Sunday, December 21, 2014

INDIAN CINEMA 2014 / ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY AL JAZEERA ONLINE

(This article by Anna MM Vetticad was first published on January 7, 2014, on aljazeera.com)

INDIAN CINEMA’S NEW MOVES FOR 2014

Indian cinema clocked 100 years in 2013, but the year ahead promises more fun from Bollywood and south Indian cinema

By Anna MM Vetticad


It’s been around for a century now, but Indian cinema is more active than any 100-year-old you know.
Bollywood – the Mumbai-based, primarily-Hindi-language film industry – crossed several milestones in the year gone by.
The earlier benchmark for box-office success – net collections of Rs 100 crore ($16m) – became passé in 2013 as three films each earned double that figure within India according to trade reports: Chennai Express, Krrish 3 and Dhoom 3 (A Blast: Part 3).
In this hero-dominated industry, the star who raked in the most money at the turnstiles in 2013 was a heroine: Deepika Padukone was an equal partner to her leading men in critically acclaimed roles in three money-spinners, Chennai ExpressYeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (This Youth Is Crazy) and Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-leela (A Love Dance With Bullets: Ram-leela).
And independent cinema uncharacteristically made big news when the art-house English-Hindi film Ship of Theseus was marketed nationwide more heavily than any Indian indie before.
Crowd-funded production

Despite these landmarks, arguably the most ground-breaking cinematic development of last year came not from Bollywood, but from Kannada language cinema in southern India.
The Kannada film industry created history with its first crowd-funded production, Lucia, the story of a cinema theatre attendant addicted to a mind-altering drug.
Writer-director Pawan Kumar approached the public through a blog post to raise approximately Rs 50 lakh ($81,000) to make the film.
India's independent films (those not made by production majors, and most often on a low budget) are usually confined to the festival circuit and are rarely released in mainstream theatres.
Lucia bucked this trend, and by the end of its 105-day theatrical run across India, the film's net collections had touched Rs 1.6 crore ($259,000), which is unprecedented for an Indian indie.
Kumar is now planning his next independent project while preparing to direct the Hindi remake of Lucia for Fox Star India with a budget “minimum 10 times higher than the original”.
Southern cinema sets trends
The Telugu film industry of Andhra Pradesh state and the cinema of Tamil Nadu rival Bollywood in scale and volume, but are rarely given their due by the Indian national media.
In 2014, though, Bollywood is likely to get stiff competition for the national spotlight from 63-year-old Tamil film icon Rajinikanth who stars in Kochadaiiyaan, the first Indian film ever to use 3D performance capture technology.
This animation technique – in which characters are modelled on live actors who are performing – has been used most extensively so far by Hollywood in Avatar and The Adventures of Tintin.
From among the 1,000-plus films that India produces every year, the emotional high point of 2014 too is likely to come from southern India.
Manam (We) will star three generations of Telugu cinema’s legendary Akkineni family of actors: 90-year-old Akkineni Nageswara Rao, his son Nagarjuna (now in his 50s) and grandson, the 20-something Naga Chaitanya.
Khan magic
Bollywood’s longest-reigning superstars – Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan – are headed for major milestones in the coming months.
Salman completes 25 years as a leading man in Hindi films this year.
His silver jubilee year will be marked by the release of Jai Ho (Let There Be Victory, a remake of the Telugu film Stalin) coming to theatres on January 24, Kick (another remake of a Telugu film) which is likely to be out in July, and an untitled film he is producing.
Aamir will star in P.K. helmed by Rajkumar Hirani who earlier directed him in the record-breaking smash hit 3 Idiots.
Shah Rukh too is reuniting with a tried-and-tested team for his next film: Happy New Year to be directed by Farah Khan and co-starring Deepika with whom he earlier created box-office magic in Om Shanti Om.
The Khans’ most serious competition from the new generation, Ranbir Kapoor has a string of films coming up including Bombay Velvet with auteur Anurag Kashyap and Jagga Jasoos (Detective Jagga) directed by Anurag Basu with whom he delivered the 2012 hit Barfi.

