Role of the Director of Photography in Film Making

The Director of Photography, also known as the Cinematographer, is a vital creative force in the Film making process. He or she is that one person who is responsible for translating the Director’s cinematic vision onto the screen. Not only does a Cinematographer need to be adept at creating engaging visual moods, but must also be able to both envision them and execute them.

And it is here that the role of a good Director of Photography becomes most challenging. Because in order to envision a visual scenario, he or she needs to be extremely creative, which is a right-brain function. But because that envisioned mood will be realized using mechanical tools, such as light and camera, he must also possess a scientific bent of mind in order to achieve the right mood. This then makes it a left-brain function.

The two combined make it a very complex job that can only be effectively executed with deep knowledge and creativity. Because in the role of a Director of Photography, the individual is both an artist and a technician, and must be the best of both these divergent worlds. So how does one prepare for this highly complex role? How does one develop the required skills needed to be a compelling Cinematographer? There are creative and technical worlds to conquer and master, and the required preparation is immense.

At the time of shoot, or even in pre-production visualization stages, a Director may lack visual thinking. It is the Director of Photography who translates the Director’s literal thoughts to screen. The whole Cinematography team gets engaged in that job, under the guiding force of their Captain – the Director of Photography. The question is how to train oneself to that profile?

Digital Academy – The Film School is the answer. The DA Cinematography program will give you the most comprehensive and in depth grounding, by using world-class equipment and instructions from the most sought after artists & technicians in the business. While you will learn the theory of Cinema, you will also physically handle and shoot on a wide array of cameras & lenses. While you participate in workshops by leading Cinematographers from Bollywood, you will also build contacts and create your network to eventually work in the industry.

Armed with the training from DA, you will truly broaden your horizons as an individual artist and as a young DoP hungry to work in the Film industry!

Return of the Studio System in Indian Cinemas?

Indian cinema started as an individual’s passion and slowly turned into a segment of family entrepreneurship. People like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who took up the helms of Indian Documentary Production in the 1890s, Hiralal Sen in Calcutta and Dadasaheb Phalke in Kolhapur, who experimented a lot in theatre recording and mythico-social fiction Films, were Film makers who used their family, friends and servants as crew and Actors. In a way, the initial years of Indian Film making was modeled on the Hindu joint family structure and not as a capital venture.

As the idea of the talkie slowly crept in, during the 1930s, a need for conglomeration was felt. The model of America was available as reference – the capitalist model of assembly system for manufacture. At that time, India was going through an unpredictable economic change. On one hand, the rural self-sufficient economy had broken down and on the other hand, Gandhi’s call for self-promotion in the form of indigenous industries and products had led to the emergence of a pro-active and intelligent business class striving for a free India.

(Image Courtesy: http://www.wikipedia.org)

Film industry, at the hands of Phalke and his followers, was at best a flourishing cottage industry without the promise of a continuous return. Film makers such as Ardeshir Irani and Chunilal Munim tried to get a bank loan for their projects. But as a completely unorganized industry, Cinema posed a big risk for prospective investors. Also, the whole idea of Film making, especially by Indians, was unacceptable to the conservative British. As an upstart art-form, Cinema wasn’t held in high-esteem by the elite British. With Gujarati and Parsee banias as financiers of the Films, and technicians as well as Actors coming from the lower classes, cinema was ill-reputed from the start.

With the advent of sound, similar problems were addressed in the United States. Five major and the three minor studios started controlling production, distribution and exhibition of their movies. At no point was the control of the Film out of their hands. Any uncertainty of selling the Film and showing it to a full-scale audience could be ruled out. Screenwriters, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, Music Composers and especially the actors became members of the studio’s paid staff.

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A similar need to connect the Film industry to modern capital was strongly felt in Bombay and Calcutta. Studio system, as a fool-proof company structure stepped in to remedy the bank’s lack of support and the problem of under-capitalization in the industry. In a way, that gave a certain legitimacy to the not-so-elite essence of Cinema in India.

As a result , state-of-the-art equipments could be purchased and used. Also, technical experiments and innovations as well as experiments in ideas were encouraged. Playback system started in a studio in Calcutta called New Theatres, much before it started in Hollywood. Different colour processes, like Technicolor and Metrocolor, were tried out. New innovations from Hollywood were incorporated in Indian studios. And then the first stars appeared.

The first trio of stars from Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were products of the studio system to start with. However, as their careers progressed and a major chunk of the audience started equating the stars with their Films, studio system led to an era of stars. This was due to the intake of large venture capital in the form of black money. Quite a few newcomers entered the industry as financiers/Producers. But they were interested in making a portion of their money legal and not in a sustainable growth of the industry through a disciplined, charted out process as taken by studio owners.

Under pressure, major studios like New Theatres, Vassan Studios (later Gemini Pictures), Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit Movietones and a bunch of others either closed down or changed their operation from movie production to another niche.

