Hindi Film 101: The Problem of Unfulfilled Upper Class Man Film

I was feeling bad for writing such light weight posts lately, and then I remembered, oh right, I watched 3 movies this weekend and wrote 6 full length reviews (2 each) for them.  Just, not everybody was interested in those reviews, so for some of you this is a pretty light week.  To make up for it, I pulled out some of the more general discussion sections of my reviews of Karwaan and cobbled together a Hindi Film 101 out of it.

Can we just take it as a given that a lot of upper middle class men have the means and opportunity to make movies?  And therefore feel they are writing the most deep and important story ever when they write about dissatisfied upper middle class men who want to be artists because it is their story and they are the Center of the Universe?  And that this is reinforced by other upper middle class men who review movies and produce movies and so on and so forth?

Image result for karwaan film

(Much of this was original written for my reviews of Karwaan, but it’s really about more than that movie, so I wanted to put it in a different forum in addition)

Moving on from that basic premise, what does this mean in terms of the actual end product?  It means there is a deep understanding and sympathy for our main character, which isn’t a bad thing.  And it means the filmmakers are given the freedom to do the kind of in depth character study film that doesn’t usually get funded.  Because all the upper class men they go to for funding react with “my GOD!  It’s the most important story in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD!!!!  Tell me more about office worker angst and feeling trapped in a suit and tie, and PLEASE PLEASE add in something about father issues!!!  I will give you ALL THE MONEY.  Oh and please see if you could get a second generation actor who has never had to struggle for his art to play the lead, that would be just peachy”.

Okay, now I’m getting irritable again.  What I meant to say, was that a filmmaker with a deep grasp of his central character and supportive investors who let him make a true character study isn’t a bad thing.  It would be nice if those same films with the same kind of support could be made by female and lower class filmmakers, but oh well, we can’t have everything.

One of the questions I sometimes find myself asking halfway through a film is “what makes these characters deserve to have a movie about them instead of other characters?”  I don’t ask that question when watching, for instance, Dishoom.  Because, no doy, they get to have a movie because their lives are filled with song numbers and explosions.  Or even Fanney Khan, where the plot was so over the top that just by being a part of it, the characters deserved a film.  But a movie like this, where it is a character study of every day people who never get into car chases or anything fun like that, then I start to wonder.

(Obviously I want to watch a movie about these two)

And often these kind of “Come on DAD!!!!!  Why can’t you understand?  I just want to waste all your hard earned money pursuing my art because it makes me happy!” films do not pass that question.  Tamasha, for instance, I have no idea why I was supposed to be interested in that story.  There was a guy who was unhappy with his life, it expressed itself in kind of an odd way and messed up a perfectly normal young woman he was dating (who never got any backstory of her own), and then he became happy with his life and won back his girlfriend.  How is that a movie?  That’s just freshman year of college.

Wake Up Sid, that movie I love.  Because it’s not a story about Ranbir growing up (although that is the title), it’s a story about Ranbir realizing his privileges and earning his happy ending, and it is just as much Konkona’s story, not something we have seen before, a young woman with drive and direction finding herself in her own way.  2 States, that’s another good one, because art is what our hero does in between living his life.  The film doesn’t argue that merely wanting to be a writer and needing to work in the meantime is worthy of a film.  If anything, that is treated as the least interesting part of it.  Pyaasa, obviously, is on a whole other level.  That’s not someone who feels trapped by his regular life and wishes to be an artist, that’s someone who has never been able to NOT be an artist, it’s something he has to do just like breathing.

And then there’s Karwaan, the most recent example.  This is a film about 3 people, supposedly.  And yet only one of them really gets the focus. (SPOILERS follow, but not much more than what was already in the trailer)

Irrfan is the son of an abusive father who stood up to him at a young age and was thrown out of his home as a reward.  He somehow pulled himself up to surviving as a mechanic, and is still generous and kind enough to drive Dulquer all over India.  Oh, and when he mentions Dulquer helping with gas money, ha-ha, everyone has a good laugh because why should Dulquer ever pay for anything?  Irrfan is even footing the bill for this whole trip.  Irrfan falls in love at first sight and woos a woman over the course of one night.  And then he magically meets her again and convinces her to run off with him, saving her life as he was unable to save his mothers.

