Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cannes 2012: It's like Slumdog Millionaire meets Amélie!

With both Miss Lovely and Gangs of Wasseypur making waves at Cannes this year, there have been more opportunities than usual for journalists to drag out the old cliches about how India is “evolving” past the old song-and-dance format into “proper” cinema. These stories are not only tedious in their judgemental tone but also culturally myopic and (worst of all) unoriginal, popping up every time somebody vaguely South Asian makes a film that Western film critics are able to wrap their heads around.

The narrative of these stories is always that India is making films incorrectly and with films like Gangs of Wasseypur is finally starting to understand how to do film right (i.e. OUR way).

Bullshit. 1.2 billion people (give or take a few) aren’t wrong.

ATTN: Journalists and film critics working in the West.

I’ve said this before but apparently I need to repeat myself once again: Indian film evolved parallel to the Western style of filmmaking. This means that the film language - visuals, camera angles, acting styles, inclusion of songs, ways of structuring a story - are completely different from what you are used to but that doesn’t make them wrong. Just because something doesn’t make sense to you, who have never seen an Indian film in the popular style before, does not mean that it is wrong or that it doesn’t make sense to the 1.2 billion people who watch these kinds of films on a regular basis.

You have two options. 1) Fucking learn about how Indian films work and then write commentary or 2) let somebody who knows about how Indian films work write the commentary.


I don’t blame Anurag Kashyap and Ashim Ahluwalia for providing the journalists with the fodder for writing these lazy “Indian film is evolving” pieces. The problem is that Anurag and Ashim are trying to discuss real problems in the Bollywood industry (and there are plenty, I’m not blind - massive sexism and nepotism, along with gobs of corporate money and the ties it brings with it) with people who think the problem with Bollywood is that there is dancing in the movies.

In particular, I’ve been struck with this line from Ashim Ahluwalia, which I’ve seen him say in a few other interviews:

“Also, this film is not a parody.” Source

The fact that Ashim feels the need to emphasize this makes me dread the reviews we’ll be seeing because that line makes me think that Ashim is all too aware of how all too often Western eyes see Indian film through a massive camp filter** that turns everything produced in Bombay into The Room and the fact that his film is set in the film industry will mean Western eyes will be looking at the celluloid (or digital images or whatever) but they won’t really be seeing what Ashim intended.

Speaking of reviews - and as long as I’m rambling about this anyways - I’d like to call it now that most of the reviews we’ll be seeing of both Miss Lovely and Gangs of Wasseypur from Western media outlets will feature some variation on the phrase: “It’s like Slumdog meets... [fill in the blank].” So if you find any particularly stupid ones, feel free to send them my way!

* Yes, more than Priyanka Chopra being lauded for her “acting” and more than the emphasis on bikinis.

** Camp as in campy as in Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, not the camps where Salman Khan won’t work with Vivek Oberoi kind of campy.


thediva_1 said...

Go Filmi girl! Thanks for writing pieces like this.

But as I wrote earlier on twitter, I've come to realize that for every 1 person who thinks Hindi cinema is junk for the brain dead, there are 10 people who love it with ten times more intensity...people who aren't brain dead!

Mo Pitz said...

Okay, yes, the "film language" inherent to these films and whatnot I feel like is not what western critics have issues with. And it seems that the issues they do have are the very same that Hindi film folk themselves have problems with: weak stories, production values, etc. For instance, Amitabh's comments on making The Great Gatsby were particularly telling: "The other factor of course is the dedication that all the crew and actors have towards the script the film and the production. Leonardo and Tobey would be more than willing to rehearse if you demanded it and would give each rehearsal the same deliverance as they would, were they to be asking for one themselves." I maintain that if Bollywood pushed for more quality over quantity, more stars doing fewer films with more time to prepare, and not settling on "good enough" (oh, the tales I hear of stars deciding that one take is "good enough") then it wouldn't be a matter of being more like Hollywood. It makes me sad when Indian filmmakers like Kashyap, Shekhar Kapur and Q etc wrinkle their noses at "Bollywood-style-fare" because they see it as the same "bimbo" instead of just another style, and one not to be sneered at. [Warning: I have a horrific sinus infection and am totally hopped up on codeine so I have zero idea if this made any sense].

Filmi Girl said...

@Mo Your comments are always welcome - sinused up or not. :D

You definitely have a point for things like Department, which was resoundingly panned by everybody for good reason, but I still think Western critics conflate the different Indian palate of film making with "wrong."

Sure, something like Ready, which was probably a "one take is good enough" film, is clearly a bimbo film but a film like Ready doesn't aim to be anything more and I doubt that is what Kashyap is talking about.

This is what I was getting at - guys like Q and Kashyap are rightly critiquing things they don't like about Bollywood but the no-nothing journalists have no context for the complaints. So the no-nothing journalists will conflate something like Ready with something like Department with youtube clips of South Indian heroes dancing and call it all crap.

Kashyap isn't saying song-dance and hero-centric stories make films bad but that's how it's spun because the journos have no context other than Govinda as "Indian Superman".

Maybe my point wasn't clear enough... :/

getfilmy said...

Oy, how did I miss this post yesterday? Needless to say I agree with everything. More importantly I can't believe you have a "Hollywood Is Stupid" label hahahahaha. :D

And Filmi Girl's Guide For Lazy American Journalists totally needs to be a book.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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