Bollywood: Mix of cynicism & sincerity
Dr Rachel Dwyer grew up on the films of Satyajit Ray but today she cannot have enough of Bollywood. The professor of Indian studies and cinema at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is already the author of nearly a dozen books on Indian cinema and has written the biography of Yash Chopra. Recently, Dr Dwyer came to Vienna and made audiences fall in love with Kamal Amrohi's Mahal that celebrates 60 years since it was released in 1949 after she talked about the film at the Vienna University. According to Dr Dwyer, the Fifties were the golden era of Hindi cinema but adds that the best is yet to be born in Bollywood.
Extracts from an exclusive interview by Hardnews with the professor so passionate about Indian cinema:
What is wrong with academics in Europe who are making Bollywood so bookish?
Well, Bollywood teaches the world a lot about India.
What does Bollywood teach you?
From Bollywood, we learn the way people in India see themselves, see where India is going. It is fun to see that. What Indians would like India to be, what they are frightened of and don't want to do - all this information is glossed over and clothed in fantasy by Bollywood. But, I think underneath it there is a lot of serious stuff.
Bollywood is often said to be shallow and celebrates obscenity?
It often does. But, the one thing about Hindi films is that while wealth is celebrated it also seems to say in the same breath that wealth is not everything. This is the attitude also behind the screen. I have met a lot of people in the Hindi film industry who enjoy their money but they don't give the impression that because they have money they are better people. Bollywood basks in a mixture of cynicism and sincerity.
What about the humour in Bollywood films?
The humour in Hindi films hardly ever appeals to me. I don't like the comedies.
And, the quality of lyrics over the years?
Some of the lyrics are very good. Lyricists like Javed Akhtar are very good. Prasoon Joshi is amazing. We forget that even a great poet like Sahir Ludhianvi wrote an easy number like Gapoochi gapoochi gam gam for Trishul.
I believe you are a great fan of Shahrukh Khan...
What is so great about Shahrukh?
If one had an answer to that question one could make a lot of money. I think it is his rock star quality that a lot of other Bollywood stars have less of. I just think there is something very exciting and alive about Shahrukh.
And, Karan Johar?
Karan has an incredible knack. He is somebody who has become a spokesman for the film industry. He talks a lot and appears a lot at various occasions. I think there is quite a profound person and film maker behind the showman. I think Karan has made his money which he will now use to make different kinds of films. I think that is where his heart lies. Karan has said that if he ever makes another film like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, he should be kindly killed. Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna was his film I did not really take to.
But, you are a fan of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai?
Yes. The film was really fresh and started a whole trend in fashion. It seems like it was only about froth and fantasy but it is about people not knowing when they have fallen in love. People found it very moving that the child in the film tries to help the father find love. It was froth on the surface but beneath it there was a lot of substance.
Do you think the people involved in making Bollywood films are living up to their potential?
Maybe not. I think Hindi cinema has always worried about itself even when it produced great films. Now is a really exciting time in cinema. There is Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Abhay Deol, who is a friend of mine. He is so wonderful, a really nice guy who is trying to do different kind of work when he could have just walked in. These are brilliant people and great films are being made. People are trying and people are experimenting including Shyam Benegal with Welcome to Sajjanpur. Regional cinema is so good. When I was invited to the Pune film festival, I asked to be put on the jury for Marathi films. What actors they have! They make great films. The problem is to get the films to circulate.