Bollywood’s leading ladies

The year 2014 could be a watershed year for heroines depending particularly on the fate of two Bollywood films starring Madhuri Dixit-Nene.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s production Dedh Ishqiya (One-and-a-half times Love) in January will mark the return of the former marquee queen as a leading lady after a seven-year gap.
This will be followed in March by Gulaab Gang (The Rose Gang), a film inspired by the true story of a group of women vigilantes who fight social injustice in northern India.
If either makes good money, it could marginally influence the way the industry views the box-office potential of female stars.
After a couple of insubstantial roles in big-budget films in 2013, National award-winning actress Priyanka Chopra will headline the biopic of Olympian boxer MC Mary Kom that’s being released in July.

Another National award winner Vidya Balan – that rare female Bollywood star who is acknowledged by the industry as a box-office draw in her own right – will be seen in February in the romantic comedy Shaadi ke Side Effects (The Side Effects of Marriage).
Actress Shilpa Shetty will make her debut as a producer with Dishkiyaaon this year.
Of remakes and adaptions
In recent years Bollywood has churned out unimaginative remakes of Telugu and Tamil blockbusters, and struck the financial bull’s eye with most of them.

In 2014, box-office Midas and director AR Murugadoss will remake his Tamil hit Thuppakki (The Gun) in Hindi with Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha.
Among the few to reverse the trend, Bollywood major Yash Raj Films will release the Tamil and Telugu versions of its critically and commercially successful Hindi film Band Baaja Baaraat (Bands, Music and Wedding Revelry) on February 7. Both are called Aaha Kalyanam (Wow! Wedding!).
Bollywood actor and fashion icon Sonam Kapoor is reprising Rekha’s iconic role in a retelling of legendary director Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Hindi film Khubsoorat (Beautiful).
Contemporary Bollywood has been accused of rarely adapting literary works.
Some of that criticism will be countered this December with the release of Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi.
This period thriller stars young heartthrob Sushant Singh Rajput as the sleuth of the title created by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay.
Director Abhishek Kapoor is adapting Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations as Fitoor (Obsessive Passion) starring Katrina Kaif and Aditya Roy Kapoor.
And contemporary Indian English bestseller Chetan Bhagat’s novel Two States is being made into a film of the same name starring newcomers Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor.
(Anna MM Vetticad is a Delhi-based journalist, teacher and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Follow her on Twitter @annavetticad.)

Photograph courtesy: Raindrop Media

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF NICHE, MAINSTREAM CINEMA / ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN MAXIM

(This article by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in the January 2014, issue of Maxim magazine)

THE 2014 MOVIE
If you think you’ve seen the best Hindi movie, think again. Mainstream filmmakers are getting more and more experimental, and indie cinema is getting much more visible. It’s only going to get better. Why? Because audiences are demanding a mixed palette of films in theatres, and not just because numbers matter... because filmmakers want to give you something new.
By Anna MM Vetticad

