It’s the time of the year when the days progressively start getting darker and colder… The only thing we can do to survive this Vitamin D – vacuum is to snuggle up in bed, drink hot chocolate and watch movies; the more the merrier (apply this to the amount of movies to be watched consecutively as well as the number of people sharing the bed). As re-watching films often exceeds the pleasure of initial watching, I would like to recommend a film that I watched at the BFI London Film Festival in 2010. It never made it to the corporate multiplexes but is a valuable part of the Indian New Wave cinema.
Bollywood may be the new Hollywood, but what we truly need lies within the alternative independent productions from across the globe, and a magnitude of treasures has been revealing itself in India recently that go beneath the surface of cliché and expectation, daring to subvert the conventional forms of cinema in India, which often suffers from the pervasive powers of Bollywood. Focusing on realistic portrayal and social issues, there are more and more personal works that are formed by the filmmaker’s vision rather than the average producer’s avarice.
It is intriguing to witness Indian alternative cinema grow, catch up and even surpass the arthouse, documentary, and experimental films from the rest of the world – a pleasant surprise after seemingly decades of Indian cinema monopoly. Economically and population-wise India is respect as a potential leading power in the world, but it is a fascinating phenomenon how it is now attracting more and more attention due to its art, design and film scene.
When the favorite-turned-classic Lagaan came out in 2001, followed by the British production Slumdog Millionaire (2009) and My Name is Khan that won over a great part of the world in 2010, the masses recognized Indian cinema’s great capacities that go beyond the clichés of Bollywood. People realized that Bollywood is outgrowing itself and that there is more behind the hyperly amplified, overly colourful and silly films that comprise 5-in-1 in genre. There finally is a growing audience for smaller projects that not only move ahead of the typical Bollywood narratives, but also abandon the traditionally expected singing/dancing interludes. This is a valiant step, considering that the main source of income in the Indian film industry derives not from the box office sales, but from the immense turnover through the remarkably popular soundtracks.
One reason for this may be the increase of corporations both in India and the West and another one is the birth of multiplexes in India. Although these huge modern cinemas with multiple screens attracted a new generation and set off a new wave of the cinephile’s popularity worldwide, the effect was reversed in the West, where multiplexes only took on big productions, whereas small independent movie theatres constituted a platform for unconventional films. In most metropolises, however, multiplexes are the only outlets for films that speak to the well-educated and artistic scene.
One of the most compelling works is Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Diaries. It’s an astounding depiction of modern day Mumbai – the city that constitutes the home, refuge, ordeal, and endless possibilities to millions and millions of people. Director, producer and screenplay-writer Kiran Rao is the female half of the power couple, alongside her celebrated Bollywood actor husband Aamir Khan who holds his nation under spell in front of the camera – also starring in Dhobi Ghat.
Kiran’s first feature film is an homage to Mumbai, “a concrete island lapped at by grey sea and lashed by torrential rain, [that] is home to fourteen million of us, and more arrive on its shores every day to make their lives and fortunes. The energies of these diverse peoples and their hopes coalesce into something electric and unique. And so the city has a life of its own – throbbing, vital and inclusive.” It is a carefully selected collage of fragments of experiences of its inhabitants– and formats in fact, as she uses 16mm film, DVCam sequences and photography to construct a holistic representation to tell the story. She created a masterpiece that explores longing, loneliness, loss, and love, accompanied by a stunning soundtrack composed by the celebrated composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, 21 Grams, Biutiful).
As India is producing some of the world’s most valuable works in contemporary cinema, it is sharing its multifaceted wealth of traditions, aspirations, innovations, struggles, suffering, trust and belief. Mother India is thereby becoming a pioneer in cinema realism, daring to be authentic and critical, and conveying this in an esthetically alluring manner.
The question that comes to one’s mind is if this increase of artistic high quality film-making will influence the overruling mainstream of blockbusters that satisfy and entertain the crowds. The beauty of this development is that voices from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America can be progressively heard – in their home country and in the West. This form of cultural exchange is incredibly valuable for a film is the caption of pure expression of thought and feeling. May individualism and conviction reign over commercialization and capitalism, so as to sustain a healthy and inspiring environment that encourages discussion and communication, whereby generating mutual understanding.