Monday Afternoon Questions! Because I forgot to put it up this morning!

Maybe I should make it Tuesday morning questions?  Since I keep forgetting on Monday.  But then I would just forget on Tuesday, and it would turn into Wednesday questions, and then Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday, and back to Monday again!

(if you want to check out the previous posts, they are here and here and here and here)

Questions questions, who has questions!  Ask me anything you want, including something about my personal taste (what’s your favorite song?) or some basic question about the films that’s been puzzling you if you are a newbie (are Sonam and Ranbir Kapoor related?) or some open-ended discussion starter (why are there fewer big dance numbers in movies today than there used to be in the 90s?).

Really, anything at all is a-okay to ask me!  I love these posts, because I love being challenged to think in new ways about new things.

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34 thoughts on “Monday Afternoon Questions! Because I forgot to put it up this morning!

  1. I’m curious with all the recent controversy for ADHM with the Pakistani artist ban — what other movies have been impacted with protests and bans? I think you mentioned My Name Is Khan. What happened around the movie? Was Bombay another one that had protests since it came out so soon after the riots?

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    • There are 3 kinds of ways a movie can be stopped, by protests, by lawsuits, and by the government. Protests are the most exciting, and also most last minute. It happens usually like it is for ADHM, organizations start talking about a boycott, and exhibitors get spooked because they can’t risk physical damage to their buildings.

      My Name is Khan was very similar to this, it was a last minute boycott, the distributors had already paid, the theaters were ready to show the film, and then Shiv Sena announced a boycott on Shahrukh Khan films and there was a last minute scramble to see if it would come out or not. In that case, there was some other political stuff going on, I believe the city/state government at the time was in opposition to Shiv Sena, so it as seen as kind of a test of their power. Also, Dharma Productions was in a much more fragile position, this was a very high profile and expensive film, they truly couldn’t afford a failure (if ADHM only opens in limited areas, that would be hard on them, but they could bounce back more easily now). And the biggest difference was that public opinion, and industry opinion, was much more clearly on the side of the film. The upshot was that Karan and Shahrukh really buckled down and pushed back against the protests, arguing that they had done nothing wrong. And the Bombay police department pushed back to, giving police protection to theaters and helping to convince theater owners to take a risk on the film. But in this case, I don’t see Karan being as willing to go out on a limb in support of his film, the police haven’t been heard from so far as I know, and the theater owners are left high and dry to make their own decisions. Of course, the potential protests are also much less organized, since so far it is primarily the MNS, not Shiv Sena (and without Bal Thackeray, even Shiv Sena isn’t really Shiv Sena any more).

      Bombay was such a big thing, it had to deal with all 3 kinds of protests, governmental and law suits and boycotts. It took forever to get approved by the censor board, there were various interest groups that tried to hold up release, and of course Mani Ratnam’s house was bombed. In the end, it released without incident, partly because, I think, they took the time while the film was going through the censors to pacify all the groups that might object, for instance Amitabh Bachchan personally invited Bal Thackeray to a private viewing of the film and made sure he was happy.

      The other big recent controversy, of a slightly different type, was Vishwaroopam, Kamal Haasan’s film from a few years back. In that case, it was passed by the censors, but various interest groups threatened a protest. And in response, the state government and police stepped in and ordered theaters not to show it. I am sure there was more going on than that, since the southern film industry and politicians are so entwined, the whole “we had to shut it down because interest groups would riot” thing was probably a cover for some reason that the government and police themselves wanted it stopped.

      And then there’s the simple blackmail kind of protests, the last minute police cases against a film for “offending sentiments”. This can be anything from a Barbers union protesting Billa Barber to a Sikh group protesting Son of Sardaar. They file a case, there is a last minute change or apology or payment, and miraculously the case is dropped. In the least cynical version, it is an interest group that needs publicity for their cause and just wants a reason to have their name in the paper. In the most cynical version, it is a group created the week before for the sole purpose of threatening to hinder the release of a film and getting a fat pay out.

