Once upon a time, there were films that mirrored ‘real’ India – the coarse India of the villages, hamlets and mofussils. Then came the onslaught of the larger-than-life illusory films. And with this decade, filmmakers have, yet again, ventured out of their comfortable city-life cocoons and dared to embrace the real India.
Dreaded belts of Chambal and dangerous locales of Wasseypur are now recreated in other parts of the country, and histories are reiterated. And the films are lapped up with an eagerness resembling that with which parched earth swallows the first downpour of monsoon. To the scorched mentalscape of the Indian movie-going audience, directors like Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia are as welcome as that first spell of rains.
That films like ‘Shanghai’, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and ‘Paan Singh Tomar’ are carving a niche for themselves in the industry is a glowing reminder of the fact that the Indian audience needs a break from the extravaganza called Hindi films. Crisp, coarse, at times awkward; films that have abandoned big cities and set themselves up in nameless, faceless villages or small towns, have begun portraying to the city-bred affluent species of humans, a world that is simply beyond their imaginations. And films like these are a win-win with all kinds of masses. The high-brow ivory towers of elites are keen on delving beneath the garb of rusticity and finding some post-modern echoes there, and the rest are happy in the fact that it is their own lives that they are watching on the screen.
They say in order to set a trend, wars have to be fought- wars that invade the fortresses of so-called civilisation and stamp the presence of brazen, rough, uncouth realities there.
With a film like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, Anurag Kashyap has brutally destroyed many age-old conceptions and stereotypes. No actor in the film is a ‘lechable’ entity. The hero, who is supposed to be dashing and masculine and one who girls should be besotted with, makes way for a man who is <i>taar-bijli se patla</i>, one who breaks down in the arms of his wife after killing hordes of people. The hero doesn’t strut about in an Armani suit, he carries a gun on his shoulder – wearing a shirt, <i>lungi</i>, and <i>hawai chappals</i>. No character is unflawed or simple. A terrible mesh of complexity resides in every single person’s heart, and no person holds themselves back when there’s someone to be killed.
In ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, an athlete is excavated from the debris of years and chiselled to reflect an extraordinarily ordinary hero. Here again, the hero is an underdog, one that honestly and starkly represents the dark underbelly of ‘civilisation’. In ‘Shanghai’, Dibakar Banerjee creates knights whose armours are not free of chinks. Hence we have a professor, a leader of the masses, who doesn’t falter while kissing a much younger student.
The reason why films like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ might make it to the echelons of history is merely because of the relatability quotient. Downtrodden middle and lower-middle class masses are not able to connect with the dreams of courting their lovers in Switzerland or America. For them, the pond in Wasseypur or the banks of Chambal is the London Eye or the Central Park. Films like ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, etc. taught people how to dream. And then when the dreams were dashed to the ground and disappeared into oblivion, the Indian audience woke up. Although they still like to watch make-believe fantasies, but now, from a safe distance.
Filmmakers of our age need to realise and implement the fact that Hindi films need a new canvas – that of the unexplored, rural India. In a country where every nook and corner is pregnant with cinematographic possibilities, why go out and depict other countries? Patriotic thoughts aside, this is what most people want to see now. One ‘Wasseypur’ is not enough to quench the thirst of the good-cinema-starved audience, many more are required!