How Films Influence Our Notions of Death and the After-world

I think it was in 1993 or 1994 that I had a birthday party screening the one and only 1988 cult classic “Beetlejuice.” (A 7 year old’s birthday party with Beetlejuice, and that too in Turkey, weird family I know…). As an adult, I still love this film, and not only because of its unique premise, but also how the usually ghastly topic of death is portrayed in such a humorous way. Until then in cinema, we had not considered that the dead could be a sweet couple from the suburbs, or that the after-world could be a waiting room not too different than a dentist’s. There are very few films that have actually tackled death in this satirical way, and maybe this is also why the film obtained such cult status over the years.

Bhoot World Mein Teen Cheezo ki Kami HaiThe 2008 Hindi film Boothnath starring Amitabh Bachchan followed a similar path, albeit with less humor. It was successful in normalizing death and the dead however, just as Beetlejuice had done. In Boothnaath, the dead was a grouchy but good-hearted old man (based on Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost in fact), and the after-world was basically an Indian government office.

There have been a few other Indian films that have helped disseminate some of the stigma attached to death, for example the 2013 Telugu horror comedy Prema Katha Chitram and the 2012 Bengali film Hemlock Society. Rather than using satire to display a fantasized and ironically ‘normal’ death, these films mocked suicide by suggesting suicide, thereby bringing attention to high suicide rates among youth in India.

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It’s rather sad that this humorous and satirical take on death and what await us afterward, cannot become more mainstream in cinema. There is a plethora of films and TV shows releasing daily that remind us of the horror that we normally associate with death– serial killers, revengeful murders, painful accidents, and after it’s over, zombies, vampires, ghosts and demons to haunt us and give us sleepless nights. If you notice, death is the main thread in all horror products. I don’t think we even realize the extent to which the big screen influences how we think of death. If only more cinema could take death as lightly as it often does life, and remove some of the stigmas and subconscious fears usually associated with it.

Rules for Introducing the Hero in Telugu Films

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The first song in a Telugu mass entertainer should praise the hero as much as possible. Like in the Racha title song — he’s electrifying, he’s sexy, he’s spotless in character.

If you’re planning on making a Telugu mass action entertainer, make sure that you follow the rules for the hero’s introduction. This is a must-have in any large-budget Telugu action film with a popular hero (preferably a family member of Chiranjeevi.)

There is always an introductory scene for the hero in Telugu mass entertainers. One of the senior male actors of the film usually introduces the hero, although it could also be a family member, friend or the villain. Regardless of who is doing the introduction, the character must be in a tough situation, helpless and the hero must be the only one who can save him.

The introduction is a brief commentary on the hero’s amazing qualities. In between the description, the film will cut to the hero in segments. These segments will start with one body part like the eyes and then show the hero completely while usually walking stylishly or doing some kind of stunt. The introduction is followed by a song where the hero dances (and occasionally beats people) and the crowd cheers him on, praising him, his strength, his charisma, his looks and greatness.

These are the rules for introduction:

Compare the hero to a missile, bullet, bomb (or any other deadly weapon)
Comment on the hero’s height, eyes or other attractive physical characteristics

Examples:

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Police commissioner in Dookudu:

“He’ll come like a missile to weed out the criminals. Death stands six feet tall before him!”

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Grandfather in Attharintiki Daaredi:

“Hey, bullet is just a half inch! But it kills a six foot man. How would it be if the bullet is six foot tall? My grandson Gautam Nanda would be like that!”

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Friend in Racha:

“If he takes a step, he’s Audi, if he shows up he’s 3D, his walk has a style, there’s always a smile on his face, there’s craze in his eyes, there’s a terrific body under his shirt!”

Lawyer in Racha:

“I needed a man before she becomes 18. That’s why — sharpness of a knife, power of a bullet, explosiveness of a bomb — I saw all these characters in a boy.”

Finally, if you REALLY want your film to be a super-hit, make a tribute to Chiranjeevi or Pawan Kalyan in your film. Emphasize that no one can beat them and that they are the best.

And there you go, this is the formula for a super blockbuster Telugu mass entertainer!

Don’t forget to thank me in your ‘best film’ award acceptance speech. Or you can just thank Chiranjeevi and Pawan Kalyan. That will be even better for your next film.

Must Watch Indian Films of 2014

Soon we will be entering the new year. Let’s look back at the most memorable films of 2014.

Unfortunately, 2014 hasn’t been a great year for Bollywood. There were only a handful of excellent films. The nice surprise was that a great many of these films were women-centric which reflects not only the women-empowerment movements in India but also a sign that women have entered a new stage in Indian cinema. Women not only carry whole films on their shoulders but their films also do well at the box office. Here are the best of 2014.

