Role of a Director in Film Making

Often called the captain of the ship, the Director is the primary creative force behind a Film. He or she is the person who translates the screenplay onto the screen through a definite vision. In doing so, he is aided in equal measure by a host of creative & talented technicians, such as the Director of Photography, the Editor, the Actors. But the entire visual language and the final say rests with the Director. It’s the Director’s unique interpretation of the story and of the characters told through an individual cinematic aesthetics that makes the Director the torch-bearer of a Film.

Hence, the responsibilities that a Director has are many. Guiding and soliciting strong & believable performances from the Actors, communicating a defined visual treatment to the Director of Photography, so that he or she can translate the Director’s vision onto the screen, guiding the Editor through the editing process, so that emphasis and accent is put on pivotal plot points in the story. All this & much more is the prerogative of the Director. It’s a complex job that calls for a combination of the left brain & right brain functions – of organization & creativity, of order & exploration.

To truly understand these duties, every aspiring Director must train for years. Watch many Films, read relevant books and ideally work under a good Director to learn the ropes. But even if one is able to do all this, there’s never a guarantee that your education will be complete and you will have a chance of directing your own Film someday. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the Film-making business. The stakes are high and very few are capable of shouldering the immense responsibilities of being a Director.

There is however one route that can at least assure that you will have it all in terms of knowledge, learning, education and experience. And that is by studying Film-making at a world class center of education, like Digital Academy – The Film School. The Film-making program here gives hungry students an in depth understanding of everything related to Film-making & Direction, not just in theory but also via numerous practical Film-making exercises, instructed by the best Directors from the Film industry. Following your superb education, you also get the chance to be placed under a Director in Bollywood to truly hone your craft and seal your chances of becoming a Director.

There’s really nothing quite like the euphoric feeling of Directing a Film. And in order to do that you must direct your attention & energies towards a great education and see how far it takes you.

Role of an Actor in Film Making

An Actor is an artist; the most vital tool in the visual medium of Films, via whom the story and the journey of a Film is articulated. A fitting analogy for an Actor could be a race car driver. While many people and talents come together to create the racing team, like the engineers, the sponsors and the pit-stop crew, it is ultimately the driver’s performance that wins or loses a race, no matter how well-prepared the team may have been.

It’s the same when it comes to a Film. There could be great direction, compelling story and visuals, soulful music; but all this can be a let down if the Actors do not do justice to their characters and to the story. So what is the role of an Actor then? At the most basic level, it is to translate an engaging and believable portrayal of the written character onto screen.

But in doing so, an Actor needs many tools too. And this is one skill set that is limitless. Even if someone is a born Actor, his talent needs to be harnessed in a manner where either the Actor himself or the Director can draw on that talent and manifest it in a winning performance.

Therefore an Actor needs to be a good listener observer, be able to take directions, be intuitive and must possess a tangible acting range. It’s a skill set that eludes most and not everyone can learn it by themselves. Which is why in order to bring out the best in you as an Actor, it is advisable to formally learn Acting. With an institution like Digital Academy – The Film School, there is a truly world class education in Acting that awaits all young and aspiring students who are eager to become Actors.

Learn the craft from the best in the business and train using the most renowned methods to fast track your way to stardom. Not only will you learn the history and theory of acting at DA, you could also become the actual Actor in Films the students shoot, where you can experience the real process involved in translating a character onto screen while using your craft & learning. Act now, if you want to be a great Actor!

Role of a Screenwriter in Film Making

To take either a pre-written story, or even a native story idea, and translate it into an effective screenplay is the primary role of a Screenwriter in the Film industry. Having said that, there is much more to this process than meets the eye. It is not as straightforward as writing a normal story, for the simple reason that the communication is audio-visual, and not literary.

There are some very important aspects that need to be carefully observed. Some of these aspects may be generic to good story-writing such as character development, believable characters, story and engaging plot points, regardless of the story-telling medium.

But besides these elements, there are aspects specific to Film medium that need to be kept in mind. Things such as minimal dialogues, visually communicating a certain emotion, a sound sense of the visual medium itself, are vital elements in the screenwriter’s repertoire.