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It was at this time when the Indian government stepped in to support Film Production, distribution and exhibition through organizations like Films Division, NFDC, PSBT and other similar bodies in the 1950s. However, there used to be a pro-State propagandist stance in the Films produced and exhibited by the government. Cinema being the biggest machinery for hegemony in the post-independence years, only certain expressions of mind were allowed.

Mainstream cinema of 60s and 70s, specially the Angry Young Man Films, were silently supported by the government program of integration and subordination. In the 80s, the theme of corruption, anger, inequality, underworld and romance continued. Indian cinema was not genre based then. Terms such as masala movies were coined keeping this phenomenon in mind.

Indian cinema became too parochial in this period. Bollywood became the other name of Indian Cinema, flanked by the alternate, art-house Indian new wave Films, most of which weren’t properly distributed or exhibited outside Film festivals and failed to pull a crowd. There was almost no variation in the mainstream themes. Even though both non-mainstream and parallel cinemas had really interesting stories to offer, their presentation was mostly off-the-mark and boring for the uninitiated audience.

In the post-2000 scenario, with easy access to movies with better sound and picture quality which could be watched at home, old theatres started dying. But interesting changes were occurring in the Indian retail marketplace. Shopping malls began sprouting up in every major city in India. They offered a panoply of choices under a single roof and a cozy tour across designed spaces in the weekend. These malls became meeting joints and the hub for all activities for the youth. They were the new public squares where all kinds of enjoyment and socialization was possible.

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As the way to incorporate foreign venture capitals in Indian industries, American and European companies started coming to India for collaborations in the entertainment business. Companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and UTV started operating in a structured way, reminiscent of studios in the 30s. As Bollywood became a burgeoning brand, owing to the large expat groups in the Western world, many production-distribution companies like Pathé, Channel 4, Warner Bros, Disney and Fortissimo Films started showing interest in collaborating with Indian entertainment companies. It was unimaginable, even in 2000, that every week a host of Bollywood Films could be commercially shown in theatres across Germany, Netherlands, France, America and UK.

So how do these corporates differ from the previous single Producer system in approach? The answer is simple – neatness of activities and a proper business orientation with domain knowledge. During the star system, Films were produced by short-sighted businessmen who wanted a quick profit in exchange for their unaccounted money. Staleness of thought and repetition of themes crept in easily. New corporate Film houses changed this habit. Habits of financial transparencies changed. But more noticeable was the changes in stories and the way the movies were shot. It was impossible to imagine something like Ishqiya, Band Baaja Baaraat or Delhi Belly a few years back.

As new players took over during the period of globalization, models for sustainable growth were chalked out. The new corporate structures are based on modern American Film studios. In a way, this is the second coming of the old studio system with the difference that, barring a few exceptions, the companies aren’t family bound. The studio system in India was like a feudal structure while the new corporate model is capitalistic. With fresh talent from Film schools joining these companies the current picture looks more pro-youth.

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However, like anything that’s new, the corporate structure has some problems too. Some companies are under the impression that entertainment can be run just like any other business and they tend to undermine creativity. Creativity can be controlled but can never be methodical. That would be similar to controlling the human psyche in a flowcharted manner. Mystery and beauty lies in this randomness. The old studios understood this and gave birth to some of the most beautiful works from Indian Cinema. The star system of the 50s made fixed patterns stronger with the help of stars. People used to come to the theatre to get entertained, even though they already knew the story. That was pleasure for an audience that had a limited choice for entertainment.

However, the Indian audience of the new millennium is smarter. They are consumers with a variety of choices. With the advent of so many TV channels, websites and social networking sites, it is very difficult to keep the audience glued to the big screen. So an organized market research, market segmentation, vertical and horizontal combinations in the market are mandatory to survive today. With companies like Big Pictures creating theatre chains across India and in US, the return of the studio system in the new guise of the corporate has arrived. It is for the new generation of Film lovers, like us, to see if it sustains. 

What happened to the Villains?

Stars should be dead, leaving the world lightless and pointless in the 21st Century, according to stardom theorist Richard Dyer. However, in Bollywood, we are experiencing a phenomenon of a different kind. The villains are dying.

Gone are the days when cinema was larger than life, shocking the audience at every turn by the larger than life villain, be it a comic book Mogambo in Mr. India (1987), a rough edged Gabbar Sing in Sholay (1975) or a psychopath Gokul Pandit in Dushman (1998). The bad men in post-2000 Bollywood are vanishing out from the silver screen. The question is, why is this happening?

If we think, the slow erasure of stardom and the death of the villain are connected. The audience is composed of common working people from all stratas of the society. Whatever the differences between two individuals may be, the common man is always driven by a typical quest regarding existence. He wants to know how anything in society is made, how making is organized and understood, and what their own relation to making is.

