Dream factory: Anupama Chopra’s three wishes for Hindi cinema in the new year

Despite the barrage of grim news, a new year inevitably brings new dreams. These long pandemic months have been a lesson in how little we control. But despite all impediments, hope springs eternal. In this spirit of optimism, here are my top three wishes for the Hindi film industry. May they materialise in 2022.

Originality: Remakes have been a fixture in Hindi cinema for decades. When I started my career in the 1990s, writers and directors ripped off other films with impunity. I have a distinct memory of being on the sets of Criminal (1994) in Hyderabad. Mahesh Bhatt had a VCR machine playing the 1993 film The Fugitive while he directed, so he could rework it frame-for-frame.

Copyright laws were cheerfully flouted by filmmakers across the board. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Rights are bought, and original makers acknowledged, but the landscape is still overrun by remakes and remixes. Some are directed by the same artists who made the original: Filmmaking duo Pushkar-Gayatri are remaking their 2017 Tamil film Vikram Vedha in Hindi with Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan; Sudha Kongara is all set to rework the 2020 Tamil film Soorarai Pottru; and the recently released Jersey was directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, the maker of the Telugu original, released in 2019.

The cross-pollination between industries is invigorating but I hope we also see more baked-from-scratch stories. Often, that’s where the real artistry emerges.

Humility: Bollywood has always been a star-driven industry, but now the power that certain actors wield seems to have become amplified even more. Streaming platforms are creating a slew of new stars but have also bolstered the big-screen players. The industry is awash in money from these digital platforms. And the pandemic has made star-led event films even more essential — it’s early days yet, but signs are that viewers may no longer trek to cinema halls for the mid-budget, high-concept film. A case in point: Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui underperformed in theatres, and Shakun Batra’s Gehraiyaan, a relationship drama starring Deepika Padukone, is set to premiere on Amazon Prime.

In an interview, Karan Johar, whose Dharma Productions is co-producing Gehraiyaan, told me that star salaries across the board have risen in the pandemic, even though most stars haven’t had a theatrical release. The gap between actor salaries and crew salaries is so vast that Zoya Akhtar described it as vulgar. The lopsidedness is unfair, and it undermines the massive contribution that non-acting talent makes to a film.

With great power comes great responsibility. Sixty years ago, in the film Hum Dono, Lata Mangeshkar sang the classic bhajan Allah Tero Naam. Written by Sahir, it includes the line: Balwano ko dede gyan (give knowledge to the powerful). I say the same prayer for our stars.

Inclusivity: Over the many years that I have reported on Hindi cinema, I have seen the industry transform. Once upon a time, Bollywood was an ecosystem run almost exclusively by older men. The arrival of Sooraj Barjatya, Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra (all in their 20s when they made their blockbuster debuts in the 1990s) punctured that gerontocracy.

In the last 10 years, women have made great strides and penetrated the upper echelons. And happily, the cartoonish stereotypes that Hindi cinema traditionally traded in are being abandoned for more sensitive portrayals. Despite their flaws, films such as Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020) and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019) are starting up fresh conversations about gender and sexuality, while others such as Article 15 (2019) and Mulk (2018) are asking urgent questions about caste and religious hegemony.

My favourite film of 2021 — Neeraj Ghaywan’s Geeli Pucchi — was sophisticated enough to tackle all three, caste, gender and sexuality. But we need to do more, on-screen and off. At the 2018 Oscars, actress Frances McDormand famously ended her Best Actress award acceptance speech with: “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider is a provision in an artist’s contract that insists on a certain level of diversity in cast and crew. We are far away from that but perhaps if the people in power were more proactive, we might have the beginnings of a more equitable ecosystem. Which would also ultimately benefit us viewers. Because the movies, as critic Roger Ebert put it, “are like a machine that generates empathy.” And the greater the variety, the greater the ability to nurture different perspectives on the world. Vive la difference!

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