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HomeFILM NEWSWhen Bollywood Turns the Lens on Itself

When Bollywood Turns the Lens on Itself

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Outsiders on the inside

Most of the unflinching and honest portraits of the workings of Bollywood have come from angsty rebellious outsiders. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh (1986), a pulpy murder mystery, unfolds against the backdrop of a film shoot of the most stereotypical Bollywood potboiler you can imagine. Chopra captures the cynical atmosphere where predatory producers and powerful heroes call the shots; where shady deals continue to take place even at casual get-togethers while the writer frantically pens the dialogue draft for the next day’s shoot. In a scene that reeks with dread and discomfort, the director refuses to yell ‘cut’ while shooting a rape scene and the male actor forces himself upon a teenage actress. Even as she screams for help, no crew member intervenes until Shabana Azmi (playing herself) demands the shot be cut.

Ram Gopal Varma, another maverick outsider, has produced and directed several films in which the film industry provides a backdrop against which his stories unfold. Sometimes it was through a character like the tantrum-throwing heroine in Rangeela (1995), who is always accompanied by her mother. At other times, it’s using contrasts, like when Abhi (Abhishek Bachchan) shoots pedestrian song sequences in Naach (2004) while Reva (Antara Mali), the film’s protagonist, creates imaginative choreography in everyday situations.

There were two other films that spoofed Hindi cinema and its haggard, formulaic ways — and co-incidentally, both belonged to the then-emerging multiplex film market. Nagesh Kukunoor’s Bollywood Calling (2001) was a classic fish-out-of-water tale but set in the caricaturish version of Hindi cinema. Throughout the film, Pat (Pat Cusick), the crossover acting talent from American B-grade movies, keeps asking for a copy of the final script which never arrives. Kukunoor pokes enough fun at the industry, making great use of stereotypes like the producers’ love for dated potboiler ideas, the incongruous costumes worn by heroines, and the arrogance of male film stars who aren’t used to hearing no for an answer. Ultimately, the conflicts are resolved in the feel-good fashion that’s characteristic of Kukunoor’s storytelling, with even the most incorrigible of characters receiving some epiphanous redemption.

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