Different drumbeat

Print edition : January 05, 2018
A well-curated collection of insightful essays celebrating important new voices in contemporary Hindi cinema.

THE year 1991 was a watershed year not just for the socio-economic milieu of the country but for the cinematic landscape as well and, by extension, popular culture. So it is befitting that this compendium of essays on contemporary Bollywood directors uses that year as the benchmark for its definition of contempo- rariness.

Aysha Iqbal Viswamohan and Vimal Mohan John have embarked on a praiseworthy academic exercise, which chronicles the rise of several exciting new film-makers who have transformed Bollywood in many ways by bravely taking the road not taken. By remaining within the popular cinema framework and standing their ground, they have given us cinema that is aesthetically captivating and thematically challenging. Breaking free from the boilerplate formulaic offerings that unfortunately still account for a majority of Hindi films, these auteurs have taken Hindi cinema and its acolytes on a new journey that is both exalting and engaging.

Amid the information deluge that the Internet and social media have unleashed and thanks to a widespread need for nostalgia, the 1980s are coming back into fashion. But, to mimic a tired Internet meme, “only the 80s kids will know” how dreadful that decade was for popular Hindi cinema, until film-makers like Mansoor Khan and Vidhu Vinod Chopra arrived on the scene with their brand of cinema. Their works sowed the seeds of change in a moribund industry that was reeling under the onslaught of films that were mindless and insipid.

Khan and Chopra, along with Sudhir Mishra, are the only directors who made their debut in the 1980s to be featured in the book.

The advent of liberalisation, which brought ground-breaking changes to every facet of life in India, was bound to mould the sensibilities of film-makers and filmgoers alike, which partially explains the success of film-makers whose craft and theme selection were out of the ordinary. They were as much a product of their time as they influenced it.

From the days of being derided as a kitsch factory churning out mediocre spectacles or maudlin socials, Bollywood has come a long way, finally taking its rightful place in the global scheme of things. Hand-in-hand with the global recognition of the unique brand of cinema that it is, and the new dimension it brings to visual storytelling, film writing too has come of age. Just as making an epic like Gangs of Wasseypur would have been unthinkable in another era, books that take Bollywood seriously and attempt to locate its importance in the larger national narrative, which was impossible just a few decades ago, are now part of a new strand of literature.

The book is divided into three distinct parts, the first of which examines the cinema of glamour and the celebration that characterises the output of nouveau auteurs. The second part dwells on the place of history, politics and society in Bollywood as seen through the cinema of commentaries and interventions, while the third is devoted to Bollywood’s women, gender politics and representation.

Although no such collection of essays can be complete, and the authors do admit that not all directors can be included in every anthology, it was surprising to see Ram Gopal Varma get just a passing mention in the introduction. One of the first South Indian film-makers to make it big in Bollywood without resorting to remakes, he played a significant role in dramatically changing the filmgoing experience, be it through a breezy entertainer like Rangeela (which also catapulted A.R. Rahman on to the national stage as a name to reckon with and not a one- Roja-wonder) or a gritty gangster flick like Company.

It is the prerogative of any editor to include or exclude a stalwart but one hopes that the editors will follow up this remarkable volume with one devoted to those who have been left out.