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Category — Film and Society

Terrible trends at Bollywood award shows

It’s Labor Day weekend here in the US and I just watched IIFA, the very last of Bollywood award shows for the films and stars of 2012. Beginning some time in March, the award show season is peppered with glitzy lights, star-studded performances, terrible starry humor and (mostly objectionable and dissatisfying) awards. We’ve all spent many cocktail parties discussing these often cringe-worthy awards, but this year I noticed something much more disturbing—a normalization of distinctly religious Hindu aesthetics and a strange erasure of female stars as actors and active contributors to the industry.

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September 1, 2013   3 Comments  

100 Years of Indian Cinema: Whose Cinema? Whose Centenary? – The Politics of Temporal Film Historiography

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error is a crucial
factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical
studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality.
 —Ernest Renan,
Qu’est que c’est une nation? 

Quoting Ernest Renan, the famous British historian, Daniel Woolfe (2006), wrote not long ago that the national framework predominates in historiography and the temporal scope of the same is anchored along four premises. “…four variants of temporal scope. [Read more →]

August 5, 2013   1 Comment  

Rereleases in the Age of Late Modernity: Examining the Rerelease of Karnan Through the Prism of Anthony Giddens

Among the most notable events in Tamil film industry in the recent past, the rerelease of Sivaji Ganesan’s famous mythological Karnan (1964) in the month of March raised curious expectations about its fate at the box office.

Karnan Rerelease Poster In Chennai

During the same month, on March 18, 2012, the rerelease of MGR’s Nadodi Mannan also dominated the film sections of Tamil newspapers and posters across the state. [Read more →]

June 17, 2012   1 Comment  

Bollywood’s foreign fan brigade


SRK in Berlin

Greta Kaemmer can really grill you. Hurling questions with rapid-fire velocity, Kaemmer, who is better known as Memsaab, astounds you with her encyclopedic knowledge of Indian cinema. Sample this: How were Mehmood and Meena Kumari related in real life? Don’t know. In which Hindi film do two actresses play the same character? Duh. And in which film does Shammi Kapoor do a nautch girl number? I’m logging off…

Memsaab is part of a growing group of foreigners who love Indian cinema as much as any Indian. Accomplished in ‘Hinglish’, these men and women are passionate about all things Bollywood. Take Maria, a German blogger and diehard fan of Shah Rukh Khan who was so upset with the lack of a German release for Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna in her country that she flew to New York to watch the film: First day, first show. Or Bastet, another German blogger who writes, “Being a Bollywood fan in Germany is not easy. We undertook a 200-km-long trip to Amsterdam (to see KANK). At that moment, we didn’t mind that the film was in Dutch and not in English subtitles.” [Read more →]

May 7, 2012   No Comments  

Pirating history

A few hours ago the Minister of Information and Broadcasting here in India, Ms Ambika Soni announced that on the occasion of hundred years of Indian cinema (which is next year by popular account), her ministry has assigned Rs. 500 crore  in the next five-year plan for setting up the National Heritage Mission that aims to digitize and restore all audio and video tapes of Indian films. While India faces a dire need to pay more attention to archiving its cinema history, this does seem an ambitious project. But here’s hoping it sees light of day.

Meanwhile, at a less official level, I recorded a ten-minute extract of the restored Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, ostensibly India’s first film. With cinema entering its 100th year, I would assume this film has long entered the free-copyright zone and will not land me into trouble. The aim of the arduous exercise of putting this clip on YouTube was to contribute yet another unofficial, barely legal bit to the enormous, free and pirate archive of cinema that is floating across media, particularly on the Internet. So here it is:

Read the entire press report here: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=83059

May 3, 2012   No Comments  

Why I don’t want Meryl Streep to win the Oscar

To make my cinematic allegiance very clear, let me say at the outset that I think Meryl Streep is one of the finest and most versatile actresses Hollywood has seen. She is an inspiration to several actresses of following generations and few have been able to match her prowess in variety and perfection.

