Like Buzz Lightyear learnt awhile ago, we must always follow Woody.
We in Hindi cinema have stopped telling the stories of our cities. We’ve reduced our big towns into convenient and stereotype-strewn backdrops, sure, told apart by accents and architecture. And once in a while, a Dibakar Banerjee or Habib Faisal will throw on a dollop of asli Dilli, (or Amit Trivedi will make a great song) but these are only Delhi films when contrasted alongside the glitzy Bombay-based popcorn whose only concession to that great big throbbing swearword of a city is a character eating vada pao.
These are films set in cities, not films that set out to rhapsodize the city itself, like Sai Paranjpe’s immortal Delhi excavations of the 80s and, to an extent, Ram Gopal Varma’s Bombay transgressions of the 90s. Our current cinema seems obsessed with surfacial scabs — either too-glossy or too-grimy, or too-convenient targets for caricature — and refuses to really talk of our cities, which deserve far better cinematic time capsules.
But despair not, for I have the answer. We just bring in the best in the business and stand back, tug our jaws off the floor, and watch him reintroduce us to the city we think we knew. There’s never been a better time to call in Woody Allen, at a point when he’s walked away from his Gershwin-scored Manhattan and is busy finding miraculous muses in the world’s cities, serving us London, Barcelona and Paris in a way native filmmakers of those countries haven’t, in ages. Equal parts wide-eyed tourist and insightful surgeon, the incurable romantic takes the city by the wrist and checks her pulse while tangoing with her, and the results are enchanting.
And yet there is prose here too, in those ugly, necessary numbers of film financing and government-aided funding, and these are the factors that have been doing Allen’s deciding for him, not just the length of the city’s legs. He’s been going from grant to grant, and this is where we must pounce and roll out the scarlet carpet. We must call in Allen to make our great city-bred masterpiece, a film about shapeshifting Bombay, wellfed Delhi, cacophonous Calcutta… He can come in and work his charm, and the city will yield its secrets only too willingly.
But hark, benefactors-to-be. This is not sponsorship, and expect not characters to wear your brand on a shirt or carry your mobile phone or have a big relationship argument under a hoarding for something under your umbrella brand. The closest Woody Allen gets to product placement is sending us to libraries via Midnight In Paris. No, here we need selflessness, which is why I recommend either some manner of exorbitant crowdsourcing or even a governmental intervention. (Here’s the thing, Mr Political Party. You bring us the master, you make it happen, and I’ll vote for you, no matter how much I’ve hated you in the past. Promise.)
Because we need him to remind us, we always have. About how in the Barcelona of Vicki and Christina, people on the streets used to the commotion, don’t spare a look as Penelope Cruz gives Javier Bardem a dramatic tonguelashing. About how ruthlessly classist the London of Match Point is. And, in Midnight In Paris, about how much is to be found by walking in the rain in a city paved with magic. He said it about Manhattan in that gorgeous film of the same name, but he’s always been as tough and romantic as the city he loved — even if he’s gone on to love more cities. And behind those black-rimmed glasses still lies the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat.
First published Mumbai Mirror, January 25, 2012