I remember the late Mani Kaul had once said in the 1970s that Bollywood films worked on the “principle of distraction”. He went on to elaborate: “It’s all about 20-odd items or episodes. You keep chasing the mind from one item to another cleverly, from romance to pathos to song to comedy to fight and so on at a relentless pace.”
When I mentioned Mani’s theory to Manmohan Desai, he burst out laughing. “That must be long ago,” he said with a wink. “I’ve already crossed 21 items.” The “hot items” in Amar, Akbar, Anthony, which he was directing at the time, included the drunken act by Amitabh Bachchan in front of a mirror, his breaking out of a giant-size egg with ‘My name is Anthony Gonsalves’ and a blood transfusion from three sons to a mother. He punched a fist into a palm with a Yahoo-ish expression. Man, as friends called Desai, lived up to his items and his 21-item Amar, Akbar, Anthony turned out to be a huge blockbuster.
Mani’s theory and Man’s demonstration taught me not to confuse 90 per cent of Bollywood fare with cinema as it is universally understood. Ours is a “unique song-and-dance mix” with no parallel, as Shekhar Kapur puts it.
Once you discount the cinematic element, you can enjoy almost any Bollywood flick. I don’t think Hollywood can hit the jackpot with lines like “Mogambo khush hua” or “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra”. Or stun the audience with a contrived situation where a doctor washes his hands of a patient and tells his kin, even as he wipes his hands with a napkin, “Ab dava ki nahin, dua ki zaroorat hai.” They are incredible, but real!
Of course, there are times when you are caught napping in an auditorium with your sense of “entertainment” devastated. Like the time I wondered why I chose to watch Salman Khan and Bachchan, two of our greatest entertainers, caught in banal situations in a film called God Tussi Great Ho. Like I spent a whole afternoon wondering why three Dilip Kumars chose to sleepwalk in one Bairaag, each one of them mumbling profundities that the other two didn’t understand! Three Bachchans tried to upstage the grand act years later with Mahaan, but audiences moved on with a shrug.
In my long innings as a film buff, at times pompously doubling as a critic, I have hit the zenith of boredom in the best interests of etiquette. I stifled my yawns for three hours watching Akayla (1991). I couldn’t believe that the two stalwarts at the helm were earlier involved in the making of a cult film called Sholay: director Ramesh Sippy and writer Salim Khan. Even Bachchan’s presence couldn’t raise it above the ground. Not even the suggestion that it was inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Double lent it an iota of credibility. Shahrukh Khan has always been a watchable performer even when he went over the top at times in hard-core commercial films. However, his earlier filmography includes a film called Chaahat directed by Mahesh Bhatt, with Naseeruddin Shah, Pooja Bhatt and Ramya. Right through the film, he looked as harassed as the hapless audience, perhaps dreading the prospect of a hot and wild Ramya—who was obsessed with him in the film in spite of knowing of his love for Pooja—pouncing on him. It was as if he was looking for an exit in the screenplay to vanish from the “burning” situation.
I hold Ram Gopal Varma in high esteem as a director. He has made such path-breaking films as Rangeela and Satya. As also Sarkar 1 and Sarkar 2. But I could barely survive the flames of Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag. I could not even sleep through it! I thought it was sheer waste of raw stock and manhours! But then he has a right to indulge himself.
Love Story 2050 was a lesson to all filmmaker fathers: unless you are convinced that you can be ruthlessly professional as a director (like Rakesh Roshan has been over the years), hire an outside director to launch your son. Harman Baweja seems to have more than what Love Story 2050 told us.
Apropos Rauf Ahmed’s Mujhe Sone Do, Bollywood cinema is best suited for the dvd format, with some fast hands on the fast forward button.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Quiet ironically,Rauf Ahmed ,hazards quoting Mani Kaul in his article....Anybody,who has endured ANYof Mani Kauls movies will vouch that Mani Kaul's movies were cinematically akin to the old age table fans,doing thier regulation one-side-to-other-side regimen on hot summer afternoon....
I didn't look as normally nice as Salman in his mid career movies, after the age of seven.
Let me be frank. I saw a movie on T. V. of David Dhawan called 'Deewana Mastana', and I wonder if he can be as director, what Sir Charles Chaplin is to Hollywood, as director also. I didn't know Salman Khan could seem normally good looking until I saw movies of him in the past, which must be cult now. I mean in his first movie, he looked disappointing, now he looks like a star. I saw a movie called Chamatkar of Shah Rukh Khan, and I do feel, that hero's are lucky to have their films remembered, as cult, even when they are big stars today. I mean, it must be heady.
How wonderful it is - despite the fact, we being well aware of films directors( most of them ) are befooling us by serving a bunch of unrealistic, useless and at times just time wasting themes, we fail to control ourselves and go to the theatres by spending hard earned money, attempting to enjoy the movies. After 3 hrs. when we return to home we find no alternative but to repent on and to resolve not to succumb to our passion anymore , we again commit the same blunder.
As for Mani Kaul, his "Uski Roti" is one of the most boring films I have watched in the early days of Doordarshan. The pathos that Mani Kaul so lovingly stretched out in the film using stationary camera slowed the time so much that it made every second seem like an hour. After this I did not dare to watch any of his films.
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