Inspire Me! I Haven’t Written an in Depth Editorial in a While!

I need help!  You know those brilliant posts I come out with sometimes?  The Nepotism or Orientalism or Feminist Film Criticism posts?  They only come when I am inspired by something, and nothing is inspiring me lately.

About 50% of the posts that deal with Big Ideas come from news stories.  Stuff like John Abraham and KriArj having a contract dispute which gets me thinking about producers versus artists.  But nothing in the news lately is really sparking with me.

The other 50% come from you, my readers.  We get to talking in the comments and you spark an idea in my head, like when Bollywood Newbie was talking about fan community identities.  Since the news has failed me, I am hoping you will help me.

Ask me a question, throw out a general topic (“White People” “Item Songs” “Steroids”), anything!  I’m sort of crowd-sourcing it, if I get enough suggestions surely SOMETHING will spark with me.

Thank you!!!!

(In this case, “shukriya” means “thank you”, not “I love you” as the crooked logic of this film has it)

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38 thoughts on “Inspire Me! I Haven’t Written an in Depth Editorial in a While!

  1. What about Indian film history/styles/esthetic vs. that of other places? I think I usually read Americans comparing mainstream Hindi to 1950s MGM musicals, which seems definitely wrong.

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    • `
      Along those same lines, I was trying to figure out how to explain the different purpose and style of a “song” in an Indian film versus the soundtrack in a Hollywood movie. I know the difference, but I couldn’t articulate it.

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    • Hm. I need to think that over. I remember a comment on this blog from someone trying to puzzle out whether the songs in Hindi films are supposed to be “real” or really happening in the narrative of the film or if they were the characters’ daydreams and I immediately thought of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films where often the song and dance numbers just happened with no explanation for why or whether they are “real” or not. So in that sense there’s some parallels between Hollywood musicals and Bollywood.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How about this:

    What did you, as a non-indian, learn about india from Indian films and how accurate did you find the depiction when you eventually learned about the culture from non-film sources?

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    • That would be a fascinating post, but unfortunately I’m not qualified to write about it. I was living with a desi roommate and had a desi best friend for a year before I saw DDLJ and got deep into the movies. So Indian culture as learned from NRIs living in America had a year head start on my learning about the films. I could do a post on how NRIs simplify the Indian experience and overlook things and carry cultural burdens with them and so forth, that was the eye-opener, getting my friends’ view of things and then taking classes and reading books and seeing how much they glossed over. But again, not qualified for that, that’s a post that should really be written by an NRI about their first trip back, or the class they took in college that explained so much, or whatever.

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  3. AArgh! Another thought provoking question I was saving for Monday – last night I even wanted to write it down before I forgot it (which couldn’t happen because I was so invested in the question), but alas, my raging insomnia plus total exhaustion meant I didn’t even have the energy to do that. 😦 I hope it will come back to me in the next few days.

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    • Ha, I remembered!!

      OK, so most of the “star rankings” are based on box office clout of the various stars, as evidenced by the lifetime collections of their more recent films. Now Baaghi 2 has really upset people’s perceptions, since in its first 11 days it has eclipsed the lifetime collections of Varun’s highest collecting film, Judwaa 2. Similarly, Padmavat has collected close to 300cr (it is 300 cr if you combine all language versions), a feat achieved to date only by Aamir and Salman (not even SRK has managed to do that). The credit for that is mainly being given to Ranveer Singh, though he plays the antagonist, not the “hero”, and though Deepika plays the titular character. Nevertheless Shahid has managed to move up a few places in the industry rankings after Padmavat, and Tiger Schroff is pushing Varun down (who was made a big deal of for having an unbroken “successful films” run since he began, though October looks like breaking that streak). So everything seems to be up for grabs among the younger male stars, which is every exciting to watch, and good for the industry.