Mithila is a teenager struggling with a possible unplanned pregnancy, whose beloved grandmother has just died and who is traveling across country with two total strangers.  She and her mother and grandmother ran a hotel together as a strong all female team.  She is strong enough to push down her own grief and deal with the practical matters of the journey, the only one smart enough to think about getting dry ice for the body.

And then there is Dulquer.  Who kind of wanted to be a photographer.  And was a jerk to his college girlfriend.  And isn’t very good at his current job but gets to keep it along with the very high salary that comes with it because his daddy set him up in the company.  His father, who never hit him, never raised his voice, supported him in comparative luxury, and then wrapped up and handed to him a job that thousands, millions of others, would kill for.  Oh, but he also wasn’t 100% supportive of Dulquer’s plan to be a photographer.

(Also, there’s pretty songs)

Now, which of these 3 people sound like they deserve to be the lead of a movie?  The brave suffering and still deeply good mechanic?  NO!  He’s too low class to matter, his whole wa-wa over an abusive father and moneylenders who want to kill him and the woman he wants to save from an abusive marriage merits merely a wry amused smile from our hero.  After all, the lower classes aren’t “real” people, they are just sort of Shakespearean fools sent to amuse us and teach us life lessons.

(Ha-ha, let’s watch Irrfan change a tower and instagram about it)

What about the young woman struggling with the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy?  And also handling this unexpected trip and the grief of her grandmother’s death? Well, she’s a woman!  They aren’t real people either.  They are unpredictable and sometimes wise and they exist to fluster men and send them on journeys like some kind of Lady of the Lake from King Arthur.

Obviously, the journey that matters is Dulquer going from being unhappy with his job and awkward with the pretty girl in his building, to quitting his job and dating the pretty girl.  Everything that Irrfan and Mithila go through is just for his benefit.  Seriously, we go straight from Irrfan convincing a woman to run for her life from an abusive husband even if that goes against society, laws, and her religion-to Dulquer quitting his job.  That’s the dramatic build, a woman running for her life is an 8, but a middle class young guy quitting his office job is the 10.

SPOILERS OVER

I am aware that this is how a narrative works. Everything is centered on the central character, thus the term “central character”.  All conversations circle back to his/her journey, all events matter primarily for how they move his/her story forward.  But that only works if the central character is the most interesting character, if their story is the most important story.

But too often in too many of these films, there is no effort made to justify anything.  The central character is the most important, the most interesting, purely because he is male and upper class.  And this isn’t a problem just limited to Indian films.

General speaking, when you are making a character driven story, the idea is either that you are making a universal story, or an unusual story.  Either one will work.  A universal story would be an English/Vinglish.  It’s an unusual film, yes, and a wonderful film.  But it is about a family like many others, a homemaker like many others, something everyone can immediately instinctively understand, and a lead character we can instinctively sympathize with.  And an unusual story would be something like Masoom, an unusual situation that very usual people find themselves trapped in.

(Not for nothing, English/Vinglish also included a background of a whole classroom of people with their own problems and stories, in addition to Sridevi)

Ever since film became “respectable”, something the upper classes can watch and work in, there are more and more stories that are positioned as “universal” because they are about upper-middleclass men feeling unfulfilled.  That is assumed to be the default state, the office worker who feels like he could be/should be more.

There were a lot of films like this in America in the 1950s, there was even a phrase coined for it, “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”.  Which makes sense, that was the era when the population for the first time had the luxury to be dissatisfied with their employment.  And I suppose the same could be true of India now, with the growing office worker class there is also a growing number of dissatisfied office workers.