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  2. The kissing (lips-to-lips) issue. Was it ever officially banned? Or was it just considered tasteless? Has something changed? Actually, I like the challenge created for the actors and directors to convey the concept without showing the physical touching.

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    • This is surprisingly hard to pin down! I saw someone in an official journal article or something, a citation that the rules changed in 1995. But I haven’t been able to find anything else that supports that.

      Generally, the information I have on the censor board is that it is a very powerful group with little formal rules or restrictions. Yes, for years and years, it was considered “not okay” to have lip-to-lip kisses on films. But whether that was an actual rule or just habit, I don’t know.

      I can tell you that it was done in the early years of film the 20s and 30s. But by the 40s and 50s, it had become almost unheard of (at least in Hindi cinema, I don’t know about other industries). The one firm date I know is the release of Raja Hindustani in November 1996 (hey! 20 years coming up! I should do a retrospective of filmi kisses in it’s honor!). Raja was a big super successful family friendly film, which also had an explicit lip-to-lip kiss by two of the biggest stars of the day. It broke down that barrier, showed that you could have kissing without making the film “dirty” or affecting box office. And that the censors would let it pass.

      Now, the restriction seems to be more a matter of personal feelings on the part of the stars, and what kind of context the kissing is in. A script like Raja Hindustani’s, where it actually was a vital part of the plot to have that kiss and the film wouldn’t have worked without it, and yet the rest of the film is entirely warn and family friendly, is very rare. Most films now that advertise themselves as “kissing” movies are also advertising that they are sexual and for mature audiences. It’s not just the kissing, it’s that kissing represents live-in relationships and bonds based on physical attraction and recreational instead of procreational sex, and all sorts of things like that.

      For the actors, and this kind of makes more sense to me than how we do it in America, an explicit film kiss can just be uncomfortable, because you really are kissing that person. Some married actors, both male and female, who kissed before marriage, no longer do it after marriage. Some actors are never willing to do it. And really, when you start to think about it, I can understand why it makes them uncomfortable, and it kind of starts to make me uncomfortable in the audience. In a sex scene, for instance, we all know they aren’t really having sex, it’s just a lot of sheets being moved around and the characters having sex, not the actors. But in a kissing scene, that’s two people who don’t know each other very well being forced to kiss. It’s just icky!

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      • The censor rules were changed around 1972 or so, allowing kisses and female nudity. The first film with female nudity was Chetna, though according to Wikipedia it released in 1970. I remember it being talked about a lot as the first film that made use of the new censor rules, and it was a commercial release, i.e., not just shown in a film festival (for which censor rules don’t apply). I believe both were not allowed under the censor rules before that, though when the transition occurred is something I’m nor sure of (according to Wikipedia, the Cinematography act was passed in 1952). However, even under the old rules, “fake kissing” was allowed, i.e., the actors were positioned as if kissing, though you only saw the back of the head of one and a part of the face of the other, so no direct view of anyone’s lips. In my view the workarounds they had to avoid showing an actual kiss, but make it clear what was going on, were more vulgar than an outright kiss would have been.

        On your views about how it is for the actors, you practically echo Salman Khan. 🙂

        Did you see a French film called “Blue is the Warmest Color?” It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2013 and had lots of graphic sex. Most of it was quite pointless to me in terms of the story, so I passed the time wondering how the actors would prepare for doing those scenes, how the director would figure out where to place the camera so that the “forbidden bits” didn’t somehow come into view and turn the film into hard core porn territory, etc.

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        • I didn’t see Blue is the Warmest Color, but I’m thinking i didn’t miss much.

          Yeah, when I started watching Indian films it felt really odd to have no kissing. But then after a while, it started feeling odd to see the American films where there is SO MUCH kissing! Why do we just sort of accept it without thinking any more about the actors being forced to kiss for real?

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    • Aw, you’re so nice! The fever’s almost gone, I can kind of breath through my nose again, but my voice sounds like Darth Vadar on a bad day. Or Amitabh in Agneepath, if he couldn’t speak above a whisper. Good news is, since all I could manage was laying in bed drinking orange juice, I was able to watch even more movies than I usually do over the weekend! Stay tuned for reviews of Geetanjali, Alai Payuthay, OK Kanmani (I went on a bit of a Ratnam kick), also Manam and Attarintiki Daredi.

