Every few years scientists rediscover that learning more languages staves off dementia. One can only presume that these scientists are monolingual and demented enough to forget that someone from their field has posited the theory before.
That’s a loaded metaphor where my film-reviewing experience of 2013 is concerned.
For one, I know the scientists are wrong. For the first two decades of my life, I didn’t understand Hindi-Urdu. I was thrown into Delhi, where not knowing the word for ‘pickle’ got me a ripe mango, a glass of water, a hand mirror, a plate, masala, oil, dahi chaawal and the address of a hotel that served aloo paratha from my landlords. Several months later, I watched Jodhaa Akbar, the first Bollywood film I understood without subtitles. It left me mourning the loss of several millions of my brain cells.
Secondly, like the scientists in question, Bollywood spent 2013 remaking films from thirty years ago, and producing sequels to mindless hits. Now, this is the formula for a Bollywood sequel – retain the hero, make him play a double role as his own son, find a new heroine, find a new villain to replace the one that died last time round, and retain the story.
Chashme Baddoor, Ali Zafar’s third outing in Bollywood, was a lesson in how to ruin an enduring romance. 1981’s Chashme Buddoor, which starred Farooque Sheikh and Deepti Naval, was a delightful romantic comedy that spoke to people long after its release. Its remake was crass, loud, and something of a flop.
It’s bad enough when a good film is ruined in the remake factory. But it’s worse when a bad film is foisted upon a new audience. Himmatwala introduced the generation that was born after Jeetendra’s dancing-in-red-shiny-tights and Sridevi’s grinding-in-black-tiny-shorts days to one of the grand stinks of the 1980s – an odour that was reinforced by Ajay Devgn’s outing this year.
Then, there were the twos and threes – Dabangg 2, Race 2, Murder 3, Dhoom 3 – and one in between: Krrish 3 was the sequel to Krrish. Krrish 2 went AWOL, and the world is better off for it. Not all sequels are awful – for every Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobara, there’s a Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster Returns. But the hawa of 2013 hit the usually reliable Tigmanshu Dhulia as well – he directed his worst film ever, Bullett Raja, featuring a miscast Saif Ali Khan and a misspelt brand of motorcycle.
Most films I watched this year weren’t worth the paper their tickets were printed on, but there were some weekends that I didn’t regret. Among the movies I liked were the unstintingly dark B A Pass, the enjoyable The Lunchbox, and the hilarious Special 26. And I managed to catch some lovely films at independent festivals – one that may come to screens in earl 2014 is Filmistaan, a story which explores the filmy link between India and Pakistan.
[quote]The audience will pay to leave its brains at home and watch three hours of rubbish[/quote]
It was also the year two women directors – Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair – whose crossover films are often spoken of in the same breath, unfairly if you ask me, brought out movies. Mehta ruined one of my favourite novels, Midnight’s Children, with a screen version that might as well have been titled A Trip Through Subcontinental Exotica, for the Curious but Impatient Westerner. Some of Rushdie’s funniest lines and best writing fell flat as ‘My Piece of the Moon’ became the mundane ‘Chand ka tukda’, the hairy Padma disappeared from Saleem Sinai’s life, and Parvati the Witch fell victim to Shriya Saran’s insipidity. Mira Nair’s version of The Reluctant Fundamentalist left me with mixed feelings. What I liked about Mohsin Hamid’s book is that we weren’t quite sure what was going on, and we knew we couldn’t really trust the narrator Changez – that he wasn’t letting us in to the extent he claimed he was. Nair stripped off much of the mystery, and Riz Ahmed made Changez very likeable. Well, we also felt sorry for him because he ended up acting opposite a cougar instead of a pretty blonde. But, forget the book and the film works on its own merit.
Bollywood’s 2013 was a mixed bag. However, what disappoints me is that the biggest hits of the year are among its worst made films, such as Chennai Express, Dhoom 3, and Ram Leela. There are other films that are successful because of whom they are about, like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The fact that these films have raked in the moolah will reinforce the idea that the audience will pay to leave its brains at home and watch three hours of rubbish. To me, 2013 was a year during which Bollywood lowered its standards by several notches.