Interesting patterns in the top grossing movies of Bollywood/Hollywood

 
1. The protagonist is a little different from everybody around him/her or he/she does something that is unusual/out of the ordinary. But But But…he/she cannot be TOO different. If you make the audiences TOO uncomfortable then it’s parallel cinema. For example: Harry Potter or Bajrangi are different from the rest of the crowd but they are limits to how much risk you can take in mainstream cinema. So Bajrangi is not an atheist, he is a Hanuman bhakt. Harry Potter is a misfit but he can do cool stuff like magic. Kanji Lal Ji is an atheist and is different from everybody else but at the end of the movie, he starts believing in God.
2. Odds are stacked against him/her. He/She finally overcomes these odds at the end of the movie/series. The ending has to be happy.
3. Most of the top-grossing movies contain ideas that were introduced by alternative cinema, long ago.The ones who respect new ideas are the ones who succeed in the long run. For example, Yash Raj Films quickly changed its gears and started backing off-beat content like ‘Mahi Way’ or ‘Powder’.
But a lot of alternative filmmakers made content-driven cinema much before YRF.
P.S. This is not to say that mainstream cinema is ‘shitty’. Both mainstream and alternative cinema are important in a society.
P.P.S. To those who mock alternative cinema for lack of popularity: Watch out! Today’s alternative can be tomorrow’s mainstream!
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The problem with ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’

‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ is a nice movie but there are places where the message of ‘women empowerment’ feels like a joke.

Examples:
1. Devasena, who epitomizes a strong, independent woman, says things like, “Why are you hiding in the back like women?” In other words, she wants men to stop acting like women (women=weak). This is a classic example of internalized misogyny.
2. The arrows of Devasena have a pink color on them while the arrows of Amarendra Baahubali have blue color. This is a classic example of gender stereotyping.
3. At the end of the day,  Devasena has no identity of her own. Just like Avantika in ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ (click), Devasena begins her journey as an independent, strong woman but is ultimately defined by her relationship with men (girlfriend, wife, mother). It is all about Baahubali, his kingdom, his child, his strength and his revenge.

36 Chowringhee Lane (19

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Photo: parallelcinema.blogspot.com
Note: This post may contain spoilers

’36 Chowringhee Lane’ marked the directorial debut of Aparna Sen. Set in Calcutta, this Bengali/English film is a story about an old Anglo-Indian teacher, who lives a solitary life after her husband’s death. One fine day, she bumps into her former student and her unemployed boyfriend and invites them to her home. The couple starts visiting her often and she feels less lonely. The lovers want to make out but lack of privacy compels them to devise a plan: The boyfriend tells the old lady that he wants a quiet place for writing and she happily gives them the keys to her house. The lady once sees them romancing but she never makes a fuss about it. The lovers eventually get married. Unfortunately for the old lady, they start ignoring her.

Aparna Sen’s depiction of loneliness is poignant. Jennifer Kendal, who plays the old lady, is absolutely brilliant in her role. Her face is a canvas on which Sen paints a devastatingly beautiful painting.
If you enjoyed watching ‘Mr and Mrs Iyet’, ’15 Park Avenue’ and ‘The Japanese Wife’, then you cannot afford to miss this film.

Sadma (1983)

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Photo: Rediff

 

Note: This post contains spoilers 

‘Sadma’ is a story about a woman named Bhagyalakshmi who loses her memory and becomes like a six-year-old after an accident. Sreenivas, who meets her at a brothel, decides to take care of her. At the end of the movie, Bhagyalakshmi gets back her memory but forgets about the time she spent with Sreenivas.
The movie reminded me of the book ‘The Ego Trick’ which explores the idea of ‘I’ that we all have. The author delves into Neuroscience to find whether there is a central ‘I’ where everything comes together. As he meets an eclectic set of people, he explains that the idea of an ‘I’ is mostly an illusion. When most of us talk about ‘I’, we assume that there is something constant within us that withstands all the changes that we go through in our lifetime. But what about people like Bhagyalakshmi? When she suffers from amnesia, she forgets about all her experiences after the age of six. Where is her ‘I’ then? What about the end of the movie when she forgets Sreenivas? Who is the ‘real’ Bhagyalakshmi? Is she the person before the accident? Or the person she turned into after the accident? If a person’s perception about herself can be altered because of a damage to the brain, then what does it say about our cherished beliefs about ourselves?

