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Same difference!

Prem Panicker | August 21, 2003 16:40 IST

The last Hindi film I saw here was Darna Mana Hai -- and while watching it, I couldn't help thinking of Tales of the Unexpected (not, please note, the television series of that same name), a brilliant Japanese film a good friend passed on to me a couple of years ago.

And no, I don't want to read a spate of interviews with the director, producer, and sundry camp followers, talking of how DMH is not derived from Tales. We had enough of that sort of thing with Qayamat.

Remember? No sooner had some critic suggested that the plotline was reminiscent of The Rock than we were treated to stories of how the director was walking down the street when inspiration hit him -- as if inspiration was so much refuse thrown out of an upstairs window by a careless housewife.

Darna Mana Hai: An interesting attemptI don't know if Ramu Verma got his inspiration from the Japanese film; if indeed he did, more power to him. The real question is why more Bollywood directors are not similarly inspired, to attempt interesting genres rather than recycle individual plotlines.

Tales... is set in a railway station where a group of travellers find themselves stranded in torrential rains; in order to pass the time, they tell each other stories, and each is a classic of its horrific kind.

Darna... is not in the same league as that film, but even if it failed in the execution, you want to give it an unqualified A for effort; that is more than you can say for the trash Bollywood keeps churning out, to much hype, these days.

It's getting to be so predictable, it is not even funny. One 'family drama' does well and lo, everyone and his uncle climbs on the 'family values' bandwagon; they all collapse and, meanwhile, some action film clicks, so suddenly the industry goes, ah, it is action films people want -- and turn them out ad nauseum.

When is it going to occur to film-makers that what people really want -- after investing some hard-earned money, and three hours of their time -- is to be entertained; and that what entertains a human being, of whatever age, more than anything else is a good story?

Years ago, while dabbling in film journalism down South, I got to know this Malayalam director, Thampi Kannanthanam, who, at the time, had produced a monster hit starring Mohanlal. It was pure, unadulterated, unabashed masala -- but thanks mainly to a tight story, controlled direction, and a gritty performance from Lal, it worked.

I was hanging around Thampi's set one day; it was always a fun place to be, thanks to the maverick director's own boisterous, fun-loving nature (this is the guy who, to amuse his actors and keep them in good humour, learnt to perform various magic tricks).

It struck me as funny that the director, who in private conversation would discuss the finer points of international film classics, was churning out yet another masala movie. I asked him about it, and he goes -- What do you want me to do, this is the kind of nonsense the audience wants (I'll get back to this in a bit).

He went on to trash movies as we make them. And gave me, impromptu, the Dummies' Guide to Writing a Screenplay.

As he told it, the first thing to do is decide whether the girl, or the boy, should be rich. He preferred the girl to be rich, he said, if only because that was a good excuse to get her into and out of dozens of fetching costumes; there is no sex appeal in dressing a guy up, he said.

What follows is Thampi's own guidelines, as nearly in his own words as I can recall: 'See, once you have decided that, you open the film on the first day of college. Now when does college reopen? In June. What else happens in June? It rains.

'So on day one you have this rich girl driving up, and splashing water over the poor boy; you then do a few scenes of them bickering through that first day. That evening, she is driving home -- and what happens in rainy weather in Kerala? First, the streetlights don't work; secondly, the roads are a mess.

'So the girl's car breaks down. Sure enough, a bunch of rowdies gather and get fresh with her. Sure enough, the poor boy is coming down the same road, alone; he sees her in distress.

'At this point in your script, you write 'Fight' -- and you can safely leave the next 250 feet of film to your stunt director.

'The girl goes home and gets into a nightgown and falls into bed -- and into love. Now you write 'Song' -- and sit back while the composer, lyricist, choreographer, dance extras all do the work.

'That,' Thampi told me, 'is all there is to making a movie; you need to know the two words, Song and Fight, and you calculate the footage consumed by six songs and as many fights and then you build bridges from song to fight and back to song, and there you have your movie.'

It was great self-parody, the way he said it; over a decade later, it is still true. Check out the stories, over a period of time, relating to upcoming movies; check out what directors say about their to-be-released films, see what stars say about their upcoming roles, and you will notice one phrase in common: 'It is different.'


'Oh, we have teamed Hritik and Aishwarya for the first time.'

'We have actually cast Shah Rukh as Aishwarya's brother.'

'It is a standard love story/action thriller/family drama, but the treatment is different.'

'I am playing a girl in love, but it is different. Last time I was a city girl in love, before that I was a country girl in love, but this time it is very different and exciting -- I am a foreign-returned girl in love.'


I'll end this particular rant here, and sit back and listen to you guys -- what is your take on the films made today? What works for you, and what doesn't?

More importantly, what is your take on this whole argument trotted out by film-makers, that they are making the kind of films the audience wants to see? (I don't get it. If directors are making what audiences want, how come Bollywood only averages one hit every 200 films?)

What is it you expect when you go to a movie theatre? What, for you, is 'entertainment'? What are the stories and themes you wish films were based on?

Write in -- to

I can promise you I'll read every single mail that comes in; I hope to use your responses in this space, though I don't know for sure if I can accommodate all of them.

On my way out the door, a recommendation. Check out, if you can get hold of a DVD, the film titled New York Stories (subtitled, cleverly: 'One city, three stories tall').

As concepts go, this one is interesting: Touchstone Pictures got together three directors and asked each to make a movie on New York as they saw it; each director was given 40 minutes of screen time to tell his story.

Life Lessons is a highly polished gem from Martin Scorcese; it features Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette in the tale of a painter obsessed, in equal measure, with his art and his gorgeous assistant.

Oedipus Wrecks is a Woody Allen classic starring Allen, Mae Questal, Mia Farrow and Lulie Kavner; it is a hilarious take on an ageing, neurotic lawyer struggling to escape the shadow of his mother.

Life Without Zoe, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is the weakest of the three films story-wise and the best cinematographically; it headlines Talia Shire and Giancarlo Giannini as parents of a 12-year-old who opens their eyes to the charm of New York City.

Individually, these are good stories (even Coppola's). Collectively, they tell the larger story of the city they are based in.

Imagine someone attempting a similar exercise with, say, Bombay.

Do you have a recommendation for me? Names alone won't do -- tell me why you like the film you are recommending.

Catch you at the movies.

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