Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gangs of new directors

(First appeared in The Pioneer dated June 27, 2012)


Few Hindi films are being made today that deserve a repeat watch. In the 50s, the 60s and the early 70s there were many such films. Either they had a strong social message or they were replete with quality music. On occasions they had both. Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and Kamal Amrohi — to name a few — were master film-makers who combined the finer sensibilities of film-making with musical scores that remained in the public consciousness long after the films stopped playing in the theatres. Later on, Gulzar carried forward that legacy; after all, he belonged to the Bimal Roy school. The films made in the 80s and the 90s were by and large forgettable both for their content and their music.
But over the last decade or so, there has been a revival of sorts. A clutch of brilliant new directors has emerged on the scene, and these directors have been giving Hindi cinema a fresh look that is both contemporary and reminiscent of the days gone by when films were in the true sense the director’s medium of communication. The new-age directors have consistently refused to walk the beaten track and have charted a course that is setting the trend not just for the present but the future as well. Prominent among them are Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee and Tigmanshu Dhulia.
Kashyap is currently the toast of town with the release of his latest film, Gangs of Wasseypur. Now, here’s one film that deserves a repeat watch, perhaps repeated watches. Having seen the first part, we are now eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel. Much has already been written about the film that mesmerised audiences at the Cannes International Film Festival this year before it hit screens in India and swept film-goers off their feet. It is not easy to slot the film in conventional terminology. It has raw sex appeal, humour, even a mushy love scene or two and loads of action — so it has to be a masala film, right? Not quite. The film deals with the coal mafia in Dhanbad and the politician-police-criminal nexus that lubricates the mafia’s machinery. It is based on real life incidents — Wasseypur too is a real village in Jharkhand. The film does not seek to provide relief to audiences through songs and dance sequences that, like in most commercial versions, fit incongruously in the script. So, Gangs of Wasseypur must be something of an art (or what is euphemistically called parallel) film, then? That too is a wrong interpretation.
Kashyap’s film is just good cinema, a blend of elements drawn from the so-called commercial variety and the arty products. This is the not the first time that the film-maker has succeeded in merging the two; he did that in Dev D too, and earlier in Black Friday. Every one of his films is a landmark — even Gulaal, which failed to work at the box office and which some critics panned for being too abstract to connect with the audience. But the larger point is that the director had through these films set out to explore a new genre in film-making rather than play safe by churning out the usual inane stuff that passes off as film-making.
Anurag Kashyap has company. Like him, Tigmanshu Dhulia too has been directing films that are not just a delight to watch but also establish the happy fact that the future of Hindi films is bright. His path-breaking film, Haasil, came in 2003. There is perhaps no film made before or after that which has as effectively captured the politics of a university in north India. Set in Allahabad, Haasil beautifully captured both the nuances and the crassness of a city that was once considered the ‘Oxford of the East’. In just the last two years, Dhulia has made as many as three enticing films that have strengthened the trend of good cinema in Hindi films — Shagird; Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster and Paan Singh Tomar. Each one of them is a masterpiece and reflects what good film-making should be. While they have all received critical acclaim, at least the last one is also a box office success.
Eight years ago, a new director made his mark as a ‘different’ film-maker. It was an unusual transformation for him, because until then he was known more for his music compositions — which too, incidentally, were contemporary but still endearing because of their freshness. He is Vishal Bhardwaj. From Maqbool, Bhardwaj straightaway created a niche for himself, and followed it up with other gems like Omkara, Kaminey and Saat Khoon Maaf. The last one bombed at the box office but it still serves as an important milestone not just in Bhardwaj’s career but in Hindi films as well. No director so far has seriously dared to adapt Shakespeare’s play into a Hindi mainstream film. Bhardwaj has done it twice already — and with success on both occasions — with Maqbool (adapted from Macbeth) and Omkara (adapted from Othello). Like with Kashyap and Dhulia, Bhardwaj does not allow market forces to determine the content or the treatment of his films. And yet, the market has whole-heartily embraced him.
So much has been happening in the last decade in Hindi cinema that it is easy to believe that somebody somewhere has set it up for the larger good of film-making. Six years ago, Dibakar Banerjee shot into the limelight with the delightfully titled and rib-tickling Khosla ka Ghosla that dealt with unscrupulous real estate developers. Four years after this film, Banerjee did a clean somersault and directed Love, Sex aur Dhokha, which dealt with voyeurism in contemporary society. Poles apart in every way, the two films heralded the arrival of a director who was willing — like his peers mentioned earlier — to challenge the conventional rules of film-making. In his latest release, Shanghai, Banerjee has yet again done something completely at variance with his earlier approaches.
These four film-makers have not just changed the face of Hindi films but have also opened the doors to other similarly courageous directors and established a conducive environment for new approaches. Thus, we have Sujoy Ghosh with Kahaani and Milan Luthria with The Dirty Picture and Once Upon a Time in Mumbai. The era of great melodies in Hindi films may be over, but the days of meaningful films have returned. As it is said: Better late than never.

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