By Lehar Kala
It’s possible the producers of Oscar nominated 12 Years a Slave don’t know yet that apart from the 100 plus awards they’ve garnered, it’s also gone down in cinematic history in India as the first American film cleared by the Censor Board with all nudity intact.
Apparently, it was felt the scenes were necessary and cutting them would take away from the film. Not so for the The Wolf of Wall Street, of which over seven minutes of graphic depravity was ruthlessly chopped, deemed inappropriate for our morally upright Indian audience. However, we should all applaud this path-breaking move that in 21st century India, adult citizens can now legitimately watch a complete scene of bare flesh as the filmmaker intended it, without all hell breaking loose.
It’s Oscar season but it’s also the designated season of romance and in the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but mourn the almost death of my favourite genre of film, a sweeping love story, the kind that leaves you feeling exhilarated and a little sad, all at once. My all-time favourites are Out of Africa and Doctor Zhivago, both of which I’ve seen at least 20 times. Not to sound like a nostalgic old-timer but Hollywood just doesn’t make them like that anymore. Our parents’ generation had the delicious, innuendo filled dialogues between Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and the raw masculinity of Clark Gable. We have, sigh, Hugh Grant, who is adorable in a goofy kind of way but there are only so many dishevelled, lost boy roles we can see him in.
To quote Shakespeare, the path to true love ne’er ran smooth, and romance in the previous generations of English films was portrayed just so, as a dangerous sport. There was lots of verbal sparring eventually leading to a happy ever after — but not before an obstacle strewn road was convincingly traversed. In those movies, lovers exchanged smouldering glances, had secret rendezvous at midnight under the stars and they actually worried about parental disapproval. In modern living, there’s rarely any angst involved in being with that special person. Like someone? Date them. If you no longer do, move on. Break up over SMS. It’s that easy. Current heterosexual courtship in cities no longer subscribe to the enduring themes of romantic comedies such as issues about class or faith, which seem so banal now, even in Indian films. True love can transcend almost anything, which is great except that in the absence of an old-fashioned conflict we’re stuck watching movies with plot lines that are cheesy and predictable.
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Has the romcom been played out? From a filmmaker’s point of view, how many plausible, engaging romantic combinations can there possibly be? The ones that are hits are completely unrealistic but very watchable. Consider this, socially inept, awkward bookstore owner is chased by a Hollywood actor who earns US $ 20 million per film.
Prostitute with a heart of gold mesmerises an investment banker. Wayward skirt chaser (obviously a millionaire) stops his wayward ways for the earnest do gooder working in his company (Grant’s most painfully contrived romcom to date, Two Weeks Notice). In fact, Indian romantic movies are so much more original right now — films such as Vicky Donor and The Lunchbox have richly drawn characters acting out a believable script. India, being a country of extremes where impediments to love not merely exist but thrive, is actually a hothouse for new, edgy material. The future of the romcom is here, as films like Dev D have shown. This Valentine’s, here’s hoping for plenty of new love stories and lots of sexy banter.