The topic in discussion for the last few weeks has been the rise of the dubbed South Indian films, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and, to an extent, Malayalam, in the Hindi belt, where a lot many South films have started drawing huge crowds, and ending up doing business in hundreds of crores. Something that only a Hindi film with a big star cast could do!
Sadly, this is happening due to the vacuum created by Hindi films, which are meant to cater to this market. This is so for various reasons.
The Hindi film industry was doing well, making the kind of films the viewers lapped up. The stars kept delivering on the basis of their set images and that is how the filmmakers cast them and that is how the viewers liked them. But, from time to time, every star preferred to come out of the mould and try something new.
Action, as such, came mainly at the end of the film when it was justified and the viewer wanted the villain to get his due. Film watching was a family affair and a film needed a bit of romance, comic relief, family drama and dance sequences to make it a wholesome entertainer. All these, keeping in mind the values, traditions, culture, religious mores and morality.
Then there was music, the soul of any film, as it was of the Indian way of life. Music, which lent a film its identity and contributed in a huge way to its success, was the first to be compromised by the makers. And so the downfall of Hindi films began.
Gone were those sittings involving the maker, composer, lyricist and the writer, followed by the sessions to tune a song for the
approval of the maker. Gone were those huge recording studios accommodating hundreds of musicians at a song recording, playing live as a song was crooned by a Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Kishore Kumar, or other singer. The studio has now shrunk to a car garage and a machine has replaced musicians!
The way music is made and marketed has changed for the worse. The music company collects a bank of recorded songs and decides slots in a film where to fit a song from its bank! The singer does not matter, nor do the words of a song. If a song suits the situation, fine. Otherwise, it is called an ‘item song’. There are no composers by whose name a film’s music would draw crowds.
Films have given us songs for every occasion and festival, be it a wedding, party, puja, birthday, Diwali, Christmas, Eid. Our wedding bands survive on these old songs. All our music-based television shows, in fact, thrive because of this collection of evergreen classics. Not much has been composed in many years that can be hummed. It is surprising therefore that these songs still garner millions of hits on YouTube!
The next to be compromised was the story/script, the very purpose of a film. A film had a story which was kept away from the world lest it be stolen by another writer! Story sessions were held in private hotel rooms with just the writer and director privy to the proceedings. The distributors often bought a film only on the name of the film’s writer.
A film’s story is something that needs more than one person to bounce the idea around. So, sensible producers worked with teams of writers. The story idea could be one, but it paid to have a team to develop it into a script. Most of the big-time filmmakers usually had a team. B.R. Chopra’s banner, for instance, never credited a single writer. The banner’s films always credited the story to its script department.
The trick was how one developed an idea, the one-liner as it was called, into a script. For example, Manoj Kumar’s musical hit, ‘Shor’, had a one-line idea: The father wants to hear his mute son sing, but by the time the son is cured and can finally sing, the father has gone deaf. So banal an idea, today’s maker would think. But what a great movie ‘Shor’ turned out to be.
Can you make a film without a theme, a coherent story? The audience does not ask for much, just that the theme should be identifiable and what is depicted on screen be plausible. Unless, of course, it is a fantasy. Viewers want to be taken on an entertainment trip for a couple of hours. The film must also cater to their dreams.
The police in general does not have a very favourable image, which explains why most heroes are reluctant to play cops. Then why do so many South films have a cop as protagonist and still these films work? That is the writer’s triumph. He does not paint a cop as he is, he does it the people would want him to be: an honest, responsible, caring family man who’s equally romantic, but he is a man on a mission, a fighter. The formula still works and it may work for writers to explore it and find new themes within it.
Sure, the Hindi film cop is also a man with a mission, period. He is spared rest of the trappings! While the Hindi makers have recently taken to making films with nationalism, patriotism, in the South these have always been part of a story. If the South hero is fighting, he has a purpose which is not personal, it is for the social good or the national good.
Hindi films boasted of some great female performers because the stories afforded them this scope. The image they carried was that of a woman a man would like to take home to his mother. The South still persists with the idea, but Hindi filmmakers
have turned the female artiste into eye candy, as if just exuding sex appeal is enough. Her performance does not even figure in her things-to-do notes.
At a time when writers can barely justify the protagonist, to expect them to write for a number of characters and fit them into one narrative, would be hoping for too much. The characters of mother, sister, father and others who filled the screen and provided distractions have been done away with.
There is more to be said about the dwindling following of Hindi films and a lot more on why it is so. Till then, the stars should resume making films for the viewer again. Not for self-gratification, which does not draw audiences for three shows. It was proven yet again by ‘Runway 34’ and ‘Heropanti 2’ last week.