But there’s a difference between sincerely exploring the cost of rapid urbanization and the growth of the mega city and the office worker class, and simply focusing on one unhappy tech person as though they are the center of the world.  Bangalore Days, for instance, looked at the new tech boom from 3 directions.  The de-classed manual laborer, Dulquer, who was looked down on although he came from a good landed family and had a good job because he lacked degrees and worked with his hands.  Nivin, who idealized the rural past before finally learning to let go of it and understand and embrace the freedoms of his present.  And Nazriya who bore the female cost of this, being married off into lonely luxury at a young age thanks to her (older but still comparatively young) husband being successful enough to afford to live alone.

Bhavan Joshi was another one I appreciated.  Our hero’s dissatisfaction was not because he felt unfulfilled in his own happiness, but because he was looking out at the larger world and seeing how the whole country was falling to superficial concerns and easy answers, not just his own life.  We are all part of a connected whole, the story of one person can be/should be the story of all people.

 

Or, not.  There is also the temptation to simply make a story about a man who reminds you of yourself and assume it is universal because you assume your story is universal.  Cameron Crowe in Hollywood is a master of this kind of tale and has been selling it to the public since the 90s.  It has been less common in India until recently because of the need for a film to sell itself to a wide audience, a family audience encompassing husband and wife, and children, and elderly parents.  But now, as the multiplexes and urbanization bring in the possibility of films aimed at only the higher classes, there is a sudden birth of the “woe is me” tale of the unfulfilled rich man.

It’s easy for anyone making a movie to make the protagonist into someone like themselves and assume the audience would all relate to it.  After all, we all see the world through the lens of our own story, we are all protagonists in our own lives.  But it tends to be only upper middle class men who actually get to make their films, the films that do not bother to provide a larger meaning to the story, a bigger reason that this one story should be told.  They are the ones so convinced of their own importance, and with the power to get these films made and released.

An upper class man, he has the advantage of never being forced to see the world from the view of someone else.  And so he never realizes there is any other view possible, that there are other people with their own concerns, separate from him.  That his tragedies are just that, HIS tragedies, not tragedies for the world.  And it is that view that films of this type promote, that the tragedy of the upper class young man is not just the greatest tragedy, but the only true tragedy.  The problems of everyone else in the world are merely amusing and not true tragedies.  And so when I am watching these movies, the characters and stories that speak to me are not treated by the film as “real” stories that happen to “real” people.  The maid in the background is a punchline.  The girlfriend/wife is another problem to be overcome.  The mother is a faithful support, but never seems to have her own needs.

Conversely, you can still make a darn good film with a main character who is trying to find himself, so long as you recognize the needs of the other characters and weigh them against our hero’s.  Lakshya is a surprisingly good film which at first glance looks like yet another tired coming of age movie.  Hrithik is the hero and it is his story.  But the film makes sure we see that his love interest Preity has her own concerns and her own journey and is living a full life, not merely existing as part of Hrithik’s.  His father, his mother, all sorts of other people in the film blossom out into a full existence.  And the film itself shows Hrithik’s own weaknesses and flaws, the dramatic build is in him learning about himself and overcoming those flaws, not in the whole world arranging itself around his perfection.

(Notice this song is 70% Hrithik, but 30% Preity, living her life on her own with her own problems and her own successes)

You can also make a darn good person out of an uppermiddle class man, so long as he is aware that the real world doesn’t revolve around him either.  My father is a privileged man and when he started to feel his life was empty of meaning, he didn’t take off and go on a personal quest, he started volunteering one night a week to help out at the local homeless shelter.  That’s one example, I could give you dozens more among men I know in my life, men who reacted to feeling unfulfilled by turning inward, and then turning outward.  And sometimes, often, by realizing that feeling unfulfilled is simply their lot in life and they should accept that.  It is the one small pain that comes with all the pleasures of being at the top of society.  The other 99% of society is too busy trying to survive to take a moment and think about emotional fulfillment.

That’s the power of these films of course.  For the uppermiddle class male community, emotional and spiritual and artistic fulfillment is the main problem, because it is the ONLY problem.  And so if you are in that class, a story about someone like you wrestling with these problems because the most riveting and important film you have ever watched.  And so these films keep getting made and getting reviewed and everyone talks about how powerful they are and important and so on and I watch them and think “what am I missing?  Why does this have no effect on me?”

