Thursday, March 18, 2010

a primary source document on the occasion of his 72nd birthday

Last week, alert reader Richa sent me a link to a video of an interview with Shashi that I knew nothing about (even though Memsaab has previously posted the audio of it? yikes, how did I not realize that?). I actually tend to avoid interviews with movie stars. I usually end up disappointed in what they say or how they say it, and I find it very difficult to decide what impact I should/want to allow that to have on my impressions of them as performers. After all, movie stars are usually famous because of what they do with other people's words, not because of their own. It took some courage to watch this clip from the BBC show Man Alive (from 1973 - note the shot of a marquee of Daag at the beginning); I figured that even if I hated what Shashi said, at least I'd get to hear and see him say it himself instead of reading a transcription (at best) and being left wondering if tone or facial expressions would add meaning or nuance to printed words that I was trying to interpret on my own. Starting at 1:40, here he is, not quite half the 72 years old he turns today, discussing a fascinating topic: giving the people what they want.

"The average Indian is not rich. He can go to see a film which is very cheap. This is the cheapest form of entertainment.... And it's marvelous when he goes there. Now, he has no education.... Right now, the present Indian... when he goes there, he's tired, he's worried, he's had lots of problems, and he's been brainwashed into sort of living the life that he knows he's going to live for the rest of his life because there's hardly any future for the poor. So when he goes to see this film, he sits there in the cinema, and he expects fantasies, he expects fantastic things. Laughter, humor, emotions, sentiments, music, love, romance, grandeur, you know, lots of things. He doesn't want to be told about the realities of life."

On the one hand, who doesn't want those things! Nobody reading this site, I bet. And I especially want them when they're delivered via Shashi Express, with the eyelashes, beautiful profile, moppety dancing, and committed, varied performances. But on the other, I don't think what he says is quite all that's going on in this clip. I don't know if it's the rich, low tone of voice or the indulgent-looking smile, but after three viewings of this, I think he might be blowing sunshine. Is that because he's in an interview generally, putting on his beneficent hat, or is it aggravated because he's talking to the BBC specifically? He sounds very smooth, which gives me the impression that at least some of what he's saying is a line. Or maybe that effect is just because he's introduced driving off in his Mercedes (though at least he drives it himself) as people clamor to talk to him - and his clip is followed by typical documentary footage of harsh rural life. There's a disconnect between him and the people he's describing, between his leisured luxury and their toiling, that is a little off-putting. There's also the unspoken conclusion of his description: "people want fantastic things, and, as part of the film industry, I am so magical that I can provide them." But maybe that's what stars of the 70s were supposed to sound like - to play up the idea that they have enchanting, fabulous lives far away from the metaphorically and literally impoverished reality of vast populations of workaday India - and there was probably no point for a Kapoor to pretend to be an everyman even if that's how some stars liked to spin themselves. And far be it from me to say Shashi Kapoor is not magical, not capable of transporting mere mortals from their daily grind into a world of snuggles and giggles and twinkling fairly lights! I also think it's interesting that the idea of movies needing to provide fantasy to audiences who have more than enough "reality" in their daily lives was as much in parlance in 1973 as it was in the books on Indian cinema I began reading in 2005. Either a majority of filmmaking hasn't changed much in this regard or the conventional wisdom about it hasn't kept up.

Anyway, it's a treat to watch this, isn't it? It's the first interview I've seen him do that isn't about a particular film (like the commentary on some of the Merchant-Ivory DVDs), And it must be said that this is, er, better vintage Shashi than those early 2000s Criterion Collection special features. This is grace and curls and The Voice; he looks mighty pleased with himself, and who can blame him. Le sigh.

Many thanks to Richa for the find and youtube user Pavitra66 for sharing!

A bit of housekeeping to close: I don't think I can keep up with the "one post per day" promise I made at the start of the week! Nahiiiiin! There is just too much going on at work and elsewhere in my head, and despite my best intentions I did not plan enough in advance to have posts queued up and ready to publish. I'm so sorry! I will have substantial posts for Saturday and Sunday, though. With Helen as my witness, I will triumph!

14 comments:

adee said...

hahaha with Helen as ur witness, u ll have no pains securing a bail :D nahiiiiiii

u r right. the realities have not changed much. for the impoverished lot that Shashi talks about. but there is also the new India that today's generation of filmmakers are talking to. some call it the 'multiplex' audience, some by other names. it all started with 'Dil Chahta Hai'. hope to hear from u about this phase also.

great article. will keep on reading.

bollyviewer said...

You know what strikes me more strongly? The narrator/interviewer saying that Indian audiences are in no position to enjoy social realism in their cinema, unlike Western audiences. The only Western counterpart to Indian cinema, in terms of number of films and diverse audience, is Hollywood. Are Hollywood films so much more realistic than Hindi films? Has anybody made a similar connection between poverty and the success of what one can only call escapist fare, like the James Bond films, for example?

sophy said...

I too felt it's a line. Maybe poor Sash has had to explain Bollywood to westerners and after the 756th time this is what it sounds like.

Beth said...

