Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DASH OF REALISM

India for the first time after many decades is looking inwards.


And as it does that as a nation, it has started to stare at the truth right in the eye and express itself with an honesty which had become as alien to us as the cinema we had started to make in the eighties and nineties of the previous century.

For once, India can laugh at itself and also mourn its failures and acknowledge its strengths and weaknesses with equal balance. That is because the new breed of expressionists, be it film makers, artistes or other creative folk, are irreverent to the previous generation, which, because of its apathy, has left its young a nation which they must stand to take the responsibility to correct.

Indian films died a death somewhere in the late eighties along with the Indian psyche which became one of hopelessness. The faith in the system was lost thereby the belief in people, in the sense of who they are, had started to collapse. The trash that the business of entertainment began to mete out in the last two decades before the turn of the century, left not just the audience but even the expressionists uninspired, therefore the whole concept of reflecting and mirroring our societies, which the art of cinema stands for, fell into a black hole and found itself lost in an abyss of nothingness.

Mindless song, dance, action and storytelling did more to harm the individual than to take him from one stage of progression to another. It had to finally come to its own end with the revolution of technology that took place suddenly and which snatched the power from the hands of the monopolists and gave it to a breed of young, tireless and passionate youngsters who for the first time kicked the fear of failure out of the window and risked their storytelling by changing the grammar of cinema, enough to make it a more universal language that started to be understood by the audience in its entirety.

Today if an Abhishek Kapoor stands tall with Rock On under his belt and Imtiaz Ali can be proud to have shunned the formula to create another with Jab We Met. If Tarun Mansukhani, Abhinav Kashyap, Anusha Rizvi and Mohit Suri can boast of having given the industry a new direction through a Dostana, Dabangg, Peepli Live and Crook (so what if the latter did not do well at the box office), it is because they have the guts and the courage to make a film as they see it, not as some bloke sitting somewhere in a remote corner of India who fantasizes a half naked woman lap dancing on his thighs sees it, and could thus compel cinema to be as ‘he’ thinks it should, because the obscene Mr. Moneybags called the distributor also called the shots. The directors, technicians and actors were left to titillate the sensibilities of the debauched if they wished to earn a living from the art they loved.

Let’s face it. If it wasn’t the sacrifice of Anuraag Kashyaps’ five odd films which still lie in the cans, or for that matter, the audacity of a Vishaal Bhardwaj to pluck Indian Cinema from the tulip fields of Switzerland, where the story could jump to from the Sarson fields in Punjab with utter lack of logic and be carried along with its heroines in chiffon saris to places unseen by an average Indian at the time, and cut the glam to take it to a gritty UP, one of the poorest and most backward states in India with his Omkara, cinema would not be where it is today. My own film the critically acclaimed White Noise, which was a commercial disaster in 2005, left me stumped because only 5 prints were released by the distributors in a country of 1 billion where 40 percent speak English, the language it was made in.

I cannot but praise the efforts of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya which was the beginning for the change of idiom, or for that matter many of Shyam Benegals’ and Govind Nihalani’s films which were forced into the art arena by an insensitive and greedy industry which only saw big money to be the criterion, never displaying an intention to take low budget and honest films to larger audiences, across the country through courageous distribution. It was perhaps only one Mahesh Bhatt who carried his Arth, Saaransh, Janam and Zakhm with a defiance which required guts that nobody else from his generation ever had, and since he is a favorite film maker of mine, he deserves a mighty applause here.

I have nothing against big money. But I am against twisted minds which only tease the voyeuristic and hypocritical sensibilities of man, without leaving him anything to take home but confusion about his bearings. The present state of general entertainment on television is as stark a truth as what cinema’s truth was about a decade ago.

The cinema of the people of India has to be one which reflects Indian lives honestly and young film makers as well as older film makers like Prakash Jha who continue to remain young even now, have started to do that, whether about Indian lives in the back of the beyond Bihar, or be it the lives of Indian’s in Miami, Florida.

What makes me even more optimistic about the future of Indian Cinema is that this present young breed of makers have managed to get the so called superstars to finally have faith in their expression. They have seen to it that the stars enjoy working on characters which are rooted in present times and which are not some robotic Barbie dolls doing a confused kathak mixed with salsa number in some European country with no footing on the ground whatsoever.

And it is certainly more than welcome to see writers and directors today, spoofing on the nonsense that we have lived with as we grew up. DevD for instance with its music as well as its take on the desperate Devdas was more than what we had ever asked for. Who wants to cry today, over lost love?

