I’ve been thinking about Bollywood. Particularly after Parineeta and Paheli. The first was a pleasant enough movie. Nothing more, I think. Just the normal ingredients, well and tastefully mixed… a good plot, decent characters, a setting, a few plot twists….
Filmmakers Vinod Chopra and Pradeep Sarkar haven’t really interfered with Saratchandra's narrative. There is no particularly individual point of view they’re putting across, and they stay subservient to the story. They do not, by word or gesture, frame or juxtaposition, say anything remarkable. In the final analysis, Parineeta is a competent work of storytelling.
Paheli was a bit subtler for all its opulence, and indefinably had a little more. Earthier, with breathtaking attention to detail, more stylised, but again, a competent work of storytelling. Which brings me to the point: surely this is a standard Bollywood can rise to?
What does it take to make watchable entertainment, after all? A good story, a solid script and characterisation, decent actors, behind-the-scenes professionals who know what they’re about and reasonably high productions standards. Is that over-simplifying it? Watchable entertainment, we said, remember, not great cinema.
Abandon the formula, forget what has worked. Pick up a story that moves you, clothe it well (as we know Bollywood can) and present it as truthfully, as earnestly as you can. If you have nothing else to say, at least have a story.
How can producers willing to spend crores on lavish budgets, not be willing to spend the time to dream up their film and see it in their mind’s eye? How can they not pore over the pages of their script, their storyboards – chipping, polishing, carving? How can they make movies without doing their homework? Why is that not worth the effort? They put in effort with everything else – not the industry’s worst critics can accuse it of laziness. Innumerable shifts, unending dance rehearsals till every one of the hundred dancers in the frame has got it right to the millimetre, darzis, fittings, art hands, lavish sets, properties… they’re a hardworking lot. Why not divert a little of that energy to focus on what you’re saying?
It mightn’t work after all, but then very little else seems to. The hits : releases ratio would daunt any but the most determined risk takers, but Bollywood is filled with them. So what’s another risk?
Take it, give us a little quality. Give us a Parineeta one week, a Paheli the next, consistently. Perhaps there will occasionally be filmmakers who have a little more to give, and will raise a movie above the competent to the special. Wouldn't that be nice.