Lights, Camera, Conversation… “A separation of audiences?”

Movies for everyone versus movies for a few. Notes from the recently concluded Mumbai International Film Festival.

Why do people laugh in the movies? The obvious answer is that they find something funny,  and mainstream cinema – even given that rarely do two people respond to a movie the same way – sometimes manages to work over audiences as one. We cry as one, we laugh as one. But what could be funny about a little boy who, while being bathed by his father, is wondering about an employee who was asked to leave the father’s dry-cleaning business? Do people laugh because the kid asks this cutely, with little understanding of the adult happenings that led to this turn of events? Do they laugh because they welcome any opportunity for relief in the midst of a grim movie, such as this other scene where an older man advises a younger man to get far away from the problems surrounding the younger man’s ex? “Cut if off,” says the older man, making a scissoring motion in the air. The scene is dead serious. And yet, there the laughs were.

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These are scenes from Asghar Farhadi’s Le Passé (The Past), the first film I saw at this year’s Mumbai International Film Festival. The film, in many ways, takes off from where Farhadi’s earlier film, the masterful A Separation, left us. Le Passé begins with a separation (a man and woman on either side of a glass wall) and ends with a separation (a man and woman who may as well be on either side of a wall), and here too, we have a contentious couple and the central figure of an adolescent daughter, who’s begun to question things, do things. This film, too, is an emotional procedural, in the sense that it’s a step-by-step investigation of emotions and the actions that result from these emotions. Here, too, we have a scene with the law, the prelude to divorce proceedings. The difference is that A Separation, for all its strife, was a gentler film, while Le Passé, at times, is imbued with the kind of cruelty we associate with Michael Haneke.

Leaving Le Passé, I felt it wasn’t as good as A Separation – a couple of contrivances left me cold – but that’s just because the bar set by the earlier film is so high. (It was one of the rare films that lived up to every word of its awesome buzz, and deserved every award it picked up.) The applause awarded to Farhadi, before and after the screening, was well-earned. Introducing the film, he spoke, rather unexpectedly, about the uniqueness of Indian cinema. He praised the “new generation” filmmakers, but he sounded worried that our cinema would lose its uniqueness and become like American cinema. He implied that our cinema was some sort of great unifier, drawing people from “all classes,” whereas in other countries – he was probably referring to his home country, Iran – only a certain class of people watched movies. In other words, he was making the case that it isn’t altogether wrong for cinema to be homogenous.

Peter van Hoof, on the other hand, made a case for a very different kind of homogeneity. van Hoof is a programmer for the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, and he agreed to a quick interview when I ran into him at the lobby of the hotel we were staying in. His job is to get, for the festival, interesting films from South Asia, and he was here mainly to watch Indian films. Last year, he said he chose Miss Lovely, Ship of Theseus, Celluloid Man, I.D. and Shanghai (he said that, in a festival of 200 films, there’s usually space for only four or five films from one country), and this year, the only film that’s excited him is the Punjabi drama Kissa, which features Irrfan Khan. When I asked what he looks for in a film, he said he “searches for the very few Indian films that communicate to international audiences, not Bollywood films but films that are closer in feel to the films from other parts of the world.” He was after the kind of Indian films that Farhadi appeared apprehensive about.

The next day, I met Bruce Beresford, the filmmaker best known for Driving Miss Daisy and the head of the international competition jury. With Farhadi and van Hoof expressing such different views about movies and audiences – “all classes” versus “niche viewers” – I wanted to know what someone who’s worked in the Hollywood system felt about this. He said, “If it’s a big commercial film, and if people are entertained by it, if they enjoy it, then I think it’s great.” But he also said that the way a lot of these films are perceived has to do with the marketing. In other words, the marketing can decide whether a film is for “all audiences” or for “niche viewers,” and he drove home this point by saying how a film as small, as intimate as Driving Miss Daisy walked away with four Academy Awards (from nine nominations) and a worldwide box-office take of $ 150 million (in 1989-90; it was among the top ten earners at the US box office.)