      Now my question is, why the heck is Ranbir Kapoor still in the top ten?? His fans explain it by saying he’s the finest actor in the industry, which I don’t buy. He’s a good actor, but not so far beyond everyone else. More importantly, these star rankings are based on box office pull. His last five or six films have been disasters or flops. His acting skill doesn’t count, because there are plenty of people who are recognized to be excellent actors, but they never make it to these “top ten” lists — people like Manoj Bajpai, Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin, etc. And they are surely better than Ranbir in acting, too.

      So, the question again, why is Ranbir still considered to be in the running? And how does he keep getting big budget films? Even nepotism has its limits when people are losing real money in historical amounts (Bombay Velvet).

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      • Ooo! You just sparked a really interesting thought in my head! A new twist on the nepotism consideration.

        As for Ranbir, it’s a mystery to me as well! the best I can come up with is because of his name and his high profile personal life. But even that doesn’t fully explain it. I know from comments here that he has a devoted and very specific following, young men who think of themselves as sensitive and intellectual and smarter and deeper and so on than everyone else (and they express this by posting horribly abusive comments on my Jagga Jasoos review that I then have to delete. So sensitive!). Is it possible that this same following has influence in the film industry? That is, a director like Anurag Basu, or Ayan Mukherjee, or Karan Johar, feels a particular pull to Ranbir’s particular type of film and type of performance? In a way that they don’t with other stars? And the critics and the scriptwriters and all the other artistic young men who like thinking of themselves like the hero of Wake Up Sid or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil or even Jagga Jasoos?

        It’s something I have definitely noticed in Hollywood, the movies about the midlife crisis of the wealthy white man always get produced and get good reviews, because the producers and reviewers are mostly middle-aged wealthy white men.

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        • I am not a die-hard Ranbir fan.But he’s capable of playing a wide range of characters with sensitivity.Again I urge you to see Rajneeti.Compared with Ranveer Singh who’s brilliant at what he does.But his ‘width’ for lack of a better word is limited.Though not the depth or the passion he brings to the table.I hope I’m not being confusing.Now Ranbir’s problem is that even though he has the capacity he’ll put limits on his own talent.Maybe lack of imagination,faith? There’s a sheer unwillingness to experiment beyond a limit. He will never take risks to the extent of say Ranveer or Rajkummar Rao.There’s a lot of goodwill towards Ranbir,His family name commands respect and he has the necessary connections.But they also know that he’s talented.Which matters to a small extent. maybe 10%.That is why even though he’s having a track of bad luck it’s not affecting him that much.But the industry will certainly kick him out if it persists.He’s given some slack but not much.

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          • YES! Except for some very few shows that always make me think “why can’t you share your work/life balance with all the other producers and people you work with so I can get more happy content?” It’s really not that most of America is filled with unhappy marriages, it just seems like the kind of people who end up running TV shows or directing movies are filled with unhappy marriages.

            On Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 8:15 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Can you talk about mysogyny in Indian cinema? Item songs, Machismo I especially see this in the south industry where the movies use the same formula we have the star “hero” then we have some gundas and family problems and the female lead has such a small role only there to look pretty and act as his love interest or just to be in a bunch of corny songs then the hero eventually fights over the gundas and wins over the girl and family.. there is actually no thought process that go into these type of movies its all about heroism and sadly the audience demand these mass movies

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    • Hmm. You’ve actually inspired me more to do a post breaking down the differences between misogyny, objectification, and patriarchy. All of which show up in films, but in a sort of mix and match combination depending on the movie.

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  5. How about a piece on the Bollywood Godfathers who launched so many top heroines? Dev Anand, Subhash Ghai and now Karan Johar.Continuing with the question raised by the anonymous commenter, how about exploring the psyche of the female viewers who cheer on the hero’s misogynistic speeches and the blatantly offensive lyrics of some of the item songs?