Spot the commercial ventures from the plot-lines of these unreleased films:
1. A man accidentally discovers the ability to control the lives of his family by moving stars around in the sky, using a unique gadget.
2. Recession tests an idealistic young couple’s relationship in the face of the girl’s father’s belief that love can’t survive a cash crunch.
3. Mumbai transforms into the metropolis it is today “against a backdrop of love, greed, violence and jazz music.”
Tough? Well, here’s more information then. The first is Taramandal, produced by Anand Gandhi, director of that cinematic gem, Ship of Theseus. The second 
is YRF’s Bewakoofiyaan, starring Rishi Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Ayushmann Khurrana, and directed by Nupur Asthana, who’s best known for the tele-series Mahi Way. The third is the sketch floating around the Internet of director Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma.
In case you are now mentally slotting these films, consider this: Who’s to say whether Kashyap’s films are “commercial” (which traditionally means they are filled with elements that tend to appeal to the masses) or “niche,” considering that he is now a brand in his own right? After all, his Gangs of Wasseypur 1&2 were box-office successes, and he now routinely partners major studios. Hold on, though... He’s still seen as the poster-boy of offbeat cinema with his own production house backing small films by unknown directors.
And, let’s hold on again... Since Bombay Velvet stars Kapoor, the conventional assumption would be that it’s mainstream.
But this particular actor’s interest in the untried and untested was evident with Rocket Singh Salesman Of The Year, so he’s likely to willingly team up with Kashyap for an avant-garde venture. Then again...
And that’s the point. Through the nationwide parallel cinema movement up to the 1980s, most directors and actors from the Mumbai film industry tended to fit into fixed brackets, and if they didn’t, audiences and general film folk would try to find a slot for them. Today’s film industry is different.
Of course, many directors determinedly stick to larger-than-life, fantastical, formulaic films made on massive budgets, but the likes of Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee and Imtiaz Ali defy definitions. Their films occupy a (seemingly precarious) middle-of-the-road category somewhere between the old parallel and the new mainstream. Their budgets have increased dramatically. Glamorous stars vie for a chance to work with them. Big studios join hands with them. And their box-office earnings are shooting up. Even as their fortunes rise, indie productions (to be read as films made without money from studios) are also gradually travelling beyond film festivals and into theatres.
“People like me are experimenting so much culturally that some filmmakers who were considered niche by the mainstream are considered mainstream by us,” says Anand Gandhi. His thoughts are mirrored by Rucha Pathak, senior creative director (Studios) at Disney UTV, who explains this fluidity: “Unlike the 1970s parallel cinema movement, everything is more scattered today. A director may, on one day, make a film that could be independent but by the next day, do a completely different kind of film.” And the best thing is, there’s acceptability for both.
Most studios, too, now aspire to a mixed filmography on their release rosters, either by picking up indie films at the distribution stage or themselves producing more radical films, or doing both. UTV, for instance, in 2013 distributed Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus that many would consider an indie art-house project. It also co-produced and distributed the Irrfan-Nimrit Kaur-Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer The Lunchbox, a film heavily promoted by Karan Johar, as well as Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express. According to Team Theseus, the film was made at a cost of around Rs 2.5 crore, collected about Rs 2 crore at domestic turnstiles (an uncommonly large amount for a film of this sort) and is currently exploring international markets. Trade sources say The Lunchbox was made at Rs 4 crore and earned Rs 24 crore at the Indian box-office (“a blockbuster in its space,” says Johar), and Chennai Express netted more than Rs 200 crore-plus at home. So though the earning potential of blockbusters is skyrocketing, studios have benefitted from addressing the audience’s demand for variety, or what Gandhi calls “viewer exhaustion with the same old crap”.
Adds Shoojit Sircar, director of Vicky Donor and Madras Caféwhich he describes as “mainstream films with daring subjects”: “Access to the Internet and television have educated the audience. Those who grew up watching content-driven, screenplay-led international films will watch if the Mumbai film industry offers them a bit of stimulation. Many mainstream filmmakers are pushing the envelope now and the audience likes it.”
The mainstream, as a matter of fact, has always had rebels who stretched the straitjacket (rewind to Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s norm-defying Parinda in the noisy 1980s or to Ram Gopal Varma’s first decade or so in films). What’s changed now is the space slowly becoming available to offbeat films, including indies. “It’s become easier because big studios and corporates have deals with exhibitors through the year for a bouquet of films, so if I have an Aamir and an SRK film but I also have small films, I have the muscle to get screens in theatres for the small films too,” explains Alpana Mishra, chief executive officer of Alt, the alternative cinema brand of Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Motion Pictures. Mishra throws in a caveat, though, “But independent films not backed by studios still struggle for space in theatres.”
Actor Chandan Roy Sanyal — best known for his supporting performance as Mikhail in the Shahid Kapoor-starrer Kaminey — recalls the one-and-a-half years it took to release the Hindi-English indie, Prague, in which he played the lead. When it did make it to cinema halls through a lesser known distributor in late 2013, it was pulled out after a five-day run to make way for the Ranbir-Rishi-Neetu-Kapoor-starrer Besharam that released mid-week to take advantage of a holiday. “At least Prague came to theatres, so I can put it on my CV. Usually people like me get small roles in big films, and the films in which we play leads don’t get released,” says Sanyal. “But we have to be positive and keep at it. Today we’ve got two shows, earlier we wouldn’t get even that.”
The true “problem” — although this is as true for any industry as it is for the movies — is that indies are still competing with giants for screens. If a starless film is up against SRK’s or Salman Khan’s or Akshay Kumar’s next, which do you think cinema halls will favour? Minimally- marketed, starless fringe films rely on a positive viewer and reviewer response. This word-of-mouth takes time to spread and it may not always happen, even though the film is well-crafted. So such films are unlikely to rake in crores in the first week, but the ones that strike a chord have the potential to build up over several weeks and months.
Unfortunately, longevity is hard to get when influential studios are not distributing them. Even Ship of Theseuspresented by Aamir Khan’s wife, director Kiran Rao, and well promoted by its distributor, UTV — “was pulled out of theatres when it was still running housefull to make place for other films,” says its executive producer, Ruchi Bhimani. So, clearly, there is a need for an art-house chain of theatres and/or more theatres as a whole (according to industry estimates and media reports, India has only one-tenth the number of screens the US has for every one million people in the population). 
Until that happens, hope lies in studios backing indies and PVR Director’s Rare, PVR’s pioneering distribution wing dedicated to ultra-niche cinema in all languages. Shiladitya Bora, head of Director’s Rare, believes that the banner’s key achievement is that it has “affected people’s viewing patterns.” He says the first Director’s Rare film, released in January 2012, sold 1,500 tickets. Now, two years on, the average per film is 12,000-13,000 tickets. The label’s greatest success, the purely crowd-funded Kannada film Lucia, sold about 65,000 tickets in 105 days (this is not counting its phenomenal run within Karnataka and also some non-Karnataka centres where it was distributed by other companies). Adds Bora, “Regional indies can be more successful than Hindi indies because you know that there is at least one market where most of your money will come from, whereas a Hindi indie has no primary market. It’s difficult for a Hindi indie to get noticed amidst the clutter unless you have a good marketing budget.”
Despite the fact that the scenario is challenging, there’s still reason to clink those champagne glasses for the niche moviemaker — and for an audience that wants different fare on screen. As the Mumbai film industry’s mainstream directors and studios get more inventive, and indies get more visibility, smaller producers are waking up and gently sniffing the coffee. Masala king Rohit Shetty springs a surprise when he says his new production house’s offerings will include low-key non-star films, “the kind I’m not directing”.
Even the Bhatt family’s Vishesh Films — currently identified with low-budget films, the horror genre and Sunny Leone’s Indian film launch — is revisiting films mirroring the mood of the critically-acclaimed Arth and Saaransh with which Mahesh Bhatt made his name as a director. Vishesh’s forthcoming film, City Lights, is helmed by Hansal Mehta, whose Shahid, the real-life story of a human rights lawyer in Mumbai, earned universal critical acclaim and money last year. City Lights is an adaptation of Metro Manila, which is Britain’s entry to the 2014 Oscars. Mehta strikes an optimistic note on the changing face of Hindi cinema, quoting words that the eponymous protagonist of Shahid used to describe the Indian judiciary: “Waqt lagta hai par ho jaata hai. Things take time in the film industry, but they do happen. And that’s really good news for the viewer.