The complex ways in which we make an explanation of the world around us involves the ways in which we separate ourselves into public and private persons, into producer and consumer. And we always make sense of the world in terms of contrasts and differences. We cannot realize the good unless we know the bad. So, good and bad define one another for us. Which one is accepted as morally or legally good and which one bad depends on the nature of our society, our position in the power hierarchy and our education.

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Dividing all choices into black and white is known as binary opposition to social theorists and practitioners. This works fine when the society is going through a troubled or a developing phase, when the logic of we and they is functional, when the enemy is defined and is at sight. For Hollywood, the enemy was the erstwhile USSR, during the cold war.

In India, the enemy was rarely named. But he was there, both inside the border and outside. In the days of nation building, after Independence, the enemies were shown in general categories, like the black marketer, the gambler, the conning middleman or the usurper in the city and the land-owning zamindar in the village. The gullible hero of the ‘50s Bollywood, Raj (as he was known in many of his films), in Raj Kapoor’s movies, who is from the village and comes to the city, is shocked at its corruption. City bred marginal heroes, played by Dev Anand, knows corruption like the back of his hand (eg, Kala Bazaar, 1960) and even the tragic hero played by Dilip Kumar; all of them were defined sharply in contrast with dark opposing characters. By being a counter-force to the enemy of the common man, the hero was recognized by the mass of viewers who thronged cinema halls after a murky day of work and survival.

Villains were needed to implant dreams in the spectator. The dreams were the goals, the hero was the active virtual agent through which the spectator would reach the goals and the villain was the necessary barrier, who blocked the hero from reaching the goal. The pattern was epic in structure, as the ultimate goal was always connected to nation building in the post-independence era. The Indian mind accepted it and related it to real life sentiments.

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The situation changed in late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The neighbouring enemy was specifically named after wars with China and Pakistan. Also, the inside enemy was spotted and shown more precisely before and during emergency period. However, the villain became more of a personal, than a social villain, during emergency and since. During the Angry Young Man’s rule in Bollywood, be it Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna or another less successful actor, the villains were much more flesh and blood and less metaphoric. Those films were driven by a spirit of family vengeance. With rising figures in unemployment, uncertainty at work and a nation caught up in unstable politics (Congress was successfully challenged and thrown out of power for the first time after independence in 1977), more personal stories were required for the dreams on the silver screen.

Even after Congress came back in 1980, the scenario remained more or less the same, until it changed for a return of the lovers in the later half of the ‘80s. The villain was still a personal one. But he was not only a professional bad man like those played by Ajit, Prem Chopra or Amjad Khan, but someone like Gulshan Grover or Shakti Kapoor, who is also interested in the heroine. Facing these villians was less vengeance and more of a challenge. A good example of such a villain is Shekhar Malhotra (Deepak Tijori) in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). However, the old traits did not vanish. The cinema villain matured.

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Two new types of villains appeared in Hindi Cinema at the turn of the decade. The first was the cold blooded villain played by Nana Patekar as Anna Seth (Parinda, 1989); the other was the two-faced hero of Baazigar (1993), Shahrukh Khan. While the first type got worked, reworked and mixed with the second one in films like Krantiveer (1994) or Satya (1998), to become a stereotype in the end, and to gradually evaporate, the second one slowly became the norm.

Today’s films are less of an epic and closer to reality. Today’s youth knows how a society runs. Moral values have changed with a feel good economy, after India opened a large section of its market to the world. The concept of black and white villains and heroes are dated. In today’s list of coterie movies, the ambivalence is more prominent. The Badmaash Company (2010) hero Karan (Shahid Kapoor) or Delhi Belly’s (2011) hero Tashi (Imran Khan) could not be considered good even by the standard of ‘90s in Bollywood. They are considered normal. Cheat the cheaters is their motto.

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When the whole world has become a competition, and the best cheater gets the crown, how can a good hero be pitted against a dark villain? Such villains do not exist anymore, as the heroes have changed themselves. Today’s society does not need such villains because it has dispensed the idea of such heroes. Today’s society lacks a hero, a model figure in the classical sense. Hence, it is only normal that it should lack the contrasting figure of the villain too. Gone are the days when the bloodthirsty Gulshan Grovers romped the screen!

Career in Film Making

It is now common knowledge that the audio-visual medium is the fastest growing medium of communication in the world. Films are made not only in the fiction format but also as documentaries, training films, corporate films, advertisements and video art. The world of films is like a mushroom cloud that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Every Film must have a Director with a complete knowledge of Film Making. It stands to reason therefore that higher the number of films, higher will be the demand for directors. A Film Maker is an artist-technician who is also an expert manager, logistics person, coordinator and chief executive officer- all rolled into one. A Film Maker is like a master puppeteer who holds all the strings and makes illusions look like reality. It is a difficult job that requires tremendous creative energy, enthusiasm along with loads of patience and humility. A career in Film Direction is one of extreme creative satisfaction, apart from side benefits of fame and money. But only those who are ready to go through the grind and put in hard labour as well as application can succeed.