My Brother…Nikhil

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Photo: Jungle Key

‘My Brother..Nikhil’ is a story of a swimming champion who has everything going for him: He is handsome, charming and his parents’ favorite. But one day, he finds out that he is HIV positive. He also happens to be gay. The revelation shocks his parents who throw him out of the house. However, his sister and his boyfriend stand by him. The film is about Nikhil’s battle against an insensitive society which alienates him and treats him like an untouchable. The film is also about the strong bond between the brother and the sister.

Director Onir knows how to talk about complex issues with subtlety and sensitivity. There are times when two characters want to discuss something private and the third person completely understands the need for privacy and gets out of the way. There is also a moment in a song where there is an insect on Purab Kohli’s shirt…another director might have asked for a retake but I liked how Onir decided to keep it in the film. The pain of an outcast is empathetically portrayed. One doesn’t have to know a HIV positive person to understand the pain of Nikhil as the isolation is something we all have experienced in our lives. If you are planning to watch a movie on the New Year’s Eve then you can choose this one.

The problem with ‘Dangal’

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In an important scene in ‘Dangal’, Geeta and Babita Phogat vow to tell their father, Mahavir Singh Phogat’, that they don’t like wrestling. Up until this point, the girls had to get up early, train, go to school, eat a strict diet,and train again. Mahavir also cuts off their hair. Geeta and Babitaare all set to rebel but before they give up their father’s dream, they meet their friend who asks them to be grateful for the life they are living. Unlike Mahavir, this friend’s father is only interested in his daughter’s marriage. The friend believes that Geeta and Babita are in a better position because their father wants them to excel at a sport. She points out that Mahavir has the guts to challenge the society by treating daughters like sons. These girls live in Haryana, which has a patriarchal society. Geeta and Babita are moved by their friend’s point of view and they decide to fulfill their father’s dream.

The problem with the film is that it normalizes abuse. The friend says that Mahavir is strict with his daughters because he loves them. But one doesn’t need a degree in Psychology to see that his love for them is bordering on abuse. It almost feels as if Mahavir has replaced male-domination with another kind of domination. The girls eventually decide that they want to be wrestlers but we cannot forget that they were once forced to take up wrestling. Ironically, it was Aamir  Khan who talked about children carrying the burden of their parents’ dreams in ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘3 Idiots’.
This post is not to criticize Aamir Khan (it’s not his fault that Mahavir Singh is a flawed human being). Like many others, I have a lot of respect for his work and his choices. I understand that the story takes place in a state which is alien to me. But I hope that parents don’t imitate Mahavir and start forcing their children to do something they don’t want to do.

Koshish (1972)

Note: This post contains spoilers

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Photo: Old Films and Me
‘Koshish’ is a story of Hari and Aarti, who happen to be deaf and mute. They meet, fall in love and have a child but their love story has a twist. Since they cannot communicate in conventional ways, they use sign language and exchange sweet notes. They have a friend who happens to be a blind man! Now, the blind man cannot see the sign language and Hari and Aarti cannot speak! And yet, the three become friends! The couple’s son explains that their friendship is beyond ideas and beliefs. Usually, we talk about bonding with ‘like-minded’ people but in this case, the friendship is unusual. Both the love story and the friendship have been depicted beautifully in the movie. There is so much innocence and integrity in the relationship between Hari and Aarti and it really warms your heart.
However, I hated the ending where Hari starts fuming when his son refuses to marry a deaf and mute girl. His pain and isolation is understandable but to emotionally blackmail your son is unacceptable. Was Gulzar trying to be preachy? Or was he trying to say that even those who live unconventional lives are conditioned by conventional norms? Was he trying to showcase the gray shades of a character who was expected to be nice? We often stereotype differently-abled people and pity them. We don’t think it’s possible for them to feel all the ‘evil’ emotions that we ‘normal’ human beings feel (jealousy, hatred, etc). Perhaps, Gulzar was trying to say that by refusing to acknowledge the ‘evil’ emotions of differently-abled people, we are refusing to accept them as human beings.