And therefore, a Screenwriter’s role in the overall Film-making process is absolutely vital. Because it is in the screenplay that the Film is first born. And once the screenplay is ready, it is the single most important document that forms the basis on which everyone else (the Director, Actors etc.) builds the Film.

This extremely sensitive and complex function can only be executed by someone who is creative, has a complete understanding of the Film-making process and whose sense of aesthetic is firmly placed in the visual medium. It is a discipline that can be self-taught. But it could take years before one learns the skill set effectively and gets a real opportunity to write a screenplay that is Produced and made into a Film. In essence, how to plant a story from the germ of an idea, or a piece of news, to capture the audience in a total way is a skill that can be learnt from mentors, and practice sessions.

The best solution to all aspiring Film writers is to train themselves thoroughly in the best manner possible. India too has a world-class Film school where creative young minds, who have a burning desire to make it in Films, can learn & receive a superb education. Digital Academy – The Film School is the ideal place to take a Screenwriter’s program and hone one’s writing skills. Not only will there be an opportunity to learn all the nuances of effective Film-writing from leading industry writers, but also a chance of subsequently working in the industry and making Films on the stories you write.

Script is the first part of your Films’ success and by enrolling for a program at DA and see where the world of writing can really take you.

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.

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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. 

Comedians and their pathetic childhood

It is an urban myth that successful comedians have a pathetic childhood. What makes this connection between comedy and wretchedness is not known. If we go through history of Cinema from around the world, we see it first caught on to the audience from circus and magic. Some of the famous early filmmakers, like Meliès, or Dadasaheb Phalke, were magicians. And one major attraction in magic and circus is the clown.

If on the other hand, we consider folk theatre, the other grand daddy of cinema, we can easily notice the role played by the vidūṣak on the Indian stage. (vidūṣak, in Sanskrit, has two different but close meanings; a Court Jester, a fool) The Roman comedian shared some of his vital traits too. If we forget about the comic relief they offered during moments of peak tension in plays, we see something very understandable. They were the commentators, just like the audience sitting outside the stage. The comedians were always involved and uninvolved in the act, at the same time. They were the eye of the conscience. Only they seemed to know what was going on in the make-believe world on stage.

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Our modern day comedians are an amalgamation of these two – the Clown and the vidūṣak. But why were they needed in the first place? This leads us to an obvious question with an even more obvious answer – why do we go to movies?

We go because we are crushed under pressure of the mundane world. We want to get back to the freedom of childhood, when dream and reality were the same. And isn’t cinema an extension of dreams?

A lot of psychoanalytical studies have been carried out about the relation between comedy, childhood and identity, including Freud’s early investigations on this phenomena. It may not be totally true that some adults, who had a wretched childhood, want to go back to the dreamland of fairy tales more than others, because they never had it in reality. And they find an accomplice on the silver screen, the comedian, for that journey. However, this may not be totally false either.

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Comedians on the screen are essentially flawed characters. Some gross imperfections in them lead us to laugh at their activities. Consider the tramp played by Chaplin from his early shorts to the later blockbusters, like The Circus and Modern Times. He is gross, unsuccessful and an insignificant character who is trampled and humiliated by the society. That itself is a flaw. However, the bigger flaw that makes him a laughing stock is his knack of getting involved in situations that always go out of his hands. In The Kid, he gets a child by accident and has to bring him up. We break into laughter when we see how a marginal figure in the society, who could not create a place of his own, teaches a kid how to succeed and gain respect.

However, when the same character solves pinning problems in his weird way, we cannot but empathetically identify with him. The same tramp actually takes us back to our roots when he takes up the role of a comedian in one of his films, Limelight. There too he tries to conquer humiliation, poverty and death by escaping into laughter.

Talking about Indian comedians, like Johnny Walker, Mehmood and Johnny Lever, we see these common traits running in their character’s blood. Johnny Walker, specially in the films made by Guru Dutt, helped alleviate the hero’s pain. He was not merely a comic relief, but a very active agent in the plot to solve the hero’s dilemma. He’s the one to bring the hero out of the mental hospital in the film Pyasaa.

