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India sees emergence of the Hindie

Published on : January 24, 2011
India sees emergence of the Hindie

Bollywood films still dominate, but low-budget, ambitious projects are gaining attention. Director Dibakar Banerjee calls it 'new middle-class cinema.'


Reporting from Mumbai Intermission is the most sacred part of the moviegoing ritual in india. The films are usually more than two hours long, which makes the break for the restroom and samosas critical. Filmmakers are mindful that their narrative leads to a pre-interval cliffhanger, and some throw in a song right after so that viewers who are late to return don't miss any plot. The habit is so ingrained that even Hollywood films are screened with a break.


So when first-time director Kiran Rao decided that her film "Dhobi Ghat" (Mumbai Diaries) did not have a natural interval point, her husband, lead actor and producer Aamir Khan, met with multiplex owners to explain the logic of running the 95-minute film without a break. Khan is Bollywood's biggest superstar — his last film, "3 Idiots," made close to $100 million worldwide. Not surprisingly, the owners understood, and "Dhobi Ghat," released worldwide on Friday, became the first Hindi film in recent history to run without intermission.


But that's not the only thing that makes "Dhobi Ghat" unique. The film is an intimate exploration of the different layers of the city and the dynamic between classes. It was shot guerrilla style in some of the most densely populated areas of Mumbai. "The idea," says Rao, "was to scour the deep, dark depths of the city." The only way to do this with Khan was to sneak him into location (a one-room tenement in a claustrophobically crowded market) in the middle of the night and then have him live there, hidden, for three weeks. The result is a Hindi film that feels nothing like a Hindi film. In fact, when "Dhobi Ghat" had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the Holywood reporter described it as "a fully realized art film with European sensibilities."


In other words, a "Hindie" movie. The label, coined by Toronto festival co-director Cameron Bailey, is shorthand for the "un-Bollywood" Hindi movie: films that are low on budget, production values and stars but big on originality and ambition. Such films in general don't reaffirm the status quo or Bollywood formula but instead address the contradictions of a country that lives simultaneously in different centuries — films that are dark, open-ended and subversive. These films have made sporadic waves, but in 2010, a year in which many of Bollywood's biggest names tanked, a slew of small, scrappy films broke through, gathering media attention, viewers and awards.


The most critically acclaimed was "Udaan" (Flight), a beautifully rendered, nuanced story of a 17-year-old whose aspirations to be a poet are crushed by his abusive father. The most provocative was "Love Sex aur Dhoka" (Love, Sex and Betrayal), a grim, unsettling portrait of urban India. Director Dibakar Banerjee constructed three interconnected stories, which illustrated how money, modern technology and feudal beliefs have created a dangerously combustible society.


Read the full article by Anupama Chopra here

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