Like many wonderful terms, “hyperlinked cinema” was coined by a film critic. American writer Alissa Quart first used the expression in 2005 to describe movies that contained interconnected plot lines and that moved back and forth in time between various characters. Hyperlinked movies such as Amores Perros (2000),Traffic (2000), Crash (2004), Syriana (2005) and Gomorrah (2008) offer the thrill of throwing different stories at viewers and teasing out the connections along the way, often openly but also sometimes subtly.
Interconnected narratives are not new—Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), based on Raymond Carver’s short stories about various Los Angeles denizens, as well as Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994), which maps love, loss and loneliness across two separate stories, predate Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Amores Perros (2000). However, hyperlinked cinema has come into its own in the age of the global city. By its very nature, a hyperlink film is perfectly suited to express the multiplicity of characters and worlds that exists cheek by jowl in cities. Such films allow film-makers to make sense of the often contradictory and oppositional movements of people and ideas in modern megapolises. Amores Perros, for instance, used a car accident to yoke together the stories of a model, a dog fighter and a hitman. The movie spawned countless imitations, including Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004).
It’s no surprise that hyperlinked films have become popular in India at a time when our cities are experiencing massive upheavals. The Delhi Metro connects various corners of the city, making it possible to move from a tony part of the Capital to an ancient quarter and then to the still-developing fringes in a matter of minutes. In Mumbai, changed urban development regulations mean that older notions of an inner city and its suburbs have been reduced to rubble. Real estate now costs a lifetime’s savings regardless of the neighbourhood you live in. Advertising executives share space with blue-collar workers in the mill district. Retired government employees are neighbours with young film professionals in the northern parts of the city. Only films with interconnected narratives, can, perhaps, make sense of the clamour and the glamour of the new Indian metropolis.
As the modern city transforms itself, the genre of the city film is undergoing various nips and tucks. Kiran Rao’s upcoming Dhobi Ghat explores the interlinked lives of four characters, including a washerman and an artist. Before Rao, film-makers such as Anurag Basu (Life in a...Metro; 2007), Nishikant Kamat (Mumbai Meri Jaan; 2008) and Dibakar Banerjee (Love Sex aur Dhokha; 2010) have used common themes—love in the city, violence, voyeurism—to connect seemingly disparate individuals. A response to the global city is to try and suggest that a grand narrative exists beneath the chaos. A more convenient solution can be to take A, connect him to B, make B fall in love with C, who, in turn, is using D to get back at A.
Hyperlink films liberate film-makers, especially young and restless ones who want to address several stories in a short span of time, from having to follow the emotional and psychological arc of a character from beginning to end. As several turkeys from the last few years prove, it seems simpler to hold on to one’s identity in a bustling city than to make audiences care for the fortunes of a few good men and women for a 2-hour duration.
Dhobi Ghat releases on 21 January.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net)
Write to Nandini at email@example.com