Most students of Digital Academy join the industry initially as Assistant Directors and work their way up towards the Directors post. But there is no hard and fast rule about this and if you have the capability you might well straightaway become a Director as soon as you pass out from Digital Academy-The Film School.

While careers of Film Makers are the same as Film Directors it is our analysis that Film Makers who have a complete knowledge of Film Making are generally more in-demand and sought after.

Angry Young Man and His Troubled Relationship with his Father

Indian cinema’s Angry Young Man surfaced in the 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer. It also hailed the end of a generation of cinema that celebrated the stability and status quo India was facing in the late ‘50s and ‘60s.

The Angry Young Man, in the avatar of Amitabh Bachchan in Bollywood and Rajnikant in Tamil Cinema, was a superhero of the common man’s dream. He was just an aam aadmi (common man), with powers and weaknesses of a regular human being, who has decided to act. As normal Indians are afraid of challenging their fate in reality, the Angry Young Man fulfilled the dream they could vicariously live.

However, the Angry Young Man, especially the roles played by Amitabh Bachchan, has a special distinction. He is almost always with an absent or a dead father. And when the father is present, he is in a deeply troubled relationship with him.

Let us probe this issue a little more. In more than fifty films, from Zanjeer (1973) to the recent Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (2011), the Angry Young Man’s character tries to restore justice, honour and dignity for himself, his family and the people around him. Except for Inquilab (1984), his fight concerns the personal space of family. And in India, who is the archetypal head of the family?

Modeled on a feudal outlook, the post-independence Indian Government framed all types of taxation, laws and governance policies, primarily on the basis of an undivided family; be it Hindu or Muslim. The unquestionable authority of the Prime Minister, other Ministers, the Supreme Court, its Judges and the Police entail from such an outlook.

The tapering figure of the father figure is central to a society and its citizens. In America, there may be a faltering loyalty to Uncle Sam. But in India, it is the father who wields the law.

In Lacanian Psychology, a male child constructs his identity throughout his growing years, by internalizing the name of the father. In short, the name of the father can be equated to the child’s position in the lawful order of the society, in its norms and customs. In contrast, an imaginary father is the figure that sets the child out to the world, alone and cut off from the peace of his mother’s lap… the blissful security lost after the child becomes adult.

In all the films from the Angry Young Man genre, Amitabh or Rajnikant, crave to return to their mother’s lap. In Deewar, the character Vijay, in his last words to his mother, says “Tujhse dur rehkar mujhe kabhi neend nahi aayi maa! Main kabhi nahi so saka maa! Aaj phir mera sar tumhari god mein hai maa. Ek bar phir mujhe sula do maa!” (I could never sleep staying away from you mom! I could never really sleep. Today, again, my head is in your lap. Put me to sleep once again!). By killing or compromising the imaginary father, and making peace with symbolic father, the Angry Young Man finishes his journey in his mother’s lap, thus finishing a cycle of action with his real father.

When the real, imaginary and symbolic fathers can not be separated, the Angry Young Man emerges. In a very simplistic, almost fairy tale overview of life, this almost always happens in Bollywood.

Among all the Angry Young Man films, Amitabh’s character actually has a real but a flawed father only in Laawaris (1981), Sharaabi (1984) Aakhree Raasta (1986) and most significantly Shakti (1982). Only four out of around fifty films where he played the role of an Angry Young Man. In almost all other films, the father is dead, mostly killed by an enemy, thus setting Vijay (meaning Victory, Amitabh’s name in most of the movies belonging to this genre) on a road to vengeance.

But that does not make the Angry Young Man’s disturbed relationship with the father a myth. In the absence of a real father, the child clutches the imaginary father in a very ambivalent way and makes it a friend and an enemy both. In officially first film of the Angry Young Man genre, Zanjeer, the hero (Vijay, again) grows up to be a police officer who’s obsessed with upholding the law (the imaginary father’s one side) and wiping out evil(the imaginary father’s other side). To complete the journey, the hero must know the name of the father. Hence, in Zanjeer, as in Shahenshah (1987), he decides to punish the bad on his own. However, it is significant that he never negates the law. He merely supplements its execution.

In this way, the Angry Young Man’s journey never collides with the ideology of the powerful class or that of the State. In fact, it is not surprising that this character was nurtured more carefully in the post-emergency India, as he talks in favour of tradition, a classless society and power structure. The hero rarely talks about bigger issues. Even when he does, as in Coolie (1982) or Inquilab (1984), he is more concerned about solving his personal problems. That actually made the character a sociological stereotype and called for a change in Bollywood’s prime genre at the end of the ‘80s, which gave birth to the dark hero, as in Baazigar (1993) or Khalnayak (1993).

The hero wants to salvage his pride (because of birth), bad karma (for good means) and lack of security as he grows up. Hence, even in a romantic film like Mili (1975), the Angry Young Man’s psyche surfaces, and the reason is the same – a shame of father’s (or parents’) deed. The ultimate goal is always to be at peace with the father, real or symbolic, by the end of the film.