How did this film, the kind of film that a van Hoof might have picked for the Rotterdam festival, turn into the kind of film that attracted all classes of audiences? (Or to put it in Indian terms, how did this “class movie” morph into a “mass” hit?) Beresford told me that Warner Brothers, who had the distribution rights, didn’t even see the film. They decided to release it in just one art-house cinema in San Francisco. Their big Christmas-time release was In Country, starring Bruce Willis. But when that film bombed (grossing a mere $3.5 million), Warner Brothers had nothing else for the holiday season, and they made a frantic call to Beresford, asking him if he could bring over a print of “that film with the black man and the old lady.” They saw it. They liked it. They marketed the hell out of it. “They made it a popular film,” Beresford said. “If In Country had become a hit, no one in the world would have seen Driving Miss Daisy.”

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2013 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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33 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Conversation… “A separation of audiences?”

  1. In other words, you also did not like anything that came out from Indian cinema this year, notwithstanding all the thunder and fury surrounding meaningful films that has been happening.

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  2. Truth to tell, I think there is space for both ‘types’ of films. As the director of The Good Road mentioned in an interview, he can make the type of film he made because Bollywood makes the types of movies it does. And a ‘mass’ movie can be made with class. (Let me exclude the egregious types of ‘mass’ films that seem to make their way to the marquee every year. – Okay, so there I’m showing my ‘classism’ if you will..)

    Where I do have a problem is that when we try to make films that ‘speak’ to an international audience, we do away with our tropes of story telling – the music that embeliishes our lives in many different ways, the songs that are sung, etc. If we persist in thinking of ‘their’ cinema as so much better than ‘ours’, then I’m afraid we will be the poorer for it.

    I would much rather that we made our films the way we always made them – but with a better sense of cinema itself. By the judicious use of songs to pull the narrative along, the use of music to enhance a mood, and most importantly, by making the story the king, and the director the visionary who can guide that script on to screen. We have had directors who could do all that.

    Unfortunately, what we have now is lazy scripting, or no scripting at all, item songs, costumes that compete to be skimpy, skimpier, skimpiest, star power and a change of story to suit the image of whichever ‘star’ is frontlining the film, and many ‘directors’ who have no clue what they are doing behind the camera.

    We can make good cinema. What we need is people who are willing to put their money to bankroll such films. Not just to make them, but also to market them.

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  3. This is a very thoughtful piece. Thank you for continuing to write stuff like this.

    In some ways, I suppose what van Hoof is really saying (whether he knows it or not) is not so much that there are Powers That Be who decide what film lives or dies. It’s that the Powers That Be simply do NOT know how much power they really have – and they’re so fearful about losing the power they DO have (like a mythical Indian thunder god a few of us know and love) that they kowtow to what THEY see as market trends.

    At the same time, the “if it’s a good film, it works” isn’t quite true – notice the whole Pacific Rim vs Grown Ups 2 brouhaha (granted, that might be a case of average versus the WORST) here in the States. However, if a studio is supremely confident in what it’s selling and the marketing reflects that, a film ALWAYS sells. If someone wants to cast Chiewetel Ejiofor as Spider-Man and markets it in an extremely confident fashion, people will go see it and opening weekend numbers will be high.

    Anyway, I suppose I’ve detracted from your article – that is really about the sort of cinematic language that is considered art – so I apologize. I’m just trying to figure stuff out myself… growing passion for cinema and all that.

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  4. PS: I did have a question for you – when do you think a song “fits” into the context of an Indian film? What do you think makes songs an important part of a narrative? When it highlights a mood and gives a film breathing space? But doesn’t breathing space equate to an ugly pause in narrative momentum?

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  5. When I wrote in my Qissa post about you scooting out of the hall when post-screening chats began, I completely forgot you had your ears peeled during Farhadi’s pre-screening talk!

