Has the parallel and mainstream cinema divide of the 1970s become the multiplex and single screen mass movie divide of 2010?
Multiplexes cater to both commercial and art-house movies today. And this equality, I believe, could well, mean the end of the small movie.
Well, you might pay Rs 250 for a big-ticket movie like My Name Is Khan but would you pay the same amount for The Japanese Wife? It’s unfortunate that we have no graffiti culture in India, no gay or lesbian art, no world cinema, and unless we have a dedicated single screen theatre like the erstwhile Akashvani or like an Angelika in New York with scaled-down tickets, we will no longer have art-house cinema either. Ours is one of the most conformist countries in the world.
And as a non-conformist do you fit in?
In a way, I’m a conformist too, even though 90 per cent of my taste in books, movies and music is art-house. I’m happy to be known as an art-house cinema actor even though I’ve done a Pyaar Ke Side/Effects and a Maan Gaye Mughal-e-Azam. And these films didn’t happen by chance. Everything I’d done has happened by design, in an attempt to find another voice that was non-formulaic. It’s important for me that my films raise the question: What happens next? I’d hate my audience to be able to correctly predict what happens next.
The Japanese Wife has been in the making for a long time...
(Cuts in) It’s been in editing for a long time. Once Aparna (director Aparna Sen) accepted it as delicate world cinema, the old rules went out of the window. And she was compelled to re-cut it. Today, it’s a far more beautiful film.
But will it stand out in a crowd of releases during the on-going IPL season?
This is the best time for the film to release. After IPL, we’d have been wiped out. (Laughs) You wouldn’t even have bothered to interview me then because there would be three bigger stars to chat up. Mr&Mrs Iyer got off to a slow start, only 11 per cent in the first week. It climbed to 65 per cent by the second week. Today, an Aparna Sen film has a certain niche audience that are not likely to be drawn away by cricket or a Prince— It’s Showtime. With strong word-of-mouth publicity, we could sail through round one. But if they want a bigger commercial second run, then they’d have to release a dubbed Hindi version to extend its reach.
So you admit that the language — English with a smattering of Bengali — could limit the film’s reach?
Not in this case. You’d be enraptured even if you didn’t understand a word of what was being said. An urban viewer might find The Japanese Wife “interesting” but a rural farmer would connect with this school teacher easily.
Rahul picks his four best
English August: Dev Benegal’s film based on an Upamanyu Chatterjee novel, traces one year in the life of a trainee civil servant, Agastya Sen, on his first posting to Madna, a 'tiny dot' in the vast Indian hinterland.
Mr&Mrs Iyer: Aparna Sen’s film is the journey of a Tamil Iyer Brahmin housewife with a baby and a Muslim wildlife photographer who circumstances conspire to throw together.
Kalpurush: Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s National Award
winning film is a story told in a non-linear fashion, with two timelines being depicted simultaneously, of a loser caught in a dysfunctuanal marriage and memories of his lost father.
The Japanese Wife: Another Aparna Sen film is an unusual love story involving a village schoolteacher, his long-distance Japanese wife and a young widow with an eight-year-old son who comes to live with him.
WHERE I STAND?
My market that had increased post the success of Jhankaar Beats and Pyaar Ke Side/Effects has shrunk following the non-success of Maan Gaye Mughal-e-Azam and Dil Kabbadi but not to the size it was before Mr & Mrs Iyer. That fact that I haven’t had a release in 15 months hasn’t helped.
The trade believes that being voted Youth Icon of Social Justice did boost up my public profile though personally I don’t play that game. For me, it’s performances that matter. This promises to be an exciting year, not in terms of box-office prospects but the diverse non-formulaic films on show.
MY MULTIPLEX MOVIES
The Namesake: To take a book not overtly cinematic and translate it into a fine screenplay is something only Sooni Taraporevala could do. Mira (Nair) turned that screenplay into a film where the silences between words and the pauses between scenes is dense and gripping.
Gulal: Only Anurag Kashyap could tell such a complex tale with such intensity and clarity.
A Wednesday: A superb
Maqbool: Like all Vishal Bharadwaj’s films, we saw
poetry and savagery blend effortlessly on screen.
Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye: Only a skilled filmmaker like Dibakar (Bannerjee) could have shown such exhuberance and pathos.
OTHER MULTIPLEX HEROES…
FARHAN AKHTAR: From what I hear from the girls, Farhan is one of the sexiest guys in Bollywood today. Good looks, intensity, brains and multiple talents, he has it all.
He doesn’t have to rely on anyone, he can drive his career any which way he wants.He was well cast in Rock On…! and consistently good in Luck By Chance and Karthik Calling Karthik.
ABHAY DEOL: A charming actor, great choice of movies.I think he will make a great producer because he has a creative brain and an understanding of what is successful.
IRFAN KHAN: He brings a relaxed intensity to his roles, irrespective of whether he’s playing a father or a murderer, that is compelling on screen and a quality you won’t find in any other Indian actor. With his kind of versatility, he can do anything he wants to try his hand at. He has The Namesake on one hand, and a Haasil on the other.
RANVIR SHOREY: I loved him in Mithya, the mix of tragic and comic was interesting. In fact, it is this blend of light and dark that makes Ranvir such a wonderful watch.
