Preston Sturges made a film called Sullivan’s Travels back in the 40s, it is about a director who makes shallow escapist cinema and has suddenly got an urge of making a film about real troubles of real people. He wants to adapt a social drama novel called ‘O brother, Where art thou?’ and for doing so he decides to explore the real world of downtrodden people. However he realises that he should continue making escapist cinema when he sees a browbeaten bunch of chain gang criminals enjoying a Disney cartoon. He sees that the deprived only have that little window for finding happiness through entertainment. Sturges’ intentions were certainly noble especially as the film came out during WWII and in an America that had seen a lot of struggle since WWI and The Great Depression.
India has been in a constant struggle ever since we could remember and Sturges’ message certainly holds true here but why is it that ‘happiness through entertainment’ holds so much of importance in our country. Poverty is a major issue in our country, but these films that make hundreds of crores mostly make it through showing their films in multiplexes and the audiences visiting these multiplexes are spending around 300-400 bucks per film individually and I wouldn’t ideally call them poor. Of course happiness isn’t directly proportional to money and rich people could be unhappy too, but does this booming business of escapist cinema indicates that the happiness quotient of this country is really very low. I often ask these people who discuss their weekend plans of catching a new film, that what exactly in these films drives them to the cinemas? The answer came in a unison - ‘Stress’. They handle an insurmountable amount of stress from their offices and homes that it becomes imperative to unwind over popcorn and a new flick every weekend, for it’s a beautiful feeling to lose yourselves over these imaginative lives of heroes on the silver screen.
All said and done, it seems to me that it is of utmost importance that these films should be made the way they are made, it certainly solves one of the biggest problems in this country, which is Stress. Well, whatever I am saying here has been said by thousands before me but sometimes we need to reiterate this fact to ourselves that an art form has been reduced to a commodity. But if you ask me, these films that are solving such a big problem of our society, in my humble opinion are BAD.
These films aren’t really feeding the hungry, because none of these people who watch these films every weekend have any sort of hunger. They have a craving yes, the same sort of craving that take them to junk food restaurants. We could all easily live on good food, but we love our junk food so much that it has become a way of life for us. And not just junk but also spicy, McDonalds in India happily serves perfectly spicy burgers to its customers, we Indians love spicy food and why not, even our films must have so much ‘Masala’ in them. There is no denying that we all know that this junk food is not good for our health, and yet we crave for it. Well I am not here on a social agenda, it is your choice of consuming junk and you can happily do so but where does it leave people who doesn’t like to consume junk.
The abundant supply of these films has unfortunately only given rise to the demand for such film and thanks to the demand, the supply keeps on increasing, it has become a vicious circle. This unprecedented rise in demand has filled in every cinema house in this country with films that dole out the much needed mindless chow to the countless stressed brains of this country and thanks to that there’s no room left for films that want to pursue the true aspects of cinema. In this barter of contributing to this multi-crore business in exchange of a de-stressing solution, what we are losing is Cinema as an art form.
Also one of the most important factor that makes Cinema truly great in our country these days is Promotion. It seems the amount of money wasted for making these films is not enough that these businessmen have to ensure they splurge equally on the promotion. That makes films a perfect commodity, the one that is advertised frantically to ensure that despite its quality it will be consumed to the fullest, in other words they are doing a perfect job of shoving that junk food into our mouths . Of course the money is not wasted but rather invested into a product that doesn’t mean a thing. One product comes, consumed and soon forgotten to make way for another perfectly similar product. But then this is the age of advertising, aren’t we all advertising ourselves daily on the social networks updating statuses and posting pictures from our private lives, as though we’ll be forgotten if we don’t keep our entity alive on these social networking platforms.
Also why would these people from show business would want to make better pictures? There’s absolutely no reason at all. The films that are being produced are working perfectly fine, making enough profits and the best part is people are watching the same shit every weekend without even getting bored of it. Trying to make better pictures would only mean taking risks. Also the way businessmen in our country pass down the baton of their businesses to their legal heirs, the so called artists of this industry pass on the baton of their artistry to their sons and daughters. It has now become their family business. Also they gladly call themselves the film industry which is quite right because they are churning out industrial products, one after the other on an assembly line. I fail to understand how could art be created in an industry. I’ve never heard of a painting industry or a sculpting industry but here we are, the Indian film industry, quite happily and commonly known as Bollywood. We make excellent products here, we take a stale or a plagiarised plot, pack it with stars, add meaningless songs and dance, add a bit of spice, package it, promote it and success.
Even though we are acutely aware of every fact I've mentioned above, we still can’t help but like these stars and these films, we can’t help but discuss them like experts whenever we have time, we can’t help but read about them in glossy supplement newspapers and magazines meant especially for this shit, and of course we love to watch these films again and again on TV too. It’s a kind of drug that has been infused into our veins and now we can’t live without it. It has not only corrupted us but has also made us blind to the extent where he passionately support a star who is convicted for a murder just because he plays a good guy in his films where he beats up hundreds of baddies.
It’s a long rant but I rant because these industrialists have made it difficult for me to find good cinema. Cinema theatres are only interested in playing films that are lucrative, Home Video stores only sell the popular and TV is fittingly termed as an Idiot Box. Now you might agree with me or you might not, but for those who agree, let’s explore the good cinema that still exists in those unpopular spaces. For others, it’s a food for thought (though I know you prefer junk)