    Agree with this in Anu’s comment – “I would much rather that we made our films the way we always made them – but with a better sense of cinema itself…” – with the caveat that we already have had many such films over the decades, films where everything comes together brilliantly and which defy “masala” vs “serious”, “trash” vs “art” classifications. (Another reason why it’s so irritating to read these idiotic pieces that claim Ship of Theseus etc are a “revolution” for Indian cinema.) Farber’s Termite Art formulation may possibly be even more applicable to popular Indian films than it was to Hollywood.

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  6. Great BR.

    I don’t think anyone had problems with mass cinema if it was well done. But the sheer stupidity of songs like raghupathi raghav from Krrish 3 and lines like Silent Hoja varna mein violent hojaounga…I can’t even begin to comprehend.

    P.S – I’m attending a screening of Kurosawa’s Ran this Sunday in Bangalore. Its an obscure little place but I attended Throne of Blood last time and I met Manu Chakravarthi.

    This got me thinking, why don’t you do revisit old movies Ebert style? It’d be nice to hear what you have to say!

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  7. Anu Warrier: No one’s debating that — as you put it — “there is space for both ‘types’ of films.” It’d be a terrible situation if the ONLY films around were about good roads and ships of theseus.

    “And a ‘mass’ movie can be made with class.”

    It can be, but why should it be? It’s not as if we all grew up with “classy” films? Don’t we have a switch inside that automatically gets turned on — in every sense of the term — whenever we see a good masala movie, with nothing “classy” about it?

    What you speak of — judicious use of songs, lazy scripting, etc. — of course I agree with, but then that’s a problem with any industry. Just try watching every single mainstream Hollywood movie over a year, say, and you’ll see this is the bane of all movie-making industries.

    Zico Ghosh: I saw a very interesting Bengali film, Baishe Srabon…

    Aurora Vampiris: “I suppose I’ve detracted from your article – that is really about the sort of cinematic language that is considered art”

    No, I was actually more interesting in this whole divide among movie-makers and opinion-makers about what constitutes a film that’s “festival worthy” and what’s “mass-audience worthy.”

    The “Driving Miss Daisy” example was most interesting to me in that sense.

    About music, I have written several pieces about their necessity, and it’s not just as a breather. Well, that too. But there are other reasons too, which is to forward the narrative in a non-verbal manner, like in the “Agar main kahoon” song sequence in “Lakshya,” which tells a small little love story and also establishes the characters of Hrithik and Preity in a beautiful way that a more prosaic rendering could have never managed.

    Songs work in a film when mood and narrative and directorial vision and the music coalesce — I can never imagine “Mother India,” for instance, without those songs. They’re so spectacularly integrated. So too “Gunga Jumna,” “Navrang,” “Mughal-e-Azam” or even the recent “D-Day”… It’s a thing of beauty to watch the take-off point of a song and the landing point (back to the narrative) is it’s done well.

    Vishak Bharadwaj: Things to think about. Maybe I just will, but the problem is that I only know — I mean, really know — Hindi and Tamil cinema and there are likely to be complaints about skewed representation :-)

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  8. Some films are inherently going to appeal more to art-house audiences than to anyone else, no matter how much marketing is done. But there are films that many would enjoy that they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to see on their own, if they only gave them a chance. Maybe a friend or significant other recommended the films, or marketing/awards caught their eye.

    Anu Warrier wrote: “I would much rather that we made our films the way we always made them – but with a better sense of cinema itself. By the judicious use of songs to pull the narrative along, the use of music to enhance a mood, and most importantly, by making the story the king, and the director the visionary who can guide that script on to screen. We have had directors who could do all that.”

    There is no universal “we” that agrees on how to make Indian films. Not all Indian filmmakers are interested in using songs, nor is a disinterest in songs a sign of wanting to be more Westernized, or not being Indian enough.

