The Lost Arts: Making Meaningful Movies

Tell me a tale...
I must confess to have played no role here. I assure you that I was not involved in any of the movies made in the Golden Age of Indian Cinema and I’d rather be dead than be involved in any movie made nowadays. But I miss those movies.
I wouldn’t want to make it a Hollywood versus Bollywood (or any other {state-specific}-wood) issue. I see a fall in good the density of good movies being made both in the West as well as in India, though I believe that the fall is more sharp in the local market.
I wonder whether you have seen Do Bhiga Zameen or Do Aankhen Baarah Haat or Pathar Panchali or (down south) Paasa Malar. A movie is usually a rendition of a story and if that is done well, then I would be more than happy. There are those gems like Saaransh or Arth which (I think) also had an original storyline.
I used to have a rather clear sieve in my hands: if the movie is made by Mani Ratnam or has Kamal Hassan involved in it or is by Satyajit Ray or … well, you get the picture. I think I have backed out of the 1st criteria now, to a great extent.

Movies in India have nearly always been musicals and still are so. I hope that never dies but with the lyrics of today, I’d rather they were sifted out of the movie and rendered as a separate album. The songs of yesteryears had soulful lyrics and a beautiful lilting score to them. Consider Aandhi or Abhimaan or Anand (I actually have all of them in the same cassette). For that matter, consider any movie from the 70s and 80s. I loved the lyrics of this song from Mere Apne. Simple and beautiful. The movie too was about two friends who go ahead and form different gangs with a common bonding with Meena Kumari (who acts as this really old lady). Compare that with the run-of-the-mill gangster movies nowadays. I think after Sathya and perhaps Company the rest of the movies are so tiring. With songs like “Crazy kiya re” which are good to hum for a month or so, I don’t see the coming generation connecting to any song. For some reason “Mehbooba Mehbooba” in spite being a hip song of that generation (and I am amazed how Helen still maintained her respectability in spite of the typical cabaret songs she featured or acting the role of the vamp) is still a song people recollect and enjoy. Or do you remember “Laila o Laila“? We would try to recoginise the lyricist by just listening to a song. Now it doesn’t seem to matter whose mind stirred while composing a lot of sounds strung together as a song. I am not able to put my finger on why songs of today fail to strike chord but I will put my money on the inherent acceptance that nothing is meant to be permanent (quite a New York attitude) and everything can only get a 15 minutes of fame. I think the creators of yesteryears strove to make their creation memorable for years to come. Like writers of that generation and this. The virtue of permanence is a discarded goal.

The dialogues of the earlier day movies were consciously written to be high impact and the kinds one would want to repeat in close friends circle. I still remember the dialogues of Pran and Raaj Kumar. The latter’s baritone voice would make even simple dialogues seem dashing and sexy. I still remember the way he addressed Meena Kumari in Pakeezah: “Aapke paon dekhe. Bahut haseen hain. Inhe zameen pe mat utariyega. Maile ho jaayenge” Smooth. I used to love the way he used to pass his hand over his throat and lash out his lines. Very suave. Down south, Shivaji Ganesan was such a figure too. Why, even Sholay’s “Kitne Aadmi the” is such a memorable line or the quirky “Poorey pachas hajaar! Aur yeh inaam isliye hai ke yahaan se pachas pachas kos door gaon me jab bachcha raat ko rota hai to maa kahti hai beta soja ..soja nahi to gabbar singh aa jaayega.” 🙂 Nowadays, very few movies have noteworthy dialogues. Unfortunately, Rajnikanth movies down south have some silly line that people love repeating for long (“Inda Baadshah orr daravai sonnaal, noor daravai sonna maathiri”). And Ajit’s dialogues (of the “Saara sheher mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hai” and “Mona daaling” fame) are still twisted and turned into some very funny one liners. Here is a link and another. I know, I am drifting… 🙂

In short, I really wonder why movies with some good and gripping storyline aren’t produced more often. I really miss watching a movie with a plot that makes me nodding my head in approval. And of course I miss movies with songs with good lyrics and music which isn’t too much of noise.