That said, I will add, that this fine actress does not deserve an Oscar this year for her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. [Read more →]

February 24, 2012   7 Comments  

Back to the dungeon

It is, without doubt, the worst of times. BTJunkie, the haven for cinephiles across the world, was not even cold (neither was Megaupload), when news of lib.nu shutting down hit academics across the world. Lib.nu, formerly gigapedia, was the online reservoir of knowledge, free knowledge to be precise, housing hundreds of thousands of PDFs of books, available to download, no questions asked. As most of us woke up to an ominously bare page that merely had the words “rip lnu”, a sense of reassurance died.

The crackdown on the grey legal area of intellectual property rights has forced us to rethink the kind access that globalization promised us. Books published by foreign publications that were not easily available even at libraries and films that the increasingly strict and not to mention ridiculously prudish Censor Board refuses to release, were accessible to those of us who wanted to watch something beyond the lazy Las-Vegasness of Kareena Kapoor’s latest outing.

Let’s face it, production houses don’t need an audience any more to break even or even to be successful. The economics of production have changed thanks to intermediary players like television rights, music rights, overseas distribution etc. A full-house is just an incidental feel-good factor, an ego massage really. And as far as books are concerned, especially academic books, students or individuals have never really bought personal copies. No profit comes from individuals, and libraries will buy books irrespective. What then is the crackdown going to achieve?

As we pledge our support to the unidentified owners of lib.nu and to the hopeful aggression of piratebay, may be it is time to rethink what freedom means any more and who it is meant for.

And as I end yet another “The end of…” piece, here’s one by Lawrence Liang who seems to hold more hope than I dare to. Click here to read.

February 19, 2012   2 Comments  

Filmmaking as a Social Ritual in India and Indonesia

I had the opportunity of spending the last two days with a delegation of film makers, film affairs officials and film lab owners from Indonesia. One important highlight of the exchange of ideas was a session hosted today morning by Mr Hariharan, film maker and Director of LV Prasad Film and Television Academy, Prasad Studios, Chennai. Here are his arguments about why we must engage with Indian film industry not through the Western notion of realism or the marker of “escapism”. Hariharan broke new ground in Tamil film industry with his Ezhavathu Manithan (Seventh Man),1982. He is an alumnus of FTII, Pune, and partnered with Mani Kaul, Saeed Mirza in the Yukt Film Cooperative and the making of Ghasiram Kotwal.

“We make 1100 films in a industry that is worth just US $1.8 billion [Read more →]

December 17, 2011   No Comments  

The Dirty Picture vs a dirty picture: Quick thoughts

from bollywoodhungama.com

The following could arguably be the most crucial scene of Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture: a beautiful actress, the object of every man’s desire is sitting in a bathing tub, covered with nothing but some strategically placed foam. The tub itself is placed like a centerpiece of the tiny room. A flustered journalist is barely able to hold his camera still as he frantically takes pictures of Silk (Vidya Balan). Within seconds, what would have been a sensational expose of Silk’s humble home, turns into a feat in seduction as the journalist was all but forced to ignore the humble surroundings and focus on the star in the most thrilling, inviting pose. Silk’s plan to overshadow the shortcomings of her house by putting herself on display worked wonderfully. Something similar happens with the film, The Dirty Picture, which is somewhat patchy, plastic and awkward, but no one cares because Vidya Balan’s stunning performance overshadows the failings of this film.

In the first instance, it is a conventional story about the tragic life of a film actress who decided to make her way up in the industry by using her sexuality. However, despite a less than spectacular story, the film deftly positions itself in complex ways. Consider this: in the run up to the release of the film, producer Ekta Kapoor said in an interview to The Indian Express, “The Dirty Picture is about female sexuality and about a woman who created her own niche.” This sanitized, even progressive view of what the film wants to achieve was in contradiction, to say the least, on ground zero as a packed house of audiences clapped, whistled, hooted and even passed comments each time Balan licked her lips, bent provocatively to show her cleavage and moaned loudly as the couple next door tried to have sex. Even as it plays itself out as a biopic of the mysterious, exploited and tragic figure of Silk Smitha, it simultaneously uses the very tropes a number of Silk films used back in the late seventies and eighties, making it impossible to draw clear, moral distinctions between ‘celebrating’ female sexuality and ‘exploiting’ it.