    The skillful use of songs you describe is, in my opinion, more rare than you think, even in the 1950s through 1970s. As hard as it is to make a good film, it’s even harder to naturally fit songs into a film as you describe. Not every film would benefit from having them, anyways.

    Has there been an Indian film in which all the dialogue is sung, like in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?

    One could argue that songs don’t even HAVE to fit naturally into a film, arising out of the dialogue or the situation. The somewhat random or situationally contrived nature of songs can be seen as a part of Indian films, or as an imposition, depending on the film and the viewer. Songs usually work against a film if it should be sustaining tension or a sense of dread. But if it’s some Akshay Kumar film, you’re watching for the momentary pleasures of whatever song, action, or comedy arises at any time. It doesn’t necessarily need to work as a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

    Of course, some would say that an Akshay Kumar film DOES sustain a sense of dread :-P

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  9. I don’t get it – this hand wringing over class and mass films. Something “classy” to you might be “massy” to me. All that matters in a film is the intent and execution of that intent. Did the filmmaker achieve what he set out to achieve without boring me to tears ? Then he wins.

    A Dabangg is as good as an Amour.
    An Alex Pandian is as bad as White Ribbon.

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  10. The “In Country” example is interesting. Recently, the Ranbir Kapoor Starrer “Besharam” was supposed to be the ‘big’ Dusshera holiday movie. When it bombed, certain regional, non-mainstream movies got wider releases and became successful beyond expectation. The biggest example of this is the recent Bengali movie “Mishawr Rahashya” (translation – ‘the Egyptian mystery’, starring Proshenjit….cinematic adaptation of a popular uncle-nephew detective duo from Bengali literature)….so much money was spent on the movie, which, at best was a vanity project (not ‘arty’ in the true sense….imagine a commercialized and bigger budget version of the famous Satyajit Ray movie “Shonar Kella”) that the makers were sure that it would be a flop….but ‘Besharam’ flops and this movie gets released across India (with a premiere in Mumbai to boot) during Durga Puja and bongs across the nation end up making “Mishawr Rahashya” a bumper hit :-)

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  11. Just read in the comments that you watched “Baishe Shrabon” and found it interesting (I assume you mean it in a positive way). It would be great if you could discuss that film in one of your posts – I would be keen to get thoughts from a non-Bengali speaker on that movie.

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  12. Rangan, thanks for a thoughtful piece. Very interesting comment by Asghar Farhadi about movie audiences in his own country. But the thing that makes me uncomfortable in this whole class v mass debate is that there are people (both audiences and film-makers) who are all along that mass-to-class (or class-to-mass) line. I have college friends who now watch and truly appreciate the kind of films that they never would have appreciated back then. This Class or Mass dichotomy fails when it comes to people like them.

    Similary there are quiet, thoughtful intellectual people in the so-called lower stratums of society who inspite of their limited english-medium education and lower-to-middle income jobs love movies made by a Jayakanthan. I know people like these personally. Are they ‘mass’ or ‘class’? If Mullum Malarum or Mouna Ragam is now screened on tv, can we (you) predict exactly which class of movie-watchers will sit down and watch it?

    In today’s Hindi cinema, take Anurag Kashyap. He has the characteristics — festivals, indie, boundary-pushing — of a niche filmmaker, but his movies now are huge mass hits too, not just in big cities but small towns too. Some of his scenes especially in Gangs of Wasseypur seem made for wolf-whistles.

    So where do you draw the line? And are critics like yourself being too simplistic in your categorisation of audiences, films and film-makers, by always starting off debate as a dichotomy?

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  13. Baishe Shrabon is very interesting indeed. Had released couple of years ago, but I guess a lot of the Bengali poetry references would have got lost in translation. Did that bother you?

