Thursday, April 06, 2006

The English Hindi Film Industry in India

The Filmfare Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood

By Ratna Rajaiah

No, I am not hallucinating, just doing a bit of " I-told-you-so." They should have had the Filmfare Awards function in the Kodak theatre instead of that boring old Bandra-Kurla Complex. I told you so. So, who did I tell? More importantly, did anyone ask me? The Filmfare Awards organizing committee? Nope. Pradeep Guha? Nope. Cyrus Bharucha? Nope. His mum? Nope. Sony Television? Nope. Amar Singh? Nope. Sanjay Leela Bhansali? Nope. Okay, then Leela ben Bhansali, who should know a thing or two about these awards nights, having accompanied her dikhra all the way from Cannes to Cannanore to help him bag and cart the kilofuls of awards that he has been receiving of late. Nope, she didn’t either.
(They have a film awards function in Cannanore? No, but it rhymes with Cannes so nicely, na.)
So, nobody asked me. But I offered my two-paisa bit anyway and here it is again.
The Filmfare awards should have happened at the Kodak theatre in Hollywood.

Isn't anyone going to ask me why?

Oh alright, if you insist…. Why?

Very simple. It's only by pure chance, perhaps some awful aberration, ghastly slip-up or hideous mishap that these days films get made in Hindi, because of which we are still called the Hindi film industry. Because, if truth be told, as far as we are concerned, it’s like this. Heaven, Hollywood - same thing. Everyone’s dearest wish - apart from being seen flashing our latest Abu-Jani in at least one 2-second shot of the Oscars Awards telecast - is that when we die, we get to spend the rest of eternity where we pined to be all our mortal lives. Hollywood. Rubbing scripts with Spielberg, swapping camera angles with Ang Lee, making sheep’s eyes at George Clooney. (Or Charliez Theron, depending on which side of the Brokeback you are on) And jotting down points for our Oscar acceptance speech, not to mention checking out the best red carpet outfit designers.
Till then, we bide our time in boring ol’ Bollywood. (Though since Bombay is now Mumbai, so maybe that should be ‘Mollywood’.) Concentrating on getting ready for our soon-to-be Hollywoodness. Which means making what are ostensibly Hindi films, but if you watch and listen very, very carefully, it’s all in Hollywoodese….

Oh no.


Is this that that same ol’ tired litany of how many and how much of our films are “inspired” by Hollywood, starting from when writers totter into the directors’/ producers’ office staggering under their load of DVD’s of the latest Hollywood hits to when the dance director scratches his/her pate to figure out which pelvic shudder from which Jennifer Lopez/Madonna/ Beyonce would best match which item number?

No, it isn’t, but I just need to make two points before I gallop on…

One - peep into a sheet of dialogue at your average Hindi film shooting one of these days and I will bet you my Oscar acceptance speech that it will written in English

Two - I suppose it is only because of the infinitely long arm of coincidence that the story of “Black” has an uncanny resemblance to a 1962 Hollywood (where else) film called the Miracle Worker, based on the William Gibson play, based on the real life story and characters of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.
Of course not. Did you not hear aapro Sanjay “Black”ji declaring that it was Helen Keller’s story and not the film that was his er, inspiration?
I did. But one of the most dramatic scenes in the Miracle Worker is the one where little Helen Keller (played by 16-year old patty Duke) makes the connection between the word “water” that Anne Sullivan (played by Anne Bancroft) would tap out on her hand and the cold, wet stuff that just got splashed on her. Wasn’t there a similar scene in “Black”? Or then maybe Sanjay “Black”ji, like WilliamGibson, read all of Anne Sullivan’s letters…
At any rate, the Miracle Worker won just a piffling 2 Oscars whereas hamara “Black”? 11! Oscars? No, Filmfare Awarads and if we had staged the function at the Kodak theatre, it would have been the same thing. Almost.

Are you done? Because we want to go to bed, since we were all up at 6 am and then till 2 am. Watching the Oscars….naturally.
No, I haven’t. Like I said, they should have had the Filmfare Awards function in the Kodak theatre instead of boring ol’ Bandra Kurla. Because, it was really the Almost Hollywood Awards function. I don’t know how many of you watched – after all, we were all busy betting on odds of a gay cowboy film winning Best Picture. And they “blacked out” (ulp, Sanjayji) poor Baby Bachchan’s hour of glory at the footlights. (Incidentally, don’t want to seem a gossipy Bollywood, er, I mean Hollywood bitchy type, but if Baby B and A are going to soon be Jodi No. 1, why weren’t they together on stage for “Kajara Re…”?) But if you did watch, apart from the titles of the movies and the film clips, you would have difficulty figuring that it was a function about Hindi films. Barely a word of Hindi was spoken. People presented, announced, gave away and tearfully accepted in impeccable Queen’s English. Almost. In fact, that was the only thing wrong - the accents. Should have been asli Ameercun, but old habits die hard, don’t you know, old sock.
Anyway, all this was the chillar paisa, or as they say in Hollywood, loose change, small beer compared to the climax.
Which was the Lifetime Achievement Award. No, no silly, not the one that Robert Altman got at the Oscars, but the one Shabana Azmi got at the Almost Hollywood…er, I mean Filmfare Awards. And one richly and most justly deserved. Ms. Azmi has to be one of India’s finest actresses with a filmography that would done anyone from Meryl Streep to Dame Judi Dench proud. And if ever there was a family background that an actress should have, it should be like Ms. Azmi’s. Father – Kaifi Azmi, one of India’s most luminous poets and song writers. Husband – Javed Akhtar, the stuff that legends are made of, especially Hindi film legends. Both wrote – and Javedji still does – in Hindustani.
Which is why I ask this stupid, idiotic question. Would it not be correct to say that the language of the films that showcased Ms. Azmi’s awesome talent was….Hindi?

I ask because in her superb, perfectly poised, beautifully delivered acceptance speech, worth of any Oscar (or Golden Globe or BAFTA ), there was not one word of Hindi. As I pondered on this difficult conundrum, I also pondered on this. The Oscar show got telecast to a few hundred countries, but I did not see any subtitles in Pushto or Finnish. Or Hindi. The Filmfare gig on the other hand, which may have reached into the drawing rooms of the far flung World Wide Kutumb of NRI, most of whom would sperchen da Hindi?

Anyway, I guess things have a habit of working themselves out so this will too. Ang Lee wound up his acceptance speech with a line in his matru bhasha, Chinese, for all his kith and kith and fans back home. So, who knows, maybe when one of us does make it to Heaven…er, I mean Hollywood (Leelaji, ready?) and win an Oscar, Hindi will finally get spoken. In the last line of that acceptance speech.

PS : - Maybe we could imitate one other Oscar tradition – remembering the family members who passed on. That way, there would have been a teent-weeny tribute to Nadira.