By Subhash K. Jha
The one major lesson that has emerged from the diversity of films this week is the line dividing Bollywood and non-Bollywood films in Indian cinema has almost vanished. Sorry, but you can’t call “Abhimanyudu” a regional film although its spoken language is Telugu. Its projection of cyber theft and digital intrusion is slicker, sassier and cooler than anything I have seen in a recent Hindi film.
So what if it is in Telugu? Who is to decide that Hindi is any more regional than Telugu? And by that logic wouldn’t “36 Chowringhee Lane” have qualified as a regional film since the spoken language was English?
No, really, we need to drastically revise our perception of regionalism and mainstream-ism. A film in Hindi does not automatically become non-regional.
Way back in 1969, I remember a Bangla film “Chaitali” which featured two masterly melodies (Payal baaj gayi meri laaj gayi and Sham bhaye bin shyam) sung by Lata Mangeshkar in Hindi. In Satyajit Ray’s “Abhijan” in Bangla, Waheeda Rehman spoke all her dialogues in Hindi.
Earlier, language was not an issue. Emotions were highlighted. Cinema throbbed with feeling. When was the last time you were really moved by a Hindi film? This year, only Shoojit Sircar’s “October” courted tenderness and empathy, and let’s not forget Sircar belongs to the land of Tagore and Kabuliwallah.
Bangla films still secrete a huge amount of emotional velocity. This week’s Bangla film “Uma”, which is breaking records in Kolkata, is breaking hearts as well with its level of emotional connectivity.
Why are Hindi films afraid to show emotions any more? Parents have almost disappeared from Bollywood films. In the beautifully-bludgeoning “Bhavesh Joshi” none of the young protagonists seems to have any family. Where do they come from? Where are they going? What do they want out of life? While Bollywood figures out a language of acceptable cosmopolitanism, non-Bollywood films are happily celebrating ethnicity while telling stories that have a universal resonance.
We don’t need to go back in time to get a clear picture of the cultural diversity being celebrated outside Bollywood. “Mahanati” in Tamil/Telugu and “Bharat Nenu Ane” in Telugu re-defined the bio-pic and the political genre, respectively. This week’s “Abhimanyudu” is a game-changer for cyber thrillers in India.
And since “Carry On Jatta 2” in Punjabi is creating new boxoffice records in Punjab, Gippy Grewal is happy being a Punjabi star. He has no inclination to become a Bollywood star any more. Likewise, Vishal Krishna, the current Tamil-Telugu sensation from “Irumbu Thirai”/”Abimanyudu”, says he has no craving to star in a Hindi film unless something truly exciting pops up.
The writing is very legible on the wall: Regional cinema ceased to exist a very long time ago. What we now have is Bollywood pretending to be a super power like America. It isn’t important to anyone whom Uncle Sam is watching. What is important is who is watching Uncle Sam?
(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)