This one is heading for an anticlimax. Directors, who burst upon the commercial Hindi film scene in the last few years with their indie-tone, unadulterated content, are churning out potboilers in later ventures.
Kabir Khan is the most recent example. Under contract with Yash Raj Films, he made Kabul Express (2006), New York (2009) and Ek Tha Tiger (2012). Among the three, it is his debut feature — set in Afghanistan post the Taliban’s fall — that stands out for its originality, starkness, wit and not having songs to pause the story.
With New York, Khan started having “Bollywood” leanings — picturesque locales, bubblegum romance and peppy songs — even as he dealt with racial prejudice in the aftermath of 9/11. Those leanings turned into an embrace with Ek Tha Tiger — flashy songs, dances and action sequences glossing over a flimsy plot.
This is the same man who shot the travel documentary, Beyond the Himalayas for director Gautam Ghose; made his directorial debut with the documentary The Forgotten Army (1999) that won him the jury award at Film South Asia and went on to direct The Taliban Years and Beyond and The Titanic Sinks in Kabul.
From Khan’s filmography, it is apparent that political, social, ethnic and humanitarian concerns are at the heart of his stories; the hitch is they are losing their way because of the use of tropes.
Earlier this year, Homi Adajania’s second film Cocktail, a hit romantic comedy, was critically panned because of its regressive storyline. It is difficult to imagine that the dark and witty English language film Being Cyrus (2006) was Adajania’s directorial debut.
The criticism is not over the shift in genre — in Adajania’s case from a psychological drama to a romantic comedy; the fault lines appear due to stereotyping and dilution in treatment of story. It seems that the larger the scale on which a film is mounted, more shrunken is its core.
That digressions have become common is clear when critically acclaimed director Dibakar Banerjee tells Indian Express: “I am a prostitute now, I could put in a song (in my film) because there is a financial imperative, as long as the central narrative is not diluted beyond a point,” referring to the inclusion of an item number in Shanghai (2012).
Banerjee has been frank in confessing the compulsions that a new director faces: of balancing art with what is considered saleable.
Take Habib Faisal’s example. He earned the critics’ pat, not the audiences’ with the low-budget Do Dooni Chaar (2010), about a school teacher’s efforts to keep his family happy through inflationary times. His fortunes changed with Ishaqzaade (2012), a high-decibel tale of hatred and love that derails midway, yet strikes gold at the box office.
On the bright side, Sujoy Ghosh has struck the balance with the gripping, shorn of pomp film Kahaani (2012). While his debut Jhankaar Beats (2003), an earnest tribute to the musical legend Rahul Dev Burman, was a hit, Home Delivery (2005) and Aladin (2009) were disasters despite having big stars and budgets.
Debutant Gauri Shinde leaves one with the most hope. She tells a realistic tale in English Vinglish (2012) without trying to cash in on Sridevi’s song-and-dance persona. One hopes that this new pack of directors veer round to narrating focussed stories, junking the set-pieces and fluff.