Sidharth Bhatia is a journalist and author who writes on politics and popular culture.
The first issue of Brunch in Delhi came out on February 1, 2004. Nine months later, with the launch of the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Brunch was introduced to readers there as well. The Delhi Brunch completes 10 years this month.
And so we bring you a special two-part anniversary issue, on the theme 'Look How We've Changed!' We asked writers, specialists in their field, to do a series of essays for us, chronicling these changes.
In this essay, Sidharth Bhatia is a journalist and author who writes on politics and popular culture, talks of the shift from 'KJoland' to stories and music from the hinterland.
The great Bollywood geographical shift
Once upon a time, there existed a far away land in which the residents were extremely good looking, they wore top class designer clothes and carried expensive bags, they lived in grand apartments and were sweetly perfect in every which way. Even their emotions were colour coordinated. The rest of us mortals knew it as KJoland.
The younger generation today knows little of KJoland. It only knows stories set deep in the Indian hinterland, where the men carry guns and the women are lusty. People speak in strange accents and wear weird, mismatched clothes. These stories are enjoyable even if somewhat strange. Keep KJoland to yourself, you oldies.
What a turn! From family love in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to family wars in Gangs of Wasseypur.
In less than 10 years, Hindi films have undergone a revolution. Not only in terms of content and storylines, but also how movies actually look and sound. There is no one category today's films fall into - where there is Moffusil Noir of the Gangs of Wasseypur (and its clones) kind, there is also the period film (Lootera), the biopic (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag) and the charming comedy (Tanu Weds Manu). There is the monster hit (Dabangg, Chennai Express) made and released with the express purpose of bringing in the masses in droves during a three-day period and the sleeper (Kahaani) which surprises everyone. Sequels and remakes of films from the '80s are in vogue, but a completely original idea (Lunchbox) also finds audience approval. A Ship of Theseus gets the backing of a big name and gets released; at another time it would have languished in the festival circuit.
The indie space
The past 10 years or so have seen an overhaul of the Hindi film scene, allowing a multitude of directorial voices to make themselves heard. Offbeat cinema was always around - in the 1970s, a Hrishikesh Mukherjee could co-exist with a Manmohan Desai - but now an entire ecosystem has emerged that supports the making and more important, the distribution and release of the indie and the smaller film. Small doesn't mean just by way of the film's budgets, but also the names associated with the project - the unknown producer, the new director and the non-branded stars. Consider the dizzying climb to stardom of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who became a star in just one year (2012), though he had appeared in films before that.
A dose of youth
What is more exciting is the sudden emergence of young directors who bring a completely new sensibility to Hindi cinema, coming up with stories that are rooted in contemporary reality but yet seeking out those corners that have remained un-illuminated in the past. Rajkumar Gupta, Shoojit Sircar, Habib Faisal, Rajkumar Hirani, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Hansal Mehta, Vikramaditya Motwane and the big daddy of them all, Anurag Kashyap, are all making films that have everyday characters but which never forget that the primary task of a good film is to entertain.
The past decade has seen an overhaul of the Hindi film scene, allowing a multitude of directorial voices to be heard
And the box office is responding - it tells us something of where the industry is that a big budget film like Dhoom 3 has still grossed less than 3 Idiots, by all means a much more modest enterprise. The reason is simple - while the audience loves loud comedy, flash cars, foreign locales, all staples that are considered essential by many filmmakers, viewers are also ready to watch smaller budget films with none of the above attributes but which tell good stories.
Much of the credit should go to the multiplex, those small cinemas that have mushroomed even in the smaller towns; with a capacity of anywhere between 100-300 seats, these theatres get filled up fast. The economics of the film release therefore has undergone a revolution - the exhibitor feels comfortable showing films that would not be able to pull in large audiences at the same time. It is a virtuous circle that benefits both the filmmaker and the viewer. The availability of corporate finance is the plum on the pie.
Off the beaten path
One outcome of this trend has been that new talent in every field - from actors to technicians to music directors and lyricists - has burst forth as if it was out there, somewhere just waiting for an opportunity. What is encouraging is that these newcomers are not content with following the beaten path - Sneha Khanwalkar, who gave music for some of Gangs of Wasseypur's songs, set out all over the hinterland to pick up authentic sounds and incorporate them into the story thus adding verisimilitude. Quirky? Perhaps, but most welcome in an ocean of ho-hum techno and bhangra beats.
The fallout of all this is that Hindi cinema is now winning over new fans all over the world and we are not talking just the NRIs of the US or Britain. Serious filmgoers in other countries have realised that more than just Bollywood - that pastiche of garish sets, loud "dialogue" and over-the-top acting - India is producing sensible, meaningful cinema that touch universal themes yet remain uniquely rooted in an Indian sensibility.
It is a good time for Hindi cinema--both the big box office monster along with the more modest and innovative Indie are peacefully co-existing with each other. Traces of that candy-coloured land of yore are still visible, but no one desperately wants to go there anymore.
Sidharth Bhatia is a journalist and author who writes on politics and popular culture. He has recently written a book on the film Amar, Akbar, Anthony and another, India Psychedelic, The Story of a Rocking Generation, is on India in the 1960s and '70s.
From HT Brunch, February 23
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