Hence, it’s not surprising that nowadays the Angry Young Man comes back as the father figure himself. From a Fruedian point of view, that is how it should happen. At the end of the journey the child succeeds in becoming the father himself.

Bollywood: The Communal Spirit of India

In 1971, India overtook Japan to become the world’s largest manufacturer of feature films. With 431 titles, it was the only Third World national cinema at the time to have a larger audience for indigenous cinema than for imported films (Rajadakshya 678). Even today, Indian cinema is the frontrunner in terms of annual feature film production, with films being released in over 12 separate regional offshoots in the country, each with their own language. However, the contemporary mainstream branch of Indian cinema, the Hindi film industry, has had the most pervasive influence in Indian cinema in terms of popularity. Around the globe, filmgoers hold the Hindi film industry, with its trademark use of song and dance sequences and exaggerated pantomimic style of acting, to be synonymous with Indian national cinema as a whole. Despite such popularity, not many people are aware of the mission behind this industry and the reasons why its films employ such an eccentric approach to filmmaking. Popularly known as Bollywood, the Hindi cinema is distinguished by its strong sense of nationalist pride and spirit of kinship, solidarity and social obligation, which are used not only to pull audiences but also as structuring devices within its films; Bollywood films have thus served as very effective unifying tools to spread the message of communal harmony throughout the country.

Early Indian cinema, along with its conventions and practices, was built with the intention to propagate a strong nationalist agenda, so that it could ease the excessive regional, religious and communal friction that scarred India’s early Post-Independence period. The films of this period set the foundation for Bollywood films, which were influenced to similarly incorporate this agenda. In 1947, when India attained freedom from the British rule, it faced the uphill task of trying to forge a new, independent nation, while facing the innumerable problems that came with the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. Mass migrations to and from Pakistan, the resulting hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and unchecked urban expansion gave way to rapidly escalating religious and communal conflicts, which ravaged every part of the nation.

Three years later, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to battle this communal intolerance with the medium of film. He appointed the S.K. Patil Film Enquiry Committee, which was independent India’s first freelance investment sector that would provide filmmakers with the funds they required to continue the production of feature films. (Rajadakshya 681) This Committee was instructed to encourage the production of films with a strong pan-nationalist agenda. In this way, the government hoped that films would instill a sense of brotherhood and solidarity into the masses, influencing them to cease the religious and communal conflicts. In lieu of any other dominant forms of financial support, filmmakers began to inscribe nationalist messages into their films to gain the support of the Committee.

India’s next large-scale cinema movement was the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), which came to power in 1951 (Rajadakshya 681). This association served as a refuge for filmmakers who wished to use their art to unite India’s general populace in joint cultural enlightenment. Some of India’s most influential filmmakers at the time, namely Ritwik Ghatak, K. A. Abbas, and Guru Dutt, were the founding fathers of this organization, and they constructed its rules and their own films by “using the paradigm for ‘nation’ to define community, family, and sometimes the tribe, as principle of social legitimization and enfranchisement” (Rajadakshya 681). Thus, the IPTA and its films had the effect of inculcating strong nationalist and kinship values into the general viewer’s mind.

The IPTA then led an urban movement in the 1960s, where all of India’s smaller regional cinemas were united and began to converge to the big cities of Mumbai and Calcutta. The government-installed Film Finance Corporation then set about the process to standardize many of the narrative structures and conventions of this new, united cinema; the purpose behind all of this was to establish an ‘All-India film’, “a nationally integrative cultural-cinematic mainstream that took on a cultural leadership [reinforcing] some of the unifying tendencies in our social and economic changes” (Rajadakshya 684). The language of the masses in Mumbai and Calcutta, Hindi, soon became the official language of this new unified national cinema, which then developed into Bollywood in the early 1970s. As a result, Bollywood was born with the pre-existing mission to unify the masses in communal harmony, and thus, inadvertently built on strong nationalist and kinship values.

Throughout Bollywood’s existence, its films have been noted for their marked difference from those of other First World national cinemas. Bollywood films have many conventions that might seem alien to the Western viewer, and as a result, have often been subject to open criticism. Many critics, as well as general Western viewers commonly hold that its films involve a complete abandonment of realism, an excessive use of exaggerated, overdrawn dialogue with too much over-the-top emotion, very little regard for narrative continuity for the sake of song and dance sequences, and an overall preference for clichés and spectacles over dramatic substance. As a result, Bollywood films can often appear to be escapist and exploitative.

