Several young directors working in Bollywood often profess a love for movies that are part of a genre best described as “so bad it’s actually good”. These directors, who’re mostly male and upwards of 30, appreciate the nuances of such nuggets as Kaatil Jawani and Haseena and swear by the inherent cool of films such as Agent Vinod and Wardaat (the latter’s lead character, Gunmaster G-9, is referred to in Slumdog Millionaire). However, tackiness isn’t the preserve of the talentless.
In recent times, some of the most prestigious banners have rolled out movies that deserve to be classified as straight Bs. And characters who could have ruled a B-movie universe have made a bold pitch for A-list glory.
The idea of a B-movie originated in the late 1920s in Hollywood, the industry that has most significantly influenced films made in Mumbai. Back then, American audiences were treated to double features, and the cheaply made B-movie was what ran after the big budget main attraction. The B-movie gradually became notorious for its often salacious and shocking content. Years after the B-movie faded out, directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez paid their tributes through pastiche, the art of looking at an old form with new eyes.
Grade C: Tashan was an exercise in excess in formulaic film-making.
The Hindi film industry’s understanding of B-movies has been somewhat different. We have had our fair share of B-grade movies, mostly involving sexually deprived men, generously endowed women and venereal disease doctors. Then there’s also the B-centre movie. Hindi film distributors classify movie releases according to the territories in which they are distributed. The cream of Bollywood’s output flows first to the A centres, which include the metros. B centres, such as Raipur or Jhansi, are lower down in the hierarchy of importance because they don’t have as many screens and purchasing power as A centres. The C centre, which includes such towns as Haridwar and Mathura, often receives the latest Bollywood blockbuster weeks after its original date of release. The system has changed somewhat in the age of piracy and the multiplex—thanks to the multiscreen cinema hall, the gap between A and B centres has shrunk somewhat.
It isn’t always easy to separate a respectable Hindi film from a pretender. Ram Gopal Varma betrays vast expertise in the mechanics of B-movie production. He shoots fast and cheap, he works with mostly unknown actors, and he loves to shock. He has especially mastered the art of making A-list actors shed their artistic pretensions. Example: Amitabh Bachchan in Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag.
The younger lot, whose heads and shelves are stuffed with many more influences than their predecessors, try to quote a Wong Kar Wai in one frame and a B. Subhash in the next. Obviously, things get a bit outlandish. Screenplay and dialogue writer Vijay Krishna Acharya made his inglorious debut with Tashan(2008), a putative homage to the excesses of formulaic film-making. Acharya used four leading actors and a very healthy budget to deliberately mount an illogical and tacky film. Acharya, who wrote the so-silly-it’s-actually-sublime dialogue for the Dhoom movies (sample from Dhoom:2: Are you, like, checking me out?), was trying to do a Rodriguez. He ended up imitating Subhash instead, with none of the latter’s staggeringly entertaining bad taste. Acharya was unable to pastiche a film-making form that is already a pastiche of various genres, the way Pankaj Parasher did in Peecha Karo (1986). B-movies in Bollywood don’t always refer to the runt of the litter. Often, the B can, quite simply and baldly, stand for bad.
Nandini Ramnath is film editor, Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org