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Ek tha hero

In veering towards reality the heroism that marked Hindi cinema,has been compromised — the hero as a miracle worker has been replaced by the limited protagonist...

Written by Priyanka Sinha Jha |
June 15, 2012 1:22:50 pm

In veering towards reality the heroism that marked Hindi cinema,has been compromised — the hero as a miracle worker has been replaced by the limited protagonist

A South Indian character who is not a caricature of the prototype he projects,an activist with his vanity intact,regular matter-of-fact women as ruthless as their counterpart in power and of course,the stained tooth slimy videographer — these are the prime inhabitants of Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. A treatise on tales that unequal development unleashes,the film’s quirky narrative style though it had a riveting first half,did not shock and awe like Banerjee’s earlier offering Love Sex Aur Dhokha. And while such a comparison may be dismissed as facile,the reason it merits consideration is for the fact that LSD too took incidents that are society’s open secret — honour killings,sleazy video recordings and the casting couch,quite like Shanghai’s decadent politics and yet it managed to surprise. Of late there has been much talk of the script,unusual subjects,content is king and so on but the narrative technique or the style remains a highly underrated aspect of film-making.

Try this for size — both Shanghai and Rowdy Rathore,a potboiler which released a week earlier,shared a common premise –– a corrupt political system complete with politicians,feudal lords and their henchmen and an idealistic guy,aided by a few good and not-so good men. In Rowdy,the upright inspector (Akshay Kumar) is helped by a thug (Akshay Kumar). There is a love interest too and then some more. While in Shanghai,Abhay Deol’s upright bureaucrat is aided by the unscrupulous Jogi (Emraan Hashmi). And yet,the two are as different as chalk and cheese.

Rowdy is over- the -top escapist fare but the auds love it because it is the bad guys — as in those that kill,maim and exploit as opposed to those that just pick wallets and chains-that are killed. Ridiculous and implausible as Akshay Kumar’s feats may be,he has audiences’ support.

Shanghai though its pivotal characters are equally ambiguous in terms of their ethical code,treads the path of realism. The powerful wield their power with unerring,almost mercenary heartlessness and get away with it. And even when they are arm twisted into compliance,it is within a limited arc.

And it is this narrative restraint imposed by reality that separates vintage Bollywood from the new emerging Bollywood. The older stock allowed revenge and redemption even to the downtrodden and the weak. In the dark cinema hall,you could find your way to a world of fantasy where the underprivileged won as often,if not more often than the well-heeled set. Where every humiliation heaped on you could be avenged by the hero — the messiah of the unwashed masses. And somehow those movies,no matter how improbable the miracles they pulled off,were convincing enough.

No longer. The road to reality that filmmakers are opting for has changed the tenor of Hindi cinema in a big way. In veering towards reality,the heroism that marked Hindi cinema,has been compromised — the hero as a miracle worker has been replaced by the limited protagonist. Perhaps the emergence and popularity of the anti-hero can be credited to the death of the hero. And somewhere down the line,the audience has begun to miss the filim hero; ergo the success of a slew of films such as Wanted,Bodyguard,Singham and now,Rowdy Rathore.

Rowdy Rathore and Shanghai are both testing their mettle in theatres. The box-office returns will be a good way to gauge the public sentiment-whether new narrative styles will have to make room for the conventional hero. With a slight twist of course!

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