By Vinod Mirani
One of the watchwords of filmmaking in India was the word 'Identification'. The other equally relevant term was 'Universal Appeal'. And making a film with these two aspects in mind, a maker was expected to deliver a wholesome entertainment package of around two hour and half.
Basically, it is believed that there are seven themes around which all stories are told and, as such, films are made, too. In India, the epics 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata' as well as other literature, such as the 'Panchtantra', provide all the themes one needs. The job was for writers to weave scripts around them to make films.
Writers made films work. They created the blueprint and rest had to go according to that. The casting, the music, mainly, and the rest followed.
Talking of writers, there was a lineup known for penning jubilee hits. The producer made sure he had the time for the writers and sat with them as the story and the script developed. And cinema buffs were as familiar with the names of film writers as they were with those of stars.
The media was not so far-reaching in those days. Now the media is all powerful but it has no film writers to write about! There were celebrity writers such as Sachin Bhoumick, K.A. Narayan, Rahi Masoom Raza, Salim-Javed, K.K. Shukla, Prayag Raj, Gulshan Nanda, Kamaleshwar and Kader Khan, along with many filmmakers who were accomplished writers. Some writers excelled in penning 'claptrap dialogues', which brought viewers back.
The pair of Salim-Javed and K.A. Narayan were considered contemporary writers with a modern mindset in their time, but their films lacked nothing that wasn't intrinsic to the values of storytelling in India. Mother, sister, 'bhabi', emotions, family ties ruled even in their films. Yes, some comedy films were the exceptions where there was room for drama and melodrama. A lot many filmmakers did copy foreign films, but they had good writers to give these lifted foreign films an Indian colour
Things went downhill for Hindi films with the arrival of the video, followed by VCDs. The new generation whizkids started looking for subjects there, from Hollywood films, readymade. Some of them were wise enough to find subjects that were easy to adapt for the Indian audience. But the Hollywood films were shorter in duration, so some bright ones would carry two VCDs to the star; one of them for the first half and the other one for the second half and climax!
It had come to such a pass that there were instances of two producers making the same film and two music directors copying the same foreign tune. Originality was compromised for material that was instantly available.
Yet, some filmmakers, the second generation from old production houses, such Suraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, continued to believe in films with the quintessential Indian formula and came up with films like 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!', 'Hum Saath-Saath Hain', 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai', 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham', 'Mohabbatein', 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' and such. No wonder, they were able to deliver major hits.
Finally, in the quest for the Indian themes, Hindi filmmakers took refuge in remaking films from the South. It was not happening for the first time. It has been happening over the decades. But, at one time, filmmakers from the South themselves re-made their hit films in Hindi. Now, the Hindi filmmakers do it -- to remake a tried and tested hit.
The main problem with film writing today is that there are no original thoughts, nor the skill set to write in the language the film is made in: Hindi. There's a new generation -- youth, girls and boys, very enthusiastic about filmmaking, running helter-skelter on the sets.
But they do not think or write in their native tongue, least of all Hindi. They think, write scenes and dialogue in Roman, which are meant to be mouthed in Hindi by the actors! And many big-time actors have an issue with this, but all they can do is express it at times.
The directors today do their job sitting on the monitor, not playing out a scene like the directors used to do earlier. How can one visualise grandeur from a TV monitor?
And, talking of language, who are you making these films for? Generally, for the all-India audience, but with the specific market of the Hindi belt. Then, why do some makers fill up a film's soundtrack with Punjabi songs? Just because the music company insists and their music banks are loaded with these songs!
And some producers think they are in Hollywood, probably trying to match them, that most of the dialogue in their films is in English! Take 'Runway 34', for example. Besides the limited audience in the metros and bigger cities, who is familiar with an airliner, let alone an airliner in distress mode? And the language is English almost all the way! No wonder, such films miss their target audience.
One success and the filmmakers start taking their audience for granted in the name of sequels. Recently, we had the film, 'Heropanti 2'. What was it about? Nothing, really.
You have a hero, Tiger Shroff, with a chiseled body and is a fighting machine. So you let him loose on the screen, felling hundreds of bad people. What about a semblance of story, romance, music, et al, the ingredients that complete a film?
You make a film, 'Kahaani', where Vidya Balan plays a trained, determined strong woman, single-handedly chasing the villain till she finishes him. What is the sequel about? Vidya Balan is a woman scared to death, running from her detractors! Is this a sequel where you totally negate the characters of a well-established and a successful protagonist? How can one change the basic characteristics of the hero or the heroine?
The examples are many. You don't even have the imagination to title your new film and just want to cash in on the previous success by calling it a sequel.
To know the public pulse, you need to keep in touch with people and keep observing them. Many filmmakers, once successful, move away from the masses and it shows in their films. They fail. There was one director, Manmohan Desai, who realised this: that he was lost if he was not among the people who inspired his films, his characters and his music.
Manmohan Desai lived in a middle-class locality in Mumbai and indulged with the locals like one of them, played cricket with the local boys and heard their stories. With a lineup of successful films, he moved to one of the more expensive areas of Mumbai in a seven-storey structure where each floor was designed to be a bungalow in itself.
Soon, he started feeling like a man marooned on an island. He could not take it anymore and moved back to his old address to be with his own people and to mingle with them.
The problem with present-day makers is that they are isolated, having lost touch with the people they are catering to.
Films were called the 'opium of the masses'. What does one call them now?