It had been a tiring day for Pawan Kumar. So, as soon he hit the couch, he fell asleep. In seconds, he was dreaming. The kind of dream in which you feel you are fully conscious. Kumar heard a knock on his door and in his dream he was walking towards it to open it. Cut. He woke up abruptly. Kumar, an actor and a one-film-old director in the Kannada film industry, suddenly had a brain wave. He thought of all those times while dining out when people gave him and his wife (also an actor) intrusive stares. Juxtaposing his dream with this experience, an idea took birth. He called it Project Lucia.
The prefix in this moniker was not just to make it sound intelligent. “Lucia is more than just a movie,” wrote Kumar, in his now famous blog, Home Talkies. “It is an experiment, the positive results of which could bring in hope and make careers for thousands of creative people.” The film, the protagonist of which is a torch shiner at a local cinema house who has lucid dreams, was not just an experiment. It was the young director’s protest against the kind of films that were releasing in his homeland. Kumar, who had directed the hugely successful Lifeu Ishtenu in 2011, couldn’t find a single star or producer from Karnataka who wanted to listen to Lucia’s script. The industry was bitten by the remake bug, he wrote. “There were many Tamil and Hindi stars who wanted to listen to the script. But I wanted to make it in my language,” he said. “We are the youth and I felt there is no point complaining. We are the ones who should have solutions. We must initiate change.”
And so, there was change, and how. The director, who didn’t want to make any compromises on his vision for Lucia, decided to put the film out to the audience. He called for crowd funding to raise money for its production through his blog. The post went viral and within 27 days, Kumar had Rs 51 lakh in his account. The film was made with little known actors and was shot in less than a month. It was screened at several festivals abroad and got a theatre release in all the big cities. It won this year’s Audience Choice Award at the 4th London Film Festival.
Kumar is one among many young filmmakers in the country who have decided to bring change in their own capacities. They are as rooted in their culture as their predecessors were and have a much wider pool of talent and technology at their disposal. They are brave enough to be using it to their best of knowledge to fight it out with others who find solace in the set formula. They are bringing in new talent and innovations without trying to topple the existing models or masters. They do not want to seize or conquer another filmmaker’s space, but create a niche of their own.
Although a small wave of change was seen in the past few years, the year 2013 has seen a snowballing effect. Indian cinema’s centenary celebrations coincided with the rise of smaller, content-driven and sensible films which haven’t shied away from exploring taboo subjects. Of course, there still are the 0100-crore hits and stars who still play larger than life characters. But there are also many small wonders like Lucia that are getting noticed.
When asked about his cinematic inspirations in an interview, Kumar mentioned Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Anurag Kashyap. But when the same question was put to Kashyap a year ago, when his two-part drama Gangs of Wasseypur was screened at the Cannes, he said he drew inspiration from Tamil films. To a large population, who, thanks to Shah Rukh Khan’s lungi dance routine, thought there was nothing more to Tamil films than Rajnikanth’s finger-swishing antics, this would come as a shock. But the beginnings of this new revolution have their roots in Tamil cinema.
In Tamil Nadu, cinema is no less than a religion. Stars are worshipped and they have been voted to run the state. However, the films that were most appreciated this year were quite different from the usual fare.
Onaayum Aattukuttiyum, directed by Nandalala and Chithirum Pesuthedi fame Mysskin, is a fast-paced thriller that unfolds in a single night. There were no songs or a female protagonist in the film.
Paradesi, directed by Sethu and Naan Kadavul fame Bala, reminded one of Steve McQueen’s 2013 drama 12 Years A Slave. Set in the pre-independence period, the film tells the story of a village community that is forced into slavery by the British estate owners.
While Mysskin and Bala are directors who have previously made their mark, debutant director Alphonse Putharen created quite a stir with his comedy thriller Neram.
On similar lines, first-time director Nalan Kumaraswamy’s Soodhu Kavvum, a dark comedy which tells the story of a kidnapping gone wrong, received glowing reviews from audiences and critics alike. Kumaraswamy was praised for “not having compromised on logic” for making a laugh riot.
Content has become king now, says Aashiq Abu, Malayalam film director known for his films Salt N Pepper and 22 Female Kottayam. “This is just an inevitable and organic change,” he says. “Everything has its cycle. There was a time when Malayalam films were at its peak in the late 80s. Then there was a trough, too, when very boring and distasteful films were made and now this might be another revival.” He cites the example of Dil Chahta Hai and Subramaniapuram, two films which were a whiff of fresh air in their lifetimes. “Cinema is an art form,” says Abu. “So I see this as a natural change.”
Shoojit Sircar, director of Madras Cafe, agrees. “This was bound to happen,” he says. “How long would people go on watching films in which people fly around and beat up a hundred men?” When bad films are made continuously, films like Shahid or The Lunchbox break the monotony, says Sircar. “In the years to come, only films with strong subjects or those which are a spectacle like Gravity or Avatar will withstand the competition and be appreciated.”
Directors are not shying away from subjects that were earlier considered dicey. Sircar admits that he would not have dared to make Madras Cafe a few years ago given the sensitive nature of the story that revolves around the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
Homosexuality is another theme which is being explored in depth. While Karan Johar did his bit in his film in the anthology Bombay Talkies, for the first time a mainstream actor, Prithviraj, played the role of a gay police officer in Malayalam film director Roshan Andrews’s murder mystery, Mumbai Police. Ravi Jadhav’s Marathi film Balak Palak touched upon the need for sex education among youngsters and Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus talked about organ donation.
