Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Impact - Reel vs Real



Image Courtesy Here


“Look Ma, Milkha Singh,” a little boy nudged his mother. It didn’t hit me until I saw Farhan Akhtar emerge from the arrival terminal. Funny, how cinematic portrayal impacts impressionable minds. Remember how Nitish Bharadwaj became an embodiment of Lord Krishna after Mahabharata? Women would close their eyes and see Nitish’s smiling visage. Such is the power of cinema.

While biographical and historical movies open dusted chapters, they also stir controversies. It all began with the first blockbuster Mughal-e-Azam. Historians argued that Anarkali was, perhaps, one of Akbar’s wives and the mother of Salim’s half brother, Prince Daniyal. And Salim, they say, was a heavy consumer of alcohol and opium, very different from the gentle hero.The Sheesh Mahal, according to historians, was a royal bath and not a dancing hall as depicted in the movie.


Much like Bajirao Mastani, Airlift raised many questions. Shekhar Gupta, a journalist who covered the Gulf War writes, “Airlift has completely changed history. It steals a real event to build a Sunny Deol-style hyper patriotic yarn. We know that no soldier fights in real life as Sunny Deol, Stallone or Tom Cruise, so drama is fine. But did Airlift have to mythologize as much as it has done, particularly as it re-writes history with zero concern for facts? These are days when vigilantism is popular. The state and the system can do nothing, so a super Indian has to rise and fill in, the tricolor is unfurled to notes of Vande Mataram and we all have tears in our eyes.”

At one level, to judge a historical on the basis of authenticity rather than the effectiveness of storytelling is to defeat the commercial purpose. Commercial success, after all, is the only moral of a market place. So will Neerja, in the upcoming biopic sing songs on the flight? Yes. I mean, no, I doubt it. But of course, Sonam as Neerja can sing songs prior to the actual hijacking sequence. The rest can be easily attributed to ‘cinematic liberty’. Like Sanjay Bhansali’s disclaimer professing that the ‘film does not claim to be historically accurate’. God knows, in a country like ours where sensibilities get hurt at the drop of a hat, such disclaimers are a boon. Courtesy disclaimers, the reel Kashi Bai swayed to Pinga even if the real Kashi Bai could never imagine a merry dance-off with Mastani. Who knows if she had arthritis? Or vertigo? Just as reel Sunny Deol engaged in a hand-to-hand combat even if the real Major Chandpuri did not indulge in jingoistic ground combat during 1971, Longewala war.

Coming back to the way cinema impacts our psyche, it is interesting to note how we begin to see real characters from the prism of cinematic reel. After Jodha Akbar, the Akbar ingrained in our memories as a slightly rotund aging character has been airbrushed as a young Hrithik Roshan. Likewise, the present generation goes by the way Ben Kingsley played Mahatma in Gandhi. Thankfully, it was pretty close to the original, given that Gandhi was with us not so long ago. Also, given that the director stayed away from Bollywood song and dance routine. Part of the magic, perhaps depends on who enacts the character and how popular the film is. Because one has to jog memory to recall Pooja Batra as Noor Jahan or Manisha Koirala as Jahan Ara in the movie, Taj Mahal- An Eternal Love Story. Remember?

At one level, diving in the pool of nostalgia and fishing out old gems is a welcome thought. For one, Bollywood is not the only industry that exploits real life drama to recreate a fictional drama. Hollywood does it too. And ends up nurturing myths to create popular cinema. The Academy award winning movie Argo was said to sideline Canada’s role in the evacuation plan while giving all credit to the CIA. Likewise, Clint Eastwood’s movie American Sniper earned accolades, but critics slammed it for several distortions in the story. Two, because had it not been for Bajirao Mastani, many of us wouldn’t know about the great Maratha warrior.

Of course, it is too simplistic to assume that that Bajirao Peshwa sang Malhari the way Ranveer Singh did, or that he made passionate love to Kashi Bai after pouring water on her head. But it is undeniable that cinema etches history with such a vivid brush that it leaves an indelible mark. While it perpetrates a myth that Farhan Akhtar singing ‘Havan Karenge’ is actually sprinter Milkha Singh, it also brings alive a legend hitherto buried in history.



