Let us all raise our hands and put them together for the Gujarati film industry. For a family that has probably got used to being written off by all and sundry, completing 75 years of existence is a commendable effort from any benchmark. The author, on behalf of League magazine and all the GLOVADIs spread across the globe, congratulates the industry and wishes it an exponential rise in fortunes.
The most repeated lament that we hear in Ahmedabad with regards the Gujarati film industry is that Gujarati speaking people themselves do not care enough for the language; and consequently the films made in the language. The direct comparison is provided in the fom of the healthy state of Southern Indian cinema (implying a ready patronage for the cinema by native-language-speaking people).
Without doubt, there is no comparison today between, say, Tamil cinema and Gujarati cinema. But attributing the difference in the sizes of the two to merely the “lack of pride” would not only be naively inaccurate but also an insult to the passion for Gujarati language that all its proponents posses. Gujarati speaking people, and others too, love Gujarati language. And there is no reservation in accepting that. Period.
‘Pride’ is a word that has gained enormous currency in today’s India (and all its subset-districts) almost entirely because of politicians. ‘Pride’, ‘gaurav’, ‘asmita’, ‘samman’ etc are all variants of the same jingoism that promises to rip the Indian society apart. So, let’s not equate a beautiful expression of thoughts called cinema with pride. Cinema is about joy. And not about pride – unless and until a clarion call for society or nation building calls for it.
Another reason, and equally steadfast at that, which the critics provide for the sorry state of affairs is the content of Gujarati cinema. “All those rural stories, with unfit heroes moving around in Kediu-Dhotiu and fullsome heroines in chania-cholis have scared people away in cities”. While the point made there is well taken, it should be emphasised here that it is the apalling execution of a rural theme that needs to be destested; not the rural theme per se. After all, we had all queued up for Lagaan, a film that was shot in Bhuj.
Of course, as any student of filmmaking would tell us, ‘execution of a theme’ pretty much involves getting the clothing right too. Some of the clothes that the characters wear in our Gujarati films would be hard to find even in remote villages these days. It is generally a case of getting them in bulk and cheap from ‘some’bhai Dresswala. You can’t have the photograph of a hero in those clothes adorning a wall of your home at SG Highway, can you?
So why do a lot of us make such films?
Simply because they are cheaper to make. And with low investment, coupled with subsidy from Gujarat government, the making of such films becomes a safe business bet – what with a ready audience in the interiors of the state. There’s nothing more or less on that issue.
But just as it has stopped working in metros like Ahmedabad, the method would soon stop working in the interiors too. Simply because soon there would be no place where satellite television would not have reached. And if that were not enough, multiplexes are going to dot the countryside sooner than later. When one cinema hall at a place like Viramgam plays 3 Hindi and 1 Hollywood film dubbed in Hindi every single day for an year, the taste of the place for cinema would slowy but definitely go for a sea change. The place would then start demanding a change in the storylines in Gujarati films – on the lines of the Hindi / Hollywood films – or start shunning them, quite like their brothers in other big cities of Gujarat.
And how fast is it going to happen? In a matter barely a decade. And that too largely because it takes time to build real estate behemoths like mall-cum-multiplex.
It takes all of a few days for companies to come up with a higher version of any product. Why do we think then that the landscape of smaller towns is going to remain static – especially in a rapidly progressing, industrialised state like Gujarat? It won’t. Before we know, the Ambani brothers would have taken their retail, communication and entertainment caravan to every corner of the state. And with it, usher in an era of exposure to newer cultures, ways of life and also newer content and style of filmmaking. Then, it would be curtains for the ‘subsidy based filmmaker.
So, what’s the way ahead?
The way ahead is dictated by what McDonald’s learned and embraced here in India with open arms – that local sensibility at the core and global technique and / or packaging is the need of the hour for every idea, anywhere in the world.
Fortunately, helping them in the process would be, well, the likes of Ambani brothers! Yes, banners like ADLABS are not going to stop at producing and distributing only Hindi films. Far from it. Just as Anil Ambani wants every Indian to have a Reliance phone is her hand, he would want to catch any person who ever watches films, in any language. And as Ratan Tata had put it recently at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, it would be stupid for any business to not come to Gujarat.
Once that begins, we might have Hiten Kumar and Roma Manek dancing at the Trafalgar Square in London. And probably joined by Upen Patel in that!
The thing, however, with Gujarat and Gujarati films is that the state has always had a stronger base for theater than films. Further augmenting the slant towards theater are folk forms like Bhavai, based on which format that gem of an experimental film Bhavni Bhavai was made. Now, since most of the highlights of Gujarat state and its culture were more than amply – and beautifully – expressed through street (pol) theater, folk forms and public religious discourses, the emphasis on cinema in the earlier part of the century was not as pronounced as in, say, Calcutta, Chennai and Mumbai. Later on, it was only the “special effects films” that showed miracles by saints or God in mythological films that had caught the imagination of the hoi polloi.
And yet, there is no escaping the fact that 1932, when the first Gujarati talkie Narsinh Mehta was released at the West End theater in Mumbai. (Today Naaz theater stands in the place). Directed by Nanubhai Vakil, the 139-minute had marked a reasonably early arrival of the Gujarati film industry. And hence, one expects a lot more distance – in terms of technical sophistication and mindspace reach – from the industry than what it boasts of at the moment.
While directors like Shankar are toying with glitz like using 32 cameras for a single shot, Gujarati films (except an occasional exception every few years) are stuck with dilapidated studios of Halol and archaic camera and editing techniques. Simply not done.
But, as the title of this discussion suggests, 762 films in 75 years is not a bad score. It’s the evolution of technique and themes – or the lack of it – that should garner more attention from us.
Filmmaking is a huge teamwork, from every sense of the exercise. Just as the director and producer are just two of the hundreds that are intrinsic to the making of a single film, unless the society is attracted adequately to cinema halls, films would gradually be pushed behind more persuasive mediums like television.
In case of Gujarati films, the phenomenon is almost complete. And the only method of recoiling the slide is by giving the audience that pays Rs 150 per ticket at the city multiplexes a reason to pay that kind of amount for a Gujarati film.
While making a film with actors like Paresh Rawal, Amisha and Upen Patel and a generous dose of glamour in terms of locations would make it financially unviable, how about doing a Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, with manageable fresh actors, fresh director and fresh music directors? Or better still, making an Ahmedabad Blues! Hyderabad Blues had cost Nagesh Kukunoor Rs. 16 Lakhs. Don’t you think we can manage that sum?