6 thoughts on “The Lost Arts: Making Meaningful Movies

  1. I don’t think that making meaningful movies is a lost art at all – meaningful, enjoyable movies of excellent quality and amorphous but stunning plots are being made even now as were during then. FightClub, Seven, Usual suspects, Shawshank Redemption you name it.See the latest movie of Finchers – Zodiac.Woody Allen always delights. Even in hollywood, Martin Scorcese, Bryan Singer, David Fincher are exceptionally talented. I prefer the european directors to Hollywood ones. My husband and I have discovered RWF – Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was a prolific film maker who made 41 films before he was 38 and actually died of hard work. His movies are simply amazing, the plot tight, deep, the actors just right, the story interesting and different. Fear eats the soul, Veronica, Martha etc etc are truly truly classic and fulfilling. For the latest in indian films, I liked Sarkar a lot, Life in a Metro is actually good, Cheeni Kum is a bad movie that I enjoyed. Songs and dances and music – hmmm. What can I say? I am ignorant, dont remember any good songs except for the Gangster ones, or from kalyug, or many of Emraan Hashmi’s movies.In the good movies of today, there is a darkness, a heaviness that the yester movies lacked methinks. Even Pakeeza (to me a perfect movie)was a simple story as compared to Kalyug even. Todays good movies dare to plumb the unthinkable in man and humanity and since they are good, they do it well; no solutions offered, but they are good.You have written too much about music and lyrics and dance in movies – I think movie making is beyond these and what is left of the movie when you cut off music and dance is THE MOVIE I think. By that token, lots and lots of good movies are being made, whether in bollywood or hollywood or the rest of the world like Iran or Sri Lanka, not to mention good old Europe.You need to explore more, know more, adventure into virgin forests of foreign movies, then you would realise that you dont have any cause to lament about this lost art, since it indeed is not lost at all, but thriving and alive…

  2. Dear P,How quick you are to cut me to size!! 🙂 Unfortunately I think you missed the whole point I was making. At the outset I did mention that in Hollywood the matter is less severe. I can point out a few dozen movies which are splendid from there. But in India the problem is quite visible. If you notice, my post is mostly about Indian movies. Life in a Metro is one of the only movies this year (and a whole half year has passed in the most prolific industry) that seemed to catch my attention. Sarkar was ok. Yes, I haven’t explored European movies, but I am not even addressing them in here! 🙂 Indian movies, milady, Indian movies. And in Indian movies, song (though not dance) is an integral part of the entire movie. If you take out dialogues and songs from an Indian movie, I would like to know of at least 3 movies which still scored high in your measure. Preferably movies produced in the last 10 years… 😉If you look at AFI’s list of top 100 movies there is only one movie in the top 25 which was made after 1985!! 1 in 25!!! That is a measly 4% of the movies made in the last 12-15 years before the list was compiled. Only 14 films in the 100 were from the 1980s and 1990s. Only 8 from the 1990s. Bad score. Making meaningful movies is a dwindling art even in the West, though not yet as drastic as in India. Only 3 movies from India found mention in Time’s list of top 100 movies and all of them were made before the 90s began. If you check the list someone has put together here: will be able to distinctly compare the quality of movies made in the 1990s (even by numbers) and the ones in 80s and 70s or earlier. As in, would you ever compare Taal and any god-forsaken Karan Johar movie with the quality of movies made in the 70s or so? 😮I rest my case… 🙂

  3. I am just wondering, if the same 70’s and 80’s movies would have induced that same feeling that you have for the current ones with your great grand father or someone elder at 70-80’s?..Just thinking about it!

  4. :-D. Not done – throwing statistics at a paavam commenter. Frankly, I truly like like and like in all the years that I have lived on earth, only a handful of movies – each and every one of Satyajit Ray’s works (their perfection relaxes me no end), Mudhal Mariyaadhai in Tamizh, Pakeezaah and Guide in Hindi. For the rest, I lower my levels of expectation considerably.# There. I have disagreed with you in my first comment, and have agreed with you in the second. So the triumph is yours! Enjoy—–

  5. Dear K,You raise a valid point and I have no answer. As I mentioned in some earlier post, the quotidian of this generation is the romance of the ones that come. 🙂Dear P,Triumph is mine when I get you to return often to this blog. Let me not receive any other triumph… 😉

  6. No fears of my keeping away from your blog, so long as you write even half as well as you do now, that too on such an eclectic choice of subjects – karumbu thinna kooli thevaiyillai – anyone who enjoys good writing cannot but return here time and again.And as a nonsequitur, this line from Lao Tzu : “The Tao always returns…”

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