Kangana

Queen

A brilliant performance by Kangana, Queen shows the transformation of a repressed girl into an empowered, confident woman. Queen is about finding oneself and going beyond the limitations that are imposed by ourselves and society. Inspiring yet never preachy, Queen both entertained us and taught us a lesson. We’re expecting Kangana to win accolades at awards for this one.

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Haider

Haider made a quiet arrival onto the cinema screen and then took the country by storm. With an amazing cast and powerful performances, Vishal Bhardwaj made a most memorable Hamlet adaptation. Shahid Kapoor took us by surprise with an excellent performance and dialogue delivery. Tabu hypnotized with her presence.The film had a compelling setting in Kashmir in the mid 90s.

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Highway

Highway released early in the year but its impact has still not ended. A beautiful story about healing and finding courage, Highway taught us to see beyond people’s appearances and search for happiness wherever it may be. Alia Bhatt gave a powerful performance in only her second film and Randeep Hooda showed us once again what a brilliant and natural actor he is. Highway is perhaps the best film of Imtiaz Ali.

In comparison to Bollywood, regional cinema has been a notch or two better. There were numerous excellent films released in the South industries, especially Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil. Here are the ones you should not miss.

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1: Nenokkadine 

A rare genre for Telugu cinema, 1: Nenokkadine is a psychological thriller in which reality and dream mix. Mahesh Babu put
forward an outstanding performance of a man who listens to his heart to find the truth despite everyone opposing him. An action entertainer on the outside, 1: Nenokkadine is also a film about a child in search of his family and his memories. Kriti Sanon made a memorable debut with her charming presence. Thrilling and entertaining, this film ought not be missed.

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Manam

A mash-up of love stories threaded with the theme of reincarnation, Manam is an interesting take on family and bonds. Made in a style of ‘back to the future,’ Manam gives us an entertaining look into what it would be like to meet the younger versions of our parents. Manam is worth watching for the three generational presence of the Akkineni family and particularly for the performances of Nagarjuna and Shriya Saran.

How Old Are You

How Old Are You is a fantastic Malayalam film along the lines of English Vinglish and Queen. It’s about a 36 year old woman rediscovering herself and stopping her concessions to family and society to follow her ideals and succeed. It’s a beautiful and entertaining film about self-realization and it also has an important social message. If you enjoyed Queen, make sure you catch this film.

Another must watch Malayalam film, Ohm Shanthi Oshaana is about a Christian girl falling head over heels with a Hindu farmer. Both sweet and entertaining, Nazriya Nazim’s charm, Nivin Pauly’s looks and the entertaining story telling keeps one entertained throughout.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshi: The Indian Sherlock Holmes

Sushant Singh Rajput and Dibakar Banerjee for Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (to be released 13 February, 2015)

Detective Byomkesh Bakshi, a Dibakar Banarjee film produced by Aditya Chopra and starring Sushant Singh Rajput, is set to release on February 13, 2015. The film is based on the works of  Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay who wrote 30 some stories featuring the fictional detective Byomkesh Bakhshi. Byomkesh Bakshi is sometimes called the Indian Sherlock Holmes and not surprisingly as Bandyopadhyay was greatly influenced by the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most popular fictional characters and it is fascinating because it has maintained its popularity for over 100 years. I am reading “the Canon,” the major works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the famous detective, and they are wonderful.

Although the popularity of Sherlock Holmes never flattened at any point, there seems to be a re-emergence of its popularity. It has been remade countless of times in a variety of works in many countries. But I attribute this recent popularity to the Sherlock Holmes films and more specifically to BBC’s Sherlock, which I wrote about recently. The BBC series and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance has been one of the most fascinating and influential things I have come across lately. The last I found myself so excited about something was a few years back when I saw Manichitrathazhu. There is even an American version of the Sherlock series called Elementary.

Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes (2009)

BBC’s series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (2010-present)

CBS’ Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (2012-present)

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Rajeev Khandelwal, dressed to look like BBC’s Sherlock, in Samrat & Co (2014).

This worldwide re-emergence of love for our favorite detective has also found enthusiasts in Indian cinema. This year we had the release of Vidya Balan’s Bobby Jasoos, which wasn’t actually a crime thriller at all and Samrat & Co starring Rajeev Khandelwal, a sad attempt to copy BBC’s Sherlock. There is another such film directed by Anurag Basu and expected to release in August 2015, Jagga Jasoos, starring Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor. I expect little from that film. But next up is perhaps the crime thriller with the most potential and also carrying the most risk, Dibakar Banarjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. The film will be a period film, taking place in the 1940s, similar to the films starring Robert Downey Jr. It is not a modern version like BBC’s Sherlock.