(Anna MM Vetticad is on Twitter as 
@annavetticad)
Photographs courtesy (top to bottom): (1) Still from Ship of Theseus – Spice PR (2) Poster of The Lunchbox – UTV Motion Pictures (3) Poster of Lucia – PVR Director’s Rare (4) Still from City Lights – Effective Communication


Note: These photographs were not published in Maxim

Friday, December 19, 2014

REVIEW 310: PK


Release date (India):
December 19, 2014
Director:
Rajkumar Hirani
Cast:


Language:
Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sanjay Dutt, Sushant Singh Rajput, Boman Irani, Parikshet Sahani
Hindi


Rajkumar Hirani’s PK is what Umesh Shukla’s OMG Oh My God! might have been if the chap questioning organised religion had been an innocent extra-terrestrial instead of a cynical human.

PK is what Hirani’s own Lagey Raho Munnabhai might have been if all that worldly wisdom had flowed from an artless alien rather than a golden-hearted goon inspired by visions of Gandhiji.    

What then is PK? It’s a film about an ET called PK (Aamir Khan) who comes to Earth to research human life, and gets stuck because the device to call back his space ship is stolen as soon as he lands. As he figures out a way to recover it, he discovers the complexities of life on this planet, the difficulties of communicating with creatures who don’t speak their minds and, above all, the God fraud. He is aided in his quest to return home by journalist Jagat Janini Sahni a.k.a. Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) who has a painful history of her own.