The ‘Other’ Love Story

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Photo: The Hindu

I hardly watch TV and I don’t really have the patience to religiously follow a web series. But I happened to read about this web series called ‘The Other Love Story’ which looked quite interesting. It is revolutionary in a way because it is the first same-sex web series in India and as expected, the makers didn’t get a backing from the conventional routes. Director Roopa Rao opted for crowd sourcing and succeeded in raising the amount that she needed. The web series consists of 12 episodes (5 of them are already out on YouTube) and they are of very short duration.

Set in the ’90s, the story revolves around Aadya and Aanchal, who stay in the same neighborhood in Bangalore. Aanchal is a free spirit who is stifled by traditions and family. She asks for Aadya number within minutes of their first meeting. Aadya, on the other hand, is a little reserved and prefers to keep a distance between herself and the world around her. However, the two become good friends.
The actresses, Spoorthi Gumaste and Shweta Gupta, are exceptional. The chemistry between the two is endearing. Shweta has such an innocent face and she is absolutely charming as Aanchal. Spoorthi looks exactly like the girls in the ’90s…Aadya is perhaps more mature than Aanchal but she can be childlike too.
I don’t think words can do justice to the beauty of the web series. Roopa Rao proves that one doesn’t need big budget to make something that touches people’s lives. She also pays tribute to the ’90s era with landlines, love letters, college bunking and many other little things. I really hope that more people watch this series…because it truly is a labor of love.

Why Kim Kardashian is more popular than Irom Sharmila…

​Due to an interesting turn of events, I had to work on a job that involved reading  Entertainment news  for hours (no, I am not a journalist) . I was initially quite embarrassed. I mean, my team members worked on politics, business, national and other serious stuff and here I was reading things that hardly make any difference to the world. Whenever I told people that I am working on something that involves news, I saw admiration in their eyes. But the moment I said ‘entertainment’, they gave me THAT look…the same look that parents give you when you tell them about any career that is not ‘academic’ (like Sports is considered ‘wasting time’).  I was personally neutral about the task. I was neither thrilled nor did I hate it. I tried to find something interesting but couldn’t. But then I realised that I could change the way I see the task at hand. I am not interested in what a Bollywood actor had for his breakfast but I am interested in why people are interested in his breakfast. In other words, I want to know why my neighbour is obsessed with Shah Rukh Khan. Why are Salman Khan’s fans so loyal and forgiving? I wanted to understand ‘ordinary’ people through the celebrity culture. This way of approaching my work helped me to look at celebrity culture in a new way. 

I remember reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” where she explores the reason why people are more bothered about the actions of artists or sportspersons than real issues like poverty, policies etc. She says that the reason why people obsess about movie stars and sportspersons is not because they don’t care about real issues… it’s actually the opposite: They are overwhelmed by the pain and the injustice in the world and hence, they try to find perfection in movies or sports. Alain de Botton says that people are passionate about sports because it is black and white. There is a winner and a loser. There is no ‘in-between’…there is no complexity. The same principles apply to movies as well. Movie stars exist as ideas in people’s minds. People use these ‘heroes’ to stay sane. In a way, movies are an outlet for our collectively repressed emotions. Maybe this is the reason why people are more furious when a movie star makes a mistake…he/she is not supposed to remind us of our imperfect world. As a teen, I used to ‘hate’ the world for its obsession with ‘fake’ people. Now that I’m older, I am wondering if the most absurd celebrity news has some insight into the hopes and dreams of human beings…

P.S. If you want to look at celebrity culture through the eyes of a philosopher, do check Alain de Botton’s work :).

Bol

This Pakistani film was released in 2011 and I wonder how I missed it! I knew that it was a critically acclaimed movie but I hardly paid attention to the news around it and I am regretting it! This is a story of a conservative Muslim man  who already has six daughters  and is still willing to have more children (The family can barely make the ends meet!). Why? Because he wants a son. When he finally has a son, he turns out to be transgender. The unfulfilled expectations and the stigma around transgenders makes him hate the boy. So strong is his hatred that he locks up the child in his house. How the family deals with the boy’s identity forms the rest of the story.

There are so many themes that the film addresses: patriarchy, transgender rights, rage, friendship, belongingness, family planning etc. The film is shocking and disturbing but not once does director Shoaib Mansoor resort to sensationalism. What’s really surprising to me is that this movie didn’t seem to have any issues with the Pakistan Censor Boards. What was also surprising is that the filmmaker completely forgets the transgender rights issue or even the patriarchal problem and gives a message of family planning in the end. However, it is still a courageous film.