‘Sujata’, ‘Awara’, ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’, ‘Mother India’, ‘Mughal-E-Azam’…Can they work today?

While the classics mentioned will continue to chloroform the oldies, it’s clearly different strokes for different folks says Monojit Lahiri

‘Sujata’, ‘Awara’, ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’, ‘Mother India’, ‘Mughal-E-Azam’…Can they work today?
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Monojit Lahiri

Two things sparked off this story. One, me accidentally watching a film I adored in my teens – Teen Deviyan – on a channel dedicated to retro movies and wondering why no one rushed me instantly to the nearest surgeon for a well-deserved brain transplant!

Apart from some lovely music, a staple in the movies of that time, and the cutie-pie Nanda, everything else was bizarre! An over-the-top Dev Anand pulling those funny facial expressions, mannerisms, a fake Simi and weird Kalpana. Two, a meaningful conversation with a well-known, respected film-maker. Articulate, knowledgeable and evolved, he believed that the so-called classics were unlikely to make the cut with today’s audiences.

Why? “Not taking anything away from the revered films, the fact is the concept and template of films that never date and stay in the mind forever has undergone a drastic and dramatic change. Your views on Teen Deviyan is a perfect example of that shift. When you watched it, it impacted you – the starry-eyed teenager – in a big way. Today, five decades later, it’s a different scene. The world has changed. You have changed. Your responses to the environment have changed. Why should that thrill remain constant? Nostalgia and sentimental journeys are a part of life, but when you re-look at events and happenings of those times – so precious and cherished – then they appear like quaint museum pieces, loved but totally soft-focused in the dusty alcoves of memory. You’ve outgrown that phase and moved on.” The wise veteran had a point – or did he? Polarised opinions zoomed in!

Mumbai-based ad copywriter Samir Tandon, 22 years old, is first off the block, with all cylinders firing. “Boss, I’ll be frank. This sense of awe about films mentioned is so exaggerated, unreal and weird. I’ve sometimes been forced to sit down and suffer some of this stuff – total torture! I just didn’t get it. Soppy, slow narratives pushing class and caste, a nut-case nomad wooing a rich babe with his glib talk, a frustrated artiste returned from the dead to give all a helluva fright, Mother as a virtuous mover and shaker who shoots her son to make her point and the best, highfalutin Urdu unleashed by a love-lorn prince fighting for his forever whimpering courtesan babe, in the direction of a furious, stony-faced royal dad – gimme a break! Better still, gimme Total Dhamaal, De De Pyaar De, Bharat, Houseful, Dabangg 3, Good News or any new, cool, star-studded, feel-good entertainer. I guess I’ll change my mind when I am 50-plus, but as of now, it’s totally Help and bhago zone!”

Kolkata-based retired professor and passionate cineaste Somnath Sen sees red at Tandon’s flamboyant, dismissive attitude. “Slanderous! Outrageous! The problem with the culturally underprivileged specimens like Tandon is that they forever shun any semblance of any serious thought and connect only when spoon-fed only escapist drivel! It’s futile to even begin to discuss the purity and primal truth that graces these timeless gems. Sujata or Simba? What else but solid evidence of the spasmodic working of an unbalanced mind!”

Boy, some retort, huh? So, what gives? For me, more than value judgements or sweeping statements, it’s about perspective, a time, place and generational issue. The films mentioned graced the screens of the 50s and the 60’s, right? India was a different country and so was the audience-base. It was a more composed, slower, idealistic and innocent time that allowed the luxury to pause and introspect with no voice yelling that bargain counters are the best place for the sale of quick-fix ideas, ideals and ideologies. You experienced, not consumed movies. We now live in instant gratification times and Gen X & Y don’t have the patience or interest to sit through anything that is slow. Speed rules and digitalisation have changed the rules of the game in terms of the way movies are perceived and consumed.

Finally, it’s about moving with the times and altering with needs of a promiscuous audience for whom engagement is the key. It’s about new-age audience-friendly presentation modes delivered with intelligence, courage and confidence. It doesn’t have to have big stars, big budget, big, soul-uplifting, life-transforming messages, exquisite locales, sexy item numbers or anything formulaic. Raazi, Mulk, Badhai HO, Andhadhun, Uri and Gully Boy are only six examples of successful and entertainment-driven solely by content, with actors – not stars – socking it all the way!

So, at the end of the day, while the classics mentioned will continue to chloroform the oldies, it’s clearly different strokes for different folks!

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