Increasingly, I’ve been feeling rather left out and beyond the expansive, far-reaching grasp of Bollywood. I’ve watched too many movies over the last couple of years, letting down all my filters and subjecting myself to everything that finds it’s way to the only multiplex around me. Most times I come out muttering “I’m not the target audience for this film,” to myself and anybody willing to listen while I launch off into an explanation about why I feel so. Usually because I’m trying to make sense of plot lines, themes and characterization that is peculiar to Bollywood. And when I do, I’ve been accused of trying to unnecessarily intellectualise a form of entertainment that is meant to be approached with a certain suspension of belief, rational thought and reason. Okayyyy, fair enough. I can try that. Sometimes. Because I manage it beautifully and display an inexplicable ability to sit through an hour of the drivel that is Bigg Boss, day after day (to think this is the only television I watch annually, troubles the hugsband on a daily basis).
Perhaps, this footnote of not questioning Hindi movies and applying logic should have told me that I’m really not the target audience for most mainstream Bollywood cinema, but I continue to watch a wide swathe of everything from Chennai Express to The Lunchbox. And yet, this year I was pleasantly surprised by films like Queen, Hasee toh Phasee and Dedh Ishqiya. Which makes me protest this please-leave-your-brain-behind-so-you-can-be-entertained disclaimer that comes attached with every other Hindi movie.
Last week, I watched PK. I went in without any expectations, because I’d heard so many mixed things about its similarities to OMG and the trailer seemed like a colourful mash-up of Peepli-Live-esque scenarios and Munna Bhai. I came out thinking, “I don’t think I am the target audience.”
It’s a bit tragic that a hugely relevant theme, taken on by someone with a clout and following like Aamir Khan has, gets reduced to a lot of silliness. The movie had its moments, sweet poignant bits, funny dialogues, and some sporadic gorgeous shots here and there — but overall, I felt it trivialised an important story. A story that it was bold enough to pick and try and tell, but fails to carry it through to the end because it gives into that same old please-leave-your-brain-behind-and-you-will-be-entertained syndrome. I’m not the target audience for it, because a majority of the crowds that will add up to make it a box-office hit will enjoy the histrionics, the hammy, OTT acting, the large meaningless plot loops, the mostly implausible storyline, the unnecessary and forced love angle forcefitted with the Indo-Pak unity bit (whyyyy, oh whyy?). They’ll enjoy it all, and forget the point of the story the film bravely took on and tried to tell. I know people in my immediate family who will laugh it all off in the cinema halls, get their overpriced multiplex ticket’s worth of entertainment, come home and proceed to consult the family baba before making the next big decision in life.
What’s the point of telling a story if you’re not going to make your audience want to take it seriously?
Incidentally, it’s not just the movies. In an attempt to find some light, frothy reading to close the year, I picked two Indian chic-lit numbers.
Half Love, Half Arranged, Itisha Peerbhoy
Don’t buy this book if you can help it. Unless you’re looking for something boring with all the trappings of a cliched, staid, typical story about a woman in her 30s desperately trying to fit in and be accepted, by finding a man to marry. Of course the protagonist is predictably fat, unmarried, struggling to find love. And in the process she’s throwing herself at everything remotely male to pass her by, in a desperate attempt to not become a desi outcast, because really isn’t that what we all want?
So boring. So done to death. And with no twists, nothing new to offer, lazy writing with lots of tangential, random plot developments and lots of typos this book was a mega disappointment. 3/4ths through I thought to myself, this book has ticked off every cliche associated with women, all that’s missing is a misunderstood lesbian woman. And. Then. That. Happened. Too. In most cliche fashion. I raced through this one because I just wanted it to be over.
I Kissed a Frog, Rupa Gulab
This one was actually readable and enjoyable in parts. First of all, it turned out to be a collection of short stories, which itself was refreshing. While there was nothing specifically outstanding about the book, I enjoyed parts of it because it was cheeky, a little whacky and I could relate to it in parts. Stories are about women in all kinds of strange but relatable situations, divided into three parts. Stories about love: falling in love with the perfect man whos 40 kilos overweight, getting even with an ex, fighting over a hot man, fixing someone up etc; and stories about friendship: finding a relationship with ones mother, best friends dealing with death, even having your friend undergo a sex change. The last section is a bunch of fairytales retold in a contemporary context with very strong feminist messages. I enjoyed this book overall, but it didn’t leave me feeling happy or wanting to pick up another book by the same author.
That feeling of being underwhelmed makes me think again that maybe I am not the right target audience for this. I read them back-to-back, not taking more than a day to finish each. And I realise I am so tired of the same stilted angles of Indian women, smack in the middle of their mid-life crises, looking for love to sex up their loveless lives, encountering a variety of men, and by variety I mean all kinds of unsavoury characters too. I’d really like to read Indian writing that is not about women looking for love, the tumultuous feelings associated with diaspora, mid-life crises and the desperate need to get married and/or hooked up and as TRQ pointed out on twitter, mangoes, rain and mythology. I am bored of it all. I also realised Anuja Chauhan has totally ruined Indian Chic lit for me by setting the bar so high up, virtually nothing matches up anymore. She does chic lit with attitude. The kind of stories that talk about women looking for love, but don’t need you to temporarily leave your brain behind. Which reminds me, isn’t it time for her next book already?
Perhaps if I’d left my brain aside I might have been more entertained by these books too. But I’m a bit tired of approaching everything with this need to suspend reason and the ability to be genuinely mentally stimulated. I’m not asking for high-brow, literary fiction or documentaries, but surely we can tell stories that are new, engaging and find entertainment and enjoyment based in reality too? And no, don’t tell me that’s what reality TV is for.