Monday, July 18, 2011

Escapism 2.0

Bollywood has long been derided for producing and promoting escapist cinema. The antics of lead characters, action sequences, song and dance routines, melodramatic finales and the underdog triumphing against all odds - these were the hallmark of Bollywood films for a long time. For an economy which operated under an autarkic, insular mentality for nearly 5 decades after Independence, cinema, apart from cricket, was the one ray of light. It provided much needed succour to the ordinary Indian, buried under corruption, scarcity and underdevelopment.

This was Escapism 1.0 - the escapism of a country that wasn't quite sure where it stood, the escapism of a country which had so much of reality in reality that it desired no more in cinema (In many ways, Dabangg last year was a tribute to Escapism 1.0, while Bollywood Calling was one of the most masterful depictions of it)

With time, film-making has changed and evolved (evolution is not necessarily a positive term by the way - it is just a fact). One can suppose that a near-total consensus exists that on an average, the films being made now are more realistic than before. The use of the word realistic however, is open to interpretation and highly subjective. Delhi Belly is realistic (arguably) in many elements such as the conversational styles between characters, their professions, living standards and so on. But is it more realistic in the core plot? How many of us are expecting to be the target of a diamond-smuggling gang tonight? What then is "realistic" cinema? A truly realistic film based on the lives of many of us would show the lead character working from say 9 AM to 7 PM every weekday, going home, facing hordes of insurmountable traffic on the way, watching TV, going out on weekends and so on. It sounds mad when put that way, but that is what our reality is! In that sense, Delhi Bellhy definitely is not "realistic" cinema. In fact, no movie would then come under that category.

Reality is routine. Reality is continuous. Reality is boring unless we are constantly engaged in processes that stimulate us and we take up tasks that we enjoy doing. And that simply is not possible most of the time. In fact more many of us, its the exception rather than the rule.

With time India has changed and is changing. I can't claim to be an expert on it, but I can feel it everywhere. Surveys now highlight how brand conscious Indians have become, vis-a-vis surveys 10 years back which used to harp on how value conscious Indian consumers were. Indians have become richer on an average and are spending more. We are more conscious of what's happening in the world and are more confident about ourselves. Growth has changed India.

At the same time, growth has not been uniform. I remember an article in my English textbook, which had the following line about India: "India is like a snake, with its head in the 21st century and its tail in the 17th century" The same holds true today. In particular, while many people have become richer than before, institutional and infrastructural growth has not kept pace. That is why the same city where a bungalow is sold for 270 crores has its phone lines jammed after a bomb blast.

This leave many of us confused and irritated. Many of us now earn well, work hard and party harder. But the eyesores do not go away. We yearn for a controlled atmosphere, a system. We yearn for someone to take these irritants and drags of traffic, slums, bomb blasts and pesky auto rickshaw drivers away. If done, it would leave us free to concentrate on our core ambitions. Its no longer about having a secure job and getting Munni married. It's all about dreams, ambitions and personal fulfilment now. We are still bored in our daily lives. We crave for exaltation of a different kind. We desire a system in which we are free to pursue what we want, without encumbrances.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara exemplifies this. Everything is very nice, almost utopic. There are no murders, robberies or safety problems. Everyone is reasonably to very well-to-do. It's  a film which not only sells well-toned bodies, captivating poetry and breathtaking locales; it also sells a controlled atmosphere.

Taking all the drags out of the picture leaves the films of today to focus on what perhaps many of us today want to see - smart dialogues and punch lines, good performances, interplay between characters, emotions, personal struggles and how they are ovecome. Its not about sacrificing oneself for the country or saving the world. The focus is on individuals. Its more about self-actualization for the confused soul. We have the physiological basics in place. Or rather, the "we seem to have everything, but something's missing" mentality. Cinema now depicts people finding that missing piece.

Welcome, then, to Escapism 2.0!

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