36 comments:

  1. Glamorizing people in reel vs real as you say has become a commercial necessity. If they were really to show normal people, who had wrinkles on their faces and shades of grey in the character, it would be lauded only in some elite art circles. The flip side of losing authenticity is of course, the wide spread popularity and revival of interest in history. So what if Lord Ram brings Arun Govil to mind :)

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    1. A tricky balance indeed. Yeah, Arun Govil as Ram was very popular.

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  2. Isn't it the reason that art movies doesn't score at the box office? We want glamour, color and all things beautiful and we fall for it. Everything larger than life appeals to the common man...movies are made for the masses...for others there is always the theater and the lit fests :)

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    1. We the viewers are complicit. We get what we want. And as you say, those who want the real stuff can always watch plays.

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  3. Even though some biopics have song and dance sequences in them, it still stands out from nonsense movies, because we go home knowing more about Milkha Singh or Mary Kom and tend to respect them. I should admit that even though I had heard about Mary Kom before, the movie helped to know her more.

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    1. Ditto with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Border, Airlift etc....

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  4. A tricky balance to maintain. I think if filmmakers openly say that their take is only inspired by an event not a documentary of it, I am fine with cinematic liberties.

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    1. Tricky indeed. As for me, I don't mind the cinematic liberties as long as the script remains true. Frankly, I was unaware of the great Maratha warrior and watching Bajirao was a revelation.

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  5. A tricky balance to maintain. I think if filmmakers openly say that their take is only inspired by an event not a documentary of it, I am fine with cinematic liberties.

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    1. Tricky indeed. Cinema, after all is all about entertainment.

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  6. I think we need to remember that movies are after all movies...we can only judge movies as being entertaining or not..Why think too much about whether it is accurate or not..Good or bad story..good or bad acting..that's all I think of I think :)

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    1. Those who were a part of a war, a hijacking, an evacuation or descendants of a historical character will always protest against misrepresentation of facts. A tricky balance. Personally, I am happy with cinematic liberties as I understand that cinema is about entertainment.

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  7. Is the History told to us in textbooks the truth? Of course not. Everything we read, watch is an interpretation by the one who presents it to us. Why should cinema be any different?

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    1. It's all about interpretation, yes. Plus the viewer is complicit. We get what we want. Also because it is not about us. Those who participated in a war or a rescue effort as in Airlift will always hold a grudge against misrepresentation of facts. But then, you please all and you please none.

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  8. Unless Bhajirao, Akbar, or for that matter Bhagwans of mythology are around no one can confirm if the adaptation has truth or not....in fact the Ramayan and Mahabharath have multiple versions ib literary form itself.... But when you hear stories it's nice to be able to associate a look or a face and cinema helps that way

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  9. Spot on! Reason why I can count on my fingers the number of movies I've watched till date. The difference between Bhag Milkha Bhag and Paan Singh Tomar is pretty evident and probably the reason why one is more popular than the other. Even Milkha Singh wouldn't know his feet could do so much more dancing than running! And having met him, we know this for sure. But then he's also glad with the long overdue name and fame he deserved. It was hilarious watching Border with Dad who was simply amazed at how army life is depicted in Bollywood. But then that's how it is, choice is ours to pick what to watch and just be glad that at least somehow the lesser known names get some recognition. If a bit of masala does it, then be it, the twisting of facts does hurt yes and so does the acting! But then,there's always movies like Natsamrat and the likes to quench our thirst for good cinema. Keep writing..and watching :)

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    1. Yeah, perhaps if Paan Singh Tomar had a popular dance number, it would be a commercial success too. :)
      When one is directing a commercial film and not a documentary, it's a tight rope walk. You have to adhere to the story line and yet indulge in cinematic liberties. Like your dad, Major Chandpuri, they say was amused with Border but glad that an historic moment was etched on celluloid.
      To blame the film maker is silly when viewers are complicit. After all, cinema is about entertainment.
      Thank you for stopping by.

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  10. Well I feeel that no one knows what the truth is .. everyone is having their own interpretation.. I have not seen airlift so cant say anything but then it also means that I had no clue what happened then.. maybe the movie will make people realise that there are so many REAL stories that we might not know about.

    I would not mind if stories portrayed are true to the core but then i am sure they will become very boring and wont do the business .. s we have seen when good movies are made ..