VINAY PATHAK: His talent lies in being funny and sharp without offending. There was something touchingly accessible about Vinay in Bheja Fry. Like Abhay, he could help with the writing of his movies.
-As told to Roshmila Bhattacharya
… and HEROINES
KONKONA SEN SHARMA: Her 15 Park Avenue is one of the most extraordinary performances I’ve seen on the Indian screen. You see Konkona in Mr&Mrs Iyer, Omkara and Wake Up Sid, but you don’t see even a trace of her in 15 Park Avenue. Unfortunately, because the film didn’t work commercially, she did not get the recognition she was due.
NANDITA DAS: I believe that Nandita was always more interested in directing than in acting, even though she was compelling in Fire and Before The Rains. With Firaq she has lived out her dream and now she’s free to take on roles will take her to new levels of fearlessness. She’s more secure today and the future for this incredibly intelligent actress is exciting.
RAIMA SEN: If used well, she is a great mix of soul and intensity. The camera loves her and that gives her an unfair advantage over others. Even I envy the fact that all she needs to do is gaze into the camera with those eloquent eyes, and the viewer is mesmerised. I loved her in Chokher Bali… I love her now in The Japanese Wife.
CHITRANGADA SINGH: She was really good in Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi but I haven’t seen any other movie of hers since. I remember the sense of danger she exuded. As an actor she seemed unafraid, which was wonderful!
GUL PANAG: She’s been good in everything she’s done so I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of Gul on camera. I particularly liked her Manorama: Six Feet Under though Dor was her best film.
… DIRECTORS who work
DIBAKER BANERJEE: After LSD, his future is so bright that he would need to wear shades. There is a sensitivity about his films that is accessible and interesting, and he does his work with a lot of verve.
ANURAG KASHYAP: It will take years to bring to the screen all the ideas bubbling in his head. Anurag is one of the most complex and engaging filmmakers we have today.
VISHAL BHARADWAJ: Anybody who manages to tell our traditional stories in a non-traditional way with so many elements of our traditional Hindi cinema, is definitely worth a watch.
APARNA SEN: With her you are constantly reminded that it’s always the story. No filmmaker understands the nuances of human behaviour better.
SANTOSH SIVAN: His growth as a director has been exciting. Apart from being one of the finest cinematographers, Santosh has a flair for story telling. He has the eyes of a child and the soul of a mystic.
CAN MAKE THE TRANSITION
RANBIR KAPOOR: He’s not bound by rules and has massive amount of talent that we are only just beginning to discover. Also, Ranbir gives his 150 per cent to every film.
HRITHIK ROSHAN: There’s something about his approach that gives me hope that some day he might be open to dabbling with art-house cinema too. He has hard work, talent, humility and courage on his side.
PRIYANKA CHOPRA: She’s shown that she is willing to experiment and do things that make her scared. I just hope that her courage grows.
SAIF ALI KHAN: With Being Cyrus and Omkara, Saif has already shown that he relishes doing the occasional off-beat film. My bet is that this kind of cinema will be a small but consistent part of his career graph.
KANGANA RANAUT: She is a classic example of an actor who can straddle the art-house and the commercial world. I see lots of talent, courage and hunger.
SURVIVAL OF THE SMALLEST
The industry is back on its feet after two somewhat rough years of coping with the economic slowdown. Nothing much has changed apart from the fact that budgets have become more real following a 40 per cent correction in prices.
We will continue to have big senseless films… And big sensible films. We will have small senseless films… And small sensible films. The only difference is that today, the pressure is on the small filmmaker to spend more on the promotion of a film. And the only way out, is to align with a big studio that can crack a good marketing deal by leveraging their little gem against a big-ticket starbonanza.
Today, there are no independent studios in the US. The ones that existed have either gone bankrupt or have been assimilated into the small art-house departments of big studios. And that’s the only way they can survive.
UTV’s commercial risk on The Namesake was minimal. But the studio will earn from the prestige it brought to them and the boost to their brand equity for the next 10 years.
Of course, budget is important too. I’d invest Rs 3 crore in The Japanese Wife with my eyes closed, and even risk another crore on marketing. But if it came with a Rs 15 price tag, no way!
‘I’ve never felt such terror’
When Konkona (Sen Sharma) heard that Aparna wanted to cast me as Snehmoy in The Japanese Wife, she told her mother that even though she liked me very much as an actor, I’d never be able to pull off this character because he was so alien to me.
She saw the film three weeks ago and complimented me on my performance. She agreed that it was Aparna’s best film yet. “If you have a heart, you’ll like it,” were her words.
This guy wears a ‘dhoti’ and a ‘shirt-kurta’, glasses and six kilos around his waist… Rides a cycle with an umbrella over his head… He is a recluse and so utterly alone.
Normally, you find something of you in a character but with Snehmoy it was impossible. He was nothing like me and I had no clue how to flesh him out. I did a good job of mimicking him till a day before we were to start shooting. And then, riding a cycle in a ‘dhoti’ in the afternoon sun, I suddenly got an insight into this gentle, heartbreaking, sometimes charismatic but mostly invisible man. I suddenly got a peek into his soul.
We’ve had seven screenings so far, and one of the best compliments I’ve got is, “Hey, we know you so well. Yet we couldn’t find Rahul in this character."