On Saturday night I tried to see a movie but it was houseful everywhere I tried. It was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion. I had been looking forward to the movie with a mixture of trepidation and curiousity. Bhandarkar’s MNS tinted moralism is more than I can stomach for the most; but then there’s the sizzle of the “real” that he promises – and that’s often, though not always, better than the average Roadside Romeo. Even if one ignored that derivative Gia meets Lolita film poster and ridiculous tag line (you have to lose more than your morals – more like a gag line baba!) the fact that a Hindi film featuring three women on its poster, in which men were either marginal characters or gay, is not something to be lightly dismissed. So, that’s my defense of why I was so bent on seeing the film. Of course within 3.5 minutes I started complaining loudly about the dialogue writing and threatening various Saudi style punishments for the writers and the director until my friend turned to me and said sternly – who wanted to see this movie? So I piped down into a resentful murmur.

But anyway, this is not a I hate Madhur Bhandarkar post. Not exactly.

Watching the film and thinking about it later I was wonderstruck again by Mr Bhandarkar’s USP – R&R – Research and Reality the big badge and the big club with which he bludgeons us into taking him seriously.

I am kind of curious about what he considers Research. Because what I see in the films is a sort of superficial accumulation of facts and episodes – very easily co-relatable to people alive and dead. Bhandarkar doesn’t seem to realize or engage with the idea that research brings us, not facts that we can neatly or forcibly fit into our moral grid – but leads us to an understanding of life, human nature and the contours of the particular context we are researching.

If he genuinely did research in that sense, he might end up making films that truly mirrored the ambiguities and compromises that each human being has to make with life in different ways – after all he chooses really interesting spaces to explore; and he might genuinely have been a commentator on our times. Instead he’s a sort of Rajat Sharma character – uttering selective facts laced with his own moral judgements and toxic neuroses until he’s built up a pulp fiction of black and black. He seems to look for only one side to everything – the seamy one. Having found it, since that’s all he’s looking for, he seems to sit back like a smug Little Jack Horner – a conqueror of reality, not an observer of it; one who has diminished reality by grinding it under his moralistic boot heel.

But it seems that people in general – at least in our country – prefer their reality with a lecture and a judgement and unmistakably redolent with crisis and calamity. With documentary films too, people are much more comfortable accepting stories of “extreme reality” – killing, battle, famine, conflict, brutality, brutalization – and more so if they come coded with a prefabricated moral position, a posture of indignation. Films, fictional or non-fictional that ring truer to life – whether in realistic or fantastical form – which is to say they evoke many layers of emotion and experience simultaneously, not necessarily leaving us with clear questions and answers – these, people do not feel as confident owning even if they’ve actually responded to them quite well. When it comes to a public declaration, a public stance of any kind, even fairly discerning people come down either on the side of the bland or the overspiced. Too bad the truth is also in the middle. Or at least some important bits of it.

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  1. I have never understood and keep failing to understand the usage of term ‘ realism’ in cinema these days by our Bollywood fraternity. Realism and Research the two new bastardized fads of our cinema. One day, seriously, they should be questioned regarding their views on realism whether it’s a representation they talking about, the imitation they talking about or simply copying.

    I seriously never could understand the sugar coating ‘ realistic’ as critics and people brand of Bhanderkar’s cinema, if Bhanderkar was realistic I wonder what did filmmaker like Jean Rouch do or even Shymam Benegal.

  2. Yes Paromita, the R&R you mention is not to be taken seriously… its just a package that clicked once, brought money for the next flm and the next and the next… The matter inside is the same… After having ‘found’ such a package people do spent the rest of thier lives trying to maintain it. – If i do that I survive and can be in a comfort zone that i wish for…

  3. How true.

    And can you imagine the guts needed to put yourself on screen, and having someone say, “There goes so-and-so, he’s doing research for his next film.” ? Wow. I was awestruck.

    But you are right, most people love such moralistic preachy films, fiction or documentary. The filmmaker must always take a stand.

  4. You’re right Ram – and in some ways I don’t even suffer over the filmmaker as much as I suffer over the response and the lack of sharp, rich critical culture that doesn’t take this seriously just because it claims to be serious.

    Batul, I swear that scene was so embarrasingly clunky! At least Subhash Ghai’s appearances are cheerfully campy!

  5. Basically as you said Ram, Bhandarkar has evolved his own formula – take a section of society be it the bar dancers, page 3 types, corporate honchos, traffic signal hangabouts and the glam industry and then give a ‘realistic take’ on them by exposing their sordid side. Have a couple of ‘home truth’ dialogues uttered by the have nots – the drivers in Page 3 or the Peons in Corporate. It’s working for him and he will go on making films like this. And he has already been able to legitimize his R&R. People do take him and his ‘research’ seriously. I know enough people who saw Page 3, Corporate and Fashion and admired what realistic films he makes.

    Now in a comfort zone, it looks like he will continue doing what he does best – choosing interesting topics, and then making his films without any insight or understanding of his subject matter whatsoever (after months of research of course!) while binding his central characters with archaic middle-class morals and judgements, especially his women. And sadly, yes the wah wahs and National Awards will continue…

  6. That scene with Madhur making an appearance was ekdum cringeworthy. And somebody please give that Arbaaz Khan a privy purse/pension or something and forbid him from coming on screen. What a dhakkan of an actor!

    I thought just once scene in the film was well written, performed and directed. Kangana Ranaut and Priyanka in the loo. No background score. Interesting camera angle. Economic dialogue. And that big close up of Kangana’s disheveled face….that stayed with me when I left the film. Baaki sab faaltu babak and tits and arse….yawn.

  7. Charu – I agree with you about that scene – I thought it was well taken too. And perhaps the only scene where the dialogue was pretty good though I still think they could have shaved it a bit – but that’s quibbling.

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