The year the small are standing tall

A few weeks ago, a film called Anjaana Anjaani released, tanked and was critically savaged. I haven’t caught it yet, but most colleagues seem to agree in hailing it the worst film of the year. One I did catch last week, Action Replayy, must surely be a close contender for that thorny crown. Cafe conversation among those of us who write about film is always a spirited affair — blame it on caffeine and the need to rant, not necessarily in that order — and more contenders were instantly hurled into the ring: the list, while decidedly amusing and suitably sadistically drawn, shouldn’t be shared just yet. (That would be tempting fate, what with eight Fridays to go and several potentially ghastly releases yet to be inflicted upon us.)

Yet my takeaway from the conversation was that it was one of those rare years, like 2006, say, that fine vintage when we all drew out of the same top 5. Then we had Lage Raho Munnabhai, Omkara, Rang De Basanti, Khosla Ka Ghosla and Gangster. This time we have Udaan, Peepli Live, Ishqiya, Love Sex aur Dhokha and Do Dooni Chaar. It’s oddly comforting to find critical mass accumulating in the same direction, and this uncommon unanimity is one to be celebrated.

Rajat Barmecha, of Udaan: One of 2010's breakout performers.

And studied, for it inevitably tells us a lot. Look again at the 2006 list, and at this year’s bunch. What’s the primary difference? Starlessness. That 06 crop, while phenomenal, was positively studded with stars. O’Ten, on the other hand, is impressively indie, with a bunch of new directors and exciting, fresh, wonderfully unfamiliar actors. This is as encouraging as it gets. (Well, okay, that’d be the day LSD made more money than Dabanng, but this really is a major step too.)

Because the star-system is now Hindi cinema’s biggest liability, and it needs a good, swift, instantly-crippling kick to the kneecaps. A tiny pool of actors is chased constantly with megabudgets and massive marketing, limiting every creator in every way. The ones lucky enough to get someone from the A-list have to wait interminably long to get shooting dates, while smaller, far better films receive very limited exposure, withering away tragically underappreciated as theatres make room for some daft, starry release.

There will always be an A-list, but our industry’s list is too small (6 guys, 3 girls) and constrictive to foster genuine creativity. Casting is severely compromised as roles for teenagers  go to men in their forties, while character roles are scaled up to ‘second leads’ as prominent actors are coaxed to come aboard a script. And then there is the obvious problem of overexposure: when actors and the characters they play in films become interchangeable, it’s clearly a problem. (Right, Priyanka Chopra?)

So while it is inevitable that there always will be a few names commanding the crores, it’s crucial that we stop relying exclusively on them. Filmmakers aren’t half as much to blame as the media, who go to town writing reams and reams on Kites that don’t even fly. We need a significant dose of proportion — a blanket ban on all news-channels might be a good first step in that direction — which is why it’s healthy to see that colleagues and critics are quite unanimously tiring of the mainstream masalapeople.

More power to you, people we haven’t seen yet. Come wow us. The silver screen awaits — desperately.


First published in Mumbai Mirror, November 10, 2010


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  1. Uday

    Karthik Calling Karthik/ Tere Bin Laden would probably edge Do Dooni Char out on my list, but you’re absolutely right about the overall trend this year. Its also interesting to see that two of the films on the list are set in small towns/villages – if only as a counter to accusations that this bunch of new filmamakers is solely focused on upper middle class urban protagonists and their lives.

  2. Arpit

    i found MNIK better than Ishqiya……MNIK delivered what it promised brilliantly…….i dint have so many lumps even in a 3 idiots……

  3. Abbas

    Totally agree. I hope the “Hindie” scene thrives & we have many more gems to see in the near future. But it’s really sad to see that a monstrosity like ‘Anjaana anjaani’ packs in the houses on the first 3 days & then even goes on to run for another 3 weeks at the multiplexes & a little gem like ‘Do dooni chaar’ gets a sparse audience & majority of the multiplexes discard the movie after a week or at the most 2. When will our film industry understand that the 250 odd that go in to see ‘Anjaana anjaani’ come out cursing the filmmaker, & swear never to see his films again, whereas a small 20 odd crowd comes out of ‘doo dooni’ with a smiling face & a satisfied heart?

  4. AKM

    Ummmm… no contest.

    Milenge Milenge had me almost jumping out of the plane when it was given as inflight movie. You cannot, cannot, cannot get anywhere near that with your measly Anjaana Anjaani or Shun Replayyy.

  5. Somo Banerjee

    Hi Mr. Sen
    I understand where you are coming from. But India is a country of masses, and IMHO, what the masses like should be considered good. While I don’t discount the fact that LSD was a well-made movie, or that Udaan will go down in history as a classic (a la Kagaz Ke Phool), I disagree with you about your conclusion that Dabangg is a bad movie because it had flaws, or it was half-baked and ill-concocted. In spite of all its technical flaws, it was well-received by the masses, and surely that cannot be ignored, especially in a country of diversities like ours.

    If movie-makers were to make all their movies based on the benchmarks set by critics, they will not make any money, the masses won’t be happy, and every film-maker will be considered ‘great’ after they die in poverty and seclusion (a la Guru Dutt). I think it is also the duty of a critic to appreciate the mass appeal of a movie, the crowd-pleasing factor, because those are the kinds of movies that keep the industry alive and kicking, keep people interested in watching movies, and makers interested in making movies. Of course, it pains the critic who is focused on technicalities and perfection. While Dabangg won’t win awards in film festivals, it definitely will keep a lot of people happy and rich and interested.

    I think you should have 2 critiques with different perspectives for each movie – much like the Filmfare awards which reward both critically acclaimed performances and mass-pleasing performances. You should first analyze a film from the technical movie-making standpoint and definitely, a movie like Peepli Live will be in your good books, or should be. But then you should also analyze the same film from the point-of-view of the masses, and you will see that Peepli Live will still make the cut. Now that is a ‘good movie’, worthy of being in any ‘top movies of the year’ list.


    P.S. I read your columns regularly, and love your attention to details, and you ability to look into the ‘guts’ of a movie.

  6. manishjava

    I would add Raajneeti and Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai to the good movies list. Perhaps the worst movie of the year crown can go to Veer ke dadda ki talwaar.

  7. memsaab

    Ha ha! Masalapeople!!! Love it. And I agree completely—am so tired of the same few (aging, not that there’s anything wrong with that) stars and the same few (tired/stupid) stories.

    It is VERY nice indeed to see that changing and I especially personally love the ones set in rural India, as Uday says above.

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