What makes us re-visit our favourite films?

 Fan of the movies or not, most of us can name a couple of films that we have watched many times and know that we will keep going back to them. Watching a new film asks for too much of  our attention to the images, the actors, the music and how all of it weaves in together. More often than not, I walk out of the theatre not knowing what exactly it was that made me so invested in the movie. What’s even more bizarre is that there have been times when I have had no particular fondness for a movie until it suddenly hits me after a couple of days how much the movie and its scenes have stayed with me. This happened with The Lunchbox. I watched the movie while on a break from rooted cinema and after months of watching junk cinema and series. I remember being restless throughout. After a couple of days, while stuck in mundane routine, I realised how I couldn’t stop getting flashes of the way Bombay was presented and then it dawned on me how beautifully the movie romanticised the boring and mundane. I keep going back to The Lunchbox every now and then. So what is it that makes us go back to our favourites? Is it always one thing, a genre, an actor, a director?

If you’re a particularly attentive movie viewer, it’s just easy on the brain to keep going back to what you already love. As much as you want to be blown away by new techniques of storytelling, a part of your mind wants to just enjoy the experience without nit picking, but that almost never happens. Inevitably, I find myself obsessing over what made me like the film and am drawn to articles, notions and opinions on the movie. What we re-watch is like our comfort food, we know we’ll be left satisfied the way we want to be and it’s still entertaining.

Many times, I have found myself longing to watch a film again because there’s that one scene that randomly started replaying in my head earlier that day. These are sometimes the most crucial scenes that the movie was building up to and sometimes just a moment that passes by. I have watched Masaan multiple times and most of the times it is to build up my emotions till Deepak’s break down scene and I have watched Piku for the smaller moments between the characters.

To further break it down, we feel like watching certain scenes because of the emotions that they infuse in us. Here’s the thing. Cinema is really images and sounds strung together. The movie as a whole provides you with an emotional closure and individual scenes viewed in isolation can not make you feel for them as strongly as the whole movie. This is what prevents me from fast-forwarding any movie. But I get it, re-watching just your favourite scenes is a short cut to reaching where you intended to, emotionally.

Actors are like the surface of a huge iceberg. What the actors do with their parts is mostly the first and sometimes even the only thing that stays with us. As viewers, most of us do not know enough about cinema to understand what goes on beneath the surface but a performance is something anyone can have an opinion about. Some like actors that disappear into their parts without a trace and some like the ones who bring their personal charm to every role. Hindi cinema thrives on creating aspirational characters and that makes so many of us watch and re-watch the movies of our stars.

I keep going back to Carol and I know that every time it has been to go back to Rooney Mara’s wonderfully delicate performance. Apart from being a fan of many different things about that movie, Rooney’s performance is singularly my favourite thing about it. There are however, also instances when an actor’s performance has had a profound impact on me despite not liking the movie. I have lost count now, of the number of times I have seen American Hustle. Not once was I able to feel strongly for the movie but each time I have found myself more in awe of Amy Adams’ performance. I keep revisiting it to catch her expressions in every possible long and close-up shot.

Like many other wonderful actors, Amy Adams tends to disappear into the part she plays, allowing us to be engrossed in her character’s story rather than her stardom. Yet, I go back to only some of her movies despite liking her work in almost anything that I have seen from her filmography. If we are so in awe of our actors and stars then why don’t we keep revisiting all their work? It’s because of the way cinema works. Audience may not fully understand what went into the staging of a scene but all those elements add to the tone of the scene or the movie and together attempt to leave us with strong emotions.

The distance of the lens from an actor, what the actors do, how the camera moves or stays, the background and staging, the colours that come alive, the faint or the loud music that kicks in and a million other such things come together to make us feel a certain way. Once our minds and hearts buy into the emotions that a scene or the movie is trying to convey, we will want to watch the film again. We will want to chase that feeling that the movie left us with the first time. Sometimes, only to realise that we have grown out if it and a lot of the times  we are left amazed at how we keep finding the emotions that we were chasing every time we revisit the film. Sometimes even discover other layers to it and after that it’s all about solving the mystery of how it was done!