I have not read the original Byomkesh Bakshi stories. When I first heard of this film, my first response was “Oh no.” I felt it was a bad move. It’s such a risk to take on such a well known fictional character, especially when there are such amazing international productions out there on him already.

Rajit Kapoor in and as Byomkesh Bakshi, a TV series that ran in 1993 and 1997.

But this is not the first time that the Indian audience will see Byomkesh Bakshi on screen. There was a critically acclaimed television series called Byomkesh Bakshi that ran in 1993 and 1997 starring Rajit Kapur. Apparently, the series were quite good– intelligent, thrilling and humorous. There were also numerous films based on the character in the 60s and 70s. And more recently, an Anjan Dutt film in 2010. Surprisingly though, Bollywood has not produced much on the fictional detective. Most of the adaptations have come from Bengali regional cinema.

It would silly to think of this project as a copy of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. For Doyle himself was heavily influenced by Edgar Allen Poe’s fictional character, Detective Dupin. When it comes to literature, and films, almost everything has been done before, somewhere, somehow. We are never getting something completely original. And that’s fine as long as it is done intelligently, with class and value. My only concern is Sushant and whether he will be able to pull off this role. I believe he’s a good actor, perhaps a bit too young for this role, but then again, that’s what I thought about Benedict in Sherlock and I was completely wrong about that.

I think that Banarjee’s film might turn out very good if he follows the same path as the much successful TV series. I plan on watching Detective Byomkesh Bakshi with an open mind. I try to do that with every film regardless. I think you will too. Hopefully, it won’t disappoint.

Sherlock Holmes fans in Japan. Literature, music and films have no boundaries.

The South Remake Wave in Bollywood – Why Don’t North Indians Watch South Films?

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I’m sure I don’t need to point out the trend in recent years to remake hit South films in Bollywood. Guess how many South remakes Salman has done in the last five years? As of Kick, it’s five: Wanted, Ready, Bodyguard, Jai Ho and Kick.

The latest Akshay Kumar release, Holiday, which is apparently having a good run at the box office, is a South remake as well. It’s the remake of the Tamil film Thuppakki starring Vijay. Ajay Devgan remade the Tamil film Singham and to-be-released Singham 2 as well, the originals starred Suriya. The fantastic Malayalam film Drishyam starring Mohanlal is remade into Hindi as well.

Other recent South remakes include Rowdy Rathore, Ramaiya Vastavaiya, Ek Deewana Tha, Heropanti and Pizza (to-be-released). Prabhu Deva is said to have plans to remake Dookudu as well in the near future.

Now as someone who watches both Bollywood films and South films, I can’t say I’m too happy about this remake trend. I have absolutely no interest in watching the same film a second time with a new cast and language. I do watch some of them, for the purposes of this blog, to compare the remake to the original. But almost always (Heropanti being the exception so far), it’s a gruesome and terribly boring effort for me.

The strange part is that these South remakes do very well at the box office. And every time a new such film is released and labeled a hit, I sit here wondering “do North Indians not watch South films at all?” The answer is obvious: mostly no. Because if North Indians watched South films, these remakes wouldn’t be made at all. But why?

I’ve been watching films not in my native language for years.  I understand Hindi but I still don’t understand Telugu or Tamil or Malayalam. But I still watch films in these languages for the simple reason that they’re good and entertaining. I don’t think boundaries like language apply to cinema. And the fact that North Indians go and watch these remakes and make them hits shows that North Indians like the same type of scripts that South Indians like. These remakes are usually scene by scene copies of the original.

I’m not sure how long this South remake wave will continue for but I don’t think it’s going to die any time soon. Actually, remaking films from the South is not a new thing for Bollywood. It has been done for many decades. The same goes for the South film industries where many Hindi hits are remade. Telugu and Tamil industries often remake each others’ films as well. But still, more South remakes are made in Bollywood than Bollywood remakes in the South. Also, the frequency of South remakes in Bollywood have definitely increased compared to previous decades.

Check out my page Guide To Remakes to find out which films were remade in which industries.

Suicide in Indian Films

Has anyone noticed that suicide is a very common theme in Indian cinema? Especially in the past years, there seem to be a large number of films where one or more of the characters commit suicide or attempt to. Considering the frequency in which this concept is used, I’m not sure if Indian films discourage suicide or actually encourage it.

So why do characters commit suicide in Indian films?

