Moving beyond the formula: Bold new Indian movies 1

The last few years have seen some dazzling movies that have boldly departed from the mainstream. A movie historian in Tamil Nadu once said (perhaps Randor Guy) that most movies in the language (and I am sure in Hindi as well) revolved around 8 basic plots. These new movies have a bold new plot – but that’s not all. Many of these have given up a formulaic approach of making commercial movies in India (atleast in Hindi and Tamil): a little glamour, some songs, some dancing, some comedy (even if it’s totally unrelated), a macho hero, sexy heroine, fights (called stunt in Tamil) and a happy ending. There’s so much emphasis on the formula that these elements are often added even when they just do not blend.

For example, in most movies songs come out of the blue. Thank god the heroes and heroines of Indian movies are so dreamy – else introducing songs would be so much more difficult. Comedy in most of these movies is so divorced from the main track that there’s a separate thread that runs through the movie with pathcy connections. There’s a famous story of a student who prepares an essay on the “cow” since he’s told that it will come in his English exam. To his surprise he finds that the topic he has to write on is “the tree”. Without second thought he writes what he has prepared and mentions towards the end the cow is tied to the tree. So too is the comedy track tied to the story. It suffices that the comedian is a friend, well wisher, relative, rival or a neighbour of the hero. It’s a must for the comedian to appear in the last scene. As long as this happens, the movie fits.

Talking about formulas how could I forget emotion? A strong dose of emotion accompanied by rather loud music is the mainstay of the mainstream movies. Actors are expected to deliver for this rather important moment with all the dramatic skills that they have (of which they generally have very little). The result is generally more farsical than dramatic.

A wave of new movies have dared to depart from this mainstream, though they were produced for the commercial world. To mention just three – Page 3, Hazaaron Kwaishein Aisi and Mrs & Mr Iyer make dramatic departures from the norm and have won acclaim among all audience. Many movies in Tamil departed from the script in 2006 alone.

Needless to say, this trend of going beyond the formula is not entirely new to Indian cinema. In Tamil a dose of innovation has almost been institutionalised by Kamala Hassan himself. There have been bold directors who have created their own rules: Balachander, Mani Ratnam, Barathiraja, among others. This is true of other languages as well – of which I am best acquainted with Bengali. The good news though is that in the last five years, a movie fan willing to sift across languages has been treated for a slew of good movies from all over. Is this a movie revival? Is this a temporary surge in good (and unusual) movies? I am not clued in to the movie industry well enough to answer that question. But my prayers and hopes are that this is a trend to come.

My detailed reviews of movies can be found here and to see my ratings for various movies and short reviews, click here.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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