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Hundred years young

Hundred years young
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It has been hundred years since that great visionary and campaigner Dhundiraj Govind Phalke invented a startling creation called 'Raja...

It has been hundred years since that great visionary and campaigner Dhundiraj Govind Phalke invented a startling creation called "Raja Harishchandra''. It was 1913. And after 50 years, exactly halfway, I joined the mainstream cinema with "Dr.Chakravarthi''. That was in 1963.A This is to substantiate my initiation into this media halfway. I did story, screenplay, dialogue and acted in 250 movies and directed a movie. This is only to claim my insights into this very plastic, malleable and ductile media as a participant and witness, not from the side wings but straight on the spot where the action took place and not to gloat over my achievements in it.

In 1963, we used to sit through several sessions of discussions to arrive at a good theme. But what is a good theme? One that tells a decent story? Successful story? And, again, what is a successful story? One that inspires the audience? Or breaks box office records?

I don't remember even a single occasion when we deliberated whether this or that story would pay or not. We did not even entertain the fact whether this particular theme or that would meet the acceptance of the masses. Fortunately big money was not there in the market then. I was given a thousand rupees for my screenplay. I remember the heroine getting an Ambassador car as remuneration! All that went through our minds at that time was whether this story would carry any moral, whether the commonest of common man could delve into it and appreciate it.

We never wanted to hurt him. We never wanted to cultivate him, cajole him, tickle him and, very importantly, impress him. He is the monarch who had the last word. All that we craved for was his audience. We had our share of arrogance to feel that whatever was logically and emotionally right in society would certainly meet the approval of the audiences. And very often, we never failed.

Those were the days when creative material was easy to find. We never groped for themes. Society was our testing board. We did not need to conceive permutations and combinations to lure the cine-goer to the theatre. Dancing in Switzerland, climax in Hong Kong or romance in Genting mountain resort of Malaysia was not our cup of tea.

It was a known world, a safe and a committed world. And they created history. Lavakusa, Malleswari, Mayabazar, Manushulu marali, Pratighatana and Seetharamayyagari Manumaralu are most tested themes which appealed to the masses while serving as money-spinners at the box office as well. What is good was received then. Now what is wrapped into attractive tinsel has more currency as a saleable product. A On the national level, Mother India, Waqt, Mughal-e-Azam, Ankur, and Jagte Raho created not only history but served as milestones for vibrant and meaningful cinema. They nurtured good taste while serving the producer with extra coppers.

Can we say this of any money-spinners of today? Can we tabulate at least four of them? Sensation gives currency to a product but can never make it lasting. The best example is sex compared to love. Pleasure in difference from bliss. A film over-generalises an action and glamorizes and even glorifies anything on the screen because of its focus. By the same token, it might serve as a moral sanction, as the protagonist on the screen becomes a trend setter. The mythological characters of yesteryear or their prototypes in the later years served as greater insulation of the virtues and moral fibre of the community.

Cinema, then, was not mere entertainer but had a role to play in shaping the ethos of the community. It was by far a very safe zone. And then came the dialectical portrayals, stereotypes yearning for social justice. They very often play to the galleries, sometimes charging dangerously off the tangent and even became derogatory. For instance, a hero and his chelas who can get away in bullying the heroine and her friends on the street may be a tamasha on the screen. It may tickle the fun-loving youth in the dark hall. But it was dark humour served in dangerously attractive wrapper.

The man in the street is amused and replicates it in life and may end up doing a ghastly barbaric act, like the one we had witnessed the other day on the streets of Delhi. Cinema narrates truth 24 times per second- according to French director Jean Luc Godard. Its sibling- TV- gatecrashed into our drawing rooms narrating truth even more subtly- 26 times per second.

The single commodity that affects the cinema is money. There is money in it, the single most dangerous and luring co-ordinate. A shrewd businessman, who is not committed to the scope of the media, is anxious to make that extra buck. And hence the enticing potboilers.

Gone are the days when committed filmmakers like Dada Saheb Phalke sold his wife's jewellery to immortalize truth. We have many nervous businessmen walking into the transaction to make quick money. The film industry in India is on par with any other industry anywhere in the world. The excellent technical marvels like the recent film "Eega'' amply stand as a testimony. But, alas, the heart is missing. We have glittering, instant fireflies, but no more blazing searchlights.

The vulnerable aspect is the values expected in a film are extremely optional. The success becomes the yardstick. This is the single largest snake pit into which the Telugu cinema, for that matter world cinema, sucked. A few, sporadic films like 'The Wednesday', "Tare Zameen Par'' are but rare exceptions.

Today's media- to use a coin of that sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler- is a brutal 'shock'. Unfortunately, it is only vulgarised as a mere brute force, not fine-tuning it to subtle nuances it can yield; as in 'Sound Of Music', 'It is a wonderful life' (of Francis Ford Coppola featuring James Stewart) or even our very own 'Chemmeen' (of Ramu Kariat) and of course 'Leta Manasulu'.

If and when the human, lasting, durable values are amalgamated into an otherwise brilliant technical expertise of today's filmmaking, I am sure the film will augur in another century of celebration and service with history on its heels. A After all, cinema is going to change its face very soon and the only instrument to change the very face of society is again cinema. The single largest weapon being-Truth, nothing but Truth and the whole Truth!

Lavakusa, Malleswari, Mayabazar, Manushulu marali, Pratighatana and Seetharamayyagari Manumaralu are most tested themes which appealed to the masses while serving as money-spinners at the box office as well

Lavakusa, Malleswari, Mayabazar, Manushulu marali, Pratighatana and Seetharamayyagari Manumaralu are most tested themes which appealed to the masses while serving as money-spinners at the box office as well

(gmrsivani@gmail.com)

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