Hindi cinema is increasingly mirroring real life, which doesn’t always serve up happy endings. Is the audience okay with stories that have unconventional climaxes?
There was a time when Bollywood films had predictable endings, and there wasn’t much to choose from. Hindi films ended either on a happy or a tragic note. Either way, the audience always left the auditorium with a sense of closure. Not any more. But that’s a good thing. With the changing content that is being served to the audience today, we are seeing a more realistic approach to the way stories are knitted together – and end – in our cinema.
In other words, nowadays, there’s life in the story even after ‘The End’. Take the following recent releases that had unconventional endings: Tanu Weds Manu Returns, where we see the couple fighting again at the climax; Dil Dhadakne Do, where the family doesn’t completely resolve their differences; and Piku, where the romance between Irrfan and Deepika Padukone is suggested but doesn’t blossom.
Are open endings a form of retrospection or are filmmakers leaving the field open for a sequel? Better still, are Hindi films playing to the intelligence of movie-goers by inviting them to fill in the blanks at this crucial point in the story?
The questions we are asking this week are: is it a new trend to leave an open ending? Why and how did Bollywood start adopting this approach? Has Bollywood started mirroring life, leaving no room for happily ever afters? And the most crucial question is: is the audience prepared to accept real in reel?
Here’s what the experts have to say…
Films have started mirroring the lives we lead and, in life, there are no fairytale endings or happily ever after scenarios. Life is full of possibilities and surprises, and that is one reason we have open endings these days. The point where we leave the audience is an art. It has to be just right and leave the audience satisfied rather than being ad hoc. The other reason is to keep one strand of the story untied because it leaves the filmmakers and writers an idea to explore if they want to take the story forward. However, open endings should not leave the audience underwhelmed but with a feeling of intrigue, which then develops into positive word-of-mouth.
The audience no longer expects a formulaic ending; rather, they are open to new ideas and concepts at every level, including endings. They enjoy or accept these films as a whole, not only because of their open or closed endings. Let’s look at the first half of 2015. All the films that dominated the box office were at least a little unconventional, if not completely unconventional. We have seen things changing during the last 5-6 years. This trend will continue to grow and soon these films will be a significant contributor to the overall box office.
Open endings are not a new trend but since cinema is getting more and more realistic, we will be seeing more open endings as they mirror real life. The other reason is that more sequels are being made. So, leaving an open end keeps the prospects for a sequel alive.
Good stories have always had unconventional endings. In Bawarchi, Rajesh Khanna goes away in the end. So if you have a great script, a writer might not always end up with a happy ending. Also, many a time, makers shoot multi-endings and then decide on one. You can always leave the rest to the audience’s imagination. In that way, they also keep thinking about it. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, the husband and wife don’t separate, so it’s a happy ending but everyone feels sad for Kusum.
We see unconventional endings these days because we have some great writers. I can proudly say that we are making films during the best time ever as scripts are being given importance. Directors are looking for stories which have never been told before. So, for instance, you might see Delhi as a city in ten different films but each one shows Delhi from their own unique point of view. Also, stories are being researched and portrayed in a very real way. So endings have to be real as we know that in real life, we don’t always have happy endings.
The audience has evolved over the years and, now, everything moves according to the story and screenplay. There are no happy or tragic endings because it’s all about how much the audience connects to the story. Everything has to sync… how a film starts, the intermission point and the ending. ABCD 2 was about a dance group going to abroad and attending a competition, and even though they didn’t win, the audience accepted it. There is no fixed formula for a film to work today. As a writer, I have to look for fresh ideas and fresh plots.
Today, the story is more important than anything else. When someone decides to make a film, it’s the story that people look at first. And with every film, the story needs to be unique. That’s why we have films like Tanu Weds Manu Returns, where everyone sympathises with the other girl in the end. In Piku, you wonder whether they (Deepika Padukone and Irrfan) are dating or are just friends. Similarly, who ever dreamt that a girl would go on her honeymoon alone (Queen)! So the story needs to connect with the audience. We see more unconventional endings because we are now showing more of the truth.
Earlier, audiences were not exposed to world cinema but, now, when you pick up an idea from another film, the audience knows exactly where you lifted it from. Today, we are trying to make original, rooted cinema. A story needs to connect with the audience and it can connect through various emotions. If you’re trying to make the audience laugh, they should laugh, if you want to make them cry, they should cry, and if that happens then you’ve achieved what you set out to do.
