Yash Raj Films is opening its own studio later this year which could have a
major impact on the way films are made in India and Aditya Chopra looks set to
become the most important producer in Indian film history because of his
determination to control all aspects of film making and film marketing. Karan
Johar is emerging as the major spokesperson of the industry and its most
articulate voice, while Yash Chopra, recently awarded the Padma Bhushan, is now
the undisputed figurehead of the industry at home and abroad.
Ram Gopal Verma and his Factory are experimenting with form and genre of
Hindi cinema, notably with action and thrillers, although they have not produced
many great films to date. However, Satya is a modern masterpiece, perhaps one of
the best films of the last decade and one that surely deserved proper
international distribution. Unlike earlier attempts at film noir, Satya
thoroughly domesticates the gangster genre to show the city of Bombay as few
films have done before. It depicts the ambivalence of the city as a place of
threat and terror, yet also one of hope and with locations that afford moments
of love and friendship. The script is taut, the clearly defined characters of
the gangsters are gripping and Manoj Bajpai as Bhikhu Mhatre turns in one of the
most powerful performances of recent years.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali seems to be slowly working his way around
India's different communities (Goan, Gujarati, Bengali,
Anglo-Indian) with each film he makes. His movies contain an abundance of detail
in every aspect of the mise en scène, notably in the exquisite costumes
and sets that saturated every part of his frame. Each moment shows beauty and
grace yet somehow the sum is less than the parts. Although much-hyped, his
Devdas does not live up to the Bimal Roy version in which the tragedy of the
couple that were soulmates who ended up living lives where they could not love
anyone else. This version is more heartbreaking than even the New Theatres
version with the great KL Saigal, and which surpasses the novel itself (at least
in the English translation I read). Black is certainly important in the changing
form of Hindi cinema but not in world terms as it is too familiar from earlier
Hollywood films although its performances and its look are wonderful, despite
the many faults with the representation of Christians and the historical period
(though nothing compares to putting Budapest in Italy!).
One of the films that made me most excited about the changing face of the
Hindi film industry was Farhan Akhtar's debut, Dil Chahta Hai. This
was the film that showed me people I knew and felt close to in Bombay.Its
strong story line concerns well off but real young men trying to find fulfilment
and to negotiate their romances and plan their futures.The problems of
relationships were highlighted in moments such as the cruel taunts of one friend
for another young man's love for an older woman and the subsequent
break in their friendship. The song also had glorious moments such as the song
that affectionately parodies the Hindi film song while the holiday in Goa showed
the last summer of irresponsible youth before they embarked on their life
changes. The style and the look of this film and its strong story made this one
another film that may have succeeded on the international circuit if had been
given a chance.
Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan, celebrated mostly for its
Oscar-nomination, looked likely to herald the revival of the historical genre
which had faded in the early 1960s. Although the genre was experiencing a
revival in other cinemas, and several other historicals appeared at this time,
there have been few successes and the fate of The Rising is not yet known.
Although he is part of the Tamil cinema, Mani Ratnam has had an enormous
impact on the Hindi cinema through dubbed versions of his films, his two Hindi
films and the remake of his film by his former assistant, Shaad Ali Sehgal, in
the lovely Saathiya. Although neither of his Hindi films (Dil Se and
flawless, they both have moments which remind us that we are watching the work
of one of the world's great most accomplished directors. The
performances he extracts, his music, his overall aesthetic which is seen in the
shots, the exquisite clothes and the use of locations are extraordinary. His
films, which are simultaneously strongly local and yet completely global, should
be released on proper international basis and the Tamil versions made more
accessible in order for him to receive the acclaim he so strongly deserves.
The last ten years have also seen the reappearance of the lyricist as a major
figure, notably through the work of Javed Akhtar. Once again poetry has come
back to cinema and perhaps cinema is even leading the younger generation to
poetry. While Gulzar has continued his small but highly acclaimed output, Javed
has been one of the more productive writers of this decade. Promising new talent
such as that of Prasun Joshi has also emerged, this time in the more Hindi
The language of dialogues has changed too, as a move towards a less
stylised, realistic language has spread. The language created by Abbas Tyrewala
in Munnabhai MBBS became something of a craze, with "bole to" becoming a catchphase, while Anurag Kashyap
became noted for his strong, earthy dialogues in films such as Yuva . Apart from Tyrewala, the others are all from
the north and have kept Hindi and Urdu very much alive not only in Bombay but
also for South Asians overseas who learn these languages from watching the
The 1990s began with a return to more tuneful music, notably with
Nadeem-Shravan but the last ten years have seen some wonderful music in
particular that of AR Rahman. An acclaimed figure in world music, his film songs
and scores are unparalleled in their tunes, arrangements and the drama he
provides whether in the songs or in its use as background scores. More recently,
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have emerged as a major talent who can vary their styles in a
seemingly infinite number of ways to the requirements of the film form.
I make no predictions for the future, yet I imagine we are likely to see a
revolution in all aspects of the Hindi film, from making to its distribution, as
well as its content.
Dr Rachel Dwyer is Reader in Indian Studies and Cinema,
Department of South Asia, SOAS, University of London, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
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