First, let us understand the nature of Bollywood. Barring a few films that have raised serious questions and issues, Bollywood has always been a spectacle, a grand tamasha. And the staple of Bollywood has been entertainment — so you have your favourite hero and heroine, songs and dances, predictable situations.
I am always asked, especially in the West, why does Bollywood keep repeating the same storyline in most of its films? My answer is: in Hindi films, it’s not about what, but how. In the first 15 minutes of the film, you know who’s going to get the girl, who’s going to be killed off. Nobody needs to be told the hero will overcome all obstacles or that Gabbar Singh is going to die at the end of the film. The question is, how? That’s the key. And the ‘how’ is played out through the dialogue, the lyrics, the songs.
That’s where the entertainment comes in. Tere paas aake waqt guzar jaata hai. Do ghadi gham jaane kidhar jaata hai. It’s a momentary release. Of course, you can argue this is escapism, but then what isn’t? When you play with your child, you forget that you have a boss, troublesome clients or loan installments to be paid. That is a kind of escapism too. So, while classically, Bollywood films don’t set out to be therapeutic, they offer release in a different sense.
But once in a while comes along a film that raises serous questions and does so successfully — like Mother India, Mazdoor, Pyaasa or Rang De Basanti. These are films that have connected to the audience at varying levels, that provoke debate.
Today’s society is looking for constant gratification. Like a child that tires of a new toy in a few hours and is immediately on the lookout for another, the media and people are quick to pick up an issue; they lap it up, extract all the juice out of it and discard it when the next topic comes along.
Society is looking for that quick adrenaline rush and they want to experience that rush without actually going through the experience; consumers want virtual gratification and movies provide them that. It is role-playing of a kind. You could watch a film about say, corruption, and it will make your blood boil, but you don’t have to go out and do anything about it. Or, infidelity may not be relevant to your life but when you see a movie that talks about it, you experience it vicariously. And at the end of the film, you can come out, have a conversation about it and experience a certain satisfaction.
That is what is happening, I think, with a movie like Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which has sparked off media debates and become the subject of chat shows. But people’s conversations are so often a result of image projection — of what they perceive is ‘in’. The current blockbuster makes for great out-of-theatre conversation.
But it is important to ask, is something being talked about or is it just an impression that it is being talked about because the ever-hungry media has picked it up for discussion?
A number of movies have been made on infidelity; Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is certainly not the first. The movie connects with a certain section of society. But I for one, do not know some of its characters. They live a life far removed from ours. If you’re part of that section of society that relates to it you will connect to it. Those who do not will think, eh bade logon ke problems hai But they will get a voyeuristic pleasure out of it. For most, it will be a virtual gratification rather than a connect.
In the case of Rang De Basanti, however, there was a real connect with the youth. It stirred them, provoked them to think. As the character says, it made him feel, main mara nahin abhi tak. It talked about the enemy within your country, about throwing out the enemies of today just as we threw out the British.
Watching that movie was like being part of a mass protest; you have the satisfaction of having taken a stand. A good film makes you introspect, forces you to think, forces you to ask yourself questions, it raises passionate debate.
That’s what Rang De Basanti did. But if another RDB doesn’t come up soon, that debate too, will die out. So Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and Rang De Basanti are two very different movies. But both are about gratification — of differing kinds. Some people will have found momentary release from the grimness of the real world by watching them. But they did not set out to be therapeutic; at the end of the day, movies are just entertainment.
(The writer is regional creative director, South & South East Asia, McCann-Erickson)