Moviemakers are blowing up money on stuff that gives me a headache.
I am sick and tired of these big Hindi film song-and-dance numbers. Sick and tired. Why can’t they make a decent-budget film anymore without the hero (and perhaps the heroine too, or some other female film star doing a special appearance) cavorting with a hundred blonde women from Ukraine (the blondefulness presumably to signal our swaggering arrival on the world stage, combined with some white skin-related inferiority complex)? We lost melody as an essential aspect of film songs a long time ago. Now we have this. Whenever you switch to a music channel, there is Akshay Kumar on a stage singing a Punjabi song with 16 dozen girls wearing skimpy shiny golden skirts. Each such song, of course, has been pre-dated by many plants in the media that it cost Rs 14 crore to shoot.
I have nothing against dance numbers, or Akshay Kumar; in fact, I have none of the other biases you may be suspecting me of. I accept song-and-dance as an integral part of Hindi cinema—though I do admit, as a young man, to stepping out of the theatre for a smoke when the flowers blossomed, or some weirdos with their bodies painted black descended on a stage with bestial screams, waiting for Helen to emerge in full glory from locations hitherto unsuspected as emergeable from.
All I am saying is that all these Rs 14 crore dance numbers look the same. In fact, the bigger the budget, the worse the songs are shot. What is the point of having a massive item number? If I am correct, it’s to show (even celebrate) oomph, sexiness, and thus tickle the male audience’s imagination. Valid enough motive. After all, Francois Truffaut once said that cinema is “about showing beautiful women”. But if there are so many of them at the same time, you can’t see even one woman properly. It’s always either a long shot with scores of people in it, so you can make the audience trust that you actually spent Rs 14 crore, or some woman jerking her face aggressively at the camera and pouting. So even if all the dancers are dressed in near-nothing, there’s not much the audience can make out.
Just compare that to Sridevi dancing alone in the rain in Mr India, or Nagma dancing in her balcony in Yalgaar (though, yes, one did have Sanjay Dutt taking off his clothes and dancing in the rain below, while serenading her).
Also, if every heroine is wearing itsy-bitsy stuff, the clothes and bodies are indistinguishable from one another, and one heroine from the other. And there is no innovative choreography, just crowd management. Remember Madhuri Dixit’s Ek Do Teen steps in Tezaab, where she was moving forward on the stage, while her hips pretended to move backwards?
Of course, crowd management is tough, and many Hollywood technicians would be left in awe if they watched some of these dance sequences. Getting a hundred people standing often on several floors of the set, to move together, getting the lighting right so that they are all in focus even though they are at different distances from the camera; in fact, just thinking of the hard work that goes into it can make one feel fatigued.
But so much money, so much effort, so many man-days spent on this? When so many little things could have been done at so little expense to make the experience better for the audience, instead of hammering their heads with bhangra tunes played on a million synthesisers?
Recently I watched Blue, hyped as the biggest-budget Hindi film ever. Kylie Minogue did an item number, Akshay wrestled with a cute shark, colourful fish swam the depths of the ocean, many cars were blown up on a US city street. All this, while in many sequences, Sanjay Dutt’s hair length and colour keep changing between shots. Rs 70 crore (as claimed) blown and you can’t control a guy’s haircut? So careful and so careless at the same time. Some may even find it insulting.
Sandipan Deb is an IIT-IIM graduate who wandered into journalism after reading a quote from filmmaker George Lucas — “Everyone cage door is open” — and has stayed there (in journalism, not a cage) for the past 19 years. He has written a book on the IITs.