But then, I’m not an uppermiddle class man, am I?  That’s the real problem, the problem is with me.  I am not a person who is supposed to be “real” according to this narrative, whose desires and interests are supposed to matter.  I am not part of the imagined audience for these films because the people making them never think of me at all.

And I am sick of it!  I am sick of these movies that expect me to care about characters without giving me a reason to just because they are wealthy men.  And I am sick of all the terrible people in real life who think of women only in terms of additional burdens to be controlled and not as people, that working class minorities exist only to work for them and are not allowed to have needs of their own, and that the worst thing in the world is always what they are going through, not anyone else.

(And this is why Luck By Chance is wonderful.  It shows that familiar hero’s journey, but through the eyes of the person he climbed over on the way up, the person who he saw only as a reflection of himself)

 

Sometimes it’s not really fair to the individual films.  They can be well-made and amusing and all the rest of it, and I do not enjoy them merely because they are part of a long history of such films, not because they are a problem on their own.  Certainly I wouldn’t tell anyone else not to like such films.  Just, while you are watching them, remember it is a fantasy world and out here in the real world there are worst things that can happen than existential angst while sitting in your comfortable apartment watching your wide screen TV.

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34 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: The Problem of Unfulfilled Upper Class Man Film

  1. OMG.. I didn’t realize it before but this is exactly why I was pissed off after watching Srimanthudu. Mahesh Babu comes from an ultra rich family and when he goes to a village he is either giving away his dad’s money or beating up the bad guys (and of course dancing with Sruthi Hasan)!!!

    Thoughtful analysis. Thank you.

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    • Yes! Bharat Ane Nenu too. Really a lot of Mahesh’s recent films, he has been this perfect gifted guy who never had to struggle, and yet we are supposed to care more about him than all the other characters?

      On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 8:40 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes. Thats why I had my own first half for Srimantudu. Here it is in case you are interested!!!

        Mahesh is founder and CEO of a big company who loves his family very much especially his sister. He is not really into helping anyone. One fine day sis gets sick and she needs a heart transplant (sisters are usually in the movies for this anyway). Unfortunately she has a rare blood group and no hope for a donor. When everything seems bleak, nurse sneaks in a middle aged lady who is a match and ready to die to save his sister but on one condition. Mahesh has to save her villagers from clutches of evil brothers.

        Her family is murdered by the villains and she is too powerless to get revenge. She is ready to trade off her life for a chance of freedom for her village and villain’s defeat. Mahesh doesn’t agree immediately but is convinced by her.

        Thats why Mahesh is honor bound to save the village and ready to spend so much of HIS OWN money while risking his own life. See this makes Mahesh super cool instead of the original!!

        Disclaimer: I’m against illegal organ trade but I’m going to use it in my story anyway.

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        • YES! So much better!!!! Mahesh actually does something to get the money, and everything is actually done by a brave old lady instead of the handsome young man.

          Plus, that backstory is so much more logical and less convoluted than the thing with his secret village family that I never fully understood.

          On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 1:24 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. One of the best things about Malayalam films in the 80s and 90s is that the hero’s family and the heroine’s do not revolve around them. The heroine’s parents might be part of the political cadre at the grassroot level, Mom might enjoy devouring romance novels or enjoy clubbing or might be an insurance agent.Even the neighbours have their backstory (their daughter eloped.They are still dealing with that even after being grandparents). Compared with that, Bollywood films seem to be more hero centric.The heroine might get a properly developed character and an arc if she’s lucky enough.But forget about the rest.

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  3. I guess I am one of the few people who did read the Karwaan reviews and liked your perspective on the genre. Sorry for not commenting on them. I think that one only relates to any genre depending on the stage of life that one is in. Yes, it is slightly irritating to watch a story about a man having an existential crisis when he comes from a rich family, when he has been handed everything on a platter and has never really had to struggle for anything. But, then again, looking at it from that man’s perspective, his struggle, though a first world problem doesn’t really make it any less for him. He is struggling. Of course, it is trivial in comparison to someone who is unemployed or homeless. But, I don’t see why movies on this theme shouldn’t be made.

