Similarly, however, systems also have the necessary self-protective function also in-built. Therefore, when things are going wrong, the system also throws up the solutions, and things eventually improve. Take
There is perhaps no better case study for this than the Indian film industry. We as Indians have a tendency to stick to the tried and tested- wherever we see, taste or smell success, we go and do what those Romans are doing. After all, the sunflowers turn whichever way the sun shines. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that in around a hundred years of Hindi cinema, even though the prototype film remains the song-and-dance filled, melodramatic masala flick, we can divide the timeline by typical films of each era.
The one thing we still have not learnt, however, is that too much of something can truly be a bad thing. After a point of time, there is nothing left to be milked out of something: that is not an understanding we have chanced upon till date. For example, when the recent spate of comedies tasted big success at the box office (starting with Priyadarshan’s Hera Pheri) we suddenly saw comedies mushrooming everywhere. In the beginning they worked, but after a point, the audience grew weary, and, in a vicious cycle, the films became increasingly derivative and farcical in an effort to be funny. Thus, what was a nice trend had been milked to the last drop. The same thing happened with the trend of the semi-porn, soft-core flicks which got a lease of life with Jism, peaked commercially wit Murder, and gave birth to a spate of B-Grade sexploitation films and actresses like Meghna Naidu and Sherlyn Chopra.
While both the above trends had started out as a response to an environment that was clearly bereft of and was ready for them, they died out because everybody (the proverbial fools) rushed in to cash in on it.
The ‘Nouvelle Vague’, or the ‘New Wave’, or the New Cinema, or the Art Film Movement- or whatever else you may want to call it- tends to define an exciting, tumultuous episode in cinema all around the world, and came about in the same way. It was a response to a long chain of spectacularly failing big-budget, claustrophobic, visible artificial dramas masquerading as cinema in
My argument in this essay, however, is that
The first wave occurred in the late sixties/seventies, when commercial potboilers were at an all time low: films were big budget multi-starrers, all had the same stories, most were revenge dramas; acting, dialogues and settings were totally artificial and melodramatic, and the box office simply was not smiling upon the commercial film-makers. At a time like this, a handful of filmmakers and actors (mostly from the FTII, Pune, and heavily influenced by Truffaut and Godard) brought an alternative cinema to the Indian audiences, one that was much cheaper to produce, needed lesser returns to be successful, had no stars, and put the emphasis sorely on stark realism in every sphere: from the storytelling, to the story; from the acting to the overall look of the film. This wave was aided by the then recent introduction of hand-held cameras which were cheaper, lighter, easier to use and allowed greater flexibility to the cinematographer in terms of shooting on real locations. This movement was wildly greeted with both critical and commercial acclaim, and fueled by the idealism of those filmmakers.
By the time this wave ended, several artists had become household names: Naseeruddin Shah, Om puri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, et al. The end came when, post an overdose of art films, not only did the films lose their novelty value, but, in an effort to constantly impress, they also became too gimmicky and complex until they defeated their own purpose and alienated the viewers. These films which had started out as a way for committed film-makers to express themselves had now simply become a sinking ship which many frustrated directors hung onto having no avenue into commercial cinema.
At the same time, many of the main players of this wave were lured to the commercial cinema due to many reasons- greater remuneration, greater fame, and often, frustration with the ‘art’ film movement. Commercial films had by now become slightly more sensible, having incorporated several aspects of the at film movement, and a new genre had emerged which combined the best of both worlds: the middle-of-the-road cinema, which was both sensible and entertaining, and involved everyone from Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra to Amol Palekar and Farooque Sheikh. Added to this, failure of the art films in terms of marketing, distribution and the sudden upswing in the box office fortunes of the commercial films sounded the death knell on the first wave.
Post this time period, and the end of the dreaded eighties (a nightmare for every Hindi film lover), the nineties came as a breath of fresh air, with the arrival of several new faces (Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, Shahrukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Madhuri Dixit, etc) and filmmakers (Sooraj Barjatya, Mansoor Khan, Aziz Mirza, Aditya Chopra and later Karan Johar) who pumped up Bollywood with newer stories, newer storytelling, a world view which was truly worldly (worthy of the post-liberalization era).
However, buoyed by the success of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and even Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the late nineties and the first couple of years of the new millennium saw a suffocating flood of clones all about love, romance, soft-glow photography, melodrama, family drama, huge starcasts, actresses in pastel shades and stories usually set in
The second wave was the invention of the Hinglish film: a trendy, up-market genre consisting of stories and protagonists set essentially in the Metros. These stories were largely told in English, with a smattering of Hindi, and dealt with issues which were too sensitive for the mainstream audiences, such as homosexuality, mafia and cultural identities, all handled with a dash of humour.
While the first such film is considered to be Dev Benegal’s “English, August” in 1994, the stars of this genre were essentially a young actor called Rahul Bose, who, with his English sensibilities and diction, created a new prototype of the urbane, confused hero; and a director called Nagesh Kukunoor, who, with his NRI mentality and experimental films burst onto the scene with “Hyderabad Blues” and proved that this genre could also be profitable. Others to later on join this bandwagon were stalwarts such as Kay Kay Menon, Tara Deshpande, Sanjay Suri, etc.
These films were aimed at an audience who had grown up on English films (as opposed to their parents, who had seen the odd “Towering Inferno” and “The Guns of Navarone”), had urbane sensibilities, and were comfortable not only conversing in English, but also dealing with sensitive themes. They enjoyed black comedis, and liked films they could relate to.
Soon, however, this profitable genre turned into a hurricane which everyone wanted to latch onto- budding filmmakers, veejay-turned-actors, models, et al. This meant not only people who had no talent or ability, but also a falling quality of films. The death knell was sounded when switched to Hindi films with “Teen Deewarein”, and Rahul Bose and Kay Kay chose to do films like “Thakshak”, “Jhankaar Beats” and “Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena”.
However, this phase too left its marks on the mainstream industry: films became more urbane, wittier and relating to identifiable, relatable characters who had other things to do besides dance in big, multi-starrer weddings. The clearest indication of this was a film called “Dil Chahta Hai” (2001) which was almost an English film in Hindi. Now that the mainstream cinema could do what the Hinglish makers were attempting, the smaller genre had to die out.
A few years later, a peculiar phenomenon occurred which single-handedly gave birth to the third art wave in
We are therefore living in an era today where almost every week one such film is released- be it an Abhay Deol drama, or a Vinay Pathak (a superstar after “Bheja Fry”) comedy. However, a dangerous trend can again be seen, mirrored perfectly in Vinay Pathak films- after the success of “Bheja Fry”, a whole slew of films started with him in the lead, all with comic elements- be it “Oh My God”, “Dasvidaniya” or the yet-to-be-released “SRK”: none of these films proved of any great quality or of box office status.
While actors from this club migrate to the mainstream cinema (Vinay Pathak in “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”, Ranvir Shorey in “Chandni Chowk To China”, Konkona Sen in “Aaja Nachle”), and mainstream films integrate aspects of those films into theirs (both “Taare Zameen par” and “Rock On” were both aimed at given, selected audiences in the meros); and revenues of these small multiples films fall- especially in the face of the recession- these films must coordinate and go back to why they started in the first place: provide excellent entertainment or a terrific quality product.
In a world ruled by marketing rather than the product, these multiplex film directors cannot hope to compete on a mass-market level. Therefore, their future too seems bleak unless the lessons from the past two ‘waves’ are learnt and acted upon.