Movies: Breaking the genre barrier
Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from Bala, one of the recent movies that have tried to break the genre barrier

Movies: Breaking the genre barrier

Mumbai, February 3, 2020

It is said that there are only seven genres in filmmaking. These are action, crime, comedy, social, historical, mythological and romance. Rest are offshoots of these basic seven genres. In India, filmmakers were known for making all kind of films within these genres. In fact, the genres were divided between producers as there were producers who preferred and specialised in making, say, mythological, thriller or family socials. As for comedy films, there were few, for not much of the Indian audience had a taste for comedy. The kind of comedy that worked in Western India, was not accepted by the North audience.

There was a time when the tastes in Northern India were totally limited. There were films which celebrated silver jubilees in rest of India or, at least in Western India, but did not do well in Delhi-UP and Punjab circuits. To add to that, the outright comedies in those days were rarely subtle.

Mehmood, even during his peak, was not accepted in pure comedies in the North. As a part of a film, it was fine. The North preferred action movies. Normally, action in films of yore figured only towards the end of a movie when the hero got better of the villain, who had been being a spoilsport all through the film. By that time, the audience wanted it that way -- that is, for the villain to get his comeuppance.

But, these were not action films. Action films were considered B-grade stuff. Not meant for the regular family or gentry audience. There were stars like Dara Singh, Kamran Khan, Sheikh Mukhtar and such who made out-and-out action films and the "dhishoom-dhishoom" sound while the villain and the hero fought provided all the excitement. As things worked, such films did not disturb the mainstream and had their own cinema chains that screened only these, what was called, B-grade cinema.

There was a time when a lot many films commanded a repeat value -- that is, movie buffs wanting to see the same film again and again ("Sholay" must hold the record for drawing the most repeat audience, ever). Films of Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan and, earlier, Dev Anand, enjoyed great repeat value and that is what made a film a hit or a superhit. That is also why not many venture into murder mysteries as they have no repeat audience.

Now, with high admission rates, repeat value is a thing of the past. But, what is challenging for filmmakers now is that few genres are left for them. The television has robbed them of genres like mystery, family socials and mythology. There were producers like Ramsay Brothers and Bhakri brothers who specialised in cheap thriller movies. And, there were a number of makers who churned out mythological films. They had to close shop.

What is left now are action, romance and comedy. A historical is a very costly to make and few producers will either risk that or qualify to make one. Sanjay Leela Bhansali revived this genre and, since then, some other producers have also tried their hand. The latest is Ajay Devgn's "Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior".

But, that is about it. A filmmaker has to play around with either comedy, romance or action. This has led filmmakers to break the mould and think out of the box, to break the genre barrier. What they are making may be called an extension of the basic seven genres or going away from it, depending on the film.

But we never made biopics and now they have become a norm. The only early biopic one remembers is V. Shantaram's "Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani". Now, there is a line-up with films on various celebrities as well as the politicians. The preference seems to be sportspersons when it comes to biopic. Not all of them work but we have had some successful films like "The Dirty Picture", "Neerja", "Mary Kom", "Paan Singh Tomar", "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", "MS Dhoni: The Untold Story", "Sanju", "Rustom" and "Dangal".

However, for a biopic to work, it has to be a success story and inspiring at the same time. But, as a rule, biopics on politicians don't work and, films on Sardar Patel, Nehru, Ambedkar, Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose, Anna Hazare and just about every film on a politician, has failed. The one exception is Gandhi, which was a moderate success in its original English version while not doing well in the dubbed Hindi version.

So, films that break the norm of the genre-based filmmaking or expand the scope of that particular genre are now being made. "Kapoor & Sons", for instance, can be described as a family social, but with all the contemporary issues of a family included. A son is gay, the head of the family is a boisterous old man while the husband and wife are at loggerheads with an affair involved. Also, "Toilet Ek Prem Katha" is basically a family social but dealing with an aspect that is age-old but never discussed. Similar is the case with "Badhai Ho", "102 Not Out" and other such films.

There have also been attempts at making films entirely dependent on special effects. Shah Rukh Khan's "Zero" and "Fan" are the two prime examples. In "Fan", Khan plays his own lookalike fan and in "Zero", he plays a character with a stunted growth (bauna). It did not work. Almost all films use special effects now, but going overboard backfires as the latest release, "Street Dancer 3D" proves. The film has more VFX then content.

Now, a lot of films are being made on subjects which, if not taboo, were never discussed openly. "Vicky Donor" started the trend of such themes. Films like "Piku" (on constipation), "Aligarh" (same sex relationship), "Mukti Bhavan" (awaiting peaceful death), "Pad Man" (menstruation) have followed this trend.

Then there is a line-up of away from the routine, genre-bound themes in films like: "NH 10", "Margarita With A Straw", "Masaan", "Hindi Medium", "Lipstick Under MY Burkha", "Raazi", "Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran", "Good Newwz", "Mission Mangal", "The Accidental Prime Minister", "Bala", "Super 30" and so on. If the viewer can identify with the subject, they work.

@The Box Office

* The new releases of the week, "Jawaani Jaaneman", Happy Hardy And Heer" and "Gul Makai" fail to draw footfalls. While "Happy Hardy And Heer" remains the most under-promoted film, creating no awareness, it is strange that "Gul Makai", based on the life of Malala Yousafzai, is made for the Indian audience since she is no role model in India and is also known to take an anti-India stand.

* "Street Dancer 3D" has stretched this glitzy, VFX-crammed dance routine franchise a bit too far, resulting in negative returns. 3D hampers the viewing and one can hardly make out who is doing what on the screen. Thanks to the VFX and 3D, the budget has mounted. The music too is not up to the mark.

"Street Dancer 3D" did not get an encouraging opening day figure (a little over Rs 8 crore). While it peaked on Sunday (about Rs 14 crore), the film could not sustain in the four days that followed. The film closed its first week with a total of about Rs 51 crore.

* "Panga", a Kabaddi player's saga, had a poor opening response. The film could manage to collect just about Rs 16 crore for its first week.

* "Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior" has emerged the big winner with its three week tally being about Rs 230 crore.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed here are personal.)

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