With newer subjects, filmmakers have also started exploring fresh genres of filmmaking. India’s first ever full-length stoner film was made by debutant Vinay Govind in Malayalam this year. Kili Poyi revolves around two young professionals who take off to Goa for a break only to end up in big trouble. Goa was also the backdrop for the country’s first zombie movie, Go Goa Gone.
Although tried and tested in Hindi films, the found footage genre found a new following in Telugu films with debutant Venkat Siddareddy’s Case 666/2013. To make the film look authentic and believable, Siddareddy brought non-actors and friends on board to act.
While Bengalis revelled in the “trippy adaptation” of Tagore’s play Tasher Desh by Q, Bollywood found its first war comedy in debutant Faraz Haider’s War Chod Na Yaar.
The country’s first martial arts comedy also reached theatres this year, thanks to PVR Director’s Rare, which provides a release platform to independent films. The Assamese film, Local Kung Fu, directed by Kenny Basumatary stars the filmmaker himself along with real martial arts artistes. The Gujaratis got their first road movie through Gyan Correa’s The Good Road, which has been chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars and the Malayalis got their first ecumenical musical, Lijo Pellissery’s Amen.
Sircar credits the audience for ushering in this change. “The average viewer is now exposed to different kinds and genres of world cinema, thanks to the kind of access they have to international television channels and shows and, of course, the social media,” he says.
Television has played a major role in broadening the taste of viewers, says Siddharth Roy Kapur, managing director of Disney UTV, which has produced films like The Lunchbox and Kai Po Che! “This is, in fact, a post liberalisation and globalistation phenomenon. The world has now become flat,” he says. “Audiences have access to content in the international television at the same time that it is telecast in the US and the UK. The proliferation of the media has been the biggest positive in this decade.”
After the huge success of his debut film, Anand Gandhi has his hope pinned on the younger generation. “I believe that young people want to be exposed to intelligent content,” he says. “They are infinitely curious, extremely talented and always on the lookout for engaging content.”
Space. This is the word everyone is happy about this year. Amit Sadh, who made his debut this year with Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che!, feels that the most heartening change in the industry is that there is space for anyone and everyone who is talented. And a prime example for this is the hugely talented Nawazuddin Siddique. The actor had four releases in 2013, of which Bombay Talkies and The Lunchbox were screened at the Cannes Film Festival along with his unreleased Monsoon Shootout. His yet another film, Liar’s Dice, directed by debutante Geethu Mohandas, has been selected in the competition category for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.
“Then there are others like Rajkumar Yadav of Shahid,” says Kapoor. “His was the performance [as slain human rights lawyer Shahid Azmi] that left me stunned this year.”
Another success story of the year was National Award-winning Tamil actor Dhanush’s Hindi debut in Aanand Rai’s Raanjhanaa. All those who were sceptical, given Dhanush’s wiry frame and unconventional looks were bowled over by his performance.
His success has proved that the image of the hero has undergone a drastic change, and not just in the looks department. The male lead is no longer revered as much as he was before and need not be superhuman or omnipotent. He no longer needs to be morally upright at all times and is allowed to lie and make mistakes. He can be scared and need not always turn out to be the protector.
Even women are no longer the bharatiya naris (typical Indian women) they once were. Even those in small towns, be it Gayatri (played by Parineeti Chopra), Tara (played by Vaani Kapoor) of Shudh Desi Romance or Vidya (Amrita Puri) in Kai Po Che!, they are open about their sexuality and do not have any qualms losing their virginity before marriage.
However, that doesn’t mean that the days of the stars are over. “The stars will be around for a long time to come,” says Kapoor. “They will have their fans who will watch and encourage their films.” With the increasing number of screens at multiplexes, smaller films do not have to compete with the bigger films for a release. A case in point is the Marathi film Duniyadari. Directed by Sanjay Jadhav, the film released along with the biggest box-office grosser of the year, Chennai Express. But that didn’t stop it from becoming the highest earning and longest running Marathi film ever.
The makers of Ship of Theseus tried a little experiment when it came to its release. The film was released in Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad initially. A ‘Vote For Your City’ campaign was kicked off online where viewers from tier-2 cities could vote for their city if they wanted to watch the film in theatres there. After two rounds of voting, the film was released in 17 more cities.
After the success of films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Paan Singh Tomar, there is a sudden urge for Bollywood to start looking for stories in the rural heartlands or in smaller cities.
However, the trend is more or less the opposite in the south. While there are still a few Tamil films which are set in the rural backdrop, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu films are increasingly moving to bigger cities and metros. “This is just a reflection of the change in our lifestyle and culture,” says Abu.
This year also saw a lot of actors and filmmakers endorsing and presenting smaller films. While Ship Of Theseus had Kiran Rao as its presenter, The Lunchbox had Karan Johar, who started off presenting and ended up co-producing the film under his banner Dharma Productions. John Abraham, the producer of 2012’s biggest sleeper hit Vicky Donor, teamed up once again with Sircar for Madras Cafe.
It is a healthy and fertile time for Indian films. Revenues are soaring, the quality has improved, there is promising talent on board and our films are going places. The year that went by was one that brought in a lot of positive changes to the Indian cinema. But the question is: How do we sustain it?