Bollywood is all melodrama, larger than life figures and exaggerations. These are no longer desirable.
Years ago, I spent four days on the set of Indian film director Shyam Benegal’s shoot at Hyderabad’s Ramoji Rao movie complex, a sprawling place with hotels, studios, labs and, what is more, locales resembling a Parisian street, a New York avenue, a Dutch tulip garden, a Swiss ski resort, a Kashmiri landscape and what have you.
Benegal — who had been one of the pioneers of the New Indian Wave in the early 1970s with exceptionally realistic films like Ankur, Nishant, Manthan and Bhumika, and credited with working within the Bollywood system and yet daring to be different – was shooting Hari Bhari with Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das among others.
As I sat in a corner of Benegal’s set, a village with a water well, huts and so on recreated at the complex, I could not help noticing – and to my horror – the various kinds of distractions that were happening there.
There were boys walking around with tea and snacks, vehicles just outside the set honking, and people talking so loudly that I wondered how the actors could emote or the director concentrate on getting his scene right. What about the cinematographer? Would he be able to get the kind of compositions he wanted?
Well, Hari Bhari was made, and it did see the light of day. A movie propagating family planning, it was not one of Benegal’s best. And how could it have been with all the on-set commotion! Of course, I have never seen Bengal on his other sets, and he did make some brilliant cinema. And if he had made it despite commotions, hats off to his power of concentration.
At the just-concluded Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar, on-set “chaos” in India was talked about during one of the panel discussions. Indian actor Anupam Kher – who essays a psycho-therapist in David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which was part of the Special Screenings – quipped that moviemaking in Bollywood was “like a family picnic”.
I was amazed that after all these years, the picture on a film set was still just about the same like the one I had seen a long time ago at Hyderabad. (However, there are some auteurs like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who insists on professionalism on his sets. I watched him shoot two of his latest works, Four Women and A Climate for Crime, where it is all serious business. No picnics there.)
Getting back to Kher, I was also happy that spoke his mind without mincing words. He added that Indian stars threw tantrums and directors often tolerated such behaviour and had no qualms about reporting late for work.
The attitude was irritatingly casual. Quite different from what he saw in Hollywood, where discipline mattered, and one could be fired “at the drop of a hat”. Even the top actors there followed rules and ethics.
Kher, who has a Padmashree to his credit and about 450 movies, praised Hollywood for its realism, subtleties and nuanced characterisations. Bollywood, on the contrary, went all out with melodrama, larger than life figures and exaggerations. These were no longer desirable.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.