However, the mistake behind such criticism is that these films are being evaluated in terms of a Western audience’s position, expectations and needs. Bollywood films situate their viewers in a very different way, such as they can fully experience their communal solidarity through enhanced emotional interaction with the characters on screen, and more importantly, with the other members in the audience. They have a much deeper task of not only entertaining, but also linking members of the audience to each other. This is because, for Indian filmgoers, Bollywood films are almost a form of community bonding, as they expect to experience the film alongside the many other people in the theater who are watching it with them. The Bollywood film theoretician, Rosie Thomas, explains that for Indian audiences, “involvement in films is intense and audiences clap, sing, recite familiar dialogue with the actors, throw coins at the screen (in appreciation of the spectacle), ‘tut tut’ at emotionally moving scenes, cry openly and laugh and jeer knowingly” (129). Therefore, in order to get such a reaction and stimulate such audience interaction with the film, Bollywood movies make excessive use of spectacles and emotions.

In a 1981 interview, Bollywood screenplay writer, Javed Akhtar stated that “[t]he difference between Hindi and Western films is like that between an epic and a short story. Not only is a film expected to be two-and-a-half to three hours long, but it is usual for the plot to span at least two generations, beginning with the main protagonists’ births or childhoods and jumping twenty or so years to the action of the present” (Thomas 123). In this way, audiences are exposed to every part of the protagonist’s life, and are thus more emotionally invested in his/her character than Western audiences would be with their protagonists. Bollywood’s employment of stylized, pantomimic styles of acting, with frequent displays of tears and laughter, further enhances the emotional impact of these films on its audiences. Through this collective emotional connection, Indian audiences thereby develop a sense of solidarity among themselves while watching the movie. Once this has been established, Bollywood films then use their many spectacles to keep the audiences involved and help them experience the film as a collective rather than as individuals. Overblown dialogues are popular because they are clapworthy. Unbelievable stunts and out of place dance sequences, all at the expense of realism, are appreciated and accepted as the norm because they draw a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, and thereby stimulate direct audience engagement. Thus, Bollywood films willingly sacrifice verisimilitude in order to give audiences a shared, participatory emotional experience. This experience can entertain them and bring them together through its enhanced ability to affect rather than simply tell a story.

Bollywood films also diverge from those from other First World national cinemas in the way that they are structured along the lines of a moral universe, which gives precedence to the values of kinship, duty, and social obligation over anything else. Most Bollywood films cannot fall into any of the traditional Hollywood genres, such as ‘comedy’, ‘drama’, or ‘musical’, but overlap over all of these types. Every Bollywood film involves a love story, several musical numbers, comical gags and sub-plots, as well as a decent amount of action. This is all, once again, in order to use spectacle and emotion to draw in audiences to what is happening on screen. Without any fixed set of conventions or patterns, which come with genres, to base their narratives on, Bollywood turned to an alternative structuring foundation, namely a unique moral universe. In her magazine article, “Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity”, Rosie Thomas explains this practice:

“Analysis of [these] films’ narratives suggests that the discourses which structure them are those of kinship (the blood relationship and bonds expressed in its idiom), ‘duty’ and social obligation, solidarity, trust. Order, or equilibrium, is presented in a state in which humans live in harmony with fate, respecting social obligations and ties of friendship or family. Disruption of this order is the result of selfish greed, fate, and heterosexual desire.” (126)

This moral universe that Bollywood uses to give narrative structure to its films places ‘traditional’, ‘social’ and ‘Indian’ values on the same ground as good morality, and ‘non-traditional’ and ‘individualistic’ values on the same ground as evil. As a result, a protagonist is required to respect the values of dostana, the Hindi word for friendship and kinship obligations, as well as place all national and social obligations over his/her own needs and desires if he/she is to remain moral (Thomas 126). It is fairly common to see a Bollywood hero choose his best friend or the nation’s well-being over his romantic interest or any other temptations, as the values of kinship and friendship must be his first and foremost priority. Possibly the most popular Bollywood film of all time, Sholay (1975), directed by Ramesh Sippy, exemplifies this assertation, as its narrative and its central theme are both built on the concept of dostana, to the level that its two main protagonists often sing about their unwavering commitment to their friendship. At the end of the film, one of the protagonists, Jai (Amitabh Bachchan), eventually kills himself to save his friend from any harm, and this act is known to be one of the most touching sequences in Bollywood film. Thus, it can be seen that this moral universe not only serves as structuring device for these films, but also impacts the common viewers in a way that promotes a sense of communal solidarity, strong patriotic values and an unparalleled sense of respect and love for one another.

