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Romancing the debut
Everybody agrees that the Bombay film industry badly needs an infusion of fresh talent and ideas.
But the last couple of years have not been too welcoming for debutantes.
The number has decreased from about 15 new filmmakers in 1999, to five in 2000 to about six this year. Of this lot, most of them are industry folk or their kids or relatives.
Which only goes to show how difficult it is for outsiders to get a break.
There used to be a certain romance about 'the debut'. Raj Kapoor making Aag at 21, Guru Dutt making a splash with Baazi, Shyam Benegal strengthening the parallel cinema movement with a stunning Ankur, Govind Nihalani doing likewise with a hard-hitting Aakrosh, Aparna Sen making a deeply humanistic 36 Chowringhee Lane, Ketan Mehta delving into folklore with style for Bhavni Bhavai, Santosh Sivan going haywire in Bombay with Halo, Nagesh Kukunoor sending peals of laughter down crowded halls with Hyderabad Blues.
It was assumed a filmmaker had something he/she wanted desperately to share and was willing to go through the trouble and trauma involved to get that personal vision screened.
It is not exactly a rule, but the best debuts have come out of personal experience or observation. That’s why it often becomes difficult for filmmakers to match up to their own first films. The sincerity, joy of creation, excitement, naiveté, nervousness, passion apparent in the film can rarely be replicated.
Even if filmmakers made a successful second (and subsequent films), very few surpass their first. For instance, N Chandra has not made anything as earnest as Ankush; Ghayal remains Rajkumar Santoshi’s best so far, Ramgopal Varma has not been able to repeat the raw fervour of Shiva, the loony energy of Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron has not been seen in his later films.
In the last decade or so, four of the most successful debut films -- successful in terms of box-office -- have been Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Sooraj Barjatya’s Maine Pyaar Kiya, Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge and Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Since they were all made by industry kids who had everything laid out for them, they were well-made, well-acted, technically fine, audience-pleasing films. But there was also a kind of smugness about them, a we-can’t-go-wrong swagger, which is not visible in, say, John Matthew Mattan’s intelligently crafted Sarfarosh.
Because for an outsider like Mattan, it was a do-or-die film, since second chances are very difficult to come up in a success-driven industry. Even Khalid Mohamed, who made the money spinning Fiza, is not finding it easy to make his next film.
It’s not as if industry folk with unlimited budgets can’t make flops -- Rishi Kapoor (Aa Ab Laut Chalen), Sunny Deol (Dillagi), Veeru Devgan (Hindustan Ki Kasam) and Anil Devgan (Raju Chacha) made really expensive blunders.
These thoughts come to mind, on viewing five debuts (couldn’t see Suneil Anand’s Master) this year -- two made by industry kids and three by outsiders.
Anubhav Sinha’s Tum Bin was a nice-looking, competent film, though not particularly innovative.
Goldie Behl’s Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai tried to combine romance with social comment but failed to get either across convincingly.
So, Farhan Akhtar made the most noteworthy debut in recent years with Dil Chahta Hai, which works simply because it is unpretentious.
Akhtar speaks for a class and generation he knows and understands, so even if he is accused of being elitist, nobody can say he was dishonest. If a guy does not feel passionately about anything in particular, and has no take on any issue, he is entitled to make an entertaining film about whatever he knows best.
Dil Chahta Hai is pure fluff with absolutely no point to make, written and directed by a young man belonging to a cushy air-conditioned background.
Fine, at least he is not making an ass of himself making a film about rural poverty. Before anybody else says it, Farhan himself admits that the second film will be the real test.
After all, unless you are Mahesh Bhatt, you don’t have an unlimited cache of unusual personal experiences to portray in your films.
About two decades ago, Farhan’s father Javed Akhtar (with partner Salim Khan) created the angry young man who fought injustice on behalf of the powerless common citizen.
In 2001, Farhan Akhtar creates heroes who don’t need to fight anything! If they ever looked out of the tinted windows of their Mercs and plush apartments, they wouldn’t see anything ugly marring their vision. Who’s to say 'Akash' is not just as valid as 'Vijay'.
Whether we like it or not, issue-based films, or stories about ordinary middle-class people -- the kind Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee immortalised -- are just not made these days.
Nobody wants to see them. So, depending on what the filmmaker’s target audience is, films are either about taporis or rich people.
At least half a dozen debut films in the near future are going to be about gangsters -- sensationalism works sometimes -- and industry kids are going to continue making designer films.
But always waiting to be knocked over by a smashing debut -- Gurudev Bhalla, Rahul Bose, Rohan Sippy, Shaina Nath, Meghna Gulzar, Anurag Kashyap, Kunal Kohli -- what say?
E-mail Deepa Gahlot
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