Why I own Sholay,not Ramesh Sippy

Indian cinema’s 100-year hold over us has only tightened — we love the movies,live them,and argue with them

Written by Imtiaz Ali | Published: June 2, 2012 3:10 am

Indian cinema’s 100-year hold over us has only tightened — we love the movies,live them,and argue with them

Manali. Shooting of Jab We Met. Pleasant day in the hills. Kareena in intense conversation with her mother. Sensing my heroine in a spot perhaps,I sauntered into the conversation and soon,Babitaji turned to me to say she did not understand why Kareena was not in glamorous make-up. Babitaji,who I grew to greatly admire,is known to call a spade a spade. “Well,either you work in an art film and win awards for your performance,” she said,“or you doll up and make a commercial film. What kind of a movie is this?” I don’t remember what explanation I gave,but I remember what Kareena said: “Well mom,this is a commercial film,but maybe I will get an award for it too.”

We used Signal toothpaste when I was a kid in Jamshedpur. I remember there was Binaca going around too,and Colgate. That was all. And there were the movies — the full-out “commercial” mega-entertainers for the masses,and the sensible “art” films for the pseudo-intellectual.

“I don’t watch commercial films,” Uncle would say,standing at the iron gate of his company quarters. “How can Amitabh Bachchan beat up 20 people at once? Ye koi baat hui?” Aunty’s shallow laugh would be heard behind. She would never tell uncle of the passionate visions that the name Amitabh Bachchan evoked in her.

When I was making my first film,Socha Na Tha,the industry was going through a very bad phase — the rural market was rejecting Mumbai film industry goods,television was getting bigger by the day,and there was very little money. The air of uncertainty was so strong that I used to wonder if the industry would go defunct. For someone who had seen a thousand films as a viewer and was on the threshold of making his first film,I was scared. Now,of course,we are celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema and our industry is positively healthy. This is reassuring. It makes me believe that come what may,we can survive anything. The next 100 years for sure.

Dental care section of supermarket. I stand dazzled by the number of toothpastes. It’s amazing — natural,artificial,bubble-gum,clove,mint,sensitive teeth,post-surgery,toddler,old age,economical,fresh breath,first kiss,after dinner,ayurvedic,foreign appeal. No matter who you are or what you want,there is a particular toothpaste for you.

The toothpowder that my grandfather used in his childhood is still being sold. But that is not available in the supermarket. The way 20-year-old Mithun Chakraborty films still play in Ghatshila and Jhargram but kids lining up for Don 2 at Cinemax,Mumbai,do not know that. And that’s fine. They have a hard enough time figuring out what to watch from this huge buffet of movie posters on the face of the multiplex. Today,a movie release is not just about bringing a film in a theatre,it’s about unleashing it. It’s about carpet-bombing the theatres with so many prints that everybody should be able to watch the film instantly. I still don’t know how many prints of Rockstar we released with. The business model is tilted towards the first week of release because the producer’s share is highest. It’s a myopic vision,but then it proves that the business is growing,people want to watch all kinds of films. Though I believe that the nature of a film should decide the number of prints,I don’t want to be a spoilsport. This too is reassuring. The choice is not as diverse as that of toothpastes yet,but we are getting there.

Last year’s biggest draws were Bodyguard and Ready. They were good old Salman Khan starrers,almost star vehicles. Action,comedy,drama,music and dance — unabashed entertainers. Singham lived up to its promise. Hard action. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a personal film,a journey of friends. The lead actors played parts. It showed Spain to the Hindi audience. The Dirty Picture was a biopic of an early item girl in the South Indian film industry. A movie about the heart behind the sleaze.

All these pictures did well at the box office and they do not have much in common. The mystery will never go away from film business,will it? These movies,others that have worked,and some that haven’t,betray a disturbing absence of formula in filmmaking today. And directors like myself feel thankful for it because we are permitted to tell our stories. The only way to come closer to success is to make a good film — whatever the hell good is,because it is different things to different people.

Rockstar. My film that released last year. I have never received such passionate accolades for any film. Some people have seen it back-to-back thrice. Some people saw it seven times in a week. Yet a black-marketer outside a Juhu single screen theatre ripped it apart: “After that song ‘Sadda Haq’ in the second half,you have made no effort in the movie,Imtiaz bhai. You have just let it fall. Why did you do that?” Why did I do that? This man is fully convinced I have erred. He is not pretending. In fact he has all to gain if the film does well.

The next day,an unfamiliar girl strode up to me in anger — “I hate people who say they don’t like your film,” she declared publicly. “I am not talking to any of them,and you should just not listen to them,okay?”

Comments have ranged from: “You don’t know what you have made,” to “What have you made?” And you know what? I’m sure that the makers of Bodyguard had to hear that too. And it’s a warm feeling that there is,in the Mumbai film industry,space for both Bodyguard and Rockstar.

Such is our passion for cinema that it’s everybody’s business. Once a filmmaker makes the film,it is no longer his. I own Sholay more than Ramesh Sippy,in the same way that other people own Jab We Met more than me. There are the FDFS (first day first show) experts who are opinion leaders,kings of the adda. They tell you what to watch,and what to watch when you are watching it. Then there are those,like the local boy,Rajesh,who takes much pride in saying: “Main toh Hindi filmein dekhta hi nahin hoon.” This is his USP. He is as much a part of the film industry as I am. He is the one with the suggestions. “Aap log purani jaisi filmein kyun nahin banate.” He tells us how to do it right. “Arre English mein Titanic mein aisa hota hai. Ship waise tootta hai.” This guy,this local Rajesh,is actually the one celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. He and the opinion leader friend of his in his small town. These guys want movies,they live them,and that’s the biggest gift of Indian cinema. Today,all of us feel as if we are employed by Indian cinema.

So uncle stood at the green iron gate and said — “You carry on for Ready. It will be the same thing — Salman Khan will beat up 50 guys all at once. Ye koi baat hui? Tell me when you go for Dhobi Ghat.” And aunty’s shallow laughter was heard behind. “Ooh Salman Khan”,her thought bubble read,“I’m always ‘Ready’ for you”.

Ali is the writer-director of ‘Socha Na Tha’,‘Jab We Met’,‘Love Aaj Kal’ and ‘Rockstar’

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