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On Masala movies and Multiplex audiences!!

If there is one thing which is a great unifier as well as a great divider of masses in India, it’s the movies. Every strata of society is attracted to them, every person is touched by the film industry in one way or another, whether or not they actually go and watch a movie in a theatre. There maybe millions who don’t know who the President of the nation is, but hardly would there be anyone who doesn’t recall the name of their local superstar. Then how can it be called a divider of masses? Well people are divided into Bollywood, Kollywood or Tollywood (though many of the movies made by them are directly lifted from Hollywood). Even inside an industry they are Rajni followers or Kamal followers, Salman fans or Shahrukh fans, Chiranjeevi or Nagarjuna supporters. People are divided into A, B or C class audiences. They come under either the so called ‘sophisticated multiplex crowds’ or the single screen ‘hooligans’. Some of them are able to enjoy the first day first show experience of a mass hero movie, while others can only derive fun out of pointing out the lack of logic in them. Some respond to the intellectual appeal of art house productions while many others can only use them as a treatment for insomnia.

One type of movie which never fails to interest me is the mass hero movie. This is characterised by a larger than life hero, who is invincible, omniscient, omnipresent and can also transform himself into a dancing and singing sensation while having the capability to attract the hottest chick in town without even speaking a word. He is the son whom every mother would love to have, the fighter which every army craves for, and the man every kid aspires to grow into. Of course there are variations to this premise, though those are always minor. In an industry characterised by uncertainty, this is one formula which is has the highest probability of success. Add an item song and a hot heroine into the equation and the probability just gets better.

Superstar Rajni

But then there are two fundamental problems which are affecting this franchise. One is that, the formula has already been beaten to death. People almost certainly know what to expect. They know that the hero is going to win in the end, the only thing left to see is how many bad guys he beats up en route and how many songs does he shake his legs to. Of course new aspects are emerging in the formula and some old favourites are now becoming extinct. One such thing is the concept of the hero’s sister getting raped. There hardly were any movies 20 years back without this, but thankfully the bad guys have learnt some manners in the 2 decades since then. Still there are some real bad ones who resort to that, but what the hell, even they should be given some room for nostalgic activities.

Another problem is the emergence of the self proclaimed “class audience”. This group is majorly composed of young college guys or people who passed out in the recent past. Having nothing to study in college and having no idea how better to use a PC and an internet connection, they end up downloading all the English movies that ever got released. And once they run out of the Terminators, Rambos, Rockys and Mummys they know about, they start searching for a source which gives them an exhaustive list of movies to see. That’s when they find IMDb with its famous top 250 list. Even though they have to resort to reading the storyline in Wikipedia after watching most of those movies, they still persist, as by doing so they earn the bragging rights of having seen these many movies out of the IMDb list. This is when they start imagining themselves to be connoisseurs of sophisticated movies with complex plot lines. But of course, just watching these movies may not be enough for their sophisticated image. They also need to start making fun of the part of the population which is still satisfied with mass hero movies. Such jerks they are, still watching run of the mill action movies when there is a gold mine of ‘top 250’ movies available, each more complex than the other, each one helping you feel so much more inferior in thought process compared to those supremely intelligent American directors. So what if I don’t get the plot line most of the time, I atleast don’t  end up seeing the same routine being dished out by a new actor with a new heroine (sometimes it’s actually the same routine with the same actor and the same heroine too!!). This is the crowd which suddenly realises that it’s their responsibility to uplift the masses who are still blind to good movies. They feel they should insult the masala movies till the time people wake up from their slumber and learn to appreciate the enlightened stuff. Inspite of having grown up watching Rajni flick a cigarette or Bachchan (or was his name Vijay?) deliver fiery dialogues in a baritone voice; they suddenly become the multiplex crowd who can only appreciate English or Englicized movies.


Now the problem with this crowd is their insane attitude towards most Indian movies. They would get orgasms when Neo stops a thousand bullets just by pointing his hands in that direction, they hold their breath when spider man stops a train single-handedly, or when Hancock knocks of a speeding  truck. But when an Indian mass hero does the same, they can but criticize him and make fun of the audience who still believe in such stuff. And when you point out the same to them what do they have to say in defence, “dude seriously where is the logic in your movies; this guy is fighting 10 people at once. Now where can that happen”? When I point out that Neo actually fought off innumerable Smiths in many instances they just get furious, “How dare you compare Matrix with your local movies? Dude, it’s the matrix! Neo was the One. Don’t you see the logic, it’s so clear”. Actually it’s not, but what the hell, they do believe in it.

All super-hero movies are driven by the same logic- “don’t look for logic here”. Willing suspension of disbelief is the premise of human existence. Didn’t Krishna lift the Govardhan using just his little finger, didn’t Jesus come back from the dead 3 days after he was nailed to the cross, didn’t Moses make a way through the Red sea, or didn’t Sri Ram’s army build a bridge of floating stones to reach Lanka. The point is that people are ever so ready to suspend their disbelief, if it means that they feel comfortable or content for that period. What’s the harm? I would say the level of sophistication of  Indian cinema and Indian audience is far greater than the western ones in this regard. While the western filmmakers need to keep coming up with absurd theories of entering the dreams, or battling with unheard of psychological diseases or saving an unknown planet, so that they can present unlikely scenarios on screen where the heroes end up doing stuff which is not humanly possible, the Indian filmmakers have it easy. The audience over the years has internalised the fact that the hero is someone who is capable of everything. You don’t need to waste your time laying a premise where the hero gets creative liberty. Rather the audience bestows the same upon him, just by his right of being a hero. So the film maker can concentrate on the aspects of the movie which they actually want to see, which is the action, romance and sentiment stuff. Indeed let me take one of the most heralded English movies of this season – ‘Inception’, as an example. Take away the scenes where the director explains to you the whole logic of entering dreams and stuff from it, and what do you get. A tale where there are some daredevil fights, some husband wife sentiment, and some catchy dialogues. Exactly my point!

My personal opinion about masala movies is that they are a necessity. I do mind numbing work every day of the week, battle it out with excel sheets, listen hard in classes to get the logic which a professor is trying to communicate (please believe all this, atleast for argument’s sake!!), so why should I also spend my leisure time in an activity which is going to strain my brain cells. I did rather sit back with some chips and enjoy a nice formula movie, knowing all the time what is going to happen but still enjoying the routine. This doesn’t mean any person can don the hero’s mantle and get the fan-following. As I said, the Indian audience needs to internalise the fact that you are someone with superhuman powers. If the hero is not able to convince them of the same, even a solid logic isn’t going to help, as they would anyway be negatively disposed towards him. So if you have the charisma, flaunt it, if you don’t then try to get it, and if you can’t then better sit at home. There are better people around to save the world.

So the next time you think of making fun of a Superstar or a Salman Khan or a Nagarjuna movie, better think twice. They are where they are because the audience so desires. And if you feel you are more intelligent than the collective consciousness, then you are the biggest fool.

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