    Giving you a personal example. I had a relatively hard childhood and I came out the other side of the struggle after I did well academically and got through a highly competitive examination, etc, did well there and moved up in life, so much so that I now send money home every month. Now of course, this is probably a universal theme that many will relate to, as this is something that millions of people go through in India and elsewhere in the world. But now, 10 years later, I have very different concerns in life. I know that I will be financially secure no matter what I do, but my concerns over taking up a job in a particular company over another one, or continuing to move up is still as valid in the present context of my life, as was my concern over doing well in life earlier. Maybe making a movie about this theme is not going to be as dramatic as the earlier one where there is a huge growth curve and if so, the producers should realize this as their profits will be low in this scenario. So, I agree with you that this is not as big a struggle as something else in life, but it is something that people face when they reach a certain stage in life and is as valid.

    Sorry if my reply is too long or too boring 😛

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    • Thank you for commenting! And for such an interesting comment.

      I think what bothers me most about these films is two things. First is the context, if for every film on the theme of the unsatisfied upper middle class man there was a film on the unsatisfied housewife, or the working class man trying to go back to school, then I wouldn’t mind. But it seems like we really only get these kinds of internal life changes character studies for this one very particular subset of people. And that’s not a super fair criticism of an individual film, it’s more a meta criticism on how film works.

      But what is individual to the film is an awareness that characters besides the main character have their own struggles and life changes happening. Tumhari Sulu, for instance, was mostly about Vidya Balan finding personal and professional fulfillment. But we also got to see and care about the struggles her husband was going through, and her child. That’s what I like about the Lakshya take on this story, it’s Hrithik’s movie but Preity’s storyline shows an awareness that there are other people in the world with other struggles. That sort of laziness where only the main character matters seems to come up mostly in the “rich young man seeking fulfillment” kind of tales.

      Does that make sense?

      On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 9:56 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, I agree. I watched Lakshya when I was a teenager so I don’t remember much. But yes, maybe that’s why I didn’t really like Tamasha, because it was too much about Ranbir’s character and I couldn’t relate to it. Actually I still don’t relate to it, coz my philosophy is that you need to change things in your life if you’re unhappy with something. No one is going to come and tell you, you should realize it yourself. 😛 I watched the Tamil version of Bangalore days and I agree with you that that movie was probably interesting coz of the perspectives and struggles of three different people. And, had that movie been about just one person, it would have been boring and cliched.

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        • Yeah, that other bit, about you should just change your life for yourself, that bothers me with a lot of these movies. That’s why I like 2 States so much, and also Chetan Bhagat the person. I really respect that he/Arjun’s character worked hard and supported himself and managed to squeeze in writing around the edges of life, instead of expecting other people to support him while he pursued his art.

          On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 10:12 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yes, I agree with you. Anyone who has done well in anything that is not related to their current job has done it on the side while being independent. It is hard to do so, but that is why its called a struggle. You can’t be perpetually unhappy and expect that things will change magically. You need to put in the hard work for things to change.

            Anyway, I admire how you run this blog while doing a full time job. 🙂

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          • Thank you! I admire that about myself too 🙂

            On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 10:24 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Also, when I watched Tamasha, I really wanted to know how Deepika’s character reached where she did. She seemed content in life and I felt that they should have shown her arc as well. They condensed her life into a single song which I found wanting.

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    • Yes! And I never got a clear sense of why Ranbir loved her. It was this big thing that caused a breakdown in his life, losing her, but why? She seemed like a nice normal pretty and successful person.

      Whether intentionally or unintentionally, I also got a message that women are just not as deep as men through Deepika’s contentment. She doesn’t have a great passion, she never talks about work or anything like that. And she is quirky enough to understand and appreciate Ranbir. But she never expresses unhappiness with her passionless work life or wanting anything more. Maybe it was just because Ranbir was supposed to be unique, but since he and Dips were the only characters we ever really got to know, it turned into a man-woman thing, the man is craving something deeper and bigger in his life and woman can’t understand.

