Bollywood Baatein: Can’t Hollywood handle musicals?

The musical form of cinematic expression comes naturally to Indian filmmakers. It is sad that we are running away from songs and dances in our films

Bollywood Baatein: Can’t Hollywood handle musicals?
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Subhash K Jha

What a relief to know that Steven Spielberg won’t be making another musical in his lifetime. ‘West Side Story’ is a completely unnecessary remake of Robert Wise’s 1961 ebullient musical feature film. There is nothing wise about Spielberg’s remake which is as flat as a pancake and as listless as an apple-pie left to wither in the sun.

The actors are an energetic lot, no doubt but nothing compared with what Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer brought to the screen in the original. Their replacements Ansel Elgort and Rachel Ziegler are zestful and zingy. But at best adequate substitutes. They create no magic whatsoever on screen. Why would anyone of Spielberg’s stature do this to himself ?

Some of the choreography that is original is exciting. Those adapted from the original are casualties of excessive freedom. None of the cast is anywhere close to echoing the unstoppable energy of the original.

Puerto Rican Maria and American Tony meet at party. It is, you guessed, love at first sight. From these bland beginnings it’s downhill for the storytelling which flirts with flimsiness with the enthusiasm of a young teenaged girl trying to get the attention of a local hoodlum by wearing her mother’s high heels and lipstick.

The romance grows not so much out of their mutual affection as the classic music score by Leonard Bernstein which bursts at the seams to make its presence felt, because the songs are not accompanied by any convincing choreography. By the time the singing and dancing stops for a tragic ending this remake of a film that was adapted from the stage, has run completely out of steam.

In our homeland the one contemporary filmmaker who gets the musical right time after time every time, is Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Saawariya doesn’t have the in-your-face flamboyance of Devdas or Black where almost every shot reached a crescendo, every passion peaked like a midsummer sun, and every movement denoted drama. But Saawariya is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s most tender ode to love yet.


The musical form of cinematic expression comes naturally to Indian filmmakers. It’s sad that we are running away from songs and dances in our films in favour of a more ‘European’ form of expression where characters don’t sing their emotions. They fling them into the void that separates the screen from the audience hoping that some of it would stick. None of it did in West Side Story. West gone to waste.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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