With both the Filmfare Awards and the Oscars just finished, what better time than now to deliberate on that eternal question that dominates so many of our heated dinner table debates – do Bollywood flicks really match up to Hollywood standards? Given that this topic inevitably sends emotions running high with everyone busy trying to get their points of view across, the end result is almost always a huge pandemonium; much screaming and shouting, with people at each other’s throats trying to seek agreement to their point, convinced they are the right ones. So the only way, I’ve realized, I can get my views across without rude interruptions and someone telling me to shut up, is by putting my thoughts to words. A clever way to curb dissent and make people listen to you, isn’t it? You can of course choose to disagree in the comments section.
Taking just the films nominated for the Oscars (Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air) and the Filmfare awards (3 Idiots, Dev D, Kaminey, Love Aaj Kal, Paa) as respective benchmarks of excellence, I would argue that Hindi films are way below any remote judgment of distinction despite an overall improvement in their quality in the past decade. With the exception of Dev D and to an extent Paa (which was off putting because it was almost like a buy-one-get-one-free family package), none of the others even ventured towards anything faintly meaningful or different. If you limit your definition of good cinema to ‘entertaining’, then yes, 3 Idiots was reasonably entertaining (can’t say the same about either Kaminey or Love Aaj Kal), but do any of these films display histrionics in storytelling, direction or performances? Absolutely not!
Of course there was Firaaq (which I haven’t watched) that got the critics award, but the fact that this was the only thought-provoking, serious film of the year whose primary motive was not just entertainment is a sad comment on an industry that produces over 1000 movies annually. I went through the list of movies that released last year and the only other film that I personally thought was a good attempt was Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance. Most of the others gravely insult your intelligence and aren’t even funny if that’s what you are looking for! In fact there haven’t been more than two or three good films in any given year ever since I can remember going to the cinema. And this is after the supposed reincarnation of Bollywood films, after those 2 decades (the 80s and 90s) where Bollywood ceaselessly embarrassed itself year after year with terrible movies.
Coming now to the Hollywood films that dominated the Oscars – I was awestruck simply by the range of subjects on display, from fantasy to war to human estrangement to an alternative look at history to obesity and racism, and so on and so forth. And if you’ve noticed, none of the nominees were mindless entertainment or repackaged teenybopper love sagas made with the primary motive being box office successes (with the exception of Avatar maybe, which despite its weak storyline was a feat, a labour of love). Almost all of them had brilliant performances, interesting storylines and demonstrated a genuine understanding of the craft, not to mention the huge deal of research that had gone into maintaining the authenticity of the setting and getting the look right.
I often wonder why there is this huge difference in quality when we compare Hollywood with Bollywood. Why can’t we seem to move beyond mindless entertainment and tackle more challenging, thought-provoking subjects?
Many would say our films have different compulsions and different budgets so drawing equivalence would be unfair. I disagree. An engaging script (which can be entertaining as well) is the essence of any movie – and that’s where we fall back in comparison with Hollywood productions. We are on par with any film industry in the world when it comes to the technical aspects, but no amount of money can save a film if it has a weak script. Most filmmakers seem to be taking people’s intelligence for a ride by rehashing old wine in a new bottle, compensating a good storyline with snazzy locations and big stars, and that isn’t working anymore!
It’s time our makers took more risks and made movies with some conviction (half of them look like they are desperately trying to get the ‘Hit’ formula right!). Bollywood is in grave danger of caricaturing itself, because our films are so hopelessly out of sync with reality. (All that singing and dancing only happens in films!) Perhaps it’s time to grow up, and the first step would be to clear the misunderstanding that reality is boring, that only fantasy works in providing entertainment!
C’mon, our real lives are a lot more interesting than some banal love triangle!