Commemorating his 45th year in Hindi cinema, veteran actor Amol Palekar condemned the rising commercialization of which was threatening the conventional equilibrium of films of various genres in the 70s. Some genres entertained all, some represented the ground societal reality, and some elucidated the daily, mundane lives of the common-man by depicting them in the ‘reel.’ Palekar’s legacy enriched the last one where the protagonist used to be a simpleton. He used to put on a checked t-shirt, commute to work by the state transport bus services, hum his favorite tunes all along (to bring rhythm in his life in some measure), and thus, gaily continue his life. While waiting for his bus to arrive, he was fascinated by the movie posters of the upcoming action-packed movies, which he planned to attend on the weekends with his family. These were the same movies that were released in cinemas around the same time his own work was showing at the box office. Palekar the simpleton, enjoyed the coexistence of these seemingly divergent cinematic genres as much as the masses (Palekar, 2014). Indian cinema boasted of sensationalized ‘Manmohan Desai’, the ravishing ‘Raj Kapoor’ as much as the hard-hitting ‘Shyam Benegal’, and the simple, mollifying ‘Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ in which Palekar starred majorly. This coexistence was among filmmakers of two different camps – the populist (commercial) and the alternative (parallel/art-house) cinema. (Naresh & Prakash, 2015) Times have changed and Bollywood seen a prodigious rise in consumerism like never before. It has now become the biggest film industry in the world. Commercialization and the selective distribution of films globally began presumably in the 90s in post-liberalization India. We have been so blinded by our appetite towards commercial cinema that we have deserted those films that told our stories i.e. the indie films. These indie films personified our country and have always been trying to highlight the inherent contradictions of our own state of existence. Their elegance and sensitivity made them exceedingly relatable. Over the years, we’ve disregarded them and have instead marched towards the deceit of popular embellishment. We seem so agonized with our social realities that we may only find respite in the utopia of cinematic escape. Have we come too far off the precipice? Is there still room to resuscitate? Can Bollywood revive its homeostasis and the unified film movement that it created in the 70s?
INTRODUCTION: THE FIRST WORLD AND THE THIRD WORLD
The battle between commercial and independent films was best defined as ‘First Cinema’, and ‘Third Cinema’ respectively by Argentinean filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino. (Feher, 1996) ‘The First Cinema’ categorizes the films which are governed by capital, and respond to its motivations. ‘The Third Cinema’ consists of films which represent multiple tensions of our society, democracy, and the nation and thus are far more relatable. Until the late 80s, Bollywood maintained an admirable balance between the abovementioned classification. To have a greater understanding of the hardships of the milkmaids in Gujarat during the ‘White Revolution’, people turned to Shyam Benegal’s ‘Manthan’ (1976). At the same time, if they wanted a stress buster, people watched Manmohan Desai’s ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ (1977) where they excitedly watched the unfortunate, dramatic separation of the kid brothers and their eventual reunion 22 years later. Even though these two films were of separate genres they had equal amount of consideration from the audience. Commercialization kindled a battle between them. The latter was promoted more than the former mainly for capital gains. ‘Bollywood and Globalization: The Global Power of Popular Hindi Cinema’ edited by David Schaefer, and Kavita Karan is a theoretical study of Bollywood’s national and international success due to excessive commercialization since 1990. It expands the idea that the power of Bollywood is propelling India as an alternate social power that is increasing the popularity of Indian culture, its fashion and style (Karan & Schaefer, 2013)
This article will critique the global recognition of Bollywood and argue that the commercialized films were not the major reason of Bollywood’s unprecedented stature and they definitely do not carve the alternate social power. What lies amiss in the idea put forward by Schaefer, and Karan is the richness of realism that was instilled in Bollywood by the third cinemas until 1990. The article will elucidate how the process of commercialization overshadowed alternate cinemas, and why the alternate cinema never felt the need for commercialization. The article will then debate the differences between the first and the third cinema, and then state their respective necessity for participation in the unified film movement, that Amol Palekar still hopes to exist in.
Commercialization in Bollywood is epitomized by the idolization of some actors in the industry. The superfluous marketing of films starring the idolized actors, the film’s promotion through all necessary products of daily consumption, and so on. It is quite apparent that such an expensive method of inflecting the film’s box office success can be afforded only by the big-bannered production companies. But the core principles of making movies in India were becoming highly unsustainable – to mitigate the chaotic state of any society for an hour or two and allow its members into their personal spaces where they can laugh, cry, think, wonder, fantasize, dream, awaken and thus relate with the movie. Commercialization defiled the principle by popularizing only those mindless and idolized films which made us laugh, cry, and fantasize, but not awaken. A similar observation was put forth by the eminent Kannda filmmaker of the parallel cinema movement, Girish Kasaravalli in an interview. He opined that the fascination with Bollywood has now become momentary. (Kasaravalli, 2006) Until the coexistence hailed, Kasaravalli was a delighted member of the unified film movement. It was the best of times when the press also agreeably participated in the stimulation of the movement by writing about and circulating the messages of all films.
