Stripped of its lived-in Delhi setting and its next-door characters, Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) is yet another Yash Raj Films movie. It’s got most of the elements that have come to be identified closely with the leading movie producer: Peppy songs that are destined to be played ad nauseam at Punjabi weddings, a production design that includes all shades of the rainbow, and enough Punjabi to improve your understanding of the language. Yet, BBB has something extra—a strong dose of realism. Its characters aren’t cardboard cut-outs but flesh-and-blood people. Its locations are identifiably Delhi rather than an overdressed set in a Mumbai studio. BBB is a realistic entertainer whose feel-good climax is especially sweeter because it is rooted in an identifiable reality rather than an alienating fantasy.
Hindi cinema’s latest quest to serve up fresh fare for increasingly restless audiences is taking it in interesting directions. Few Hindi movies veer away from the tried-and-tested combination of attractive actors, loosely defined characters who can appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers, loud and cheerful song-and-dance sequences. Most movies must end on a satisfactory and comforting note, one that makes audiences feel they have extracted full value for the time and money spent. Yet some writers and directors are trying to tinker with the formula. The conclusion is still palliative, but there are more warts on display than before.
Pop realism: Band Baaja Baaraat.
Habib Faisal, who wrote Band Baaja Baraat, also made the sweet comedy Do Dooni Chaar, which wore its ordinariness on its frayed sleeve. The movie’s upbeat ending followed the revelation of a few home truths along the way, such as the reality that middle-class families in India are being squeezed by the new economy. Tere Bin Laden took genial potshots at America’s obsession with Osama bin Laden, but did it so gently that the film can never be confused with biting satire. Humour seems to be a good way to win over viewers who might otherwise baulk at being lectured to. In that sense, the new realistic entertainers are an improvement on the anodyne middle-of-the-road movies of Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, which poked fun at middle India’s eccentricities but rarely linked the lives of their characters to the larger social realities of the time.
A fashionable way to appear “real” is to litter the dialogue sheets with profanity. In the old days, Kader Khan put the language of the Mumbai streets in Amitabh Bachchan’s mouth in Amar Akbar Anthony. In recent months, many Bollywood writers are sprinkling their screenplays with expletives in an attempt to write dialogue that reflects everyday speech patterns. Colourful language probably makes sense in a gangster film, which is usually bursting with low-lifes who don’t care for etiquette. But the C-word (which is derogatory to women) pops up even in a film such as Tanu Weds Manu, a low-key romantic comedy about a mismatched couple. The more a film strays off the beaten track, the more likely it is to collect swear words along its journey. Offbeat films need lashings of cool to offset their lack of glamour and star power. There’s no better way to grab attention than to line an actor’s mouth with cusswords.
It’s great to watch films that are not as plasticky and implausible as most mainstream fare, but the use of realism as a stylistic device alone comes with its limitations. My money is on films such as Love Sex aur Dhokha and Peepli (Live), which ask tough questions and which make you squirm rather than break out into a collective bhangra.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at email@example.com