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      • Glad that you’re well. Sad that I’m sick. It really sucks to lie on bed, for hours and hours, with no apparent reason other than “I am weak”. BTW, a diverse range of films. Waiting for the reviews.

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  3. Glad, you feel better!
    Me too! I guess, autumn fun going on almost everywhere. )))

    I was curious about this, but since you’ve already mentioned the question as an example, I’ll simply copy-paste it, “Why are there fewer big dance numbers in movies today than there used to be in the 90s?” Also, speaking about dance numbers of 90s (and earlier), I’ve noticed, although there are plenty of them, it is (at least for me) quite difficult to find something really engaging. I mostly feel like fast-forwarding them. Not to mention, most of them seem out of place. It’s opposite with the films they produce now. I usually like the dance numbers, be it purely items or content-driven, and many of them I can watch on repeat.

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    • Yay, my sample question!

      There are a few reasons for the different dance numbers today and in the past. A big part of this is technical changes. Well into the early 90s, Indian filmmakers were still using the oldschool cameras that were noisy and heavy and hard to move. So dance numbers, and everything else, tended to be filmed in long takes with minimal camera movements. With the switch to lighter weight cameras, suddenly the camera could easily move through the whole space. And, equally important, it became a lot easier to stop the camera every few minutes and then start it up again.

      Back in the day, if you watch those older dances, they are often done in close to a single take. That meant dancers like Vyjantimala or Shammi or whoever had to be absolutely perfect. Or, if they weren’t perfect, they had to do a good cover for it and keep dancing. Essentially, it was the same as a live performance. That’s also, I think, why they sometimes seem so disconnected from the rest of the film. It’s not an intimate experience with the camera moving in and out among the dancers and giving us emotional close-ups of the Stars’ faces, or the Stars trying to stay in character while they dance. It’s a professional dancer focused 100% on not messing up the steps. Rarely, you do find performers who were so good that they were able to both emote and dance at the same time, and directors who were able to create a unique visual without moving the camera (check out Meena Kumari’s numbers in Pakeezah, for instance), but most of the time it just doesn’t have that extra layer we are used to from today’s numbers.

      There’s also the “MTVification” of India. Lots of big think pieces about this, how the arrival of MTV India in the mid-90s changed the way people looked at song sequences. Suddenly it wasn’t just about a beautiful piece of music, or a technically skilled dance performance, it was a whole aesthetic. You had to come up with a tone and a theme for the song, and a color palette and a special setting, and all sorts of things! Farah Khan is especially good at this part of it, if you look at her songs, the movements are good, but what really sets it apart is the bigger concepts. Vaibhavi Merchant is really good at this too.

      And then there’s the “Sesame Street effect”. This is something researchers started noticing in American children raised on Sesame Street. Sesame Street was designed in imitation of “Laugh In”, an American variety TV show for adults which was hugely successful in the 60s-70s. What the makers of Sesame Street took from that was the idea of lots of quick unrelated sketches. A song, a 30 second gag image, a 2 minute comedy sketch, all mixed in together. Kids loved it, Sesame Street was awesome, and we all learned a whole variety of different concepts within one 30 minute show. But a few years later, researchers claimed that children were losing the ability to pay attention to media for more than 20 second spurts. We had been trained from early childhood for short edits and quick changes. If you watch Sesame Street now, really since the early 2000s, they shifted into much longer segments in response to this research.

      So, same thing happened with the arrival of MTV style music videos in India (and the world). Suddenly those old school songs just felt sooooooooooooo sloooooooooooow, because of the lack of edits. Farah Khan in some interview mentions that she cuts a song every 10 to 20 seconds. That’s the standard now, and for the past 20 years or so, everything before then just feels off.

