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Behind The Scenes
The directors, the writers, the lyricists, the music makers ...the changing techniques and trends of the last decade, from film making to distribution.
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1995 was something of a watershed in Indian cinema as Aditya Chopra's debut film, DDLJ, marked the beginning of the dominance of the Yash Raj style of film making, created by Aditya and Karan Johar, following in the footsteps of their hero, Yash Chopra. This style was instantly recognisable as it starred Shahrukh Khan, showed wealthy Indians who moved easily around the world, where everything was beautiful, families loving and all differences could be resolved through love and forgiveness. The songs were memorable, the dialogues powerful, the look of the film carefully composed and the whole was driven by narrative. These films brought the overseas audiences closer to India while not giving up the strengths of the Hindi film form. Although this style spawned many copycat films, the makers themselves shifted gear with films such as Dhoom and Kaal

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 Yuva) is 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 world. 

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 films.

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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