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What makes us re-visit our favourite films?

Agar Tum Saath Ho and Gender Roles in Hindi Songs

There are multiple reasons that lead to the song Agar Tum Saath Ho striking a chord with the public. It is a rich and melodious composition by A.R. Rahman, it seen as the return of Alka Yagnik into mainstream Hindi film songs and the song also marks a critical plot point in the movie (Tamasha). Sensitive performances (especially by Deepika Padukone) give this song another dimension and make it extremely difficult for emotional viewers like myself to hold their tears back. Infact for me, this song sequence is an outstanding highlight of an otherwise average film. But there is more to this song. Let us take a closer look at the lyrics. The woman sings:

Pal bhar thehar jao,

Dil yeh sambhal jaaye,

Kaise tumhe roka karoon? 

Meri taraf aata,

Har gham phisal jaaye,

Ankhon me tumko bharoon.

Bin bole baatien tumse karoon,

Agar tum saath ho.

which roughly translates to:

Just wait for few moments; let my heart settle down. How do I stop you from leaving? Let me fill you in my eyes. If you are with me all my sorrows slip away. If you are with me I can talk to you without saying much.

She further adds:

Behti rehti nehar nadiyaan si,

Teri duniya mein .

Meri duniya hai,

Teri chahaton mein .

Mai dhal jaati hoon,

Teri aadaton mein,

Agar tum saath ho.

which translates to:

Your world is filled with rivers and streams; My world is set only where your interests lie. If you are with me, your habits become mine.

While the man keeps repeating:

Teri nazaron mein hai tere sapne,

Tere sapno mein hai naarazi.

Mujhe lagta hai ke baatien dil ki,

Hoti lafzon ki dhokebaazi .

Tum saath ho ya na ho,

Kya fark hai?

Bedard thi, zindagi bedard hai,

Agar tum saath ho.

which basically means:

Your eyes are filled with their own dreams and I can see anger in those dreams. All these talks of love are nothing but deceptive words. What difference does it make if you are with me? My life was merciless and will be merciless even if you are with me.

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We can see that the woman is expressing her love and her desire to stay with the man but the man is turning her down. This is a refreshing concept to see in a Hindi film song.

Back in the day, we had enough songs where women used to express love and romance as unabashedly as the men. Lag Jaa Gale, Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikhwa, Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya? etc  are some such examples. However, somewhere and somehow we lost the plot. Most songs started conveying through their lyrics and/or picturization that the burden of expressing love falls only on the guy’s shoulders. He had to ‘impress the girl’. Scenes where a guy follows the girl to impress her while the girl either shows arrogance or blushes  became a popular concept so much so that a lot of songs are based on this concept even today.

Take for example, Mai Koi Aisa Geet Gaaon (Yes Boss). Yes, it is a cute song with a catchy tune and Shah Rukh Khan is rather charming here but the problem arises when bulk of songs being produced are based on a similar concept. It gives a wrong idea about gender roles when it comes to romance. Palat Tera Hero Idhar Hai is a recent example. Clearly nothing much has changed except that the lyrics have become ridiculous.

I have heard opinions that call the girl (in Agar Tum Saath Ho) weak and submissive because she says “Mai dhal jaati hoon teri aadaton mein”. The question is when we can accept the guy expressing Tu dil tu hi jaan meri (you’re my heart and my life) in Samjhawaan as romance without passing a judgement on the character then what troubles us when a girl is expressing love with similar intensity? Years of guy-impresses-girl based songs have lead to a rather funny images of a girl in love. She is either classified as ‘Door khadi sharmaaye‘ type or as the haughty who is difficult to please or worst as a ‘bold’ item girl dancing to misogynistic lyrics. We have stopped expecting girls on the celluloid to express deeper emotions when in love.

We produce enough musically and lyrically appealing romantic songs but why is it that in most of these songs the girl merely seems to be replying to a guy’s proposal and more importantly why do we not see girls being turned down by guys more often when girls in reality get a crush and get their hearts broken as often a guy.  It is not that we haven’t had such songs at all, but they are few in number and here’s to hoping for more songs (which are not item numbers) where we can see a girl trying to impress a guy or getting rejected by a guy!