      On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 9:59 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Wow! That is not what I got from the movie about Deepika’s character. I felt that she was very happy with her job and had become successful in life since she was passionate about her job and loved it and therefore could do well there. In contrast, Ranbir hated his job and therefore wasn’t really good at it. In any case, I wanted to know more about Deepika, but it was too Ranbir focussed.

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  5. Just watched Tamasha for the first time and happy to join in pondering why it’s such an irritating example of this kind of story (which, I agree, bugs me to no end – the whiny privileged dude who just can’t go through the discomfort of growing up and owning his own choices). For me, it’s a few things. Yes, Ranbir’s story dominates, though without much substance to the back story either. But also his breakdown is so histrionic! It comes off as unstable, he’s either meek mouse or yelling, boring office guy or Don, there’s no transition or middle ground. And last, his happy artsy ending just felt unrealistic. He went from hapless former office worker telling stories on a street corner to leader of a successful theater troupe who can pack a fancy theater, in like five years with no training. Really?

    I was thinking about what makes the character transformation in Tamasha different from JHMS, which is also kind of a reawakening of the soul/buried artist through love. Is it the acting or the script or both that makes Harry’s arc feel more gradual and sincere? There isn’t much more back story to Sejal than there is to Deepika, though the balance of focus is better.

    Come to think of it, Jab We Met could fit in the same plot category, but Aditya is such an appealing character – just a bit at the beginning where he’s the sad little rich boy, but then Geet, and Geet’s whole family, and great dialogues. Also his happy ending, rediscovering the joy and creativity within his real job, feels more true to life than abandoning everything for a life on stage.

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    • Yes! Same mental journey I go on with Tamasha. I get that it’s Imtiaz’s “thing”, but why does it bother me so much in that movie versus all the others where his hero has the same journey?

      I think it’s the total focus on it, and at the same time the lack of background. In Jab We Met, it’s seeded in early on that Shahid used to like to sing and back music. So him pulling out a guitar at work towards the end doesn’t come out of nowhere. And it’s a reasonable level of skill for what you would expect from someone who played a little guitar in college and like that. He isn’t suddenly headlining a rock show, he’s just singing in Kareena’s courtyard, and then in his office. And it is just one small part of himself. His journey wasn’t “I’m giving up everything to play guitar”, it was “I’m rediscovering joy in life through many things, including music”. And, most importantly, while the first half is about Shahid rediscovering joy, the second half is about Kareena. And again, her store was seeded in through out, the eagerness to get out of hostel living, the avoidance of direct confrontations, and so on. Her choosing Shahid at the end isn’t his “reward” for being a good person, it’s a legitimate end to Kareena’s own journey, picking the happy ending she wants.

      And then in JHMS, again the rediscovery of music is a big part of it, but again we have enough backstory thrown in to believe he could pull off a wedding song last minute or be really good at karaoke, and we aren’t asked to believe he is suddenly filling stadiums. And most of all, the character journey feels much more deep, in many ways it is the same as Tamasha, but it’s much more believable to condense it all into one week spent together and then missing her instead of this odd one week, followed by another meeting and months of dating, followed by a break up, followed by a break down, and so on. Plus, it has to be said, Shahrukh is a far more subtle actor than Ranbir. And again, the heroine isn’t just the “reward” for the hero after he works out his own issues. She has issues of her own that she is working through, her sense of responsibility to her family, her struggle with her own class identity, and her sexual needs.

      I still haven’t seen Rockstar, which I know is another one that is balanced far more towards the hero’s journey than the heroine. But I think in that one he realistically showed all those years of struggle and the painful need to dedicate yourself to your art, instead of just brushing past it in an unrealistic montage int he last 5 minutes.