However, many hold that Indians are far from feeling any nationalistic pride or communal bond when viewing Bollywood films, but are instead, actually quite embarrassed about Bollywood conventions and practices. The director, Gurinder Chadha, who has worked extensively in both Hollywood and Bollywood, stated in her interview that columnists and film critics have always been particularly self-loathing in terms of their national cinemas and consider their approach to filmmaking to be ludicrous (1). Every year, the number of negative reviews for Bollywood films increases. The famous novelist and celebrity-watcher, Shobhaa De has been particularly critical of India’s mainstream cinema, saying its films “employ the worst pre-packaged clichés” (Chadha 2). However, it should be noted that most of these sentiments are held by those elite members of society, who have access to and understanding of Western films and their conventions, and thus evaluate Bollywood films by comparing them to these films and conventions. Such elite members of society instead support the Indian art cinema movement, led by Satyajit Ray, which does conform to many conventions and practices of Western national cinema. Rosie Thomas addresses this phenomenon in her paper, ‘Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity:”

“Art films serve mostly to confirm the inadequacy of popular cinema to match what are presumed to be universal standards of ‘good’ cinema – and even of ‘art’. Western critics are perhaps not completely to blame, for they take their cues from the Indian upper-middle class intelligentsia and government cultural bodies, who have a long tradition of conniving at this denunciation and, somewhat ironically, themselves insist on evaluating the popular films according to the canons of European and Hollywood film-making.”

Hence, Bollywood’s harshest Indian critics invoke the earlier stated problem of wrongly evaluating Bollywood conventions by keeping the Western viewer in mind, rather than considering the effect and popularity it has on its domestic audiences. However, it should be understood that these elite upper-middle class critics are by no means the targeted audiences of these films. Instead, Bollywood films are aimed at the middle and lower class Indians, who undoubtedly compose the substantially larger percentage of domestic audiences, considering that India is, after all, a Third World country. It is these audiences who can fully comprehend the emotional depth, communal values, and moral universe that Bollywood films present. The screenplay writer, K.K Shukla supports this view in his interview with Rosie Thomas:

“Kinship emotion is very strong. It doesn’t work so well with educated audiences who go several days without seeing their families, but it works with B and C grade audiences who get worried if they don’t see a family member by 6:30 p.m, whose family members are an important part of themselves and their experience of the world.” (Thomas 126)

Therefore, even though the elite members of the Indian populace may be ashamed of their national cinema, the masses are still held together by their mutual pride and support for Bollywood. This can be proven by its high domestic success rate. India’s national cinema produces approximately 1000 films every year, which is double Hollywood’s output, and 14 million Indians go to these movies on a daily basis (Kearney 1). In 2008 alone, Bollywood films sold 3.1 billion cinema tickets and grossed nearly $10 million to put up a figure of 84% of revenue from the box office (Patel 2).

Another factor of Bollywood films that promotes a strong nationalist and cohesive image of ‘Indian-ness’ is its inclusion of song-and-dance numbers; these Indian film songs are conceptually and structurally built according to the ideals of emotional appeal and the film’s moral universe, which we have already established to be very important in spreading a sense of togetherness and communal bonding. Bollywood’s extravagant song and dance sequences were primarily influenced by the Urdu Parsee theatre of the 1930s, which used music to create a heightened mood that dialogue could not achieve (Kabir 41). In her analysis on the evolution and structure of these Bollywood film songs, the NYU music professor, Natalie Sarrazin explicates how these songs developed from this theatre as well as classical Indian music tradition, and invoke classical music’s trademark expression of one or more of the nine moods or rasas in a way that could enhance their emotional appeal as much as possible; for this reason, the singers of these film songs almost always only used their deep chest voice and not their high head voice (27). The emotional strength of these Bollywood songs strongly encourages audience engagement and participation. In lieu of other dominant forms of popular music, Hindi film songs are played at weddings and parties, and give the overall feel of solidarity and fellowship by collectively relating the people outside the film to the characters inside the film. Also, it should be noted that, save for a very small number of exceptions, the villains of Bollywood films never sing. This points at the fact that these song and dance sequences have a humanizing effect and support the moral universe that Bollywood films employ (Thomas 126). As a reward, only those who obey the moral universe with its patriotic and kinship values have the privileged ability to sing and dance.

Historically, these Hindi film song and dance sequences have always had a strong emotionally unifying effect within the Indian community. The film theorist, Nasreen M Kabir states “these songs, with their inventive Hindi/Urdu lyrics have long been a bonding force in the Indian diaspora, re-creating a familiar world of images and emotions and linking millions of people to their homeland” (41). For example, in the film, Anmol Ghadi (1945), directed by Mehboob Khan, the song ‘Awaaz de kahan hai’ was a sung to represent the feelings of those people who had been separated from their loved ones during the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. In a cruel piece of irony, its singer, Noor Jehan was later forced to migrate to Pakistan on account of her Muslim heritage, after which the song became an anthem for displaced people who used it to communicate with their distant relatives and lovers (Kabir 42). In this way, several Hindi film songs have been used to reflect and represent various social and cultural issues, but more importantly, their emotional strength has often been used to convey a sense of communal harmony and ‘Indian’ togetherness.