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  14. But what IS quintessential Indian cinema, though? Even that word could mean different things to different people. I do not believe Bollywood by itself captures the myriad dimensions of Indian cinema in general. It’s just the one with the largest audience, like Hollywood for the world at large, and has therefore the haughty belief that it makes THE cinema that India wants (this reminds me of when somebody told me she was concerned about TOI’s poor reporting as it represented what the majority read and I pointed out that Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar eat up the English top 10, let alone TOI) . A person raised on Bollywood movies who does not speak Tamil might dislike Mudhal Mariyadhai but that is still a quintessential Indian film.

    I also don’t think making a quintessential Indian film necessarily entails compromising on story, character development, pacing and aesthetics. Mudhal Mariyadhai is one example and Saudagar (70s) is again rooted in rural India but is still a pretty well crafted film imo (both films have some great and well placed songs so that they don’t sound intrusive). I don’t really like the idea of a separate framework whereby a certain garish and loud sensibility is excused only because it is intended to be a masala film. In many masala films, the background score is very intrusive, there is an unrelated comedy track (esp in Tamil films) and there are unnecessary (and unbelievably unconvincing) fight sequences. I tend to think of these as elements that detract from the storytelling power of the film rather than essential characteristics of masala films.

    But it then depends also on the frame of comparison. I have watched both X Men-Origins and Krissh and think they are both boring films with the former scoring more in technical finesse than any great substance or emotions that I could take away at the end of the film. Anyhow, that is an altogether different topic.

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  15. No, I was actually more interesting in this whole divide among movie-makers and opinion-makers about what constitutes a film that’s “festival worthy” and what’s “mass-audience worthy.” –

    I find the implied suggestion that a mass audience worthy film must necessarily be a compromised effort or a festival worthy film more akin to intellectual masturbation dubious. I am not saying you suggested it, but lots of elite movie goers and possibly some filmmakers too (though I don’t know any particular one who believes this) seem to have this belief. I am not sure how much it has to do with the art itself. It probably indicates the sad desire of people to organise themselves into exclusionary (rather than inclusive) clubs. The snobs think the films they watch certify their high IQ and social status and hence sneer down on the films that do well at the box office. The ‘masses’ retaliate by pretending the films the snobs watch are overly intellectual and cannot speak to the heart. Lost in all this is the purely intuitive and emotional experience of watching a film for the first time and enjoying it. The emotions that art conveys have nothing to do with whether it is art art or entertainment art. But whole industries have been built on this illusory premise and to disillusion people now would be too disruptive, I presume.

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  16. Ravi K: One could argue that songs don’t even HAVE to fit naturally into a film, arising out of the dialogue or the situation.

    Excellent point. While it’s good to have songs spring organically from the narrative, let’s not dismiss their power to simply… entertain.

    Rohan Nair: Am re-pasting a comment from the “Vanakkam Chennai” thread:

    One is not “evaluating” a film based on whether it is mass or class. A class film isn’t automatically “good,” a mass film isn’t “bad.” But when the film is being made, when the director is exerting a vision (or if that’s too lofty a word, then certain decisions), a sensibility reveals itself. And that sensibility can be class or mass, i,e, are you doing something so for EVERYONE or are you doing something with the hope that AT LEAST SOME PEOPLE WHO LIKE DIFFERENT FILMS will like what you’re doing?

    And when I watch a “mass” film, I automatically expect certain things, just like when I watch a rom-com or a thriller, I have some expectations. Similarly with class films. If you are a movie buff, I think you will enjoy a film for what it is, not because it is class or mass — but those considerations do play a role in the WAY you enjoy the film.

    And also the WAY the powers that be treat these films, either flooding the multiplexes with them or ghettoising them in one or two shows at multiplexes.

    Madan: I would say something like “Thuppaakki” or “Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani” is quintessential Indian cinema — in the sense that this model seems to be the one that the greatest numbers of people throng to see. And these films have all the must-haves of Indian cinema, and they give the viewer the “I had a great time at the movies” sense (at least going by their success).

    Of course, I am not saying there aren’t other models of Indian cinema, that dial down these must-haves for more personal visions. Just that these appear to be loved and patronised by most people, and they are done with a modicum of sense and they have entertainment value, etc.

