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.