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    • Funny looking at those 3 together. Subhash Ghai definitely used a casting couch (I think it was Mahima Choudry who accused him, but I’m not sure). Dev Anand, seems highly likely. But Karan Johar, obviously not. RGV has launched a lot of actresses as well, but I don’t even want to think about what he put those women through. Just based on how he shows them onscreen, I feel like he can’t have had a lot of respect for them in real life.

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  6. there can be a post on the worst roles(badly written, bad performance, bad casting)of popular actors like SRK, Aamir, Amitabh Bachan, Sridevi etc which is sure to get the comments section busy. The other thought I had was if Darr was to be made(not remade, but being made for the first time)today, will SRK play it(ignoring the age considerations)? On one hand it’s a great role to show his acting chops but on the other hand he could be accused of glorifying stalking. There’s already a huge debate on artistic freedom v/s social responsibility of actors when performing onscreen & of writers when writing.Post the actress attack, Prithviraj had declared that he will never do roles glorifying misogynistic attitudes. Director Lijo Jose Pellisery countered that that was limiting creative choices. So should films toe the political line? I don’t really know the question I want to ask but something around should art imitate life or it’s the other way round or there’s a midway. You can answer me here also if not for a post dedicated to it.

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    • I did that for Aamir already, and it was fun! Does seem fair to do a similar one for other actors, maybe that should be my question tomorrow?

      I loved Prithviraj’s statement for many reasons, but partly because he didn’t say he would never play a stalker or a rapist again, he just said he would never play it in a film where that was the hero role. That’s the challenge to the audience, can they look past an actor’s stardom and see that in a particular film, he is actually the antagonist. Salman Khan famously refuses to play any “grey” characters because he doesn’t think it is responsible, he doesn’t think the audience would understand what he was doing. Shahrukh famously does play “grey” characters, that’s how he first got noticed by playing the villain in Darr. But to this day, as you point out, Darr is misunderstood because people assume Shahrukh must be playing the hero. So that is the bigger question, can a superstar play a villain or will the audience always end up relating to him even if it twists the meaning of the film?

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      • And then should SRK be held responsible even in the tiniest bit for a similar real life stalking incident that maybe inspired from the film? or the writer/director of the film? Should the content creators have a care of how their work will be impacting different sessions of the society? Then that might limit the creative thinking & change the direction of what could have been ? As an academic on media studies what would you suggest as the optimal ground for creative choices to coexist with social responsibility?

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        • Taxi Driver, the American film, is the classic example of this since it partially inspired John Hinkley to shoot President Reagan. It’s hard, because there is a difference between a film that glorifies bad behavior and which investigates bad behavior and judges it. Darr and Taxi Driver both show bad behavior but ultimately the film as a whole is against it. But then, can the audience tell the difference? Or do they just see the actor they like doing bad things and want to do those things too?

          And then there’s the compenant of what the actors experience. Again, Taxi Driver is a good example since a 14 year old actress was used in scenes and sequences that she was much too young for. And over in India 13 year old Sridevi was going through similar traumas. Even if the end result of the film is all around wonderful, good message and all of that, can you justify forcing the actors to do certain things they may not be comfortable with? Making actresses go through rape scenes, for instance? Even if within the context of the film the fact of the rape is handled perfectly, does that excuse the actress in real life needing to enact something she may not be okay with? One of my co-workers is a stage choreography and she did a training course on “intimacy” recently dealing with this exact issue. The new goal is that you work everything out in rehearsal, constantly making sure people are okay with it, but you also have back up plans, because some night the actress or actor may not be okay with something for whatever reason. So maybe instead of being thrown down on the bed, that night the sit down together on the sofa or whatever.

          In terms of media studies, the accepted wisdom would be that the individual incidents are much less damaging than an overall message of a film. To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance, is a great American film and novel about racism. And it uses the n-word. It has been banned or censored in various places because of that. But does that one moment cause more harm than the overall message of the film causes good? Most people say no, it is an accurate word to use within the time period and the story. The real danger would be a film like Gone With the Wind which never uses the n-word but presents a whole fantasy of a segregated and racist south.