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  17. I would say something like “Thuppaakki” or “Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani” is quintessential Indian cinema — in the sense that this model seems to be the one that the greatest numbers of people throng to see. -

    So you are trying to derive the quintessential notion of Indian cinema based on commercial success. Which raises the question how Madhumati succeeded commercially. Sure, it was 1950s but even in the 1950s it was competing with Kishore Kumar comedies, to give just one example. Madhumati is a particularly interesting example because Ritwik Ghatak contributed the story and screenplay and would later on be known more as (arguably) an arthouse filmmaker. So there is no reason why a film cannot be made without ticking the masala boxes and still succeed at the box office. King’s Speech was the kind of film that a friend, who prefers out and out entertainers, described as boring but still succeeded at the box office in spite of lacking action sequences, comedy tracks or romantic angles.

    The point captured in your conversation with Bruce Beresford is also interesting. The powers that be can make a success out of an arthouse film but that is a risk they would rather not take. A steady box office formula gives them control and allows them to make money with relatively lower risk. If movie culture becomes completely unpredictable and diverse, there will be no pan-Indian/pan-American/pan-World sentiments to appeal to, to make a blockbuster. This has already happened in music and is one of the reasons why we are not likely to see a global powerhouse star with lasting ‘box office’ power like Michael Jackson again.

    And just to bolster my argument (i.e. it need not be a 1950s/60s phenomenon only), Khosla Ka Ghosla also did very well at the box office without necessarily expecting people to leave their brains behind at the gate (rather, it appealed to their appreciation of wit and irony). Khosla may not be arthouse but it is not Dabbang/Golmaal territory either. There is room for plenty between the two extremes. I am hopeful that the spread of multiplexes will continue to encourage distribution of small films without A-list stars riding mainly on the strength of their storytelling. A film like KKG probably gave its makers better ROI in percentage terms than a Ra One which was made at a disproportionately high cost compared to its returns.

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  18. Madan: What I was trying to say is that the “quintessential” indian film is something like the Hollywood film — not the films from the specialty studios, but the mass-market films, which rely on a few tested tropes (like a over-reliance on background music to “convey” emotion to the audience, a kind of cutting technique) so that most people will enjoy them and understand them.

    I am not saying that a KKG is not an Indian film. Just that I wouldn’t take it as a “quintessential” film, given how unique it (and its success) it. I would lump KKG with films like “Kahaani,” which found an audience slowly, but they didn’t play to the huge audiences that, say, a “Chennai Express” did.

    This isn’t about which kind of film is better, but which kind of film plays ACROSS India and is therefore “quintessential.”

    About the class/mass divide and talking about it, I’d say it’s something like literary fiction and genre fiction. Of course there are people who read both. But the money’s in the latter, because it appeals to more people by keeping things simple (not dumb, just simple).

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  19. I get that. I am just saying that has only to do with a certain formula preferred by risk averse, insecure producers than cultural sensibilities. What is quintessentially Indian can also be a film that depicts Indianness without any effort to be ‘international’ in its appeal. Time and time again, films that didn’t adhere to the formula still cut through the clutter and succeeded at the box office. Post which the movie making machine worked even harder to shut them out, but it’s not so easy to control matters of the heart.

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  20. I was there for the screening of The Past.. and I am a tiny bit starstruck knowing you were there too! =p

    Small correction: It was the Mumbai Film Festival. Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) is in February.

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  21. Rangan’s quote: “But when the film is being made, when the director is exerting a vision (or if that’s too lofty a word, then certain decisions), a sensibility reveals itself. And that sensibility can be class or mass, i,e, are you doing something so for EVERYONE or are you doing something with the hope that AT LEAST SOME PEOPLE WHO LIKE DIFFERENT FILMS will like what you’re doing?”

