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Moving with the times

V. GANGADHAR

Changing lifestyles and audiences have forced Indian filmmakers to shoot shorter movies unlike those made in the past.


For today's audience, a film should be as long as demanded by the script. REENA KAGTI



FOUR-HOUR-LONG: `Hum Apke Hain Kaun.'

During a Shivaratri festival, one kept awake at night by going to a film. One had to bear the discomforts of a cinema hall with a bamboo roof and watch a very long Tamil film, `Aayiram Thalai Vaangya Apoorva Chintamani.'

The film had plots within plots and ran for about five hours.

No complaints

Most Indian films in the past took their own time to tell a story. The audiences of that time had no complaints as their entertainment was limited. Having paid hard-earned money for tickets, they did not mind watching a long film. The other day I watched AVM's blockbuster of the 1940s `Vedala Ulagam' ("Demon Land") on the video, which had about 25 songs and never seemed to end. Yet, the film celebrated a long run and made plenty of money for the studio.

The average Hindi film never ran for less than three hours. Even in the 1990s Rajshri productions hit the jackpot with their marathon `Hum Aapke Hain Koun' which had 14 songs, moved at a snail's pace and dragged on for nearly four hours. The film set a trend, many of its successors also used the Hindu joint family and family wedding themes.

Film viewers often commented on the contrast between Indian and Hollywood films, which seldom went beyond two hours. Of course, there were exceptions, like the epic `Gone With the Wind' or Biblical extravaganzas like `Ben Hur' and `Ten Commandments.'

After watching the World War II classic, `From Here to Eternity' one wag commented that the film appeared to run for an eternity. Twentieth Century Fox's `The Longest Day,' more of a documentary than a film, meandered through for more than three hours covering the epic landing of the Allied forces on the Normandy Beach in June 1944.

Starting January 2007, there have been some significant changes in the pattern of commercial Hindi cinema. More and more films, have cut down on length, although this does not make many of them crisper or more watchable.

Both new and old filmmakers have taken to this trend. `Eklavya' (Vidhu Vinod Chopra), `Nishabd' (Ram Gopal Varma), `Black Friday,' `Honeymoon Travels' and Deepa Mehta's `Water' have a running time of less than two hours.

No one is complaining. In fact, filmmakers give their own explanations for the need to have shorter films. The times and viewership are changing, they point out. Today's audiences have no time or patience to sit through long films, packed with songs and lengthy dialogue. .

"We have a more intelligent and discerning audience today," explains Reema Kagti, director of `Honeymoon Travels.' "For them, a film should be as long as demanded by the script. Any effort to lengthen the film by expanding the script did not go [down] well with them." On the question of intelligence and discernment, the concept of `paisa vasool' no longer depended on the length of the film.

Explain college students waiting outside a Mumbai multiplex, "Our concept of `paisa vasool' depends on the quality of the film, not its length." Today's multiplexes, which have six or seven daily shows do not favour lengthy films either.

Sharp focus

Today's filmmakers are partial to thrillers, which have to have a sharp focus. "Can you imagine lengthening a thriller with more songs and unnecessary details, it will kill the film of any interest," explains Suneel Darshan whose new film, `Shakalaka Boom Boom' got over in 130 minutes.

With more and more films, trying to depict true-to-life situations, the characters cannot burst into a song at every possible opportunity. `Nishabd' had to end the way it did, the old man cannot depict the agony of losing his teenaged sweetheart with a song.

Perhaps, the trend for shorter films has been given a boost by the series of Ram Gopal Varma releases which bank heavily on suspense and cannot be made lengthy. Of course, one of the earliest trendsetters of this category was B.R.Chopra's Rajesh Khanna-Nanda starrer of the 1970's `Ittefaq,' which was directed by his brother Yash Chopra, who then switched over to lengthy, romantic films.

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