          Translating that to the Indian context, that is why I will come down hard on something like that Malayalam pregnancy movie whose name I can’t spell which presents a whole world in which women are always wrong and should not have the right over their own bodies. Because that is a message the invades every moment of the film, you cannot put it in a larger context because it IS the context.

          On Sun, Apr 15, 2018 at 8:02 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Do you think the small incidents-within harmless/neutral films- screened over a period of time conditions the audience to overlook those when they happen in real life?eg we have a great many movies where the hero eve teasing/stalking the heroine is shown in lighter vein & in songs. Then the guys in real world also think it’s okay to tease a girl. When the response is not per expectation(resisting first & then agreeing like the filmi heroine),things take a drastic turn. And then someone will make a movie on that real life incident or films will continue to be made on the same vein-with the thought that a single film can’t trigger people to act certain way or that the overall motive of the movie was good if that small scene is ignored. I can choose not to watch Gone with the wind or the Malayalam film after hearing about it. But what do I do about the ones that sneak in with no warning?

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          • The question is, what to do about it? You have such a large number of such incidents in films that you can’t call out each one. As in, it’s not possible to watch every single film and call out every single instance. There needs to be a larger solution than merely think pieces focused on random films that were seen by the authors. This includes my reviews, I’ll always mention troublesome elements within a particular review of a particular film, but that’s not going to solve the overall problem.

            There are 3 general ideas for how to handle this kind of damage. The first would be education, media literacy. To take those young men who might be learning bad lessons and give them the tools to identify and understand the meaning of the scenes so they can ignore them, the poison is pulled. The problem is that educating the audience is overwhelming. This is where, in the Indian side of things, stars might have influence. If Rajinikanth comes out and says “that scene where I was forcing Aishwarya to kiss me in Robot was not cool, and here is why” then maybe his followers will listen.

            The second would be censorship. India is uniquely set up to handle the problem this way, just pluck the poisoned barbs from the middle of the films. But of course, at the moment, the censor board is not addressing the issue in any useful way. Although I have hope, this kind of poisoned barb plucking is what they did with Padmavat, removing certain small things but leaving the film as a whole intact. The key would be to have educated competent censors, not ones who remove any sex scene at all (for instance) but make a differentiation between consensual and nonconsensual moments.

            And the third is to address the social problem not the films that reflect it. It’s not about pointing out stalking songs in films, it’s about strengthening stalking laws, making massive societal changes that will cause the films to naturally stop showing such things. For instance, have you ever thought about how accepted child marriage was as a plot device back in the 70s, and now it never appears? It wasn’t because every single movie that showed child marriage was called out, it was because there was a change to the laws and society as a whole shifted and the films shifted with it.

            There is no simple answer between these 3, it is probably a combination of them. Personally, I lean more to the third answer. Partly because the research of a direct relationship between media alone and real life behavior is very shakey. It lands more along the lines of “if you have seen this behavior in your family, if the laws of the greater society encourage it, if your religion and school and other parts of society accept it, then what you see in films can also have an effect.” A simple example of this is the violence that is acceptable in Korean and Japanese cinema. They are perhaps the most violent two industries in the world, and yet their societies as a whole are remarkably free of violent crime. So there must be something more there besides simply the media which effects social behavior.

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  7. Maybe something along the gender lines based on accusations of telugu industry by Sri reddy.

    Or something inspired by patralekha’s interview with rajeev masand?

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  8. OK, so coming fresh from your Sunday service post, here is my suggestion to expand on your idea of watching films as a spiritual quest. Several, actually.