THE EMERGENCE OF COMMERCIALIZATION AND ITS COMPARISON WITH PARALLEL CINEMA:
Television has been the fueling factor for commercialization since the 90s. The audiences who are the affluent middle-class could readily afford a television. The satellite and cable television had found its place in every urban home. (Gokulsing & Dissanayake, 2013) This was a mandatory opportunity for the commercialization process to lay its seed. Television paved the way for chat shows, and reality shows where the deified superstars came and sold their movies. The indie filmmakers found this method absolutely sacrilegious. They have felt ever since that the genuine awareness of the third cinema should be ignited in a place which worships and celebrates the making of cinemas – film festivals. Sadly, reports of the innumerable film festivals that recurrently occur in various corners of our country often get little media attention.
- PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Product placement was another important factor that influenced commercialization in Bollywood. This method got triggered after the Government liberalized the economy in 1990. (Gokulsing & Dissanayake, 2013) Soon, different products’ companies started investing in big-bannered films. Quid pro quo, the films endorsed their products on screen in a subtle but unimpeded view. The Indie films were adamant enough to not endorse any product. This would desecrate the realism that they portrayed in the topics that they dealt with in their films. So, there weren’t any other additions to their production budgets.
- INNOVATION OF TECHNOLOGY
Every common man in the audience gets fascinated toward animated or upgraded frames which fall beyond their simplistic imagination. Bollywood won all our hearts in this field, precisely stated by Sujata Moorthi, noted Global Studies professor in Middlebury College, Vermont. She acknowledges the migrations of song-and-dance to other media even as the Hindi film product has rapidly been transforming. (Moorti & Gopal, 2008)This success has enhanced the glory of the industry and has added some pumping rhythm to our lives. These tones assure us that we travel in the empire of Bollywood every day. Here, we give in to the commercialization of such songs and validate its requirement in the unified movement of films. But its unnecessarily wide popularity still doesn’t suppress our qualms.
IMPORTANCE OF COMMERCIAL FILMS
One of Bollywood’s global icons, Shahrukh Khan had envisioned the tremendous expansion of the industry when commercialization was rooting its influence. To quote him, “I’d like to stress we are part of world cinema and we are making films we like, not for film festivals… Mark my words one day Indian cinema will rule the world. Once we get the technology we are going to kill them. Soon Hollywood will come to us” Khan’s ambitious vision turned true and has now borne fruit. In recent years, several prosperous Hollywood productions like ‘Warner Bros.’, ‘Walt Disney Pictures’, and ‘Fox Star Studios’ arrived in Bollywood and produced films like My Name is Khan (2010), Dangal (2016), Do Dooni Chaar (2010), Haider (2015) to name a few. (Sharma, 2014) Commercialization has triggered the glory of the entertainment culture in Bollywood ever since which is accredited by Mira Reym Binford. She says in her essay ‘Innovation and Imitation in Indian Cinema’ “the obligatory ‘Masala’ form of Bollywood combines melodrama, action, comedy, social commentary, and romance, and violently juxtaposes intense tragic scenes with jolly songs, and dance numbers that jolts the viewer from one extreme feeling to another” (Binford, 1988). Binford’s quote explains the constancy of Bollywood’s popularity since its inception. Moreover, the fact that 99/100 of our films are musicals also marks our proud identity on the global stage. Undoubtedly these films have added an additional electrifying spark to the life of a simpleton which Palekar used to reprise. All these achievements justify the participation of commercial films in the unified film movement. Additionally, Bollywood has had a significant contribution in our economy since its liberalization. According to Robina Mohammad, movies after 1990 represented capitalism, and conspicuous consumption. (Mohammad, 2007) The radical and liberal measures on economy influenced Bollywood’s employment of methods aforementioned.
