Cinema cinema

Yesterday’s ET has a nice and long article by Vikram Doctor on how the perception of Bollywood – its mainstream cinema as opposed to its art house flicks – has changed over the years both within and outside India-

But Indians were equally dubious. At Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), where she first went, people were horrified that she wanted to study the popular films they disdained. But she met people there, like Smita Patil, who introduced her to Bollywood proper. It helped that Thomas was young and pretty; “they thought I was a bit of fluff!” she laughs. People like Manmohan Desai indulged her by letting her to become an observer on the sets of Naseeb. Rahul Rawail gave her a bit role in Biwi-OBiwi; “participant observation!” she says.

Thomas tried to get people like scriptwriters to analyse their work. “Some were very astute about what they were doing,” she says. They still found it hard to believe she was studying them. K K Shukla, Manmohan Desai’s scriptwriter told her. “I can’t believe you are getting money to do this,” says Thomas. After 18 months she tried making sense of it all. “Because no one had done work in this field and I think my supervisor expected me to cover it all. But I was realising by then, how complex the subject really was.”

Thomas started writing on Bollywood, but soon encountered more hostility. At an Italian film festival, for example, while giving a talk to film scholars, “I suddenly realised I was being given a slow clap! They expected a lecture on someone like Satyajit Ray, and couldn’t believe what I was talking about.” Disillusioned, Thomas left academia to make films and TV programmes (including some on Bollywood). It was only relatively recently that she returned to academia — and found it quite changed. “I met all these people who said they had read my early work,” she says. Suddenly Bollywood was a hot area of study and Thomas had become a pioneer!

Another story on the same page explores Indian horror films of the non-cheesy variety, particularly a Tamil film called Pillai Nila, and this part amused (understatement) me-

Pillai Nila then evolves into a fairly engaging horror movie, a cheerful amalgam of the best scenes from Christine, The Poltergeist, The Omen and The Exorcist. The ghost of Dolli takes control of Shalini every full moon night and mayhem ensues. Shalini murders her grandmother by throwing her off a train, Mohan spends an entire night being chased down narrow alleys by his haunted car and the tot sets all the contents of her room spinning. There are some hilarious asides like Hindu priests washing their hands off the case since their jurisdiction doesn’t extend to Christian ghosts. And the director Manobala betrays some outlandish notions of Christian exorcisms, imagining them to be performed by samurai sword wielding dervishes dressed in lace.

For all that, Pillai Nila does get a lot of things right. Along with the vastly superior Gehrayee, it was among the first attempts to take horror films out of the clichéd territory of haunted mansions, sex-charged teenagers (generally played by middle-aged character actors) and unrealistic monsters in rubber masks.

If only it had mentioned the Ramsay brothers by name.

Staying with Bollywood, Professor Philip Lutgendorf of University of Iowa’s Department of South Asian Studies (Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures, actually) has a website where he’s reviewed many Bollywood films including some of my favorites – Dil Se, Bawarchi, Rangeela, Satya and Mr. India. A good site.

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