We have often heard actors, directors and even producers complaining about how certain films were made “way ahead of their time” after they failed to do well at the box office, implying of course that the audience lacked either the sophistication or the intellect, or both, to perceive and appreciate a film which made sense. This is exactly how producers justified and still today, continue to justify badly made formulaic films.
A very typical plot for an Indian Movie potboiler would be : the rich spoilt girl, the apple of her father’s eye with little or no manners, falls in love with a poor boy who has nothing to give to his beloved but his heart of gold and who lives in a tiny shack with his widowed mother. After a showdown or two, the boy teaches the girl some manners and the two promptly break into song and their feet sway in tandem to the rhythmic beats of their own song. Then the daddy finds out and cuts the girl off his property and tries to hack the boy’s limbs or have him beaten up by goons if he dares to even look at his daughter. But true love is, after all, all-conquering and overpowering and our hero walks away with his golden egg, the rich girl’s daughter and the property.
There might just have been an outside chance of me appreciating such films had it not been made over and over again. Interestingly, if we go way back in time and look at what is now “literature” (at the time, they were plays written by a little known scriptwriter). Yes, I am talking about William Shakespeare. Shakespeare did not only cater to the rich. He wrote for people from all walks of life; from aristocrats to “groundlings”, the people who sat on the ground and watched his plays.
On the other hand, Francis Beaumont, Shakespeare’s contemporary (not really famous anymore) was a powerful and incisive playwright who focussed on satire. He wrote only for aristocrats because in this opinion, the aristocrats, having had the privileges of a certain kind of cultural upbringing, would be able to appreciate satire better. More importantly, he did not have to worry about hurting “middle class” or “groundling” sentiments.
You must be wondering why I would choose to mention these in context of “masala ” films that, more often than not, follow a specific pattern? Well it is the same here. Just as Shakespeare wrote to sell and sell to the masses, even our filmmakers sell to the masses. And look now, Shakespeare is a legend, while very few even know Beaumont. It is also interesting to think about the entrepreneurial angle, which directly interferes with the creative decision making of a film. I am sure that there have been producers who have refused to back projects simply because they felt that it wouldn’t “sell”. They believed that by investing their money on a story which had a tried-and-tested-plot, they would be the eventual winners.
But Sholay broke that notion. The protagonist of the film died, something which was unheard of at the time. The “hero” never died. He was a “good guy”. Only the “bad guys” died. Thakur’ s death was justified, but Vijay’s death? Vijay’s death was formulaic hara-kiri. But the filmed worked. And became a classic.
Slowly, but surely, filmmakers realised the importance of a good story. For every Bobby, there is a Pakeezah. And the new crop of filmmakers are waking up to the fact that films like Taare Zameen Par and Chak De! India do not necessarily need to be formula films for them to have to do well at the box-office.
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