IMPORTANCE OF ALTERNATE FILMS
Third Cinema, or Alternate Cinema, or Indie Cinema is pole apart from the commercialized films. Noted film critic and theorist Georgekutty had dismissed the idea of finding the Third Cinema elements in a commercialized Bollywood. In his words, Indian cinema can grow to adulthood only by coming out of the cloying, cliché ridden commercial films. (Georgekutty, 1988)True to his words, a whole new movement of alternate films had indeed sprung up in the 80s particularly talking about Bollywood. As opposed to the expectations of a voluminous box office return, the members of this movement were to bring realism on celluloid, and to experiment various ideologies, or schools of thought in Indian cinema. A member of that juggernaut, Shyam Benegal said, “I, and my colleagues, were looking towards a cinema, neither personal, nor escapist or theatrical. We decided to explore unknown arenas like the proletariat movement, milk dairy crisis, and exploitation of the poor as well as the working class. Of course, the Marxist ideology inspired us to an extent.” (Banerjee, 2007) An evidence to this is Benegal’s Manthan (1976). This film was shot in realistic locations where the ‘White Revolution’ evolved. It enlightened us about the remonstrations of the milkmen, and milkmaids against the sly, money-grubbing milk-factory owner who bought their procured milk cheaply in order to enrich his profits. Throughout the movie, we see the efforts of the milkmen to form a society where as a union they would collectively run their milk business with the Government of Gujarat. ‘Manthan’ was produced from funds collected from 5 lakh farmers who donated Rs. 2 each. Later, it was shown throughout Gujarat to the people on whom it was based. It was what a commercialized Bollywood would say, ‘A box office success’. 31 years later, Benegal made ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’(WTS). He made this film in an era when commercialization was beset on all sides, and all the glory of alternate films that he used to make had declined. What had not declined was Benegal’s thirst to continue studying the rapidly changing societies and add his observations to the awakening. WTS was his satirical observation on the villages of India and their several issues such as achieving modernistic approach, efforts of eliminating superstition, village politics, and alternative sexual identities. In order to reach the audience, Benegal helplessly made the film abiding by the elements that normally attracted the masses in a commercialized film. WTS was indeed praised for its truthful representation. But the regular Benegal film lovers missed his tool of filmmaking- authenticity. (Naresh & Prakash, 2015) The words of Fidel Castro in his speech at the Havana film festival in 1985 can also be related with those of Georgekutty. He had criticized the commercialized Hollywood in his speech saying, “They are poisoning the human mind in incredible doses through commercial cinematography, grossly commercial. [Third world cinema must be supported, because] if we do not survive culturally, we will not survive economically or politically.” (Feher, 1996) The same dictum, on a lighter note, can be exemplified with Bollywood.
RESURGENCE OF ALTERNATE CINEMA
The Nation Film Development Corporation (NFDC) was on the forefront of producing alternate cinemas since 1975. Since recent years, it has been on a mission to digitally restore all those films. It launched over a hundred such movies for sale which triggered its circulation. Nowadays, NFDC encourages several cultural associations to hold the movie’s screenings. Newspapers publicize these screenings which in turn brings considerable amount of attendance. People have found its relevance even in today’s situations. Filmmakers like Nagesh Kukunoor, Vikramaditya Motwane, Soham Shah, and Anand Gandhi to name a few have stepped in both camps of filmmaking. Their filmography consists of an appropriate mixture of alternate and commercial cinemas. The same cycle is being followed by actors like Nawazuddin Siddique, Irfan Khan, Gulshan Devaiya. Films like ‘Ship of Theseus’ (2012), ‘Shahid’ (2013), ‘Dhanak (2016)’, and the latest ‘A Death in the Gunj’ (2017) are highly recommended movies which prove the resurgence of the alternate cinema. After all, the main motive of the alternate cinemas was never to earn the profits of the profession, but to use it as a medium to understand reality. These films, which have always been greatly prescient, and will remain…. of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The alternate social power that Indian cinema has exhibited in the world is not only as a result of the commercialized films but also due to the identity that the alternate cinemas portrayed. It was all a matter of our mere misconception of what led to Indian cinemas’ firm stand on the world cinema platform. After the richness of alternative cinemas is studied and understood in further fine detail, there should be an addition to its resurgence. Its apprehensions should be shared with the world which would enhance them not only about our journey with the multiple social tensions that we endured but also about its significant contribution to the success of Bollywood. Keeping all this into account, Bollywood surely can revive the coexistence.
Banerjee, S. (2007). Neo-Wave in Indian Cinema: A Chronological Evaluation. 2.
Binford, M. R. (1988). Innovation and Imitation in Indian Cinema. New York: University Press of America.
Feher, A. a. (1996). The Lustre of Capital.
Georgekutty. (1988). Deep Focus Vol. 1.
Gokulsing, K. M., & Dissanayake, W. (2013). Routledge Handbook of Indian Cinemas. Routledge.
Karan, K., & Schaefer, D. (2013). Bollywood and Globalization: The Global Power of Popular Hindi Cinema. USA: Routledge.
Kasaravalli, G. (2006, March 27). The fascination with Bollywood is momentary. (S. Warrier, Interviewer)
Mohammad, R. (2007). “Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani: Bollywood, the ‘homeland’ nation-state, and the diaspora.
Moorti, S., & Gopal, S. (2008). Global Bollywood: The Travels of Hindi Song and Dance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Naresh, S., & Prakash, J. (2015). Marketing films through Social Realities: Shyam Benegal’s ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’- A Case Study. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 5, 2 .
Palekar, A. (2014, December 10). People liked that Amol Palekar wasn't Superman. (N. Patcy, Interviewer)
Sharma, N. (2014, April 24). 6 Hollywood Production Houses That Have Come To Bollywood. Retrieved July 12, 2017, from www.businessinsider.in: http://www.businessinsider.in/6-Hollywood-Production-Houses-That-Have-Come-To-Bollywood/articleshow/34150721.cms
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