      On Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 11:32 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, I think some kind of real sense of the trade offs is necessary to make it feel like a genuine choice. If you’re going the full artist route, you might be making long term sacrifices in terms of income and status, and maybe your family’s acceptance. In Tamasha, his father’s will was so strong that he bent his whole life to be the kind of son his father wanted, but all it took was one confrontation and his parents were won over to the idea of him becoming an itinerant storyteller. Added to the lack of any hard work or failure as he developed his craft. And he ends up with the perfect girl, who loves him as a crazy artist and also happens to be rich. I wouldn’t mind the unfulfilled office worker trope as much if it felt like the stakes were more real and that success – fame and money – was not assured.

        I think there are also just a lot of stories about people wanting to become singers or performers because it gives your characters a good excuse for breaking into song. Harder to pull that off with someone who has always wanted to be a writer, or a historian, or a chef. And doubtless easy for film types to sympathize with, as you were saying – confirmation bias by the people greenlighting the productions.

        ADHM is another one that suffered from lack of stakes and convenient rock star dreams. Not to pick on Ranbir :).

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        • Thank goodness, ADHM also fell into the category of “but there was more going on with the plot too”. Can you imagine how boring that movie would have been if it was just about Ranbir and his Art, instead of actually being about him and the two women in his life?

          With the singing and dancing excuse, seems like that doesn’t matter quite as much with Indian film. They just sing and dance without any logical reason at all. I can only think of a handful of films where the characters were performers and that was why they were singing. Very freeing! You don’t need all those bend over backwards logical puzzles like you get in Hollywood films to explain why, suddenly, they have to perform.

          On Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 2:23 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. It’s not necessarily rich men but 90% of middle class will also have daddy-unfulfilled issues. Most of our life decisions including career, spousal choices are taken by them. It’s different from the American way of treating a teenager,even a child as an individual & letting them make their own choices.I’m living with the man my parents chose & worked in a career that they had been driving me towards since I was a child.And I never questioned their judgement assuming they know better. Luckily for me, both turned out to be something I love. But for the not-so-lucky ones,it’s a life time of frustrations living with someone else’s choices. . Also we as a culture are very scared to take risks, go the footloose hippy way, experiment & so on. A settled family life with all material comforts & a family approved spouse is what most parents set as a life goal for kids. So is it surprising that so many of us feel unfulfilled & unhappy once those goals are achieved & they feel the itch to do something more with their lives. The multiplex crowd are the target audience for such movies & of course it will have one of the audience as the main character. Come to think of it,this is the exact same criticism I read about Veere Di Wedding. Rich women making movies about rich caricature women who has no career or other interests except clothes & bitching, maid’s domestic issue dealt with high handedly, the male love interests are caricatures, showing up as the root of all problems in the women’s lives & so on. I think the criticism will run for any superficial movie without proper characterisation & depth-whether they are telling a man’s story or woman’s.

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    • I was thinking about using Veere as an example. It’s not so much lack of characterization and depth, it’s that there is good characterization and depth but only for one character. Everyone else exists to serve them. Veere didn’t bother me, because I felt like there was a nod towards the concerns of others through Swara agonizing over what her parents were going through, including a queer couple, including the scene with Sonam and her maid, and so on. But I could also see how that wasn’t enough for some people.

      For the unfulfilled part of it, that’s something Koode did really well. The choices of the parents affected all 3 leads in different ways and now they are struggling with that and struggling to understand and forgive. But the film isn’t just about Prithviraj yelling at people about his life, it’s about 3 very different people and their lives, and also trying to see things from the other side. Or, 1983 was another one I was thinking of. Because that movie managed to tell a story of an unfulfilled life without fully sympathizing with the lead. It was partially his own fault, he didn’t try hard enough and so he didn’t get the things he wanted. And he learned to be happy with what he had and generous to the next generation. It wasn’t a story of him angrily confronting his father and then joyfully going off (leaving behind all his responsibilities) to follow his dreams.

      But the bottom line is, your life might be another example of parents making choices, but we never get to see your life onscreen, do we? It’s always the story of men, never young married women. That’s the context that bugs, I don’t mind a serious character study, I just want to see it about other people besides the poor tragic male office worker.