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As a matter of fact, the comedian is an active comment on all forms of abusive power and guardianship, such as the school, the police and the mental hospital. So, it is enlightening when the tramp takes up the role of a Dictator Hinkel. At the end of The Great Dictator he talks about parity and peace from a platform which we all want to reach.

Considering the fact Chaplin credited humiliation in his childhood to be a major inspiration for laughter in his movies, there should be a deep connection between a disturbed childhood and the later adult days of comedy.

However, if we consider many other comedians, like Buster Keaton or Rowan Atkinson, we see it isn’t necessary for a comedian to have a bad childhood. There are different types of comedies, ranging from burlesque and slapstick to social satires. Can we divide the comedians into two sharp lines, with or without a disturbed childhood, so they can fit one genre or the other as a rule? However, that’s another story in itself.

Why should you join a Film School?

Why should you join a film school? Is it not better to buy your own camera, arrange for a few actors and a location, and shoot your own film? That way you can learn the art and craft of Film making. This can save you both time and money. If we consider that even the shortest Film school education takes up a few months to a year, the consideration of time makes sense. But can you really become a Film maker by making your own film? Without a mentor? Without the support of a Film school? After all, it is about your career and your life.

A Film school is a training ground for an individual to observe, collect, discuss, plan and apply. Under the supervision/mentoring of guides, students find their goals and the paths to reach them. They can have the creative freedom to choose their ideas and can experiment under controlled situations, which may not be possible in the real world. A Film school is a lab to discover the limits of our expressions and the validity of our ideas. Thus, when a student sees that a personal Film fails to connect to anyone but himself, he or she might reject that approach.

More specifically, what do Film schools teach? They talk about training in techniques and aesthetics. What are they and how mutually exclusive are they? Let us explore this issue in detail.

Film schools can ideally be viewed as conservatories where teachers play a mentor’s role. A Film school encourages all kinds of activities related to cinema – a Film club, a critics’ society, a testing ground for techniques and talents and a simulation of the industry outside. A Film school prepares the student to take up any or all of these communicative roles in professional life.

In literature, the tool is the word; in music, notes and beats and in painting, colours. In cinema, it is the image, video and audio. However, a mastery over images does not make one a Filmmaker. It can, at best, make you a good craftsman. The basic goal of any medium of communication is to express. What is in your mind should be laid out in a concrete form for others to see, connect and comment. For cinema, the mode of story as a form of communication works best. Unlike painting, Films gradually unfold in time. So the mould of story, which also works in time, fits them best. Hence, a Filmmaker must know how to tell stories.

In Film schools, the budding storyteller learns this art very well. Storytelling is an inborn tendency but needs finesse. Through comparing of world’s best stories with yours, you can see the path you must take. For the comparison, a mentor is necessary to guide you through the labyrinth of a million and one nights. Just to cut the time of learning short.

A teacher’s role is to show the relation between things. It may be possible for you to learn the relations yourself. But that takes years. A Film school, with its material and cultural resources, helps you to acquire a creative eye, under the mentoring of people who have found their paths. At the same time, you can interact with a variety of fellow travelers, searching for a similar goal. You can learn the most important ideas and skills from your friends in a Film school, things which may never be possible to learn the same way in the industry.

In this regard, Film schools are more like business schools. Unlike literature or painting, Film making is essentially a collaborative activity. This does not deny the fact that solo Film making is possible now more than ever before. One could make a short duration fiction or non-fiction film. However, it takes a lot more time and energy to finish a full length feature Film that way. You need Actors, sets, costumes, lights to design the space and many other accessories. No single person can manage all this at once. Quite obviously, it calls for a hierarchical collaboration, a focused domain knowledge, leadership and a good working knowledge of the human behaviour. All these come from years of experience in the field. However, in a film school, this can be encapsulated through intense programs and by using other peoples’ experience as guide.

Film schools are a good starting point for building professional contacts too. You can make your future team here, just like the Lucas-Spielberg duo. Also, you can meet the industry professionals in the comfort zone of your space. They regularly visit Film schools to conduct workshops or to give lectures. Quite often, big production companies look for freshers from Film schools. One personal encounter can lead to an internship, or better, a collaboration. And then who knows? Only the sky can be the limit.

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!

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