Here is the song as it appears in the movie. As I have already stated, I really like the lyrics, performances and camera work in this sequence.

Agar Tum Saath Ho and Gender Roles in Hindi Songs

The Local Stories

India is home to many contrasting worlds. We have villages dwelling in darkness and we have cities that do not sleep. This is a country where the way a language is spoken or the way a festival is celebrated changes after every hundred kilometers. There are people embracing their age old traditions, some abstaining from them and some confused. So many worlds, so many debates and so many stories. It is therefore not surprising that almost 200 Hindi films release every year. What is disappointing however, is that despite being surrounded by so many stories and despite producing numerous films every year, only a handful of them are true to the milieu in which they are set.

The stories that surround us even when put simply, seem so much more appealing than a lot of the ones we see on-screen. Most of us do not know people who ran away from their grand wedding after realization of true love, yet this concept continues to be overused and reused till date. However, almost all of us are aware of the initial awkwardness that follows an arranged marriage but not many films have explored this space as non-dramatically and honestly as it actually is. There is also a humongous difference between the characters we see on-screen and the people we often meet. Many films tend to judge their own characters by putting them in boxes of black or white, beautiful or comically hideous, intelligent or dumb and so on. Such categorizations not only result in one dimensional and unrelatable characters but also lead to very rigid notions about beauty, heroism, romance etc.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen a dozen films that have managed to hold a mirror to the society we stay in or are aware of. These films have been lauded by critics, welcomed by a section of domestic audience and have even won praises from international audience despite addressing issues that are unique to India. Masaan, last year captured the pulse of young Indians trying to break away from the parochial society they reside in, with the religious hub of Banaras as its backdrop. The film introduced us to Devi, a woman who refused to be judged by the society, fighting for what she truly deserves while seeking closure. The film also captured the desperation of many youngsters to move to larger cities and the general thought of “Jitni choti jagah, utni choti soch” .

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, we saw a confident and ambitious woman unapologetic about her weight. We finally saw an over-weight character who was neither used as a comical prop nor did she demand viewers’ sympathy. The Lunchbox told the tale of a bored housewife and a crabby older man who fall in love by exchanging letters in lunchboxes delivered by Mumbai’s dabbawalas. The film was unique not only in its concept but also in the way it presented Mumbai as a city of working class in contrast to a glamorous city of dreams or a ruthless city with an air of despair, as seen mostly in cinema. Court (2015), informed us about the gut wrenching reality of working conditions of sewage workers with a straight face while taking on the Indian judiciary with subtle humor. The scene where the deceased sewage worker’s wife is interrogated in the court room is among the most compelling scenes I have seen in recent times. Piku managed to hold a mirror to our living room conversations and more recently Kapoor and Sons redefined the family drama genre by analyzing the complexities of family ties with a non-judgmental eye. Such films help us see the simple stories that are hidden in lives that we lead, they make us more aware of our society and its problems, archive the present time and more importantly do not invoke exaggerated expectations of sacrifice, beauty or romance.

Sadly, Hindi cinema continues to be dominated by star-power. Box -office collections take precedence over art which restricts the space for experimentation. There are more businessmen producing movies than artists or connoisseurs of cinema.  A middle class Indian is mostly over-worked and exhausted, so for him grand and over the top cinema is entertainment as it helps him escape day today problems and thus a cinema closer to reality becomes too serious. Commercial masala films have become his comfort food. While so much is being made out of this apparent new wave of Hindi cinema, the hard reality is that even today Housefuls mint crores of money while Ankhon Dekhis are barely able to stick around for a week. Despite these deeply ingrained problems, there are courageous film makers and producers who bring to us the stories they truly believe in. There might be just five good movies out of the 200 of the year but you deserve to watch them because it is these five films that alter your thinking about our society, that expose you to new ideas and that make you appreciate the simpler stories around you.

The Local Stories