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Friday, 6 January 2017

Hindi Cinema in 2016

Hindi Cinema in 2016

2016 hasn't been a great year.

That's no exaggeration.

In fact its stench has been felt through the first few days of the new year with the sadly demise of the legendary Om Puri today. Rest in Peace.

For me personally it hasn't been the best of years, with family issues and other things cropping up.

However on a professional front, my education at least in an official sense is over and I am truly and rightfully now part of the Hindi Film Industry and part of its most quantifiable bunch of people; known as strugglers.

As for cinema, Indian cinema has flourished; breaking new grounds and absolutely dominating on both a local and international stage. However the same cannot be said for Hindi cinema, while there have been some blistering pieces of work that have either found great over praise or been hidden in the shadows, most of the year has been just there. Still the HIndie Awards must go on.

As for the year, it hasn't necessarily had the kind of thematic link from the films of 2015 which were defined by the dysfunctional families that sort of heralded the barrier between old school and new age thinking the modern Indian family.

This year's Hindi cinema has been more about what goes behind the scenes rather than film themselves, it has hindered things yet also raise powerful questions for the society around, so let's have a spin through this crazy year that is 2016.

Feminism and The Need to Write Women First

It's great that the ideology of equality and equity has been pushed above all in the past few years more so in the last 12 months. However things in Indian society refuse to simmer down, a look at the heinous acts in Bangalore this New Year has once again brought into question the necessity to both change our notions of consent, rape and more importantly masculinity in a volatile society that requires equality not only to save its women [as well as compensate the disadvantage with equity] but also save its men.

This year alone has seen some powerful films put into light issues ranging from sexual consent, the right to choose as same as male counterparts and more. Certain films did right by the issues at hand, certain films played the card to appeal to a wider public without fully understanding their own subtext while some films simply did what films need to; they wrote and crafted complex characters and let them be a highlight of society itself.

One of the celebrated films of the year was Pink, which I'll speak about in length later; the film however did wonders in opening the subject of consent, though it refused to balance this lesson with the complexities of the situation. More importantly Pink gains points for opening the doors on a vital subject  but not for being an extraordinary film. As for its female characters; distinctive and well written, a variation of a diverse India.

Then there's a film like Sultan, it's faux feminist and attitude is seen in the way it constructs its strong female character only for her to become another objective in the overall arc of its leading hero. Anushka Sharma's Arfa begins as a far more balanced and intriguing character and while her overall arc still seems interesting not to mention the film is serviceable, but unfairly the character is forced into the cliche heroine position in the guise of aping reality. A reality of Haryana that actually sees the marginally terrible sex ratio manage to produce wrestling champions like Geeta and Babita Phogat highlighted this year in Dangal. [PS: Inspite of her character, Anushka Sharma absolutely owns Sultan]

Onto Dangal, here is a film that force fed its final feminist message through a young girl inspired by Geeta and a surprisingly understanding Aamir Khan, not Mahavir Phogat but superstar Khan himself. However for the most part the film never pretends to be an empowering saga, but a more family friendly and one sided bias on the pursuit of excellence through hard work that comes with the price of complete and ruthless dedication [something Whiplash accomplished a couple years back with a greater balance between the utter madness of the coach but also understood the dedication needed to achieve a level of absolute success].

Another example of the far reaching faux idea of celebrating feminism was Ki and Ka, which took itself too seriously and made a hodgepodge of itself into a stupid mixed message on the gender equation.

Then there were other films;

There was Phobia, which in the guise of genre answered powerful questions and asked for important answers on rape culture, consent, sexuality and more importantly highlighted every detailed point from the woman being the enemy within, the trope of the "nice" guy and sexual favours owed plus more.

There was Parched that peered into a rural India which sees women amongst themselves openly and with a teenage boy like fervour discuss sex among other things while being oppressed by a blind patriarch society. 

Finally this year thankfully saw the important step of not define women by notions of equality or limits of patriarchy, rather the films that absolutely succeeded were films that let women characters be characters as humans, complex and powerful humans with desires, emotions and what not just as real women are.

Films such as Waiting, Dear Zindagi, Kapoor and Sons and more gave us female characters that go beyond simple definitions and themes and become flesh and blood. It was beautiful.

Still the setback to need equality in the real world as well as the push and necessity to create great roles for women has pushed filmmakers to do right sometimes however for some it means creating female characters and easily pushing them in plot serving arcs and tooting their own horn.

The real triumph will be when a film can absolutely act as the cinematic masterpiece it needs to while if need be push a socially conscious message without shoving it down our throats or simplifying it for no reason.  

This brings me to...

PINK, The Also Ran

As will be seen later by the 2017 HIndie Award Nominees, Pink barely makes the dent it would have been perceived to do.

If Hindi cinema is going to be remembered by any film in 2016, it will be Pink. One way or another, Pink defines the year simply by it's most important caveat.

NO means NO.

 A powerful message delivered by the film, its subject and actors baritone [Bachchan at his best].

Yet while subjectively this message delivered is necessary, objectively the film isn't that good [as it is hyped to be].

