I was in two minds about writing this post. Knowing how it goes, how it is received, and how it ends up with any criticism here, it feels futile and exhausting after a point. Mainstream or indies, the tactic remains the same – a new nomenclature, a new way of shaming, a new email, a new threat, or just a new guilt of killing-my-baby. Knowing too many people from both sides, i always get to know what’s coming, how and when. In the last few years, i have discovered that there is nothing bigger than a filmmaker’s ego. And i would surely worship that ego the day I get to know that a film is cure for AIDS or some serious disease like that. Till then, it’s just a film, a fucking film. And since the love for being a vacuous versovian overrules everything, you wonder if you should pick that weary self again, and do it once more, pick one more fight, for old times sake.
As far as films are concerned, I don’t know anyone who is so difficult to please. He never used to like anything. And I mean ANYTHING. Not a single damn film. That used to be our running joke. Maybe a Kusturica on a good day. He was the cinema snob. At least he used to be one few years ago when we used to have interaction. For his young age, he had seen lot of films from across the world.
During a late night cycle-wala-kaafi, once he was discussing whether he should assist any director and start his career as an AD. And then the bigger question came – which director? For him, no one was worthy enough to assist, and there’s not really enough to learn from them. After much deliberation, he came to the conclusion that in the last few years, he has liked just one Hindi film. Maybe he is the only director he can try, but still he wasn’t sure looking at his other films.
So we would always wonder what kind of films would Chaitanya Tamhane make since he doesn’t like (almost) anything – big, small, cult, legends. And I am happy to say that he is the snob who delivered. ‘Court’ shows confidence and bravery. With no film school or AD-ing anyone, CT went ahead by himself. So much international acclaim and national award for your first film, it’s a stupendous achievement and a dream debut. A big, big Congrats!
But if it wasn’t Chaitanya, maybe i would have been happy with this much. Since it’s CT at the helm of affairs, i expected more, much more. And so I am having second thoughts on it – does it deliver anything new? A new cinematic language? A new/hidden India that we weren’t aware of? A new art? A new craft? The answer is no. It’s a new voice that’s assured, makes brave choices but is still following the diktats set by the Top 5-fest-selection-committee. It felt like what an European art-house director would do if he is asked to direct the film. Even when the lights are switched off one by one in the Court, you knew at that moment that the film won’t be over there. He would go back to the mundane life of one of the characters. And he exactly did that – its predictable in that way, you know whom the film is trying to please. And my fear is coming from that corner. Not specific to Court, but it gives a starting point to ponder over. I see a new generation of filmmakers who have grown up on world cinema culture – from dvd-wallahs to torrents, easy access changed the rules. And so before they get behind the camera, they know what the Cannes-to-Tribeca likes. You know the norms well, breaking away from the desi formula has sadly become another world-cinema-loved-by-fests formula in itself – take Non-actors, take long takes, unnecessarily stay back and hold the shot even when action is over, use no background music, say ok only on 897654897th take of the shots, show no emotional hook, cut it dry, nobody can cry their heart out, keyword is subtle, and other such routine stuff. It’s the Dogme 2015. And when you can see through the formula applied to achieve the desired result, you know where it’s heading. Not saying that all that is easy or not organic, but the calculative means to target in a specific way and to please a few has started worrying me.
I fear a day will come soon when if a character dies in our film, other characters will come in black suits, and would read eulogies. All formal. Nobody will cry their heart out, no wailing, no rudaalis. Because Remember, subtle! Remember, drama is bad. Remember, melodrama is NEVER. Even though that’s what we would do in real life. Death in our society has nothing formal about it. But we would go that suit-and-eulogy route because that’s the accepted norm by the west, by the film fests whose endorsement we crave for. If being feted by them because you are passing the exams on their terms and conditions, we are surely moving away from what was ours. And it reminds me of this incident which I keep quoting. I was in school then. There was a death in the family. My Granny started wailing, she came out, sat on the elevated platform just outside the door, and continued to do so. Neighbors joined in. And i was feeling so embarrassed. How can she do it? Why is she crying like that? Can’t she do it more formally? It reminds me that we are in similar scenario – we are embarrassed to show our true colours. We are decorating our stories in the colours they like. Even if a woman is dealing with her dead husband, she remains calm and quiet. Felt bit strange. So give me ‘Fandry’ any day.
Nobody confronts the raw emotions of “Dada, aami banchbo” of Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ anymore. It’s so loud, they new-gen cringe at it, how can you have it? Song and dance are strictly no-no even when we really learn and choreograph steps at many occasions in our life and culture. Why? Because another diktat of the west-fest. If their cinema reflects their stories and culture, why our cinema can’t do the same? And am not talking about mainstream Bollywood here. That’s on different tangent. That’s why i like what a Bhardwaj, Kashyap and Ratnam does with their songs. Or what a Q tries in Tasher Desh.
I believe this was long due. Our cinema getting noticed at the top five film fests of the world. But can we push our envelopes now – our stories in a new cinematic voice? One that doesn’t follow the fest-diktats. Hopefully the new gen kids will lose the fear of rejection by west. A ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’ or a ‘Vihir’ didn’t really crack the top fest code but they remain an all time favourite. And who doesn’t love those voices when they break the fest-diktats at the biggest fests, be it as fluff and pop as QT’s.