Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Hyderabad –> Kolkata Express

My explorations of Bengali cinema have finally brought me to contemporary (as in, the last 7-8 years) popular films, and much to my ignorance-fueled shock I have found a ton of Telugu remakes. They often star one of two mononymically macho heroes. First, there's Jeet. I don't dislike Jeet, but he seems to have a slight permasnarl that isn't my cup of tea.
  • a poster and song from the remake of Business Man
  • a fight scene from Wanted (confusingly to my Bolly-centric brain, this is the remake of Athadu, not Pokiri)  
  • a clip from Jor (Okkadu
  • the trailer for Awara (Krishna
There's also Dev, whom the internet indicates is the pinnacle of perhaps slightly softer herogiri: muscles, looks, dancing, and smiling.* 
  • poster and song from Khoka Babu (Dhee)
  • a "making of" fight clip and a song I cannot stop watching from Challenge 2 (Dookudu)
  • a motorcycle/nunchaku/sound effect fight from Paglu (Devadasu) (not the Devdas one) (obviously) (also, if that link does not open to 35:35, that's where you should start watching)
  • a song from Bolo Na Tumi Amar (Happy)
  • a song from Khoka 420 (Brindavanam)
  • a song from Shedin Dekha Hoyechilo (Parugu)  
A Kolkata-born and -bred friend says this last song contains the exact moment the spirit of Ray died. Personally I find Ray's work a lot closer to popular sensibilities than, say, the Rituparno Ghosh films I've seen, but that's another blog post that needs a lot more research. And he may have just meant aesthetically. 

By no means is this an inherently bad thing—though so far, these remakes are no more to my particular tastes than the originals, and if I am to slog through films of men beating people up over and over again while babyish women whimper, I'd still opt for the films that offer better songs (sorry)—and I am also far too ignorant of what's going on in Tollygunge these days to say whether the south remakes are the dominant trend.

Additionally, I'm missing a big chunk of history of popular Bengali cinema from about 1980 onwards (I've seen just one Sukhen Das film, for example), but I am wildly curious how the taste for the generally simpler, more direct, and less extravagant and bombastic films of the 1950s through the 70s (possibly ending with the death of Uttam Kumar in 1980?) changed into a market for these films. I've only seen two of these Telugu remakes, plus a whooooole lot of songs, but to me there seems very, very little in them that relates in any way to the traits and styles I've come to think of as comprising earlier Bengali popular cinema. There's also the cognitively dissonant idea of warring stereotypes, and while we know we shouldn't pay too much attention to stereotypes, they do tend to be rooted in some kind of truth—or perception of truth—and it's difficult to think of an odder Indian cinematic couple than Bengali movies and recent Telugu masala.

So if you have any idea, or even any opinion, I'd love to hear it! What are the links between the 70s and now that have shaped movies and audiences in this direction? What do I not know or understand about earlier and current films that would color them as more similar than I perceive?

* Based on the evidence I have seen, Jeet is probably more convincing at thrashing people but Dev is a better dancer. I've also spotted an actor named Sohom who strikes me as a better dancer than Dev, but he doesn't have the biceps or poster-boy looks, etc. It's a very complicated balance being a hero, isn't it?  And how is the re-launch of Mimoh…er, Mahakshay going to fit into all of this? I have so much to learn!

Update to post (same day): Some very knowledgable friends on twitter and facebook have piped up with insight. Arunava Sinha proposes that funding coming from Hyderabad-based production companies might be influencing the stories and the storytelling. Bongopondit sends a 2010 article in  The Telegraph by Chandreyee Ghose that says "mainstream Tollywood [the Kolkata one] remains resolutely repetitive" and suggests copying Telugu and Tamil film not only saves money but generally proves bankable in the box office. Sayantan Mondal, to whom mutual friends immediately  connected me as soon as I expressed an interest in post-Uttam Kumar Bengali movies, says:
1) Guaranteed success. If we look at the late 80s and 90s period, they were more or less copied from Bollywood (not sure about if the remake rights were purchased but it was like a mixture of 4-5 movies) and sometimes from other regional movies (a rare practice then). Now I was reading somewhere that producers more or less wanted to go in for a remake instead of something original because the remake gives them the hope that it will be successful (not always). 
2) The new remake model of Bengali movie industry is something like the Kannada Movie Industry. They remake a lot. More or less everything. More than Telegu, malayalam and tamil (personal opinion, I might be wrong here) 
3) Post-2000 the pattern of Bengali movies changed with the advent of Dev/Jeet and a host of other stars. It was the time when the extraordinary gentlemen of 80s and 90s had to bow out. The audience wanted something new and Dev/Jeet and company were the perfect guinea pigs for experimentation and it happened. A new dawn in Bengali cinema. Bengali cinema now has more or less 3 forms: 
  • the remake masalas 
  • the cross between art-commercial (Srijit variety) 
  • and of course the art movies 
  • ...and another genre is coming up: Postcolonial/Neocolonial Comedies 
4) Also, 80s-90s style was redundant. Prosenjit during the early 2000s did a lot of movies with feudal undertones. The change in Bollywood and other Regional movies forced Bengal too change as well. Money too started pouring in. 
5) 80s-90s bengali movies were staunchly rural centric. But again (as I have already mentioned ) some directors/producers wanted to break out of this mould. Arrival of stars such as Dev/Jeet helped. Money was poured in as well. Now it catered to both set of audiences- the urban and the rural. As far as I remember, during my childhood in Asansol, rarely our two biggest halls played any Prosenjit movies but now they easily play Dev/Jeet stuffs. Multiplexes in Durgapur play Dev and Jeet. Unimaginable some years back. 
6) The late 80s and 90s stuffs were seen as a "burden of the Bengali man". It was there. Some loved it (I simply adore them) [Beth says: MUST INVESTIGATE]…most hated them. Prosenjit is often blamed for being the Trash King. Before him it was Chironjit. But of course now Prosenjit has redefined himself. And then there were movies by Sukhen Das - the king of Gore…and fringe elements like Abhishek Chatteree. The most onscreen sacrifices after Sukhen Das. 
This change was needed and it more or less alludes to the change in Bollywood and Southern Industry…and 80s and 90s though they copied randomly were staunchly original in their own way...not the new zombies that are being produced. They are often scene by scene copy, eg: Prawtidhani starring Tapas Pal and Abhishek and Moon Moon and Robi Ghosh - takes elements from Aakhri Rasta, Andha Kanoon, and Mashal (the Dilip Lumar/Anil Kapoor/Waheeda Rahman one)..