Times have changed and our audiences have evolved over the years. Today, you can’t dish out trash. You can’t repeat formulaic films, even if they feature big stars. Our industry is very typecast although it is changing slowly. There was a time when only remakes were working; there was a time when slapstick comedies were working; and, at one point, only DVDs used to work. At the end of the day, you were forced to write what sold in the market. But, today, our cinema is being watched worldwide and our audiences have evolved, so one has to keep creating new stories. Now that remakes have stopped working, no one is buying the rights to films any more. Everyone is looking for small-budget, concept-driven cinema.
By leaving a lot unsaid, filmmakers are giving the audience the leeway to interpret the film their own way. Subtlety has never really been associated with our films but the current trend of leaving a few unanswered questions is a good thing. I don’t think these are unresolved endings. ABCD 2 was not about winning the contest. Dil Dhadakne Do was not about becoming the perfect family. Piku was not about Deepika and Irfan’s romance. These are things that are hinted at, even driven toward, but they are not what the story needs for resolution, which means these films are focused on character arcs, which is good. I think this is a good trend and I hope it continues. We don’t always need to spoon-feed the audience.
To this I personally feel the trend has changed where still there are films which have a perfect happy ending, but there are also films like these which do not have a rather happy ending or those which have an open ending, there are two reasons for this, firstly the cine goers in the recent 5-6 years have completely evolved, and as long as these films are accepted by them its okay, the second one being there are a lot of sequels being made, so the films that have an open end are comparatively easier to be continued as a chain.
On a lighter note, the famous SRK dialogue from Om Shanti Om “Hamari filmo ki tarah, hamari zindagi mein bhi end tak sab kuch thik hi ho jaata hai … happy’s ending” is not true anymore.
The line between conventional and unconventional has become way too thin for people to analyse which film falls on which side of the divide. The only point of distinction between films is successful and unsuccessful, which is determined by the return on investment. The so-called mainstream, conventional Action Jackson failed to do much at the box office, but on the other hand, a film like Drishyam, which is not your run-of-the-mill flick, did well over a period of weeks. The audience wants variety in films just like consumers want variety in everything, ranging from food, to beverages, gadgets etc. So as long as good, engaging films of all sorts are served to them, they will lap them up.
Yes, it’s a new and interesting trend and the reason is simple – audiences today are mature. Instead of putting it together for them, it is intriguing to let the audience create their own perspective. It makes the film look crisp, mature and trendy. It defies the age-old pattern of explaining everything under the sun in three hours. It’s better to shorten the length and leave something for audience to ponder. It all started with the parallel film movement in the late ’70s, where Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai and Party and Paar were talking points owing to their thought-provoking, open endings. This new trend caters to a more mature audience and is very encouraging.
Movies with unconventional endings are my favourites. It is an old trend and has returned to Hindi cinema. For example, the movie Arth (starring Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil) had a very unconventional ending, where Shabana Azmi refuses to marry Raj Kiran on the ground that she had found new meaning to life. Even the movie Khoon Bhari Maang does not reveal whether Shatrughan Sinha and Rekha actually get together or not, in the end. The trend of abrupt endings recently returned, with the critically acclaimed movie The Lunchbox. The trend is already prevalent in Hollywood, especially with Christopher Nolan’s style of films like Inception and Interstellar. New directors nowadays want to experiment with interesting stories and concepts, and by keeping the end open, they like to challenge the audience to use their intellect and judgment. This trend is here to stay.
Tastes and expectations of the audience are varied, and directors are experimenting with different and unique responses. It is clear that these movies are appreciated and also perform well at the box office. Movies with unconventional endings also leave the potential for sequels.
Yes audiences have started accepting unconventional endings because they are getting something new. They are prepared to accept anything they can relate to through the characters, script and dialogue. Earlier, Hindi films had just two kinds of endings – happy or tragic – but that’s changing. But I must point out that every unconventional ending hasn’t worked; it has to be convincing. Keeping the climaxes open also helps because if a film works at the box office, the producers can think of making a sequel.
Unconventional ending is nothing new in our films it has been happening since very long. It is always a good idea to leave the film at a point where the audiences keep thinking about it so that they take away a thought from the film. But in ‘90s and 2000 we didn’t much of such films as DVD rip off and remakes were the films which were working. But from past few years industry has grown and changed. Today we look for good concept films and good stories. As a result again we can see films which have unconventional ending. Also today films are based on true life so writers are showing the reality more.
Another reason could be it is always a good idea to have an open ending which gives the audinece a window to expect a sequel which is kind of a new trend in our industry.