[Originally Published in Talk Magazine, Bangalore
A wise man once said, “Tamil film makers don’t do different things, they do things differently”. Okay, so I may have taken a little columnist license with that particular proverb there, but that’s what it is. The difference isn’t much, really, but the notion that Hindi and Tamil movies are as different as chalk and Chihuahuas or whatever, has been on the rise the past decade and led to the rise of quite a few stereotypes. The most popular stereotype of the lot that people have been tricked into, is that all Tamil films are essentially Rajnikanth saving humanity from all kinds of evil while defying every law that Newton took the trouble of coming up with, which is total and complete nonsense. For starters, Rajnikanth films take at least three years per release.
Anyway, it’s simple enough, all SuperHit Indian movies up to the early 90s had pretty much the same formula. Then, Bollywood changed course while South Indian Cinema didn’t. So today, the “formula” part of the Bollywood “formula” movie involves a story (or something like it), which is embellished with an impossibly good looking star cast, lots of Manish Malhotra and a dance number which has a special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan. Add an “Item Number” which features the latest It Girl and air it as a “promo” a couple months before the actual movie releases and voila, empty hype! I mean, formula complete.
Now the Bollywood story almost always involves a value, such as family, friendship, love and the like. Tamil formula movies on the other hand, thrive on old-school. The hero is the story, the Manish Malhotra, the dance number with the special appearance by Amitabh Bachchan, hell, he’s even the Amitabh Bachchan of that number. Tamil Cinema takes the term “Hero” very seriously. The story is never about friendship or family per se, but his family, his friendship, his love, and his occasional association with the local goons. The truth is, it doesn’t take much for a formula movie to do well in the South – Take the super-hit-beyond-human-comprehension, Baasha. This was not just the movie that elevated Rajnikanth’s status from Star to Superstar DemiGod, but also the only Tamil film (that I know of) which had a flashback within a flashback. (At this point I’d like to put forth that I wouldn’t be surprised if it ever comes out that it was this movie which inspired Nolan to make Inception).
I have personally watched this movie about twenty-five times and I have enjoyed myself thoroughly about twenty-four times. One time I tried to apply logic to the story, and my brain fried itself in the process because there is none, whatsoever. None. NIL. In fact, it defies anything and everything that logic stands for. However, nobody really cared, truth be told no one cares even today, even with all our resources to “better” films and such, because it’s SO entertaining.
The Tamil Cinema audience is really easy to please. All that we really care for, is a tight storyline, fast screenplay and a convincing star cast, and we’ll lap it up, logic be damned. A lot of film makers forget that the primary purpose most people even watch movies in the first place, is to be entertained – We want to be thrilled, we want to pick sides, we want to cheer for the leads and then come out of the theatre feeling good. That Bollywood is now remaking Tamil movies, or making Tamil style masala movies (like Dabaang) is just proof that there is no school like the old school.
However, it is important that Bollywood film makers pick the right movies and stick to the original screenplay – Singam was a wildly successful movie in the South because of it’s Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It racy screenplay and incredibly simple story line, but the remake was a total disappointment because of a couple of unnecessary twists that were introduced.
Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether people make or remake Masala movies, just as long as they are done right, because when they are, they are so much fun. Masala movies are the epitome of the Indian Movie Experience. I know quite a few people who argue for the cause of finer film making in India, with more realistic subjects, honest emotions and matter-of-fact endings. Personally, I am against that cause. When I watch a movie, I want to be told that the impossible is possible and that there is no such thing as too much ambition. I want to be told that there are police officers who stop at nothing to uphold law, I want to see bad guys go down for whatever they did wrong and I want to see everyone getting their happily ever after. Cinema, to me, is escape. Besides, if I wanted to watch something “real”, I wouldn’t watch a movie. I’d watch the news.