We laughed when a Hindi voice yelled, ‘Bhaago badee Chhipkali aa rahee hai!’ and little did we think Jurassic Park in Hindi was a foot in the door for bigger things to come. In 2009, a really brainless CGI based disaster movie called 2012 put the fear of God in small town Andhra Pradesh (Yugaantham it was called) and all across India. And we still think that we are the biggest and the best film producing nation. Our arrogance has reached a point where we make mindless comedies, announce to the press that you don’t give a damn about critics, have sponsored ‘success’ parties for movies that don’t make it beyond the weekend, we even tweet congratulatory messages to each other patting one another for having made a fabulous film.
But the whole world is watching. The Indian audience is not dumb. I loved the Hindi version of Avatar and there are kids who swear Night At The Museum in Hindi is far better than the original. And before you know it, the distributors are going to catch on. They’re going to realise they would rather deal with John Cusack saving the world than paying for comedy like De Dana Dan (or any other movie of that ilk). When Hollywood was beyond reach it was okay to ignore it, but now, dubbed in local languages there is serious competition to our films.
Roger Ebert catalogues and witnesses in his journal, the birth of the Indie reviewer ages ago. Today sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes will take you to these reviews without blinking an eyelash. The Indie reviewer found a footing because the reviews that appear in the newspaper and magazine serve an agenda of sorts. The politics of the newspaper dictates the arts and the entertainment pages, and the cinema critic learns to skewer a film according to the powers that be. Magazines cover up by pointing to a bullet point in the style file, which maybe a simple thing such as why tell people about bad movies, let’s only review good or almost good ones. Well, it is never this clear, but you know where we are headed when a reviewer has to consider the fact that the star has deigned to appear on the cover and the review inside regales the readers of his inability to emote. (FYI, that’s just an example.)
There is need to talk about cinema, to offer an informed comment on the movies of our times. Independent sites are beginning to show up on the net (passionforcinema and filmimpressions are two such examples). This is a small step towards changing the face of our cinema. Our filmmakers cannot simply take a scene from one movie, bung in a character from another and create a mish-mash and pass it off as original any more. No matter how giant the stars are, or how pretty their clothes, the audience is not going to be taken in. Professional reviewers are recognising that their reviews are now competing against those written by independent bloggers, and are working harder towards telling it as they see it. To ignore Indie bloggers would be a mistake because they have a huge fan following, they are opinionated and informed and will sway the public. Filmmakers are already wooing an audience via social networking sites and it is a beginning of sorts towards a different kind of movie business.
Twitter too has emerged a force to be reckoned with. Stars who tweet are already being asked not to tweet about the day’s shoot. Editors are asking reviewers to hold on to their tweets at least until late Thursday night to give movies a fair chance at the box office. And after the first show, fans are tweeting their opinions to the stars directly. Imagine, by the time you read this in print, 140 character reviews would have already asked Gurinder Chadha to rethink her cinema, and would have pushed movie execs to have Iron Man 2 dubbed and released in local languages in small towns India.
(Manisha Lakhe studied filmmaking at the Northwest Film Center in Portland OR, and is a demented watcher of movies. She reviews films at www.filmimpressions.com. Her book The Betelnut Killers has just been published by Randomhouse)