    Going by what you’re saying above, both approaches to film-making (something for everyone, something for a few) are manipulative, i.e. based on how the end product might be received. Bit cynical that? Not only that, you’re assuming that the director knows exactly where he is (class or mass).

    I remember a post of yours from some months ago where you suggested this class-mass approach with regard to world cinema and people really got on to you. One of the most interesting comments was brought up by a Malayali who spoke about how in the 80s even ‘commercial’ film-makers had to up their game and find a “middle path” because of people like Adoor and John Abraham. I’d suggest – again, like many people on that thread did – that your lens has increasingly become far too simplistic. Even on this thread Madan gives some great examples on why.

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  22. The filmmakers behind mass films are probably more conscious of any mass/class divide than any other filmmakers, since the mass audience is more easily pinned down, and they are by definition aiming for broad appeal. But what is a class audience? It’s not definable, nor are they easy to target. Maybe you could say that films made without any particular regard for broad appeal tend to fall in the “class” category. But I’m not sure a “class audience” is a demographic a filmmaker CAN target. The makers of films that end up in the class category are probably thinking primarily about what they want to make, anyways, rather than targeting this or that audience.

    Madan wrote: “I find the implied suggestion that a mass audience worthy film must necessarily be a compromised effort or a festival worthy film more akin to intellectual masturbation dubious. I am not saying you suggested it, but lots of elite movie goers and possibly some filmmakers too (though I don’t know any particular one who believes this) seem to have this belief.”

    An out-and-out crowd-pleaser isn’t compromised. The filmmakers set out to make a film with popular appeal from the get-go. The compromised films are the ones that inorganically include mass elements in an effort to attract people that probably wouldn’t be interested in that film in the first place. Those usually end up unsatisfying as mass entertainers and too watered down to still be considered an uncompromised vision.

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  23. I think a better word would be ‘formulaic’ for what one might want to call ‘mass’ films. These have certain stock characters, and make a few simplistic assumptions about what certain people can and can’t do; for instance, the hero is NOT going to be put down by a bunch of goons, his love interest will cater to some ‘interesting’ (I leave it to you to replace this word with one of your own choice!) dance numbers and perhaps some ‘comic’/’romance’ moments etc. I put these words in quotes, not necessarily because these films do not deliver any of these effectively/realistically. It’s rather that they tend to do it in a certain pattern which we can anticipate. Whether it tickles your bone or not is ultimately an individual thing.

    For instance, consider a movie like the Sathyaraj starring ‘Nadigan’ j (I am sure there are Hindi equivalents here; just am not able to think of one right off the top of my head). It plays out principally as a comic movie with other ‘mass’/formulaic moments.(I frankly think it was a nice entertainer). The point is not that the story line is too mass-like; Suppose Mike Haneke were to take this plot line: A man fakes his way as a much elderly music teacher into a rich household and is suddenly faced with two situations where he fancies one of the ‘students’ while the matriarch of the house, who clearly seems to have had some sexual regressive issues in the past is for the first time beginning to fantasize about this new ‘Music Teacher’. To complicate things further, the double game of the teacher is witnessed by a petty thief who decides to blackmail the teacher for his own agenda…)

    What one would see on screen as Mike Haneke’s ‘The Actor’ would be a radically different film, with some disturbing sequences, and for instance, the Goudamani character would be a completely detestable creep and not the entertaining comedian we see. THAT would be the difference.

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  24. The compromised films are the ones that inorganically include mass elements in an effort to attract people that probably wouldn’t be interested in that film in the first place

    By that account would you consider Mani ratnam’s films as compromised works. You see the songs in his films always stick out like sore thumbs and many times i have felt that much of his films like Nayagan,Kannathil muthamittal or Bombay would have worked much better as great cinematic narrative pieces if they did not have songs.But does putting the songs constitute a compromise and by that analogy does Mani ratnam become a compromised filmmaker. I am not sure. Cant we look at it as the filmmaker borrowing from other art forms to broaden his own artistic piece rather than merely as a cynical ploy for mass appeal.

