A craze for Angrez?

I’ve danced around the idea of making a movie for much of my adult life. Many impediments have held me back. Some real, some imagined. Rumours of starry tantrums, interfering producers, forced item numbers. And then of course, the biggest drawback I’m told, is my weak command of the ‘rashtra bhasha’.

Illustration /Amit Bandre
Illustration /Amit Bandre

‘There’s no market for English language movies in this country, dude,” my bi-lingual, Bollywood expert friends warn me. “‘Finding Fanny’ and “Delhi Belly’ were freak successes.”

Frankly, I’m confused. Call me ignorant, but we have such a vast English-speaking population, especially in the metros; every parent is clamouring to put their child into English medium schools. Surely all this makes for a potential desi English cinema audience?

Isn’t this a golden opportunity for wholesome, homegrown films in Hinglish, spoken in our non-Angrezi accents? What are the Disneys of the world thinking? Are the numbers that nonsensical? The market so miniscule?

There’s clearly a growing taste for the varied fare that Hollywood throws up every week.

Just take last month Gone Girl is, into its third week, running to packed houses, as Ben Affleck searches for his psycho wife. Interstellar is wowing kids who are dissecting Chris Nolan’s complex theories long after the closing credits have rolled. The Judge pitted Robert Downey Jr vs Robert Duvall in an awesome father-son reunion thriller. All this as the moronic Happy New Year crossed Rs 100 crore.

I understand that Bollywood caters to a lollipop ideology. Lowest common denominator, wafer-thin, stolen plots and so on. The masses rule, I get it. The front benchers have to be satisfied. But there’s got to be space for a thinking man’s minority cinema, right? (Surely that’s possible among 1.2 billion people in India?)

Most young directors in modern India think in English. Why not, then, make the films in that language, set in worlds they understand?

And I watch young people and their response to the telling of complex stories, of complex themes set in the West. They don’t necessarily want to ‘leave their brains at home’ or watch films aimed at the ‘lowest common denominator’. They want a plot, a plausible story with a beginning, middle and end. They want to watch great actors playing realistic parts. I’m certain they want films rooted in our context, with our content, themes they can identify with, in an English that they speak and vibe with. And don’t talk to me about “the business model doesn’t allow for English. It’s too small a piece of the pie.” Hollywood also has millions of dollars riding on stuff, but they set out to tell stories not just sell Shah Rukh Khan. They don’t randomly choose George Clooney and weave a story around him.

Their directors make movies they want to make, as opposed to what they feel people want to see. ‘Tell the story you want to tell, the money will come as will the audiences” is what they believe in.

Hindi masala will always rule our cinema, as it must. Song and dance is our staple diet. But occasionally, niche may be nice.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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