Thamizh Talkies: Lessons from the neighbourhood
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
Living in a jostling metro exposes you to a variety of cultures, cuisines, and another big C… cinema. This weekend, a Hindi film, Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, has overtaken the Tamil biggies. It’s a film in which all characters speak “Bambaiya”, a dialect of Hindi unique to Mumbai, much as the Madras dialect is unique to Tamil. And it has opened to a roaring audience and packed houses in Chennai without subtitles. Call it the initial pull of the film’s leading stars, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt. The film will make you shout out big time to its creators, Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar. Gully Boy is a storm in a teacup, the size of which is the massive Dharavi slums in Mumbai (similar to the North Madras area in Chennai).
What impressed me most was the fact that the lead actors made me believe that they are indeed residents of Dharavi. That they aren’t just stars who sashay in and out of media flashbulbs, but real youngsters in flesh and blood, living in the bylanes with a distinct voice. Be it the shy yet colossally talented Murad (Ranveer) or the daring and caring Safeena (Alia) or the many other characters who weave into this predictable yet thumping story that rises to a crescendo, Gully Boy boasts of an array of sparkling actors in supporting roles and a soundtrack to root for. Behold what is already being touted as the ‘film of the year’.
In the Hindi film industry (I prefer this to Bollywood), it has now become a norm to have major film talents come together for a film that is high on both content and form. For every 300-crore Salman Khan film, there is now a film like Gully Boy starring Ranveer Singh — seeing a purple patch in his career — who proves he can be both mass and class. For every Aamir Khan, whose film choices are defined by the story and his character, there is also an Ayushmann Khurrana who gave two blockbusters last year in author-backed roles and near-perfect films in Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho. For every Shah Rukh Khan, whose overseas market still makes him the most wanted romantic star, there is now a Ranbir Kapoor whose clips from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Tamashaa are still clocking thousands of views online every day. For the other bigger stars who act in comedies or war films or heroine-centric subjects, there is the ever-dependable Vicky Kaushal and Rajkumar Rao, who lend credibility and flawless performances to films which also cross the 100-crore mark.
The Hindi film industry has indeed come a long way in making room for newer performing actors who are also stars with a market of their own. The women are making waves at an even higher tide and you don’t need me to name them for you. In Tamil, the scenario seems a bit more laidback. I’d love to see Andhadhun or Badhaai Ho being remade here. Who will form the cast? If Simran could do Tabu’s role in the former, who would agree to play the blind man who gets pushed around by her, or the husband who gets killed? What about a story like Badhaai Ho in which the ‘lead pair’ is a 60+ couple? Would a producer here back such a story in the first place? I don’t have the answers but I do have such questions, in the hope of finding production, direction and acting talents who can go beyond what we see in the cinema of other languages.
How is the Hindi film industry thriving on rich content and production values in a highly star-driven market? Why is the Tamil film industry seeing a lull which recently got a bit of a breather when both Petta and Viswasam became hits? Take, for example, the comedy genre. Can you name a film from 2018 that had you laughing heartily without flinching? I can name one. Kolamaavu Kokila. Amongst heroes who are all wanting to or have already become the messiah of the masses, there is one superstar who backs an original idea: Nayanthara. You can take her films from the last five years and each one is different from the other. As we await her next, Airaa, in which she plays a double role for the first time, I can also think of one hero who will perhaps fit into any role big or small — his box-office success though depends on the whole film and not just his presence. He is Vijay Sethupathy (a good choice for the remake of Andhadhun, should it be made). What if we have more actors like them who have the market clout and the talent to back different stories? What if the writers and directors were backed by bold and diligent producers who know how to plan finances well for each project based on the needs of the story, and not just on the combination of names? Could our cinema become spectacularly varied?