A few weeks ago, a film called Anjaana Anjaani released, tanked and was critically savaged. I haven’t caught it yet, but most colleagues seem to agree in hailing it the worst film of the year. One I did catch last week, Action Replayy, must surely be a close contender for that thorny crown. Cafe conversation among those of us who write about film is always a spirited affair — blame it on caffeine and the need to rant, not necessarily in that order — and more contenders were instantly hurled into the ring: the list, while decidedly amusing and suitably sadistically drawn, shouldn’t be shared just yet. (That would be tempting fate, what with eight Fridays to go and several potentially ghastly releases yet to be inflicted upon us.)
Yet my takeaway from the conversation was that it was one of those rare years, like 2006, say, that fine vintage when we all drew out of the same top 5. Then we had Lage Raho Munnabhai, Omkara, Rang De Basanti, Khosla Ka Ghosla and Gangster. This time we have Udaan, Peepli Live, Ishqiya, Love Sex aur Dhokha and Do Dooni Chaar. It’s oddly comforting to find critical mass accumulating in the same direction, and this uncommon unanimity is one to be celebrated.
And studied, for it inevitably tells us a lot. Look again at the 2006 list, and at this year’s bunch. What’s the primary difference? Starlessness. That 06 crop, while phenomenal, was positively studded with stars. O’Ten, on the other hand, is impressively indie, with a bunch of new directors and exciting, fresh, wonderfully unfamiliar actors. This is as encouraging as it gets. (Well, okay, that’d be the day LSD made more money than Dabanng, but this really is a major step too.)
Because the star-system is now Hindi cinema’s biggest liability, and it needs a good, swift, instantly-crippling kick to the kneecaps. A tiny pool of actors is chased constantly with megabudgets and massive marketing, limiting every creator in every way. The ones lucky enough to get someone from the A-list have to wait interminably long to get shooting dates, while smaller, far better films receive very limited exposure, withering away tragically underappreciated as theatres make room for some daft, starry release.
There will always be an A-list, but our industry’s list is too small (6 guys, 3 girls) and constrictive to foster genuine creativity. Casting is severely compromised as roles for teenagers go to men in their forties, while character roles are scaled up to ‘second leads’ as prominent actors are coaxed to come aboard a script. And then there is the obvious problem of overexposure: when actors and the characters they play in films become interchangeable, it’s clearly a problem. (Right, Priyanka Chopra?)
So while it is inevitable that there always will be a few names commanding the crores, it’s crucial that we stop relying exclusively on them. Filmmakers aren’t half as much to blame as the media, who go to town writing reams and reams on Kites that don’t even fly. We need a significant dose of proportion — a blanket ban on all news-channels might be a good first step in that direction — which is why it’s healthy to see that colleagues and critics are quite unanimously tiring of the mainstream masalapeople.
More power to you, people we haven’t seen yet. Come wow us. The silver screen awaits — desperately.
First published in Mumbai Mirror, November 10, 2010