Last week I walked out of the theater during the intermission of a movie, deciding to ‘abandon’ it. I have watched movies worse than this, but strangely, have never actually left one midway. I was feeling guilty, doing this for the first time, but mainly because it was a ‘small’ film sans stars, with honest intentions, but a terrible execution. This summarizes the state of independent Hindi cinema today.
Half a decade ago, there was this myth of an upcoming independent cinema revolution that would change ‘Bollywood’ for good. This myth rode on the success of a shameless rip-off of a French comedy, and the promise of new names like Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Imtiaz Ali, Sriram Raghvan etc. Today, some of these directors have turned to stars and are making big-budget films. Others have been inconsistent about the commercial and critical success of their movies. And worse, in spite of a mob of first-time filmmakers appearing during this period, hardly a few can match the talent and the aesthetic maturity of their predecessors. Let us summarize the situation:
- Even the most talented and gutsy filmmakers, can not avoid the opportunity a star or a big budget provides.
- Even the best and most interesting of small films have failed to achieve commercial success. None has replicated the dream-run of that ‘rip-off’.
- Most, if not all, films made with ‘honest intent’ are so pedestrian in their aesthetic value that we are forced to think – whether this person should be making movies? Others are ‘almost there’ – in spite of having an interesting plot and characters, these films have an air of complacence and lose steam mid-way.
I have not yet talked about the problems of marketing and distribution that these movies face, because that was always expected, and we were hoping that these films will slowly, but consistently, help in changing the scenario. The hope has dimmed. The clout of stars and big-budget films is as mighty as before. The New Wave of Hindi Cinema seems to be dying a premature death, in utero.
And we can not blame the audience. The makers need to understand that ‘independent cinema’ is not the license to serve half-baked, technically poor specimens of ‘honest and brave attempts’. There can be no excuse for out-of-sync dialogues and annoying background score, leave aside improper framing and purposeless edit patterns. Bad ‘big’ films have less of these problems. And the presence of good-looking ‘stars’ and ‘sets and locations’ make sure you have something to watch. A big, bad film is bad. A small, bad film is worse. The number of patrons of small, meaningful cinema is rising. But it is the responsibility of the filmmakers to ensure that the audience sits-through the movie once they have entered the theater despite poor publicity, and not ‘abandon’ it mid-way. The unnecessary transfer of guilt does not, and would not help. The last thing we would wish is this wait for ‘the revolution’ to be an endless one.