Aslam Ansari writes from France
Film aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that examines the beauty and meaning in a work of art. It is different from the film criticism, though some film criticism may also appear in a work reflecting the aesthetics of a film or film trends…
“Cinematic-Essay” is a new column that will examine film aesthetics and new trends in contemporary cinema. It will also focus on the live-sketches of new filmmakers.
Just like Hollywood… When one thinks of Indian films, one immediately thinks of the legacy of Bollywood, the likes of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dhoom, Krrish, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke… the megabudget films with high-profile actors that are designed to appeal to the greatest mass of people. These films which are admired everywhere are fantastic success around the world. At the same, there has been the growth of a movement of new young film talents, who are more interested in films about values, relationships, the hopes and conflicts of the “Indian dream.’’ These films are made by new talented directors and feature young exciting new acting and writing talent.
There are at least two countries in the world, America and India – whose films are making an impact across the globe. However, it’s a well-known fact that these movies do not represent the way that most average citizens live or how most of them think. In order to form a more favourable balance, the films of new independent filmmakers working “outside the studio system’’ present an intriguing balance to those Bollywood images, and give audience around the world a look at a different side of their cinematic experience.
In addition, these independent films are reaching the success with budgets that are only a small percentage of the average, mainstream Bollywood film budget. What they lack in budget they make up for in creativity, freshness and dedication. These films can be instructive to the filmmaking community of any country by demonstrating what kind of production values can be created on more moderate budgets. These independent filmmakers are a regular appearance at various film festivals in Europe – Berlin, Cannes, Manheim, to name a few. I met some of them at Cannes-2017.
They were energetic and reflected vigour and vision. Among them, there was Rahat Kazmi who had made a thought-provacative film, Identity Card that depicted the police violence against the youth in the Kasmir region. Identity Card has been shown in the European Parliament in Brussels. Rahat also wrote and directed another film, Side A & Side B. Then he came up with a film based on the literary piece by the iconic writer, Ismat Chughtai. This movie titled, Lihaaf (The Quilt) features a brilliant Indian actress, Namita Lal, who is based in Singapore. The other independent filmmakers that I came across were, Tariq Khan, Mujeeb-ul-Hassan, Jitesh Kumar, Udayyan Raathore – and Devendra Jadhav, everyone with some spicy projects on hand… Some others are on the way to join the bandwagen… They are Tarun Khosla and Ghayour Mohammad Khan, two businessmen from New Delhi, along with Zakir Shaikh from the old part of Delhi (Old Delhi.) Here I would like to precise that Zakir is from Old Delhi (Purani Dilli…) but his vision for a lot of things is a cavern of Ali Baba, fuof new ideas. This Ali Baba or Zakir Shaikh is primarily a dealmaker, the kind of eternal middleman – who is always required in all business ventures in our modern corporate world.
Udayyan Raathore was at Cannes-2019 with his debut feature, Twosome, an unusual story of two strangers who get stuck with each other for an entire night – and share their tales as how one’s ambitions and the inherent uncertainty in movie business ruin the lives…
Devendra Jadhav (Rajoo,) a fast-thinking, sharply focused filmmaker from Mumbai have been a regular appearance at the Indian Pavillion in Cannes. His film, Gandhi Goes Missing... won a Gold Medal at the Vittel Festival (Festi Vittel) in France, in 2014. I have attributed a nickname to Devendra Jadhav. The nickname I suggested to him is “Rajoo,” which is my tribute to an old-time friend, Rajinder Prashad from Bombay who lived in Paris for a few years – and he was known in our group of friends as “Rajoo…” I don’t think anyone in our group remembers his original name. His father was a pilot in Air India. The point of significance is that Rajoo was the first one who motivated me towards filmmaking. It was longtime ago in Paris – when Rajoo, during a long discussion in a café on Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, near the Jussieu University, came up with this idea, “Hey, I am going to make the films. Why don’t you join me… Let’s do it together.” Then he gave me several useful info about how to make films, intelligently on micro-budget, with innovative ideas… Rajoo used to read many books on cinema. I was also quite enthusiastic after listening about this new adventure, well adventures in filmmaking… I don’t know where is he nowadays… He left Paris longtime ago. Now in this phase, by giving the nickname, “Rajoo” to Devendra Jadhav, the independent filmmaker from Mumbai – I am creating my best possible tribute to a long-lost friend who first invoked me towards the world of cinema.
These Indian independent filmmakers remind me of Sandy Mandelberger from New York and his “American Independents Showcase’’ that he used to organize at Cannes Film Market, Berlin, and San Sebastian Film Festival. He presented the works of American independent filmmakers at his booths at all these film events… Sandy was the champion and the bridge-maker for American independents, generating audience and discovering buyers for those independently-made American films. Once I have also done a joint project with Sandy. We have organized a mini film festival, “Off-Hollywood Week’’ in Karachi (in January/February 1994) – which was the presentation of selected offbeat American movies. The mini film festival was a success, and we received good press reviews. Pacaud Michel from the French Cultural Center, Alliance Française, Karachi, was one of the key appearances at the closing night event, along with Rahat Kazmi – a distinguished actor from Pakistan television. (The both, Rahat Kazmi from Karachi, and Rahat Kazmi from Mumbai are like little milestones in my cinematic journey…) Zubair Abbasi, one of my best friends in life and an iconic writer for television in Pakistan accompanied me on almost every step. The nostalgia of my joint venture with American Independents Showcase for promoting the offbeat American movies motivated me that I should attribute a specific term to these new and talented Indian filmmakers – hence I am coming up with this tribute and title for them: Bollywood Independents. Long live Bollywood Independents…
ANOTHER ASPECT OF BOLLYWOOD INDEPENDENTS…
“Fast Food Movies…”
While on the one hand, one can see the various creative sides of Bollywood independents filmmaking – on the other hand, another innovative aspect is also appearing that requires to be brought into the limelight. What I witnessed on many different occasions is a simultaneous growth of the films that I would define as “Fast Food Movies…” These movies as the term denotes, are the instant assembling of some ready-made filmi components… Here is how it works: Just pick up a female lead character from London, Paris, Rome, or New York – bring the another one like a male lead from India… and create some interaction between them in picturesque places in Europe… Roll them in a platter with some other side characters, throw this all into a quick editing… And our “Fast Food Movie” is ready to be consumed. Bonne appétit (enjoy your meal.) Here I would quote a writer friend who once said to me, “A real good script can take six months to three years to be completed.” Well, in our “Fast Food Movies,” a script can be prepared, while just on the move on different sets and locations… Because they’re our Fast Food Movies, not the handy-craft cinematic work. With this speedy, hotchpotch cooking and baking of Fast Food Movies, some aspiring new actors’ dreams are also partially realized, because they get the chance to play in films – though sometimes for these chances, they also do some partial investment in the film, in which they are performing a role. However, ultimately everyone gets a part of the delight. It goes like a “Happy Ending” for everyone in the theater. But that’s another side of the picture. “Picture Abhi Baaki hai Mere Dost…”