Adee - I appeal to Helen often :)

The absence of conversation about he multiplex audience struck me as well - one sure sign of social change.

bollyviewer - Yes, there's definitely that tone as well. But also it's 1973 in this clip, and the days of Hollywood musicals, which to many eyes are probably the closest western equivalent of mainstream Indian cinema, are several decades ago. Of course you are right, that many Hollywood films are escapist (including primarily British films like Bond!). I think it's hard to detach enough from what you're used to to see it in different ways - I know that immersing in Indian films has made me look at American and other western movies differently. Let's hope this interview got some food for thought out of this!

This conversation reminds me of one of the things I liked in SRK's interview on NPR last month, when he said "You have films where the President of the US fights off bad guys and people blow up asteroids, and you call OUR films fantastic? We just want to sing and dance and get good jobs." Oversimplified, obviously, but a fair point!

sophy - Agreed, doubtless that is a factor. His indulgent tone might be as much for the interviewer as the subject!

Suhan said...

Well, the version of the documentary "Bombay Superstar" that I saw actually starts with Shashi Kapoor saying "For the average Indian male, films are the cheapest form of entertainment besides his wife" and he's quite serious when he says it. All you can hear in Part 1 that was uploaded on youtube is "...besides his wife".

liz.cook said...

I've watched a bit of the beginning of this, and Rajesh Khanna also comes across as if he's sort of blowing some smoke, too. It makes me wonder about the interviewer, and the types of questions he asked to get these responses. (It also doesn't help that the BBC interviewer totally reminds me of an Eric Idle-Monty Python character.)

Amrita said...

I think he's repeating the industry line. This is how they STILL justify the budgets, the sets, the locales, the fantasy, the singing and dancing - anything you want to ask about Bollywood, the answer is: "We're in the business of selling fantasy to those who can't afford it".

Unfortunately for a number of the old guard, an increasing number of Indians can now afford it so they better come up with an alternate line pretty quick.

But you know, if I have to hear the party line, they couldnt find a better spokesman than Shashi. Deelish! I mean, he IS a movie star. Even perfection has its limits and I guess its a bit too much to hope that he'd also be humble and honest about stardom while simultaneously reaching across time and setting fire to our pants with his sheer awesomeness.

bollyviewer said...

Oops! For some reason I've always thought of James Bond as a Hollywood production!!! Lets substitute the Terminator series or the Die Hard series for Bond, then. Or maybe not! At least Bond provides tons of eye candy (like Bollywood) and you cant level that accusation against the Terminator.

Suhan, did Shashi actually say that a poor man's only entertainment is his wife or the movies? EEEEEEKS!!! That just strengthens my already firm resolve to stay away from celebrity interviews and gossip.

Kanan said...

Oooooh! I love the way he talks. *drool* I need a bib. :P
Thank you, Beth!

Suhan said...

Bollyviewer, I know :-( It's easy to disregard what is put out about them in print but when it comes out of the "horse's mouth" as Kaka says in his inimitable accent in 'Anand', then oh how they shatter all those beautiful illusions, remind us of feet of clay, etc. There was an interesting debate on Indian TV some weeks ago during the fracas with Shahrukh and the Shiv Sena and the Big B's utterances in this regard and someone commented on the folly of equating their screen personas with what they are in real life. Of course, fools like me are always disillusioned :-)

Richa said...

Like Adee said, the realities haven't changed much. And there is still quite a large population of the impoverished in India. So in that context I agree with what Shashi is saying. There is also the factor that Sophy mentioned. Shashi must have had to explain this so many times to people who didn't know bollywood very well and so one does start sounding like a stuck record.
And Beth as you said earlier that you don't think he quite believes what he's saying...I think so too. Because I've always had the impression that Shashi was not much into the typical bollywood masala fantasy thing. He got into it for the sole reason of making a living; he was more interested in theater. And also because the films that he produced like Vijeta, 36 Chowringhee Lane and even Junoon (I haven't seen it but from what I've read about it) and even some that he acted in like Householder, Basera, Ijazat had social realism to some extent.
But, oh well, I don't disagree with what Shashi is saying here.

sophy said...

Amrita makes excellent points. One big reason I haven't been interested in old or new Bolly is back in the 70s, except for the glamour we had access to all the things the stars had and more since we were also educated. And now, the dream factory may have shifted to San Francisco and the golden gate backdrop but you know, I *lived* in SF. But the dance and song extravanganza is still good and whatever they remove, that should not go.

Asli Jat said...

Glad to see that you have finally found this interview. I don't know if you remember but I wrote to you a while back about this. I told you it was part of the 'Bombay Superstar' program on Rajesh Khanna.

Anyway, I know you are a die-hard Shashi fan - your blog posts gave that away : -)

If you do get time, please check out the whole of the program on YouTube & I'd love to get your comments also.

Here are the links to all the parts :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWmucHoZN3U

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3XCYEM7Wc4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FO5osyRFz5M

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7Yes8lcdOg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dpw2qZgZzO0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJgOU7djrt8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrIte5mYZMM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyOnlfuXcIU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlrN4Sj5zZM


Asli Jat

P.S. My YouTube username is Pavitra66

Beth said...

Asli - SO YOU DID! I am hopeless - do forgive! :) I hope to watch the whole thing sometime soon :)