The key player in complicating the politics of this film is the promotion. While talk of National Awards has gone viral (particularly with Ekta Kapoor saying she would be surprised if Balan didn’t get a National Award), the Web is still flooded with reports that emphasize what is constantly being referred to as the ‘boldness’ of the film. A sampler: “Simpleton to sexy siren: Vidya Balan goes ooh la la!” (Mid-Day), “The Dirty Picture: Breast Wishes” (blogpost), “Lots of Oomph, Sex in this Vidya Balan starrer (koimoi.com) and most importantly, Luthria’s quote that made headlines, “I have used sex to market The Dirty Picture” (Rediff). And this is not counting the sea of videos on YouTube that are on similar lines.

The most interesting bit of news in this regard was reported by The Economic Times, that said, “Readers of popular Hindi magazine Manohar Kahaniyan will get more than their dose of pulp fiction when they pick up its latest issue, the cover of which promises the raunchy story of a “sexy heroine”. The magazine with actress Vidya Balan on its cover is an enticement for an upcoming movie, The Dirty Picture, offering more than its staple fare.” It goes on to explicate that the production house has enlisted the services of a marketing agency called Spice Bhasha that was helping them promote the film in “non-metropolitan India…B-Towns”. Sidestepping the narratives of freedom and progression, the film is being promoted here in a way that is eerily reminiscent of how a Silk Smitha film would probably have been promoted a few decades ago.

It isn’t surprising therefore that the cover of the magazine has an image that is used as a magazine cover about Silk in the film as well. In other words, what serves as an image of Silk in the film, is being used as an image of Vidya Balan. To put it crudely, the unstated but ubiquitously understood distinctions between an award-winning actress of Balan’s caliber and Silk Smitha, who occupied the space between B-grade and soft-porn, are blurred. The very idea of representation, as something that is distanced from “what is” becomes shaky as these distinctions become unclear, underscoring the film’s confrontation with the moral hypocrisy of the film-making and viewing community, particularly in India.

Occupying multiple categories The Dirty Picture ensures that it manages to play to the gallery in diverse economic and cultural spaces. As action films return with a vengeance with films like Bodyguard, Ready and Singham breaking Box Office records in 2011, the only other film that successfully played a tongue-in-cheek game of now-an-action-film-now-a-parody, was Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg (2010).


December 7, 2011   1 Comment  

Teen Behenein: A Response

By The GigglingGirls

Does being astounded by the mediocrity and didacticism of a morally suffocating film on dowry deaths; mean that one is insensitive to the idea of women struggling against systems of power? Is there only one prescriptive way to respond to all films that speak of ‘social evils’?  Is there no space in political imagination where one can collide with narratives of violence against women?

Further, is there no conception of progressive politics where satire and laughter can function as modes of critique? Perhaps the only person in the Bombay film industry who was able to suggest irony and laughter as potent modes of critique was Kundan Shah whose dark comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) remains something of a benchmark in social and political satire in Hindi films. It is therefore disappointing that he made a journey from the nuanced execution of a film like JBDY to an over-simplified film like Teen Behenein (2005).

While we were surprised by the scope of this film—which we will take up in a moment—what was more troubling was the response it generated. Teen Behenein seems to have become one in a long line of films that receive praise despite fatal flaws at nearly every level (script, dialogues, acting, direction) merely because it takes up a topical social issue. Not unlike the reviews of a prescriptive and ultimately badly made film like Taare Zameen Par (Khan 2007), some of the responses to Teen Behenein conflate the intention, the issue at hand and the final film product[1].  And any response that dares to criticize the film is quite easily branded unaware and insensitive. [Read more →]

November 5, 2011   7 Comments