Dear Bollywood, or should I say dear creators of Hindi cinema, because some of you take exception to the term, listen up. Because this is a brand new year, and we have expectations from you.
I am addressing you via the overused trope of an ‘open letter’. Did you wrinkle your collective noses and go ‘ugh’? Good. Because that’s exactly how we feel when you serve us rancid wine in cracked bottles.
Here’s what I’m hoping you won’t give us from now and ever more.
Films minus plots. The fulcrum around which your creation revolves, the heart of your movie, the hook with which you reel us in, should be your number one priority. You should spend all your time and energy to get this in place, or there simply is no starting block. Don’t wring your hands and say “where are the writers?”. Create them, nurture them, and above all, pay them to daydream, think, ideate, and then come back to the drawing board: that’s how good films emerge.
Films with a distinct voice. Think about it. Yours is a new film, and what do we get? Slush. Yes, slush, all muddled and curdled, where all your tired, confused strands come to die. Where you can see neither woods nor trees. Find your voice. Congratulations if it isn’t like anyone else’s, because that’s what it is all about. Films with a distinct “treatment”. I can cut and paste the earlier graph and place it here, just to show you how your films can feel like start-to-end cut-and-paste jobs if you don’t know how to “treat” them. You start off with a great premise or an idea, and then ruin it because you have no idea how to run with it. If I had a rupee for every time I’ve used this phrase “good idea, lousy execution”, I’d be a triple trillionaire.
Films with good first halves, and second- halves- that- trail- off- into- nothingness. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used this phrase “the first half keeps us with it, post interval, it slides”. The tyranny of the “interval” has caused great harm to our cinema. It forces our filmmakers to create an artificial high pitch, or a faux climactic moment at the half way mark, let us out of the dark, to use rest-rooms, pick up popcorn and other munchies, and find our way back, both to our seats, and into the film. Unless you are very skilled, momentum will slacken, and then we are gone, into our cellphones or into our heads. You’ve lost us.
Films overflowing with superfluous songs. I love song-and-dance. I don’t know too many people, fans of our cinema, who don’t. A good song (and accompanying dance) can lift the film, enhance the mood, take the film into another sphere. Do you know why you remember the songs from yesteryear films so clearly? For their melodies and their lyrics, sure. But also for the way they underlined the moment, took the story forward, added immeasurably to the texture of the film. When I see a song (or several) stuffed into a movie for no rhyme or reason (spot the overused phrase), I’m like, dude, don’t do this.
Give us, instead, sparkle. A reason to go the movies, and grin idiotically in the dark. To feel, from the pores of your skin, the tips of your fingers, the tingle only a good movie can induce. For those of us who go to the movies to be amazed, delighted, enthralled, transported, you are our hopes. We depend upon you for magic: use your wands with care and thoughtfulness.
All you big stars, you. Light up our lives with some real stories: here’s looking at you, Shah Rukh Khan. You can bring me into your first show, first day, but can you make me stay? Retain your very cool straggly beard look, do; throw out the tried-and-tested, and give us a film. Ditto for you, Aamir Khan. As for you others, and that includes the other A-listers (Salman, Akshay, Ajay), and all the other rungs, freshness is the only way forward.
I’m optimistic. Change is underway. 2015 gave us new voices with provenance: these script-writers and directors mined what they’ve lived with, what they’ve felt intensely, and combined those feelings-words-situations in their impressive debuts. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will stay away from the dangerous place of complacence: a swollen head is the death of creativity. A filmmaker in search of her second should be as hungry and as desperate as she was while making her first.
Happy 2016, Bollywood: give us a real film, and we will happily give you our money, and that even more expensive commodity, our time.