The film, Bombay (1995), directed by Mani Ratnam, serves as a firm example of how Bollywood films have been used as potent weapons against cultural, religious and political disparity within the larger Indian community, by effectively putting into perspective and help heal to wounds of actual acts of communal violence. The film, Bombay, evokes the traumatic events that rocked the city of Mumbai after Hindus and Muslims started rioting against each other in 1992-3. Mani Ratnam, charged with the mission to restore the city’s secular ideals, released this movie two years after the riots took place, while the city was still reeling from the aftershocks of communal violence. The two main protagonists, Shekhar (Arvind Swamy), a Hindu man, and Shaila (Manisha Koirala), his Muslim wife, are placed at the center of the moral universe, as they constantly try to spread the message of communal love to instigators of all the hatred. Thus, Ratnam does not privilege the Hindu or the Muslim side, but instead gives the viewer two protagonists of each religion, who are heroes purely because they endorse the kinship values and communal harmony of the Bollywood moral universe (Gopalan 17). As Shekhar and Shaila’s loved ones are killed, their emotional reactions to the violence, supplemented by A.R Rahman’s poignant soundtrack that echoes their desperation and emotional turmoil, show audiences the consequences of such hatred within the Indian community. At the end of the film, Shekhar, in sheer desperation yells “Stop it! Can’t you see we are all Indian?” Indeed, audiences were so moved by the protagonists’ pain, which reflected their own losses, and the film’s strong nationalist message, which practically yelled out for communal harmony, that the film eventually served to reduce many of the reverberations of the riots and spread a general air of cultural understanding.

Based on the nationalist agenda that spurred the formation of post-Independence Indian cinema, Bollywood surfaced as a weapon against communal intolerance. It emerged as an entity uniquely oriented towards a moral universe that encouraged kinship values within a country that was physically united but culturally splintered. Its conception directed the currents of Indian movie themes towards emotional ebbs and flows that supplemented audience solidarity. Though many would deem Bollywood to be an escapist and exploitative medium, what is overlooked here is that these films are targeted towards inspiring the masses and instigating communal harmony. The songs and dances of these films only emphasize the general sentiments of cross-cultural fellowship that their films promote. This promotion of unity is so strong that films have successfully quelled communal tensions in the past. When it comes to Bollywood “it is obvious, a key component has been that of ‘nation’: and indeed, it is virtually impossible to speak of the Indian cinema without bringing somewhere into play that crucial cultural movement of Indian nationalism.” (Rajadakshya 678).

– Neale Hemrajani

Works Cited
Chadha, Gurinder. “Being embarassed about Bollywood is a disease in India.” Interview. India Abroad Feb. 2005.
Gopalan, Lalitha. “Bombay.” BFI Modern Classics (2003).
Kabir, Nasreen M. “Playback Time: A Brief History of Bollywood “film songs”” Film Comment 2002.
Kearney, Milton. “Bollywood Statistics.” India Today International Edition (2007). SearchIndia.com. 1 May 2009 .
Patel, Lola. “Bollywood Statistics.” Redhotcurry.com. 01 May 2009 .
Rajadakshya, Ashish. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Ed. Nowell Smith. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
Sarrazin, Natalie. “India’s Music: Popular Film Songs in the Classroom.” Music Educators Journal (2006).
Thomas, Rosie. “Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity.” Screen Magazine May 1985.

Director Speak – Realizing Cinematic Dreams

 Cinema is a visual art form that has captured the collective imagination of people across all stratas of society. Be it as a medium that entertains or a forum to deliberate on society’s issues, to the viewer and the budding Film-maker & technician, the allure of Cinema has always been immense. In India especially, this fascination is a national obsession. From the average person on the street to people living in palatial homes, Cinema is all-embracing and all-encompassing. We have a rich history and heritage in Cinema, with Indian Film Industry being the largest in the world, by numbers and also because of the global interest in our Films and culture. 

Art imitates life and life mimics art. And in Cinema, this is truer than anywhere else. But while we have a rich tapestry of Cinema, what we did not possess is a platform to teach the art & science of Cinema. The nuances of Film-making that are on par with a global standard and sensibility. And it is this realization, coupled with a burning need to provide the millions of aspiring young Film-makers, artists and technicians a chance to learn the craft at a world class level, that led to the formation of Digital Academy – The Film School. 

Our Film school is a sprawling 40,000 sq ft one-stop shop for your next ‘Big Picture’. Right from conceptualization to digitization, we house all the facilities under one roof. Backed with new age equipment and age-old experience, Digital Academy – The Film School is the place to be. With an impressive faculty, both in-house and guest, the expertise of Film-making is rendered through a balanced curriculum over classroom instructions, periodic practicals and intensive workshops. 

At DA, it is our constant endeavor to produce free-thinking creative individuals, with a unique Film sensibility, rather than mere technicians. And this is something we strive towards relentlessly; to give India and the world the best creative force there can be in the world of Moving images .

The DA experience will change the way you view Films and the way you view the world. We welcome you to our proud institution and are eager to transform your lives to make you the best possible Film-makers you can be.

Regards

  
Kartikeya Talreja – Director

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