      On Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 1:01 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Again I will point to the target audience with the max disposable income & luxury of time who are makes up for most of the multiplex crowd. I would love if someone made movies on working women or just any women dealing with some realistic, even mundane life. Tumhari Sulu was great that way & that was my draw towards Molly Aunty also. We don’t get to see a middle aged woman dealing with neighbors, colleagues & tax officials every day. Do we?

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        • Yep, but that’s not fair! Men shouldn’t be the people with the maximum disposable income and films shouldn’t be made exclusively for the multiplex crowd!

          Or, even if that is happening, reviewers should be like me (because I am perfect 🙂 ) and point out the limitations of these films instead of being blinded by their own life situation into thinking they are universal.

          On Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 8:42 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Well, we don’t have many reviewers who studies the influence of media on society(I’m hinting at your specialisation, in case it isn’t clear/correct🙂) rt? As for the fairness part-as long as it’s told in an entertaining way, without giving me room to think or yawn much, I’m good with any kind of story.

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  7. Regarding suggestions for 80s Malayalam movies with more interesting supporting characters.Director Padmarajan’s movies are almost always good.Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal,Thoovanathumbikal and Innale have all been reviewed by Margaret here.I’d also like to recommend Aparan.

    Director Sathyan Anthikad’s movies from the era are always a nice choice.In Manassinakkare (which is incidentally Nayantara’s first film), her parents are low-level politicals workers of the Communist party.Mom Sukumari go to political meetings while Dad manages things at home.In T.P Balagopalan M.A, Sukumari who plays Shobana’s mom devours romance novels and gets her daughter’s suitor Mohanlal to buy them for her.In Snehaveedu, Mohanlal’s neighbours are still dealing with the fact that their daughter has eloped with a man belonging to a different religion -despite them living in the same village and the couple having kids.

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  8. Adding to Meenalshy’s comment above about VdW, I was surprised to find that the majority of my under-40 NRI female friends (I.e. Born and raised in South Asia, moved to the usa for college, work, or marriage, lived here ever since) did not like VdW, precisely because of the “oh, cry me a river” sentiment you’ve described here. In the intersectionality debate, sometimes women side with their class or their race over their gender (or at least prioritize that way). My friends’ eye rolls were audible when the Veeres took off for their Thailand getaway. My friends felt like it’s a movie made by, about, and for a bunch of rich entitled women. This reaction is a stark contrast to the success of Sex in the City in the usa, despite the characters wearing impossible shoes and clothes, dating unattainable men, and taking outlandish vacays, on a columnists salary, no less.

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  9. This is one of those posts where I wanted to jot down my initial thoughts on the post before I read the (always interesting) discussion in the comments, which I’m sure will modify my initial reaction, since that’s what discussion does.

    My intial reaction is–hot damn! I love your tone here–righteous indignation but backed up with well organized receipts. I can usually only muster the first without the second! I appreciate the structure of the article–where you make me really want to see this movie about Irrfan before you reveal that it’s actually about Dulquer.

    And you have basically summed up the problem with so many fields of art and scholarship, in most civilizations, since civilizations have existed, but teasing out how it applies to Indian films. Good stuff. This is why I love folk stories, folk songs. folk art, street art, and what can loosely be called the homely arts, because they are often the little spaces where lower class or otherwise marginalized men, women, and children can make their mark, can say or show a little something about themselves and what they think, feel, and wish for.

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    • What you say about folk art, that’s what really attracted me to Hindi film in the beginning. Because it was folk art, it was made for the common people and by the common people. Which, unfortunately (I think) is being lost in recent years as ticket prices go up and up and outside investment in film does as well. There’s a lot of talk about nepotism, and no talk about class which I find a far more important issue. Even Kangana, she has brought nepotism up as a mainstream discussion, but when I looked her up recently, I realized she also came from a fairly high class family. Rural, sure, but wealthy.

      On Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 12:14 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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