Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
REACHING OUT: April 08, 2001
Striking a chord
The author is a freelance writer based in Mumbai.
Legenday filmmaker Frank Capra once admitted on television, "I made a mistake in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries."
A scene from Vidhu Vinod Chopra's "Mission Kashmir".
Most often, it is this realisation that saves filmmakers from being self-indulgent artistes - and turns them into real storytellers. Storytellers who can create characters and situations to touch a chord here or stir a mind there. Remember "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai"? And the tears you shed unashamed every time Shah Rukh Khan's lips quivered in memory of his dead wife, Rani Mukherjee? Or the many times you've laughed out loud at the antics of Johnny Lever? Well, it is these tears and laughter that form the hotline between filmmakers and viewers.
"Emotional depth is the first line of connectivity between a film and the people," says Mahesh Bhatt protege and young director, Tanuja Chandra. "For instance my first film, 'Dushman', was accepted better than 'Sangharsh' because of its emotional depth. 'Sangharsh' had brilliant screenplay, but it didn't have enough emotional heartbeat to stay on with the audiences afterwards. So it failed to connect."
Most young directors today strongly believe that it's much easier to make a "personal art film for yourself" than a commercial one which will reach out to people at large. Thus unleashing the trend of simple family dramas, which are firmly rooted to the cause of touching the human mind rather than analysing it in any way.
"A director's first and most important way of reaching out to people is through entertainment," insists Vikram Bhatt, who shot to fame with the very entertaining 'Ghulam' a couple of years ago. "For finally our job is akin to selling wares at a railway station. We have to make products that excite the audiences. Now, storywise, there aren't too many new ones going around in the world. So the idea is to foresee future tastes, add your own experience and tell old stories in new exciting ways."
There are directors today who feel that the best way to establish an intimate rapport between a film and the people, is to create an identifiable rather than an aspirational world on screen. Vinod Chopra, maker of films like "Parinda", "1942 - A Love Story", "Kareeb" and "Mission Kashmir", does it through his "simple little people." Through heroines clad in breezy salwar kurtas and heroes who don't necessarily flaunt DKNY T-shirts. "I don't think babes in leather pants are identifiable in our society," he shrugs. "Nor is DKNY an everyday brand. I like my characters to be real, despite the song-and-dance routine. Only then can the audiences really become a part of their world."
Close on the heels of characters, comes the rapport with values. With directors agreeing that they have to follow the golden rules of "Crime never pays" and "Amoral protagonists don't work," If they really want to touch base with the audiences. "I could have easily had a pleasant ending in 'Parinda', with Jackie Shroff being killed and Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit walking off into the sunset," explains Chopra. "But I deliberately had Anil and Madhuri killed because I wanted to show that crime never pays." Needless to say, it was an ending that hit society right on target.
As did the ending of Mahesh Manjrekar's debut film "Vaastav". A film which taped the pulse of the public simply by stripping apart the facade of the "glamorous gangster." "I wanted to show that the average underworld gangster is neither rich nor happily dallying with luxury cars," says Manjrekar. "Instead, he is a stressed-out insomniac who is ready to give anything in return for two hours of sleep! I presented Sanjay Dutt as the villain of "Vaastav", not the hero. That's why the masses understood my languages so well."
The question is, if "art" films didn't reach out to the average audiences in the past, how do off-beart films today manage to make contact with the public? The answer, according to today's generation of off-beat film makers like Manjrekar, Ram Gopal Verma and Kalpana Lajmi, lies in using popular stars to tell serious stories. Thus if Urmila Matondkar and Sanjay Dutt increased the reach of films like "Satya" and "Vaastav", Kalpana Lajmi openly admits that it was Dimple Kapadia who set up the connection between her film "Rudaali" and the audiences. Little wonder that Lajmi has vowed to work on her serious subjects only with 'saleable' stars. "Finally, I want to make a market-constructive film, not a market-obstructive one," she says. "Making a film is of no use if one's going to see it. For instance, I still believe that my 'Darmiyaan' would have run for 20 weeks instead of ten, if I had a big star in it in place of Kiron Kher. That's precisely why I took on Raveena Tandon in my next film, 'Daman'."
No wonder those in the know say that as far as the film making process is concerned stars may be essentially worthless, but they are also absolutely essential.
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