12 January 2007

Larger than life

Sanjay Gadhavi’s comment (see my previous post) that Indian audiences identify with larger-than-life characters in his film ‘Dhoom:2’ has a much wider connotation. Albeit, when it comes to Hindi/Bollywood films, and most other films from India, Indian audiences thrive on seeing their heroes larger than life.

On film, Indian heroes are capable of achieving many feats which heroes in films from other countries are incapable of. Mind you, if Indian film heroes were as physically fit as their Chinese counterparts, like Jet Li or Jackie Chan, or if they enacted the roles of Hollywood versions of comic book superheroes like Batman or Spider-Man, I would have no trouble accepting their celluloid achievements. But, when I look at some of the overweight, not-so-physically-fit Indian heroes who are constantly achieving the impossible, and the Indian audience is goading them for more, I wonder what it is all about. Are these feats, to borrow another comment from Sanjay Gadhavi, really “within the realm of reality”?

Indian film heroines, sadly, are not given equal status. Their feats are usually on the dance floor, next to their heroes or along with an entourage, although there have been a few police officer heroines who have done substantial damage to the villains before succumbing, and then being rescued by their heroes. The Indian audience has lapped this up as well, with the female sections of the audience enraptured by the song-and-dance sequences and the glitter of the heroines’ costumes. To the female segment of the Indian audience, life is one big glittering musical show in a Hindi/Bollywood film. As one film director (I think it was Rajeev Menon) who once asked: Take away the song and dance from Indian cinema and what do you have?

Really, what do we have? How does the Indian audience define on-screen reality?

Well, the alternative isn’t very exciting. There’s poverty, pain and death. See any film by Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Govind Nihalani, Prakash Jha, Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghosh and the rest of the independent brigade, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Life isn’t a bed of roses. On the contrary, it’s steeped with hardship, helplessness and sorrow. And, who in India wants a repetition of that! What Indian audiences want are heroes who can not only protect them from the scum of the earth, but also promise them a few hours of respite through a romance that life really ought to be. Hence, the desire for something much larger than what life really is.

Most Hindi/Bollywood, and other Indian, films fulfil this need in Indian audiences. Leaving me with the question: Is film really larger than life?

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