Swing it like Iqbal
Bollywood has never been better placed or more disposed to break free from the burdens of the past. As the outflow of unconventional films assumes a degree of permanence and more and more big production banners recognise the virtues of bankrolling original cinematic visions and voices, the Mumbai film industry is poised on the brink of major breakthroughs.
It has been for a while now, but the happy phenomenon has developed into a full-blown trend only of late – in the last six months to be precise.
The defiantly non-formulaic Page 3 clicked big time at the start of the year. So did the songless Black and Sarkar a little later.
If you thought that these were just flashes in the pan, the week before last, Hindi filmgoers were treated to not one, not two, but three films that were anything but typical Bollywood, the reality-inspired Yahaan and Sehar being among them. These films may have suffered as a result of the Mumbai deluge, but did not go unnoticed.
And this week, we have the big one –
Mangal Pandey – The Rising
. The initial popular response to the Ketan Mehta film has been overwhelming, reinforcing the belief that quality cinema does go pretty far if you know how to package and promote it.
Next month will see the release of the Yash Chopra-produced Salaam Namaste, which deals with the pros and cons of a live-n relationship between a female radio jockey and a chef based in Melbourne, Australia.
Look, no typical boy meets girl fare on the cards. Nobody talks about films like Barsaat – A Sublime Love Story (due for release on August 19) anymore.
Yes, Bollywood still throws up kitschy films like Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, a typical David Dhawan comedy that threatens to drag the industry back to the mindless 1990s. While the audience for such potboilers still exists and will exist in the foreseeable future, it is becoming increasingly clear that formula cinema is on the wane as a commercial force. Everybody, even Karan Johar, is now compelled to talk different.
Things couldn’t have been more in line with the desires of discerning moviegoers who want popular India cinema to grow beyond its obsession with the cheap and tawdry.
So, when a small Hindi film delivers a compelling story without having to resort to dog-eared clichés, Bollywood’s age-old bugbear, it is time to sit up and take notice. And if the funding of that film is credited to showman Subhash Ghai, the element of surprise is doubled.
Nagesh Hyderabad Blues Kukunoor’s fifth feature, Iqbal, produced by Ghai’s newly launched alternative production division, Mukta Searchlight Films, gets its swing absolutely bang-on. The story of a rustic Muslim boy who dreams of making it to the Indian cricket team and pursues his ambition is told with style, restraint and sensitivity.
Hear what Ghai has to say about his financial support for films like Iqbal. “I want to back filmmakers who have their own stories. I do not want them to make typical Subhash Ghai films, I can do that myself.” Coming from a man who has built his empire on conventional Hindi cinema, that’s a huge commitment to make.
Bollywood is clearly becoming a better place than ever before for sensitive young filmmakers like Kukunoor and Shoojit Sarkar, the director of Yahaan. With the likes of Subhash Ghai daring to rise above their profit-driven world and putting their money where their mouth is, the cinema of substance coming out of Mumbai can justifiably hope for a brighter, more stable future.
It is only when all kinds of filmic experiments – not just the exploitative masala movies made with an eye on the susceptibilities of the masses – are allowed to find their individual levels in the marketplace will Indian cinema be genuinely ready to compete with the rest of the world on an equal footing, and not merely as a pushy but patchy peddler of humdrum celluloid pap.
Now that Mumbai cinema seems to be steadily getting the pitch right, it is probably in a position to swing it like Iqbal more consistently than ever in the past.