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Dissecting Bollywood

‘All Is Not Lost’

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

From the Hollywood movie-making hub, Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) the Hindi film industry is fondly called Bollywood.

It, at least nowadays, produces nothing but trash stuff in the name of so-called entertainment, at the cost of billions of Rupees, featuring super or mega stars, dazzling locations, sets, make-believe illogical stories, absurd fights and dance sequences, and of course frightening actions. The only positive aspect of such products seems to be endless experiments with music and songs, which more often than not captivate listeners.

Previously this industry had produced several good movies having human storylines, brilliant acting, and melodious songs. But the deterioration, like all other spheres of life, is discernible.

But despite all these negative features, there are honest efforts, and some glitters of hope here also, amid myriads of valueless presentations, box office hits, and flops, a few stand out as exceptions and somehow provide hope for the Industry.

 Last year movies like "Article 15" or "Sardar Udham Singh" had created a stir, but failed to attract the box office, as screening chains did not show interest, and even electronic media too turned away face from such movies due to maybe some extraneous pressures. This year three movies that have hit the screens as well. as the OTT platforms deserve attention from sensible movie buffs.

In the times and a situation, when obnoxious propaganda movies like 'Kashmir Files' or 'Kerala Story' find state sponsorship and publicity backing, these films claim to stand on their own feet and find popularity. But one thing should be made clear at the outset, these are not experimental or so-called 'art films', sans any storyline, but simple story-based movies highlighting human problems, emotions, situations, struggles, and endings sometimes in unpleasant or pleasant ways. Cinematic treatments, characters, and camera settings are also as simple as can be easily identifiable by all segments of audiences.

'Chamkila, Amarjit Singh', deals with the tragic story of a popular mass singer of Punjab. Unfortunately, he was born and flourished in a time when Punjab was rocked by violent and religious orthodox terrorism. He was an in-born talent, who could write lyrics, compose tunes and sing out spontaneously, without any formal training or grooming. The problem was that his folk tunes were from the popular numbers, often performed on wedding occasions, full or obscene and erotic content, the success story and popularity, were due to that very feature of universal acceptability among cheap entertainment-loving adult men and women. He was a mass singer and only a singer, he could not perform or do anything in life for sustenance or bread and butter, other than singing. He had his female partner, who later became his wife, with whom he traveled far and wide, only to perform on stages.

 All popular stories in the Old and middle ages were full of erotic references. In old English, Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' or Italian author Boccacio's 'Decameron' or 'Vaishnabn Padavali’ in Bengali literature can be cited as a reference. So Chamkila committed no crime. But the problem lied with his ever-rising popularity. The bigots, who wanted to force their ideology on all like poison, got annoyed, warned him, and finally killed the singing couple while they were performing. Chamkila means startling, but the two young startling geniuses created problems for the self-imposed guardians of religion, society, and faith, who finished their careers brutally. So, this musical movie ended in grim tragedy and the display of utmost callousness on part of law enforcement agencies. This movie can be viewed on the Netflix platform.

The second one is more important as it deals with the issue of tribal life of this land. The corporate greed for grabbing the natural wealth, minerals, water, timber, and animal reserves, is posing hazards for the original inhabitants, who are living in these lands enjoying the benefits without harming the resources from time immemorial. From the British period, these poor people have risen in revolt, Santal, Munda, Chuar, Bastar, and Mopla, all are historical examples of resistance against conspiracy to deprive them from their habitats. The legacy continues. The protagonist in the movie, titled "Joram", had annihilated one tribal betrayer who had joined the paramilitary forces to evict the tribals, and he was forced to flee along with his wife to Mumbai and hid there, and working as a day labourer under inhuman working condition, dwelling in slums like animals. But misfortune did not spare them. His wife bore a child. The widow of that slain guy became a leader in the native village and joined the corporate forces to be a legislator. She sent secret forces who raided the Mumbai slum, and failing to trace the male killed the wife and hung her upside down as a sign of bloody vengeance, leaving the tiny baby for the care of a single parent. The father had no other way but to flee back to his native village to rear his baby single-handed. But his efforts to find shelter were foiled as he was hounded by forces and private armies (maybe Ranveer Sena or Salwa Judum), the film depicts and ends with the symbolic unending runs from here to there by these ill-fated people from jungle to jungle-like rats or rabbits, in their helpless efforts to survive for self and next generation who are born under threats of existence. But finally, it asserts the failure of forces of death and destruction to chase down the lights of life and dawn. This stirring movie is available on the Prime Video Channel.

The first two movies, particularly the first one have elements of commercial success, apart from known stars from movie world and popular songs, and the second one features a star cast of Manoj Bajpayee, even though the story may not be commercially interesting.

Last but not least one has all the elements of commercial success, despite having totally uncommon story and all new faces in casting. The debutant Director Krishna Rao has struck Wonder with a low budget, simple rural settings, no star cast, all new faces, no dance, no fights, bare music and minimum song, and she produced magic.

The movie "Lapata Ladies", is a story of missing girls, so common feature in India’s common rural or urban lives. So many ladies end up traceless and finally land in a dark world. But here two ladies went missing for quite uncommon reasons. One bridegroom came back to his own home after marriage with the bride whose face, as per custom, was covered in Ghunghat to find that it was not his bride, and the actual bride got lost in an unknown Railway station in a strange situation. But the twist in the story is that one went missing as a mishap, or by chance, but another who had arrived in the wrong goom' s house went missing deliberately, or by choice, to escape her in-laws’ hostile environment.

The first lady, though at first frightened and at a loss, soon found herself in an empathetic ambiance not without helpful strangers. The good Station Master proved helpful, the tea stall assistant vagabond boy, the fake lame beggar, and finally the lady Tea Stall owner, passing passengers, all may appear villains in a metropolitan mindset, but here they proved to be not so bad, on the contrary faithful guys. The Tea Stall owner lady, who had abandoned her hostile in-laws and violent husband to be self-help, not only provided shelter, but also offered a job in her stall to the lost girl, and paid for her services. She taught the clueless little bride how to be self-sufficient stand on her own feet and challenge society bravely. Missing lady, at last, traced back her husband and home and, got united. But she was now a changed lady with a new outlook to change everything around her.

Another lady who had fled from her in-laws and heartless brutal husband, in a planned way fooling all, proved to be an educated lady, who was determined to study further and make own career. She was accepted in her newfound home with honour and dignity. The bereaved groom and his family were surprised to find that she knew many things in farming not known to them; she taught the child, whose father was far away in the workplace, leaving his mother at home. The child's mother also came out to be an artist who can portray anyone accurately. She was herself not aware of her talent, lost in the household chore of sweeping, cleaning, cooking, breeding, feeding, and farming, until it was highlighted and appreciated by the stranger lady. All characters here are round, not flat prototypes of conventional movies. The Police Officer, who looked like a bribe-taking, betel-chewing corrupt guy, as usual, proved to be so helpful cop in rescuing the second lady from the clutches of her in-laws and inspired her to go back home to undertake further study and build her future. So this has all the elements of a commercial success movie but with some social message for ladies to find their places in life. This movie can be watched in commercial chains and on the Netflix platform of OTT.

The purpose of this article is not to review a set of films, but to highlight the reality that things are not as bad, as people sometimes feel. In a vitiated time, when media is toxic, social media venomous, educational institutes are on the decay path, sports bodies headed by money launders, or rapists, and even the game of Cricket has degenerated into global gambling board, where players are bought and sold in the open market, as it happened in old age or medieval slave markets, art, literature, all decadent, politics fully corrupt, there are still some rays of hope.

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Frontier
Vol 56, No. 49, Jun 2 - 8, 2024