Candles in the Wind

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Why is Bollywood’s political cinema picture-perfect and weak at the knees, asks Rishi Majumder

Posture politics Stills and posters from Bollywood’s recent efforts at political cinema: My Name Is Khan, Gulaal, Kurbaan, Red Alert – The War Within, New York and Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi...
Posture politics Stills and posters from Bollywood’s recent efforts at political cinema: My Name Is Khan, Gulaal, Kurbaan, Red Alert – The War Within, New York and Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi…

A COUNTRY’S CINEMA is as good or bad as its larger culture – its magazines, music, art… even its conversations. The silver screen is a mirror that reflects its audience. In the post-Independence golden age, it reflected an India united and idealistic. After 2008, India’s ‘year of terror’, it shows us an urban nation obsessed with earning money and entertaining itself; that treats terror attacks and Naxalite operations as it would soccer matches won or lost on ESPN.

Adman and filmmaker Ram Madhvani has a theory. The air conditioner, he argues, has “not been given its due” as an invention. “It has shut off artists, including filmmakers, from the world outside. A Satyajit Ray had his windows open, with the city and streets pouring in…” Or, as director Prakash Jha (Gangajal, Apaharan) puts it, “How can you expect people swamped by Paris Hilton on Page 3 to think about rural India?”

Small wonder then that films like Kurbaan or New York use terrorism only as a setting for action sequences and love stories. Perhaps the random dialogues and misplaced plotlines, stating simplistically why terrorists are born, assuaged the directors’ consciences? Both films are set in America, even as India seethes with the memory of its worst terror attacks ever. Maybe this averted controversy. “There’s been an overdose of films on terrorism,” says Anurag Kashyap, who made Black Friday and Gulaal. Perhaps he’s referring to a kind of film on terrorism.

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‘These are soap operas with a political backdrop. They just use a ‘sexy’ cause to provide a setting for action’

SUDHIR MISHRA,
Director, Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi…

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“The media is mixing things up naively by calling certain films political,” says Sudhir Mishra, director of Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi…. These “soap operas set in a political backdrop”, Mishra claims (without naming any) just “use a ‘sexy’ cause” to provide for “action”. Saeed Mirza, parallel cinema’s enfant terrible whose forthcoming film (his first in 15 years), Ek Tho Chance is about Mumbai, does name names: “You can make out in New York that the filmmaker wanted to say 10,000 more things. But he ends up just pointing his finger at the FBI.”

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‘Most of the industry hails from an urban background. Incidents like Naxalite attacks are to them isolated episodes, lost in newsprint’

PRAKASH JHA,
Director, Apaharan

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Kurbaan, from Dharma Productions, and New York, from Yash Raj Films, are big banner films, with big stars and big budgets. Other political films released recently are Gulaal, Halla Bol and Aamir. Expected next year is Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti (starring Ajay Devgn, Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif) and Karan Johar’s post 9/11 true storyMy Name Is Khan – starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.

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