PK is delivered in light-hearted packaging, but make no mistake about this: it is serious fare. Hindu-Muslim tensions, the so-called ‘love jihad’ campaign, fraudulent babas, scare-mongering religious leaders, Indo-Pak suspicions, blind faith, media sensationalism and above all else, the unexpected ways in which the best of us are unwittingly influenced by the prejudices of others – Hirani and his co-writer Abhijat Joshi have something to say about it all.

Shantanu Moitra’s music is attractive, the songs are smoothly woven into the narrative and nicely shot, the dialogues and lyrics are amusing and incisive, the settings are eye-catching, the costumes are colourful, the pace is unflagging and without being overwhelmingly so, there is no let-up in PK’s glossy feel throughout. None of this subtracts from its courageous core.

Mainstream Hindi films are notorious for community stereotyping. It is a measure of Hirani and Joshi’s skills that for the most part, PK skips cliches. Two populist stereotypes merit a mention though, since they depart from the film’s otherwise across-the-board slamming of religions and seek to subtly establish distinguishing marks. First, a terrorist group aims to protect its “qaum” in the film – we are told this without their religion being named. The use of the word “qaum” is clearly an effort to reference Islam without openly saying so, which makes this an instance of double triteness since it perpetuates the prevalent “all terrorists are Muslims” assumption plus links a language to a religion. Second, Christianity has many weaknesses, yet PK chooses to highlight the penchant for conversion, thus playing to the gallery with the prevalent falsehood that Christians and Muslims are the only ones who seek to convert those of other faiths.

I suppose Team PK needed something to excuse itself in case of an attack by saffron groups complaining about the slamming of Hindu religious practices in the film. Besides, Muslims and Christians are not guiltless in these matters, so let us let this pass after a mention.  

A couple of costume and language stereotypes elsewhere indicate disappointing laziness. For instance, in a multi-religious assembly, the Christian is the only one who speaks English. Yet, the writers are certainly not uninformed, as is evident from the fact that PK is one of those rare Bollywood films that uses the Hindi word for a church (girja) and extends itself beyond the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isaai line-up to include a Jain. Little touches that merit big applause!

The film’s major flaw though is its all-or-nothing stance on religionists. Is it possible that there is not a single preacher out there who is a good soul? PK’s absence of nuance in this matter is in line with Hirani’s 3 Idiots according to which India’s education system is absolutely, unutterably bad without any redeeming factors whatsoever. Caricatures (like that tacky scene featuring a Hindu baba in saffron robes fleeing a stage) are so much easier to sell than subtlety, are they not? Moderation is so much harder to popularise than extreme positions.

As our alien hero might say, hum frustrate-iya gaye hai ee sab se, because this film has so much else to recommend it. In the present atmosphere in India, it’s nothing short of bravery to openly discuss the failings of religion, and PK manages to do this in a highly entertaining fashion. This would not have been possible without the excellent cast headlined by Aamir who does not for a second allow PK’s distinctive body language and hilarious Bhojpuri accent to dwarf his character’s sincerity and guileless charm. That wide-eyed, big-eared look that seemed so odd in the promos is a perfect fit within this screenplay. And it’s heartening to see a superstar gutsy enough to allow the camera to let him come off looking physically less attractive than a co-star, yet Aamir does that throughout, but especially in that scene in which the awkwardly proportioned PK dances with Jaggu of the model-like figure and endless legs. Bravo!

With PK, Anushka proves yet again that she is one of the most dependable mainstream heroines of her generation in Bollywood. Someone please tell her too that she’s naturally pretty and should not have made those distractingly obvious alterations to her face. The actress shares a warm chemistry with Sushant Singh Rajput who makes his mark despite the briefness of his role. The rest of the cast too are spot on. As for the ending – ah, how it made me smile.

PK is not as brilliant as Hirani’s Munnabhai 1&2, but it’s still an excellent film that throws up surprises every step of the way. It had me laughing out loud then crying like a baby. It broke my heart then raised my spirits. If I were a Bollywood writer, I might have ended this review with: Lagey raho, Rajubhai. I’ll just leave it at: Thank you for the Christmas gift, Team PK.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
153 minutes