Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Phir Be Movie hai Hindustani (Still the Movie is Indian)

I believe something really important must be declared and stated. I love Abhishek Bachan. I adore Abhishek Bachan. I want to worship Abhishek Bachan. That man is one of the finest specimens of Indian manhood that I have seen in awhile. His lips, those dropping eyes, the 5’oclock shadow, the lean body, all make me feel giddy and weak, and actually enable me to sit through a Bollywood film for the whole three hours. His smile simply disarms me. When he pouts when he acts I am willing to give him my whole world. And when he dances I want to do things which would make the Indian Censor Board spontaneously combust. I have loved before and been captivated before by the actors from Mumbai; by the likes of John Abraham, Vivek Oberoi and Salman Khan. Now to me, they all pale in comparison to Abhishek.

Being the old school cat that I am, I only watch new Bollywood films if my sister insists that it is an important movie to watch. So, this weekend my sister came over, armed with Dhoom, Dhoom 2 and Bluffmaster. I thought Dhoom was an interesting Hindi action flick, I absolutely adored Bluffmaster. It was wonderfully postmodern and ironically self ware, which almost never happens in a Bolly! I almost felt high during the last few minutes of the movie. But, while watching both movies, the deconstructionist in me was awakened, and I felt something interesting was going on in this films.

Before I begin any serious analysis, I will caveat that I am not fully up to speed on my Bollywood films, and this analysis is limited to four movies. Still, as I understand it, all these movies were fairly popular commercially speaking, and such I think are useful “texts” to be used for decoding. Now, while watching Dhoom and Bluffmaster (I didn’t watch all of Dhoom 2 but it seems fairly close to the original), I was reminded a bit of Bunty aur Babli, another movie my sister had insisted I watch last year. The similarity being that these movies focused on a couple/group who were running cons/robberies, and where also the moral lines of what defines a hero became somewhat blurry.

Amitabh Bachan did popularize the “angry young man” character type in movies such as Shloay, Deewar and Shakti where his character did stary outside of acceptable social morality. In Sholay he played a thug who lived on the fringes of society and whose definition of morality was questionable. What I find interesting, in the modern Bollywood movies, is the intersection of class with this character type. When you watch the old 70’s Bollywood movies with Amitabh playing the angry male, his character is imbued with signifiers of his position in society. These young angry characters of his were young and angry specifically because of the economic/social climate that existed in India at the time. And, if anything, this character type was a commentary on the lack of opportunity that young men living in urban centers were faced with.While Abhishek’s character in Bunty aur Babli does face a crisis at the start of the movie regarding career choice, his dilemma is more of an existential nature, than one of economic necessity. If anything, the characters of these movies, betray a very urban cosmopolitan finesse, not only in appearance but in acting; as the “Hindi” they speak is sprinkled with a fair number of English words. Of course, I know that what I have described above is common for Hindi films lately, but, what is strange is that the link between class and being the anti-hero has been broken in these new movies. These characters are cunning for the sake of being cunning, not because of social necessity.

At this point I am simply musing, as I have said, that I simply haven’t watched enough Bollywood movies to make do fully educated decoding. But, lines from “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani”, echo in my head:

Toray anaree hay, toray kilaree, (We are a little amateur, and a little tricky)
Ruk ruk kay chaltee hay apnee garee, (and our cars don't go too fast)Humay Pyar ay chahee yea, (We want some love)
or kuch paysay bee, (and also some money)
hum aysay bee hay, (we are like this)
hum hay waysay bee (but we are also like that)
Hum logo ko samaj sako toe, (If you could understand us)
samjo dilbar janee, (then understand us my honey)
Ultee, seedee, jaisay bee hay apnee yahee kahanee, (Wither we are straight or crooked, this is still our story)
Toree humay hosh-yaree hay, toree hay nadanee, (We are a little smart, and also a little childish)
toree humay sachayee hay, toree bay eemanee, (we are a little honest, and also a little dishonest)
Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani (But still our hearts are Hindustani [Indian])

In this song we see the expression of an Indian identity, and identity which glorified, for lack-of-a-better-term Indian cleverness. The song is somewhat of modern interpretation of the classic, “Mera Joota Hai Japani” from Shree 420, in which Raj Kapoor strools across the Indian countryside singing in Charlie Chaplin-esque mode. Interestingly enough, in Shree 420, Kapoor’s treatise on money, happiness and modern India, his character goes through a classic rags-to-riches story again by being a con-man. Again though, his characters descion to be a card-shark and become rich as a result was based on economic necessisty. Whereas in Bunty aur Babli and Bluffmaster, there is no clear connection made between a life of conning and economic need. But returning to an examination of Indian identity, the archetype of an Indian as expressed by Raj Kapoor almost 50 years ago, appears to be someone who is nadan (childish) and hoshar (clever). This made sense when Shree 420 was released, as India was a newly independent state and was allowed to sit at the big-people table. However, the India of today has come a far way, with cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad being IT capitals, and Indian pharmaceutical firms opening head quarters in the Unites States. So, why still evoke this archetype today?

I think that in contrast to North American culture, which really works to stress the Protestant work ethic, Indian culture exemplifies cleverness and shrewdness. I see these new movies exhibiting an anxiety, in terms of trying to reconcile being the underdog rising to the top by any means necessary, with having already risen somewhat to the top and not needing to rely on cleverness. I think the lack of grounding these new movies have in the economic realities of India is indicative of this, with Bluffmaster being a perfect example where Abhishek’s character reliance on conning seems almost habitual; something forced which he can’t help.

I would be interested in getting peoples response on this, to see if they agree or disagree with my analysis. Or, if I get readers from Bharat, who are really experiencing India rather than vicariously through movies as I do, I would really be interested in your feedback.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You go, gay girl!

10:46 PM  

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