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  25. An out-and-out crowd-pleaser isn’t compromised. The filmmakers set out to make a film with popular appeal from the get-go.

    – I don’t mean compromised in that sense. I get that their aim to begin with is to make an entertainer. I mean compromised from a storytelling point of view. If you place a song at a particular juncture only because it is ‘obligatory’ as per the commercial formula and not necessarily because the story demands it, it is compromised (imo). Difference between the films where we groan “Oh, here comes the song and dance routine” and the ones which gently and seamlessly draw us into a song sequence without forcing it. The latter, as has been pointed out by a few others in this thread, is much more difficult to achieve. An uncompromised film in the sense I used it earlier is simply one which stays true to the moment all the way through and does not force certain patterns only because they are assumed to be obligatory from a mass audience cinema point of view.

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  26. are you doing something so for EVERYONE or are you doing something with the hope that AT LEAST SOME PEOPLE WHO LIKE DIFFERENT FILMS will like what you’re doing?

    – But I, for instance, may or may not like the films that everybody is ‘supposed’ to like. It entirely depends. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. I neither have a revulsion to mass market films nor seek them out in a Friday first day first show way. I know people who put money behind a film project would like to know what their target audience is like to get some measure of certainty about their returns but, as I said in another context, the heart has its own vagaries and is more unpredictable. An interviewer once tried to get me to pin down my taste in fiction in terms of genre – did I like drama or did I like thrillers or, blah blah? I can’t narrow it down like that if I like Arthur C Clarke AND Wodehouse AND Orwell. I am just looking for a good book to read and even I don’t know what all kinds of books I would enjoy reading. That’s half the fun for me.

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  27. “By that account would you consider Mani ratnam’s films as compromised works. You see the songs in his films always stick out like sore thumbs and many times i have felt that much of his films like Nayagan,Kannathil muthamittal or Bombay would have worked much better as great cinematic narrative pieces if they did not have songs.But does putting the songs constitute a compromise and by that analogy does Mani ratnam become a compromised filmmaker. ”

    As the Sardar (Anupam Kher’s friend) put it rather memorably in one of the movies mentioned on this thread (Khosla Ka Ghosla), Poore desh compromise mein hi chal raha hai bhai…!

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  28. Mank wrote: “By that account would you consider Mani ratnam’s films as compromised works. You see the songs in his films always stick out like sore thumbs and many times i have felt that much of his films like Nayagan,Kannathil muthamittal or Bombay would have worked much better as great cinematic narrative pieces if they did not have songs.

    I agree with that. Especially in the ARR era he seemed to be fighting against songs, sometimes halfheartedly using them in the background, or even oddly chopping them up. Sometimes he gave us something transcendent, like Chaiyya Chaiyya, Pachai Nirame, or Vidai Kodu Engal Naade.

    “But does putting the songs constitute a compromise and by that analogy does Mani ratnam become a compromised filmmaker. I am not sure. Cant we look at it as the filmmaker borrowing from other art forms to broaden his own artistic piece rather than merely as a cynical ploy for mass appeal.”

    Depends on the film. Songs are the norm in Indian films. Although there’s more flexibility in how they’re used or not used, the expectation to use songs in some form is still there, usually for marketing purposes.

    The worst compromises are those that detrimentally change the story or characters to suit some perceived commercial need. Songs are easy enough to ignore/fast-forward if the film is good otherwise.

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  29. the expectation to use songs in some form is still there, usually for marketing purposes.

    RaviK: That is true Ravi, That’s the bane of our cinema, Our PR guys just doesn’t seem to know how to market a film without songs unlike the hollywood counterparts, so even if there are no songs in the film they add what has come to be known as an item song to promote them. But what really irritates me is when movies with songs also add these item numbers just for extra marketability. You know like cocktail or chennai express. The lungi dance was added only so that they could use (misuse) Rajni’s name to market the film down south and it succeeded to some extent.

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