      And then the final difference is in funding. Back in the day, all but the biggest movies were filmed piecemeal, as the producer dug up the money. And dance numbers were usually filmed long before or long after the rest of the film. So if they feel disconnected from the rest of the plot, it’s because they are! Many of the songs were filmed with no idea where they would fit into the finished product, or if they would fit in at all.

      Today, all but the cheapest films are fully funded from the start and songs are planned out well in advance. And if there is one that doesn’t quite fit, the producers will just drop it. I mean, look at Premika from Dilwale or Let’s Nacho from Kapoor & Sons. Rather than have that “wait, what now?” feeling in the audience, they pulled the song altogether for the good of the film as a whole.

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      • Thanks a lot for your answer!

        > So if they feel disconnected from the rest of the plot, it’s because they are!

        Wow! I never would’ve guessed they actually filmed songs in advance without knowing where to put them. I thought every song was a part of a script and assumed the “out of place” feeling was mostly a fault of scriptwriting. So the problem leads us back to financing.

        Oh, and I should watch this Let’s Nacho song, I like The Kapoor & Sons a lot.

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        • If you liked Kapoor & Sons, you may not want to seek out “Let’s Nacho”. They were probably wise to cut it at the last minute, it really doesn’t fit with the feel of the rest of the movie. Although, it is a fun catch song with Siddharth and Alia and Fawad, so if that’s all you want, go for it!

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          • From what I remember, Let’s Nacho was added on to the end credits but that’s basically the same thing as cutting it from the movie.

            How do you feel about these songs being made or remixed just to use as promotional material without an actual place in the storyline. For example Let’s Nacho, Thukur Thukur (Dilwale), Kaala Chashma, Saturday Saturday (HSKD) are just songs that are used to promote the movie and then they are just added to the end credits of the movie.

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          • I’m fine with the promotional-only song trend. The really good ones do a nice job of encapsulating the whole feel of the film, but at the same time are too unusual to fit well within the narrative. Something like Lungi dance or Right Here Right Now or Sharaabi is perfect for the feel of the film, but I wouldn’t want the movie to have stopped dead to make time for it. Much better to make it as a related but standalone piece of art.

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        • Yeah, I agree that there are some movies where having a promotional song doesn’t ruin the mood of the movie. Lungi Dance in Chennai express would make total sense. Doesn’t it bother you when the song randomly shows up at the end and totally disturbs the mood of the movie such as in Kapoor and Sons or in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania. I love listening to Saturday Saturday but I make sure to end HSKD before the song shows up.

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  4. Did Karan Johar ever have the idea of casting Abhishek Bachchan in Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham? Did he approach Abhishek or was Hrithik chosen because he was a star?

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    • I wouldn’t be surprised if Abhishek was considered. He had just been launched opposite Kareena in Refugee, and they had a good personal equation at the time because he was engaged to her sister.

      But Hrithik was a bigger star, and there was a lot of talk about him “taking down” Shahrukh at the time, so putting him in a film with Shahrukh was a brilliant move. Plus, he was filming another movie with Kareena at the same time (Yaadein, which came out a few months before K3G), so it was probably easy to coordinate them as a pair.

      Plus, it really might not have been the best idea for Abhishek at that point in his career, I don’t think he could have gone up against Shahrukh and made an impression at that point, it would have just been kind of embarrassing.

      I know Abhishek did make a friendly appearance, which ended up being cut (you can see it in the deleted scenes of the DVD), and now I am trying to remember if Karan made some comment about considering Abhishek at one point when he introduced that sequence. Maybe? I mean, if nothing else, when you cast Jaya and Amitabh as husband and wife, the thought of “what if their son played their son?” has to have entered his mind at some point.

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  5. And one more from me, ’cause it’s almost a week till next Monday. )

    How do such films as Margarita With a Straw, Ship of Theseus, Parched survive?
    These are Indian films (and great films they are), but it seems they do not release in India until a big celebrity backs them. Like Aamir and Kiran promoted or maybe distributed (I am not sure about the level of their involvement) Margarita With a Straw and Ship of Theseus). Also, Ajay Devgn produced Parched, but it’s been a year since the film released abroad, and only now it is coming to India. Why is it so? And do such films mostly collect from foreign markets?

