars and the directors went about their job. The hero of the movie will then explain how he had to jump from the 24th floor of a building and how the director insisted that he take a double and how the brave hero refused and did all the stunts himself. The leading lady will then tell the audience how difficult it was to kiss the lead star in front of the crew and how they had to take a few score of retakes till their lips went sore or sometimes just the opposite, how they felt absolutely comfortable and that that hot scene was shot at one go! Then there will be stories about how they went to a far off land like Switzerland or New Zealand to shoot just a few lines of an abominable song which no one will remember in the first place. And how it was so cold and yet the leading lady wore just the bare minimum and so on. Invariably the ‘chemistry’ between the lead pair is claimed to be absolutely fantastic even though they had been having a rough time all through the shooting of the movie. Mind you, this is not the movie – this is a ten minute clip or sometimes half an hour long ordeal on how the blighted movie was made! And most of this in the English language again! And at the end of it all the stars invariably exhort the TV audience to pick up tickets and go and watch the movie. If only they knew what an ordeal it has been watching how they made the movie and that no temptation on earth will get us mere mortals to the theatre to go through the experience in totality come what may.

All these gimmicks have worked sometimes but most of the times people have stayed away. Nowadays a movie is a super hit if it runs a few weeks in the theatres. There was a time when some of the Bollywood blockbusters would run for more than a year in one theatre.  Movies like Sholay or Mother India or Guide ran house full for years on end. Nowadays the longevity of the movies is drastically reduced. Many movies come and go without a blip on the consciousness of the people. It is not that all movies are a flop. The good movies are still made quietly and are released without much fanfare and hangama. The Munnabhai series has always had a quiet release and the director Vidhu Vinod Chopra or Raju Hirani or Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi do not go to town talking about how they made the movie. It is post their thundering success that they come out with how they got the idea and how the script was written and how Sanjay and Arshad clicked together. But that is when they are asked by a curious audience, not a whole half an hour documentary on the shooting and working behind the scenes of a silly movie that is by all means a poor copy of a Hollywood movie in the first place.

Multiplexes are here to stay as are television and internet. The challenge before the Hindi cinema is to make movies that catch the imagination of the people. For that what is required is an original script and slick movie making that ties one to the seats for the full duration. There needs to be substance. Gimmickry and showmanship can help in the short run. Ultimately it is the product that has to sell. If it is bad product or a plagiarized product it is bound to fail. One last little exhortation to all film makers – please do not talk about the movie. Let the movie speak for itself. The people are intelligent enough to distinguish between good and bad cinema. As for the making of…………well, just make movies!

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