    Although I also feel that movies are good way to TEACH tooo as we seem to remeber the visual more than what is in the books.. :)

    I have not seen Milkha singh dance like that or behave like that in Real life.. have met him on hundreds of occassions..

    Bikram's

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    1. Tricky balance to come up with an entertainer and yet stick to the real event. Cinema, after all is about entertainment.

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  11. I'd been discussing something similar to this with my wife recently. I guess the commercialisation of 'characters and stories' is bound to happen to make it 'reel worthy'. But I'll also confess that I had no idea about Bajirao until I saw the movie, for starters. And post the movie, I took the trouble of looking him up and reading up on his life and the rest.
    So, I guess from that point of thought, making movies or serials (or even books) about real-life characters (or Gods - but then again, are Gods really real? :) ) can be a starting point for someone who is interested in it to explore more.
    Great post, Alka.

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    1. I too, read about Bajirao after watching the movie. So yes, a tricky balance indeed.

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  12. I agree with your viewpoint here. And I am glad that for a change, there is no criticism towards distortion of the real by the cinematic reel. I am glad that we are able to appreciate, if not fully endorse, that cinema is intended for entertainment and hence digressing is permissible.

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    1. Digressing will stir controversies. A tight rope walk for film makers, esp commercial cinema.

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  13. Agree Alka, cinema does impact our lives a lot these days. I am just thankful that the makers are acting responsible enough to declare that it is just a piece of an era gone by and not history as it was. Any which way, history as it is will always stay distorted somewhere, it lives as per the interpretation of the one who documents it/translates it. We can never be sure!

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    1. Yes, it's a tricky balance. Digressing will stir controversies. A tight rope walk for film makers, esp commercial cinema where it's all about entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.

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  14. some biopics and historical movies are nice but otherwise, things are shown with insane exaggeration.

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    1. Glad that a mature audience appreciates and understands the cinematic exaggeration. But not many do.

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  15. Cinema indeed makes a strong impression on our minds. I saw some movie (I think Dahleej) as a child in which Meenakshi Seshadri has been forced to live with her husband while she loved another man. Trust me, for a long long time I kept sympathizing with this lady thinking she had such a terrible married life. I love historical epics for the reason that they bring to life a character we never studied in the boring history book. and the way they glamorize the character just ensures a paisa-vasool. Of course, history is completely twisted and turned. And that's why they become Box Office Hits. I am sure if they show the true stories of many of our warriors, we might hang our heads in shame. Or may be we'll see a stark difference in how liberal their thoughts were unlike that of this generation which gets offended even by sneezing.

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    1. As a teen, I hated Rekha after watching Silsila. Although it was based on real life rumors, I imagined it to be a true story. The Rang Barse song where Jaya is humiliated, remember?
      You make a valid point Rekha, about how we now get offended at the drop of a hat.

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  16. I feel in Hollywood they still do a greet job of emulating the events because of the way they make films.

    In India, since they have to account for peoples' emotions, the events are sometimes conservatively displayed. But I am happy to see and learn a bit of history!

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    1. Not easy for us to give up the song and dance routine. But new films like Neerja are path breaking in more ways than one. We, as an audience have come a long way from Gadar and Border.

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  17. I somehow missed reading this lovely post. The difference between reel and real is diminishing as one can see that even for something mundane like a TV news, one sees different doctored versions. At least in movies they are honest to admit that it is fictional work with a disclaimer knowing there is no dearth of nutcases waiting to cock a snook, Alka:)

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  18. Wanted to read this and missed it. :) I know...Kirshna and Rama reminds me of the Doordarshan characters. That is the thing with these historic movies..we have to appreciate that they are coming live and generations together learn about them. At the same time, the original story is diluted. Until I saw American Sniper, I didn't know about the real hero. That is when I googled and learned about him and he died in Texas, the state I live in. Few Telugu directors also have made attempts in the past years to bring historic events alive. Seriously, I was wondering about the Pinga dance when I watched the movie. Which wife will dance with her husband's girlfriend? think about it...stupid really.

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  19. An interesting take on reel that takes cinematic liberty..to a certain extent it's fine but one shouldn't tamper with facts. Love Bajirao Mastani and still reeling under the shock after watching Neerja. The movie touched my heart and read about Neerja Bhanot, glad the makers didn't tamper with the film with instances of the real life heroine hiding US passports.

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