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    • I’m gonna back up and give you some historic context. Indian film has always had what is called “parallel” cinema. There’s the mainstream movies people actually watch, and then there’s the documentaries and art films that play in foreign festivals and occasionally on Indian TV.

      The “parallel” film industry has benefited from state support. Going all the way back to the 1950s, at the same time that mainstream classics were getting taxed at crazy rates, scrabbling for money from the mafia, and forbidden from having their songs played on Indian national radio, the “Film Finance Corporation”, under the supervision of the ministry of communication, was funding documentaries, social dramas, classical music films, anything they deemed “worthy”. And using all their might to encourage these films to succeed. For instance, in Barnouw and Krishnamurthy’s history of Indian film, they talk about how the FFC forced movie theaters to show their films, and to show them at prime viewing time, like the 8pm show. And they STILL couldn’t sell tickets! People would rather skip a movie altogether, than suffer through some artsy FFC sponsored thing.

      The FFC was re-organized as the “National Film Development Corporation of India” in the 1975, and it did better after that. Especially in the 80s, a lot of NFDC films are true classics. But they still tended to attract more the educated audience, and the festival audience, than the Indian common man.

      So, that’s the situation in India. In the minds of the public, and a lot of people in the film industry, there is a firm line between the movies that are “good for you” which the State is trying to force down your throat, and the movies that you actually want to watch. There’s a similar divide in a lot of countries with state-sponsored film industries, only usually the choice is between Hollywood (or Indian) films and their local productions, not between two different flavors of local, one popular and one not.

      Now, so far as I know the NFDC wasn’t directly involved in those particular films you mention. But they come out of that tradition, the idea that parallel films are “better” than the mainstream movies. So audiences are a little extra skittish. But, conversely, some industry players are a little eager. People like Ajay Devgn, Anurag Kashyap, they like the cachet that comes with these “respectable” films. For Parched in particular, Ajay is heavily involved in “Save the Girl Child” campaigns, and I could believe the topic sincerely spoke to him.

      The exhibitors though, they don’t care about the quality of a movie, they just want to sell tickets. And they really really need to sell a lot of tickets. In America, these kinds of arty film festival movies usually play in one or two tiny art theaters in every major city. I’ve gone to these shows, and it’s usually about 20 people crowded into a tiny theater, while the big 200 seat theater next door plays the latest superhero movie to a sold out audience. This is the luxury of having multiple screens of varying sizes in a theater complex. If I am running a single-screen theater in India, I need to sell 300 tickets for every show, I can’t afford to play some strange arty thing that only a few dozen people will want to see.

      Generally, these arty films from India do about the same as any film like them would from anywhere. Do well on the festival circuit, get good reviews, maybe get picked up by Netflix or HBO or some small distributor. They find their (very) small market, at least overseas. The only problem is that kind of market legitimately doesn’t exist in India. There are few film festivals, there are few art theaters, even streaming isn’t that easy. It’s partly a matter of audience disinterest, but more than that, it’s a matter of access. If India gets a large number of multiplex theaters that can afford one tiny 20 seat screen for an art film, if it gets high speed internet and the legitimate streaming sites that might come with it, if it gets a healthy film festival circuit, than this movies might be able to play in India at the same time as the rest of the world, instead of waiting for the one little annual film festival to open.

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      • I saw “Manthan” in a little screening room at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1970s. It was about “rural empowerment” and fits your parallel film industry description perfectly. But it was a fun film to watch nonetheless. I love the music and has some great acting. I can’t find a version with subtitles, but here it is.

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      • Oh, interesting!
        Didn’t know these kind of films were promoted and funded by the ministry itself.
        But, yes, it’s rather not possible to pull the crowd into cinema halls unless there is no genuine interest.
        Also, I guess, these films usually have quite a limited budget, and cannot afford massive promotional campaigns to generate public interest.

        Thanks a lot for your answer!

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