September 30, 2013

Hrithik Roshan or Ritwik Ghatak?

As is often the case nowadays, you're likely to find yourself in a movie hall with no prior knowledge of what a movie is about, because of friends who are keen to watch it. And then the credits slowly begin to roll and you find yourself struggling to classify it. It's not exactly mainstream but it doesn't seem arthouse either. There's some weird violence but there's also slapstick comedy. There's 1 Bollywood star, 1 theatre actor and no heroine. Yash Raj Films produced it but it doesn't have Rishi Kapoor for a comic role.

Is it Hindi? English? Hinglish? Does that make it Bollywood or Hollywood or indie or alternative or dark or avant garde?

As you frantically pull out your phone to look up "avant garde" online because after all these years you still have no clue what it means, you find yourself reminiscing about a time when these complications didn't exist. When movies were just good or bad, and they could either have Govinda or Akshay Kumar in them. (I'd like to state here that the avant garde thing happened to a friend of mine because I totally know the meaning. Totally. Without a doubt. So yeah, it happened to a friend and that's the story I'm sticking with.)

Anyway, the days of Kader Khan and songs like "Meri Marzi" aren't returning anytime soon, so here's a handy guide on identifying and classifying movies into mainstream and arthouse and everything in between:

1. Titles
If the title is the name of a person, or an emotion, or something that describes the story, it's mainstream and for the masses (think Dabangg, Ready, Dhoom). If the title is an object, 9 times out of 10 it's arthouse (The Lunchbox, The Good Road, Ship of Theseus). If it's the title of a song from the 80s, it's just a Ranbir Kapoor movie.

2. Audience
Notice when you walk in and before the lights go out. Young and middle aged men who look like they'll slap their thigh and roar with laughter at the drop of a hat? Highly mainstream, either Salman Khan or Priyadarshan. College kids? Somewhat mainstream while pretending to have a brain. Families with kids? Can't be anything but a rather pointless Shahid Kapoor movie. Middle aged ladies in pants (or FabIndia sarees) whose glasses are held by a chain around their neck - very arthouse. Expect interval conversation behind you to be about "the social milieu of India in the 60s."

3. How it starts out
If it starts with 2 cars crashing into each other, you're watching a Rohit Shetty movie and you shouldn't even need these pointers to tell you that that's masala entertainment. If it starts with 20 minutes of footage that will show you everything except a person (i.e. trains, houses, plants, sounds, traffic, open fields, windmills, trucks, anything except people) it's decidedly arthouse so it's a good idea to note at least some of it in case you want to discuss "the juxtaposition of the squalor against the life of..." later. If it starts by spending 10 minutes examining the back of Shah Rukh Khan's head while he gambols across a city happily while Lata Mangeshkar sings a song in the background, you're likely watching a nauseating romance. If someone dies pretty randomly right at the beginning, it's alternative. Not arthouse, alternative - in the way that they could push it to mainstream if they had enough money, but the festivals are loving it nevertheleess. (Think any Anurag Kashyap movie, John Day, etc)

4. The Song:Story ratio
If you're at 1:1 with lip syncing, you're as mainstream as it gets. If you're at 1:1 without lip syncing, you're mainstream but trying to be cool. Anything below 0.5 with lip syncing is simply a confused movie-maker and 0:1 is a clear festivals entrant.

5. Does anything happen? If yes, how often?
In general, the quality of mainstream movies is directly proportional to how many events you can remember. When you leave the movie hall, if all you remember of the movie is that multiple fights happened because people had issues with each other, that counts as "1 thing happened." (Nope, saying "Arre par Bhai ne kya dance kiya!!" doesn't make it 2 things.)

If, of course, nothing at all happened in the movie, you watched an arthouse movie which the critics loved.

6. How many people spoke through gritted teeth?
As we've all come to realise, in real life not many people look like they're having a seizure while saying "Kya? Kya kaha tumne?!" So if they're doing it in the movie, you better hope it's followed by some epic Rohit Shetty car-smashing action, instead of Shah Rukh Khan giving a long speech about humanity and love followed by a song. (As we found out in Chennai Express though, these two can sometimes befall you in the course of the same movie.)

7. Level of discourse immediately after
Look around. Are people saying "Abbey lekin woh toh mar gaya tha na?" or "Wait, let me understand the story, dude! I thought the point was that the first dude died?" or "I'm not sure I understand what the filmmaker is trying to achieve with the death of such a peripheral character, but..." (On an aside, simply checking if people call him the 'director' or the 'filmmaker' is a good enough indication, and singing "Dhinkachika dhinkachika dhinkachika dhinkachika hey hey hey hey, hey hey hey hey" is an even better indication.)

8. The use of kids and animals
Are they peripheral? Are they there for cuteness? Are they the comic relief? Are they disgusting? Is there a song involving them? (If there's a song, it's a Shahid Kapoor movie.)

9. How many colours in the movie poster?
The higher the number, the more bang-bang-bang it's going to be. If the poster is black and white, you're dealing with some hardcore people - bring coffee and try to not fall asleep.

10. Does everyone speak in rhyme?
If so, look no further. What you're watching is neither mainstream nor arthouse, it transcends boundaries and unites this nation in one large facepalm. All hail Gunda, that classic from Mithun Chakraborty. May you find the strength to live another day after being subjected to this.


PS. Do watch The Lunchbox. The juxtaposition of the characters' psychological states with the shifting worlds they live in and the alternating depth and superficiality of their emotions forms a scintillating narrative. :P