I put up the exhaustive list of all the Editorials of 2017 two weeks ago, and there were a fair number of comments, all of which mentioned the same few posts. So, as a final vote, just for fun, I am going to list all of these and you can only pick one. And as a reminder, I have a little excerpt from each of them listed. So you can make an informed decision on this VERY VERY IMPORTANT topic.
In no particular order, here are the posts that have been nominated so far:
But what Hrithik is trying to explain in this interview is that, for him and for the film industry, that WAS work. As the star of the film, he had to make sure everyone was happy and comfortable (we’ve all heard the same stories about every other star, it’s part of their job to keep the set moving smoothly). The job didn’t end at the end of the day, hanging out at the hotel together, that was still a work event. And inviting for large parties, that’s part of the job too. You are supposed to build and confirm connections at these sorts of events, to not invite a former co-star in a major film would be a serious professional insult. It meant nothing to him, it was not intended to send any signal, and Kangana trying to point to it as proof just shows that she is unaware of how things work.
But none of this really matters. What became increasingly clear in this interview, and has already been kind of clear from the released emails, is that Kangana has an illness. It sounds like she has something called “erotomania”, which was first described in a paper by a psychiatrist in 1921. And it matches exactly what Hrithik is describing and what Kangana herself is doing, and what was written in the emails.
Now, in America, no biggie, right? It’s all just pretty colors and drama, let’s enjoy this as escapism. But, in America, if someone said to you “violent Hindu fundamentalism” or “oppressed abused Hindu wives”, would this film cause you to have that moment of “oh no, but they are so pretty and noble!”? And if someone said to you “oppressed Muslim Indian minority”, would this cause you to have a moment of “really? Or are they dangerous attackers who need to be removed? Are they even Indian really?”
So no, it is not just a movie. It is a reinforcement of dangerous cultural assumptions that have actual violent day to day results. I can’t speak to the Indian part of things, because I am not Indian, but obviously it can have a more dangerous effect in the country that it is actually portraying than it will overseas.
The first collaborator you look for is your star. That first meeting with a star can take 6 to 10 hours. You narrate your film in great detail (the star already knows generally what it is about, otherwise they wouldn’t take this meeting). And the star gives you notes.
Not like star tantrum notes. Like a really good editor looking at your first draft kind of notes. Saying, “expand this part, cut this part, change the tone to this other thing and it will work better.” This is what a star does, this is why you want a star. They have years of experience in the industry and they are supposed to know these things. That’s how they became and stayed stars.
It’s not just the big names like the Khans and Akshay and Ajay who will do this. Shahid Kapoor, John Abraham, anyone who has reached the level of being the main lead in a film, they are expected to be able to take these kinds of meetings and provide good advice. And you want this advice, it is invaluable to you as a filmmaker, you do not mind following it.
This goes back to the very first filmmaker in India, Dadasaheb Phalke. He fell in love with film and was determined to make his own. So he traveled all the way to England to buy a camera, since it could not be imported. And he trained his wife and children as his film crew, since no one else was willing to take a risk on this new business. The whole family worked together for years, partly because it was cheaper to use his children and wife as crew than hire someone, and partly because it never would have occurred to them to do anything different. Would you expect a grocer’s wife not to help take inventory or a grocer’s son not to work behind the counter? Of course not! If it is a family business, it means the whole family works together, lives together, eats together, and there is no division, no “work” and “home”.
After Independence, while other industries in India slowly began to move away from the “family” model, film lagged behind. Because there was no other choice, the new Indian government was censoring and hindering it almost as much as the British had. You still couldn’t get funding for a movie (unless you went to the mob, which I will get into in a second part), and it was still hard to find people willing to work with you.
It’s exhausting! And it just gets harder year by year. Because there are always new actresses coming up and looking for the good roles, new opportunities for you to offend the wrong person, new chances for a film to flop. And the longer you are on top, the more you become a target, the one who will get headlines for anyone who goes against you. Not to mention that, as an actress, your career has a built in timeline. It used to be 14-24, now it is more like 19-30, but it is still a very short career. And trying to break that 30 barrier, that is very very hard (check out my women in film post for more on that).
And so moving on to the 3rd phase, “Marriage”, is just the wise thing to do at a certain point. “Marriage” means you are announcing to the world, “my career is no longer in high gear, I have chosen to move away from fame and power”. You become sort of a “star Emeritus”. You are invited to all the big events, and occasionally people pay tribute to you. Reporters fawn over you and complement you. Everyone gets sentimentally excited on those rare occasions when you appear onscreen.
Hindi film began in 1913, but it had a struggling and difficult beginning because of the challenges of being an industry in a colonized country. Not a lot of money and resources available. And so genres and styles and so on didn’t really start flourishing until 1947.
And right at the start of that period, the crime drama began! The early king of crime was Dev Anand. Dev played the slick and cosmopolitan detective. CIDwas one of his earliest triumphs, due more to the brilliant direction by Guru Dutt than by the acting of Dev Anand.
I know, that sounds like blasphemy, because I always believe the star is dominant over the director in authorship of the finished film. But this is Guru Dutt! The master of light and shadow, the pivotal artistic element of film noir (noir=black). And also just a genius writer, came up with a great plot with characters filled with believable internal conflicts and memorable moments and so on.