The film handles the vital issue of content with a deft hand and great understanding that the fight for equality/feminism is not just fought by women but by all sides of the equation and for all sides of the equation. It's a stirring film no doubt, however it simplifies the issues to get to a larger crowd.

In that fashion however the film while opening a channel on the conversation of consent, doesn't necessarily delve deep enough into the issue and rather confuses even for being a mainstream appealing film. More importantly the details of the film itself are so thinly sketched and the subtext to flat and obvious that in itself the message seems force fed.

Don't misunderstand me, Pink is a good film; technically sound, well acted and even written with great understanding of its subject yet the film will be immortalized by its message more than anything and that's not a bad thing but it takes away from the fact that Pink wont be remembered as a cinematic masterpiece because it's not.

Bust Studio System and Box Office Woes

Moving on the year saw some big time studios, ones that had begun to crop up at the tail end of the past decade, tumble and completely quit the Hindi movie business. These studios might have perpetrated the game of bringing content cinema to the forefront, but the had done so on the back of makers who knew what they were making, selling it at higher prices with less profit for studios and more importantly were tempting studios with their own selfish needs to have films associated with unfairly highly paid stars.

I wont pretend to much about the semantics of what went down, but at the end of the day; what the very flawed studio model proved is this despite film family led businesses surviving on classic content; it is that eventually content and script is king, stars will eventually fade.

Rabid Nationalism

Another thing that seemed to have swept over the nation is well; this dire need to be nationalist in every other sense.

The unfair vitriol and violence spread against those who don't take their so called patriotism seriously showed an ugly side of India especially to the soft target of the film industry. From forcing people to stand up for the national anthem in a democracy [where after the anthem all we would do is watch a silly little movie] to having Karan Johar apologize for decision which neither should have to effect nor insult any country to country emotions or call to question ones love for ones country.

This pseudo nationalistic attitude spreads to a faux cultural superiority presented by the outdate censorship board. At the forefront is the ignorant and wholly biased chief Pahlaj Nihalani, who seemingly took it upon himself to infuse "culture" into Hindi cinema; via cutting kissing scenes and completely trying to sabotage film that presented an ugly mirror to society itself and try improve it. On the other hand his hypocrisy reached new levels, when he allowed Befikre's multiple kisses to pass through on the basis that the film takes place on international shores [Like what?!!!]

Indian Cinema Flourishes

Where Hindi cinema barely pushed boundaries at least cinematic-ally, lacking one thoroughbred masterpiece in a decade that has produced them; it was Indian cinema that absolutely stunned.

From Sairat becoming a grand blockbuster to rival the Hindi box office, to Chauthi Koot and Thithi which dazzled on world stages to India's Oscar entry Visaraanai that led a rip roaring year for Tamil Cinema.

It is Indian cinema that is constantly creating strides for it to be proud on a world stage, not just Hindi.

The Surprises, Disappointment and In Between

Yet there were still some great surprises from Hindi cinema, just as there were disappointment that never lived up to expectations;


Neerja; though it makes for a very overtly dramatic piece at times, questions were raise early one especially whether Sonam Kapoor could shoulder such a powerful piece on her own and she stacked up to the challenge with absolute gusto giving us a riveting thriller.

Phobia: What seemed like another standard Indian horror film turned out to be a meticulously crafted psychological thriller and a nice tribute to cult classics like Kaun while also having a powerful [but not spoon fed] message at its core.

Happy Bhaag Jayegi: Despite the limitations of its female lead, Mudasar Aziz's latest turned out to be a genuinely hilarious screwball surprise especially thanks to its performances outside of Happy's sphere and also due to a nuanced soft heart.

Tere Bin Laden 2: It was panned across the board, but the meta infused Tere Bin Laden was a welcome surprise and laugh a minute force, more importantly it elevated the already classic original film with it's reflection on the making of the film, the mock nature of the writing as well as showcasing the comedic chops of Sikander Kher.


Fan: Though it was always meant to be a showcase for the brilliance of King Khan, this dual Shah Rukh Khan starrer promised a powerful reflection on the star persona especially that built by SRK himself but slipped once it went into complete superficial thriller mode instead. Bits and pieces were magnificent, but the whole felt empty.

Mohenjo Daro: Ashutosh Gowarikar's return to the historical epic might have been marred by inaccuracy, but this one was completely destroyed by its complete stupidity. The funniest comedy of 2016.

M.S. Dhoni: Had this not become a complete hero worshipping hagiography and at least still not marred the image of its subject, it would have still worked. However it was plain boring and that's the sad fact. Sadder still is Sushant Singh Rajputs fine performance buried by the film.

Fitoor: Failing to live up to its great expectations barring the ever powerful Tabu, just like its hollow leads this one was a hollow snooze fest.

Mirziya: Just like Fitoor, an overtly gorgeous and lush film but nothing inside.

Most Anticipated of 2017

We end this post with a look towards the future and the upcoming films that promise greatness [in no particular order];

A death in the Gunj
Begum Jaan
Hindi Medium
Jagga Jasoos
 Toilet: Ek Prem Katha
Bareilly ki Barfi
Rehnuma [formerly The Ring]

In my next blog, be prepared for the final announcements of the nominees for the 2017 HIndie Awards.

'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia

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