Because the truth is that now everybody moves on and forgets the past.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

IF I HADN'T LOST THIS, WOULD I HAVE FOUND THAT?

Life has been absolutely crazy in the past two months and sometimes I believe it just get as mad as this for me so I can actually sit and hammer away at the keyboards to get my mind off what I cannot deal with.
As a writer I feel so very fulfilled but as person I must admit, I was lost.
It's taken me 5 years of tremendous heart break to come to this point, and I deliberately pushed it to bring it upon myself so late so that I could handle it emotionally.
I built a company from scratch from the time I was in my early twenties about an equal number of years ago. It went on to create milestones with almost everything I produced, be it a television serial, a documentary or a film.
We touched heights as a production house in the mid and late nineties as amongst the top 10 in the industry through sheer hard work and discovery.
As the industry grew to mammoth proportions, we obviously did not make the right decisions to capitalize on the times and fell apart, attempting time and again to come together and see ourselves through, but failed on the business front miserably.
In better times we had done enough for me to have built a life to make myself secure so that I could set myself to higher pursuits with my creativity and practise experiments as a writer and a film maker.
The last attempt to capitalize on what we had built was a big series for TV in 2006, which, like the rest of our works, went on to make it to the top of the charts, but failed us in the business so badly, that the company was left heavily in debt.
Everything came to a stand still and I had to close operations once and for all and settle all matters, some which were in court and some outside of it.
Under tremendous stress I hypothecated all I had built in the last 20 years, hoping to safeguard it through my work but never realized that I wouldn't be able to produce anything under the pressure of the fear of having to lose it.
It took five years of relentless court proceedings going on against me and my company because I did not have the power of funds to fuel the battle against some of the things which were also completely unfair.
Eventually, I had to cave in and I knew I would have to do that at some point, from start, but I only wanted to fall apart when I was ready to deal with it internally, as all along I knew that, however brave I was, if I were to break at the wrong time, I would be crushed.
Three months ago, after giving fierce opposition to my detractors, I closed most matters with the help of my family which, however painful it was for me, stood up for me and released me from the attack of those who had me nailed, by paying up much more than what was owed to them.
And finally, two months ago I went and handed over the house I had earned for myself and lived in for 15 years to the bank it was hypothecated to, to settle the last matter.
It took me five years to come to this because I was terrified of finding myself without a roof on my head, that too without a job at hand.
And then, when I did it, I lost the roof on my head and I was still without a job, but I was unafraid.
Time had made me fearless and given me the courage to plunge to the unknown one more time in this life time, exactly as it had happened before with me, 20 years ago.
This time I am not as confident, but much wiser.
I wouldn't say it was easy.
I was unafraid, no doubt, but I was sleepless.
For days on end, after having handed over my house to a bank and moving into rental premises, I sat up nights and days wondering how I'm going to get by with the bills each month, which have now escalated because there is a rent added to it.
What I would do if I could not gather enough steam to make myself a home again?

When I had started I had 35 to 40 years of a career to look ahead at.
Now I have about 15 to 20 and a whole new generation of creativity rising over me, with greater power and energy, which I have to compete with.
As a writer and a creative person I had to reach beyond what I had touched so far.
As a proffessional I had to go back to where I had started from.
Where were the two roads going to meet?

On one sleepless night, I started going through my files on my laptop and found amidst many things a synopsis and concept note for a film called BAD which I had drafted many years ago.
It was funny, it was weird and insane but it got my attention and I went for it.
It was the story of two girlfriends who meet in strange circumstances when they are really young and start by hating each other but also connecting over the recognition of a streak of independence in both of them. They get drawn closer to each other through an understanding of each other which they don't find with anybody else in their respective lives. They share truths about their various relationships with different men at different stages of their lives and feel comforted because neither stands in judgement about the others escapades. The conflict arises when they stretch the trust they share with each other and risk it by sharing a man.
The rest I shall not reveal now.
I began to write BAD to overcome my lack of sleep through adverse times, and in my worst moments produced a piece of work which I can hardly believe I've written because something as funny and as convoluted in such terrible times was least expected by me from myself.
However, it kept me going and saw me through.
And it is a work I'm so unsure of that I just know that it must be good because I'm also experiencing a sense of pride in it.
I read an extract from the play to an audience at NCPA'S Chauraha, last week, thanks to my friend Deepa Gahlot who drove me to do a reading with friends Nisha Harale Bedi and Salim Asgarally. It was a terrific experience interacting with others who were there.
I'm more confident as I write the final draft before we go into production to stage it.
I now wonder, what if I hadn't lost my house, would I have found BAD - The Theater of Weird?
Probably not.