This is something you may sense while watching a film, but it is hard to see or fully understand until you think more about it. What is easy to see is those one moments that suddenly make you go “nope, can’t enjoy this movie any more!” And you have a right to those moments! Everyone has that, the one thing that suddenly breaks the fantasy and pulls them out. If it is Kajol’s tomboy makeover in Kuch Kuch, or the stalking song in, well, anything, that suddenly turns you off, that is your right as a viewer, and a reaction worthy of discussion. But it is not your right as a film critic to dismiss an entire movie based on that one element. Acknowledge it, certainly. Discuss why it bothered you, absolutely. But discuss the rest of the film as well.
Calling a whole film “feminist” or “anti-feminist” isn’t something you can say based on that one moment, one element. You can’t just looking at Dangal and saying “woman succeeding in a man’s world-good! Feminist!” Or looking at Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and saying “tomboy gets a makeover-bad! Anti-feminist!” You have to dig deeper, ask real questions, have a real discussion.
And there are the filmmakers, and other intelligent people, who are perfectly aware of this pattern and how hypocritical it is and are just clenching their teeth and trying to swim through the sewage of it. They are to some degree also victims, but at least they have a tad more control, they can speak up and be heard, make moves for their own defence, and so on and so on, instead of just reading the news and hoping it turns out they way they want.
And finally, there is the group that we hear from the most, the group that I find most unpleasant. The bullies, the ones who get their kicks from feeling they are in the right, they are justified in their anger. And the ones who refuse to, or are not capable of, thinking beyond the inane talking points vomited into their mouths by immoral leaders benefiting from these toxic lies. Which brings me to Padmavati! Which I will use as my first case study for how this, the “Big Lie” of propaganda, works.
In this case, the “big lie” is: Padmavati is history. It is NOT history!!!!! I already went over this in my last post, but it bears repeating. The objections to the film revolve around the depiction of Rani Padmavati not being historically accurate. There is no way to make it historically accurate, because the very existence of Rani Padmavati does not hold up to scrutiny, cannot be accepted as fact. It may or may not be true, it may or may not have happened exactly as Bhansali chooses to show it. There is no possible justification for an argument as to historical accuracy one way or the other.
I am a Shahrukh Khan fan, I love him for all these reasons. But that doesn’t mean everyone else has to love him, or will love him. Maybe you look for a different kind of patriotism, or a different kind of religious faith. More importantly, maybe you yourself have a different kind of patriotism or a different kind of religious faith.
But for me, Shahrukh gives me a model to look up to, achievements I respect and wish I could emulate. I want to be that loving towards all people, that charitable, that faithful to my country and my religion while still accepting other countries and religious.
And maybe you have entirely different reasons for loving him. Or agree with some of my reasons, but not others. But the point is, if you are a Shahrukh fan, there is something about him that speaks to you. It’s not just about the dimples and the cute face, there is something deeper that he offers, something which can provide light in the darkness and strength when you feel weak and hope when times seem hopeless.
Indian films need a high per screen globally, because it is the only way to keep theaters showing them. If a theater picks up a Hollywood film, it’s safe, they know there is a massive promotional campaign behind it, it helps them build a relationship with the studio and distributor to get more films later, etc. etc.
But an Indian film is a risk, especially now that India is going after more and more screens in foreign markets, meaning it needs to convince more and more mainstream theaters to take a chance on them. And the best way to convince them is to show “okay, you took a risk, but you reaped the reward in a massive per screen profit for your tiny theater. You don’t care that Wonder Woman broke box office records, if it didn’t do well at your tiny theater. But this film, which barely made the American top ten, did very very well for you in particular.”
Okay, let’s stay with the 1/3rd idea. Because it’s easy to conceptualize. So, a movie star decides “I’m only going to do offbeat character roles in small films so I can stretch as an actor”. It means he will take a 1/3rd hit in his income (2/3rds being non-film related, brands and weddings and stuff). But he is fabulously wealthy, makes no difference to him.
But let’s leap alllllllllll the way down to the bottom of the industry. I am running a small theater in a small city. Can I handle a 1/3rd reduction in my annual profits? Does that mean I have to lay off 1/3rd of my staff?
You can expand this to all parts of the industry. Spot boys, cameraman, assistant directors, everyone takes a pay cut of 1/3rd. And the industry profits as a whole take a 1/3rd cut, that’s the profit margin, production houses start looking for outside investors and cutting output, Hollywood moves in and buys up even more of the Indian industry, and takes up even more screens in the Indian theaters. 10 years later, Hindi film is essentially dead.
And so when Shahrukh goes overseas for a concert, it’s not just about the cash grab for him, or the spoiled NRIs with loads of disposable income enjoying something those back home can’t have. Sure, there’s that, but it’s also about the person who lives in a small town and hasn’t been back to India in 5 years, who is surrounded by people who don’t look like him and make fun of his accent and his food and his skin color, driving his family for 6 hours to get to a place where he belongs, where there is the biggest star in India standing there saying “I love you and I am here for you.”