December 13, 2009

INDIA: Indian Cinema Comes of Age

. KARACHI, Pakistan / / Art & Culture / December 13, 2009 By Surekha Kadapa-Bose No doubt the song-dance-melodrama films are still the main staple of the industry but these are getting interspersed with well-made, fun-filled wholesome entertainment stuff with problems encountered in the real world. — File photo As a young kid I remember visiting my father’s friend’s home and the family talking in very hushed tones about one of their sons. He was not brought out to meet us. As a six-year-old kid I was very curious. On the pretext of washing my hands, one day I ventured into the neighbouring room and found a very tall, handsome boy sitting quietly playing with some toys. We both exchanged smiles, and for fear of being caught I came out. The boy followed me out. His scientist parents were apprehensive about our reaction but after realising that we were fine with his presence they allowed him to sit and play with me. Though his physical age was 17, his mental age was just three. That was in the mid-1960s. Cut to 2009. My friend Geeta has a 20-year-old daughter Trupti who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. But Geeta has never hidden her away. From the day her affliction was discovered in 1992, Trupti was made to mix with all of us and lead a socially interactive life. Indian society has matured and this is now getting reflected in the film industry. The Indian film industry, which had so far shied away from showing any form of disabilities, especially neurological or genetic, has suddenly come of age. No doubt the song-dance-melodrama films are still the main staple of the industry but these are getting interspersed with well-made, fun-filled wholesome entertainment stuff with problems encountered in the real world. Hitherto it was taken for granted that only Hollywood film-makers could take risks of making such films. In that industry there is a long list of movies — One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Children of a Lesser God, My Left Foot, Rain Man, A Beautiful Mind and several others. Today’s Indian mainstream films too can boast of having made such films, which have been commercially successful with big star casts acting the main protagonists and without resorting to melodrama nor sounding like a documentary. Maybe the credit of starting this momentum should be given to Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the film Black, where his both central characters played by Rani Mukherjee and Amitabh Bachchan had disabilities — Rani was dumb, deaf and blind whereas Bachchan towards the end suffered from Alzheimer’s. The film and the actors went on to win several awards. This was followed by another highly successful film — Taare Zameen Par dealing with dyslexia. Aamir Khan’s home production had a heart-wrenching story of both parents’ and teachers’ inability of understanding or accepting the child’s disabilities. The film heralded a spate of articles, programmes on dyslexia and had parents with such children come forward to talk about their experiences. Then came the Kajol-Ajay Devgan starrer, U, Me Aur Hum, where Kajol’s character suffered from Alzheimer’s. Though the film was not as commercially successful as the others, the superb acting by Kajol got a huge round of applause and even in remote towns of India Alzheimer’s started getting accepted as an ailment. The film Bhool Bhulaiyaan, which dealt with multiple personality disorder, had Akshay Kumar’s psychiatrist treating Vidya Balan troubled by multiple personalities disorders. This film drew a huge crowd but then it was a real entertainment film. The latest to hit the screen is Paa, a A.B. Corp film directed by R.Balki of Cheeni Kum fame, where Amitabh Bachchan’s character suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as progeria in which children start aging five to six times faster. That means a 10-year-old child will have the appearance of a 50- or 60-year-old, and generally doesn’t live beyond the age of 12 or 13. Bachchan senior plays the afflicted child Auro. And his son Abhishek Bachchan plays his reel father. ‘Don’t make a mistake. Paa is a fun-filled family film where a highly intelligent child is afflicted by progeria. We neither wanted to make a documentary or a socially relevant film. We wanted to just show a beautiful father-son and family relationship with slightly difficult circumstances without resorting to too much of a melodrama,’ said Abhishek in one of the interviews talking about the film. That is the plus points of these films. There are moments of poignancy but they don’t make you go for that handkerchief. Especially Balki whose forte in dialogues writing is superb and he has stars whose timing of delivering their lines are so perfect that the film is transferred to a different level. Ten minutes into Paa and I forgot that I was watching the 67-year-old Amitabh acting a 12-year-old teenager. He acts like any other audacious teenager who likes to have his own way, but with the safety of his family as his anchor. A new entrant to Indian films will never know that Abhishek with his absolutely controlled acting in reality is Amitabh’s son. His reaction to the young Auro is of any indulgent father. In one of those innumerable interviews that the father-son duo has been giving after the success of the film, Bachchan Sr. said, ‘We are actors put together in a story of a make-believe world. The film shows the relationship between the father and son in a unique way.’ Though 2009 may end with Paa, the new-year promises many more films with such afflictions forming the story background. The first of the lot to hit the screen will be Karan Johar’s directorial film starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, My Name is Khan. Shah Rukh known for his romantic hits plays a man with Asperger’s syndrome. The main story is about the treatment of Muslims in the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Actor-turned-director Nana Patekar too has taken up similar subject where he is a launching his son who in the film suffers from autism. So more and more people are jumping on this bandwagon of showcasing realistic story lines, and fortunately as audiences too have matured these Indian films with bankable actors are becoming commercially successful also. One of the reasons why such films are being accepted and are making moollah is that both the directors and actors concerned do their homework well, do a lot of research and conduct workshops with actors to train them in the correct mannerisms of the afflicted persons with the result the films don’t look foolhardy. The characters don’t caricature the role but actually appear to be living it. And therein lies the new mantra of the maturity of Indian films. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- KARACHI, Pakistan / / Art & Culture / December 10, 2009 'Paa' strikes a win at the box office By Shahrezad Samiuddin Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, 67, arrives at the opening of the 6th Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in Dubai December 9, 2009. – Reuters ABCL, Amitabh Bachchan’s production house has been the source of plenty of woes for the legendary actor. The production house had been in the dock after it released such non-starters as Aks and Major Saab and backed a Miss World beauty pageant. The recent release of 'Paa', may be about to change all that. Made on a shoestring budget (by Bollywood standards) of Rs. 15 crore (Rs. 150 million ) and relying mainly on word of mouth for marketing, this film is about an unconventional topic. The star of the film is Amitabh 67 who plays a 13-year-old child called Auro who suffers from Progeria, a genetic disorder that causes him to age rapidly. According to the Mumbai Mirror, the film recovered its money in the first three days. 'The film would have earned much higher but the opening of the film was lukewarm because of the subject. However, the movie picked by Saturday evening onwards and had almost 95 per cent occupancy,' said Ashish Saxena, COO, Big Cinemas. This was mainly because of the buzz created by Amitabh Bachchan’s acting and the fact that his real-life son Abhishek was cast as his father in the film. Playing Auro was not easy. The elder Bachchan, had to wear over eight pieces of specially crafted clay pieces for the role. Amitabh talked about the experience while speaking to Entertainment Daily 'I was quite pampered on the sets. Actually they (unit members) were more worried about the makeup as it was very tedious. I used to have a lot of problem in breathing, eating and used to feel itchy - but everyone was extremely courteous. 'I couldn’t eat properly, couldn’t speak and liquid supplies were given to me using straws. Everyone was quite nice to me and pampered me,' he said. The film has also done relatively well in small towns around India where tastes veer more towards the conventional and the feelgood that has come to signify Bollywood.[rc] ©2009 DAWN Media Group