    1. In a past discussion I had with another American fan of Indian films, I said that one reason why Indian audiences don’t get bothered by the current trendy issues that set off so many western and Indian critics and Indian “elites” is that Indians for the most part are still very religious (of whatever religion). So they do not look to movies or book or music/musicians to get their moral lessons or philosophies of life, they look to their religious teachers. So if they listen to a song or singer, for instance, they will value that experience to the extent that they enjoyed the performance, and that is that. They don’t need the singer to write the song and set it to music, and draw on his/her life experience to do all that — they just need for him/her to be good at the craft of singing, and for the lyrics and music to move them in some way, however temporarily. Similarly, they’re not looking for actors and directors who are trying to work out their own personal demons or life issues through their films, they just want to be “entertained”, i.e., taken out of themselves and their surroundings and to experience something new or different. So this is the argument that movie watching for Indian audiences is, in fact, not a “spiritual experience.”

    2. At the same time, you *can* ascribe a spiritual dimension to it, in that again for the most part, Indian audiences still expect their films to have a moral point of view. This is in contrast to most western films these days, which specifically avoid a moral stance; in fact, many times their point seems to be that there is no such thing as morality or justice, certainly not in the world their characters (and, by extension, their audience) inhabit. Now I can understand why Indian audiences would find the moral positioning satisfying, especially if they feel that there is not so much morality or justice in their real lives. But why do western audiences find it satisfying to be told that there is no moral structure to the world? Or do they find it satisfying? Is this why the theater going audience keeps dwindling, especially in the older age group?

    3. You had a spiritual experience with several older American films. Do you think they have lost this quality over the years? Can you find it again in current American films? Do you think there is more of this quality in Indian films? If so, why? What aspects of them are different from American films that evoke this response? Are the newer Bollywood films, that are deliberately trying to be more “western” in their sensibility, losing this quality? If so, is it due to the “westernization”, or something else? How is this reflected in the Indian audience’s response to Hollywood films currently? If you look at the HW films that have succeeded in India, it is primarily the big, VFX laden “spectacle” type of films (and Hollywood really hit the big time only when they started to dub their films into Indian languages) — and these films more often have a moral structure to them, than the more character driven type of films (which usually are not released in India, anyway. I mean, I doubt something equivalent to “American Beauty” would do very well there.)

    OK, I hope I was semi-coherent, but I really need to sleep, so sorry if I wasn’t clear. I’ll come back to this later in the day in case you have any questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. (It’s Claudia from another laptop…)
    My spontaneous idea when I read your ‘plea’ was the subject about how much one can/should perceive a movie as a message and in which way Hindi Cinema is in fact escapism?

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  10. I like all ideas other commentators gave and I hope you will use many of them. Deep editorials are your forte, something that distinguish your blog from others. Please write them often.
    I’m interested in “white people in indian movies” topic, because I always search movies with non-desi characters, and always get angry how we are portrayed.

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    • Thanks! I like writing them often, but I really do need those inspirations. I have literally written 5 in the past 24 hours thanks to this post (not all 5 will be going up right away of course, that would be a waste).

      On Mon, Apr 16, 2018 at 2:22 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  11. Salman Khan’s role in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai – Akshay’s role in DTPH – Rajendra Kumar in Sangam or more recently Harshavardhan in Fidaa (Telugu)

    I am talking about the eternal sacrificer – Hero loves Heroine but they get separated for some reason. Heroine loves a Side-Hero or Second-Hero – sometimes, gets engaged. Poor SH dreams about his future life with Heroine. Hero comes back at the right moment and Heroin chooses the Hero and ditches SH. None cares about SH, or his dreams.

    You can write a post on this aspect in Bollywood/Indian movies.

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    • There was an American satrical comedy about this, “The Baxter”, the hero who is the eternal guy-who-doesn’t-get-the-girl.

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  12. I’m a little late here but how about something about colorism in the film industries? Hindi films tend to look generally very light-skinned compared to the general population. Southern films tend to have darker heroes but the women are still generally much lighter. There’s plenty of skin color “jokes” not to mention the fairness cream ads actors do. I think it pretty fair to say someone like Amy Jackson owes her career to colorism to some extent.

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