3 Idiots

Due to Parental Pressure or Failure in School

The first film that comes to mind in this category is 3 Idiots. In the film, a student hangs himself for not completing a project on time and one of the main characters jumps out of the window of the building due to being rusticated from school. Another film, Chal Chalein shows a middle schooler jumping off of the roof of the school because his father doesn’t allow him to choose the section he wants.

Prema Katha Chitram

For Love

In Raanjhanaa, several characters slit their wrists to either prove their love or because they couldn’t attain their love. The Telugu film Prema Katha Chitram appears to criticize youngsters’ reasons for committing suicide but the heroine ends up slitting her wrist at the end of the film because she couldn’t attain her love. In the Malayalam film Geethanjali, the actress tries to kill herself and the boy she loves because he no longer wants her.

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Due to Mental Illness

In Karthik Calling Kartik, Karthik, who suffers from schizophrenia, plans to take pills and commit suicide because of depression and disappointment with his life. In 404: Error Not Found, a previous student has hanged himself due to ragging and the main actor hangs himself because of mental illness and disappointment. In the Tamil film 3, instead of seeking help for his schizophrenia, the main actor slits his throat to end his suffering and protect his wife.

Anjaana Anjaani

Due to Failure and Disappointment

Based on the real life story of Silk Smitha, the main character of The Dirty Picture commits suicide at the end of the film. The characters of Anjaana Anjaani attempt to commit suicide numerous times for various reasons. In the Bengali film Hemlock Society, the main character decides to commit suicide to “escape from pain and suffering” and goes to Hemlock Society to learn how to commit suicide properly.


I’m sure that there are many more examples I have not thought of at the moment. The messages given in these films about suicide can be argued but the reality is that several students acually committed suicide after seeing 3 Idiots. It is still not certain whether 3 Idiots played a role in their decision.

Some of these films aim to emphasize high suicide rates in India or try to show that suicide is not the solution. But does it really work? Do these films actually end up instilling suicide as an option in the minds of viewers facing the same problems in real life? What do you think?

Muslim Characters in Indian Films

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The Muslim commander in the Telugu film Magadheera, a film where Muslims were portrayed negatively.

I initially titled this post “Indian Films Are Mostly Unfriendly to Muslims.” But I started listing Indian films that portray Muslims in a good light and films that portray them in a bad light, the numbers came out fairly even. So I am completely changing my argument and saying that Muslims are portrayed in both a good light and a bad light in Indian films.

Some films that portray Muslims in a neutral or good light are:

(I’ve included films that portray both negative and positive Muslim characters as these are neutral and show that all Muslims are not the same)

  • Raanjhanaa
  • Delhi 6 
  • My Name is Khan
  • Well Done Abba
  • A Wednesday: Muslims represented as good and bad
  • Vedam (Telugu): Muslims represented as good and bad
  • New York: represented as good and bad
  • Chak De India
  • Jodha Akhbar

Some films that portray Muslims in a bad light:

  • My Name is Anthony Gonsalves: all of the Muslim characters in the film are underworld dons
  • Magadheera (Telugu): there is a scene where the commander of the Muslim army refers to his army as the “army of the devil.” This is a perfect example of giving negative messages through films
  • Sahasam (Telugu): Muslim characters are terrorists
  • Once Upon A Time in Mumbai (and sequel): Muslim characters are underworld dons
  • Vishwaroop (Tamil): Muslims portrayed as terrorists
  • Agneepath: Main Muslim character is negative
  • Kurbaan: Muslim characters are terrorists
  • Thuppakki (Tamil): Muslim characters are terrorists.

There is a tendency in films that portray Muslims in a bad light to show them as terrorists or underworld dons. Terrorism is the most common used subject in films with Muslim characters.

It’s great to see films that show Muslims in a good light. I hope to see more of these films. I wish that there were more Muslim characters in Indian films that are not about terrorism or the mafia. Examples already exist, for example, Ali in Dhoom and Imraan in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. In these films, the only thing pointing out the religious background of the characters are their names.

Cinema, like all arts, should be welcoming and friendly to all groups and beliefs. It’s great to make films on social issues and real life events. But cinema should be balanced and objective as much as possible because it is a far more effective medium than people realize. I believe that through films, we receive many messages about people and about the world that become a part of our subconscious. We may not even realize that these changes are occurring within us.  Stereotyping of groups in films is very dangerous and will have severe consequences. It’s a clear threat to social unity and must be avoided.

Hindi film My Name is Khan which portrayed Muslims positively

So I urge everyone here, whether you are a non-Muslim or Muslim to please avoid films where people are stereotyped or insulted. It doesn’t matter which group we’re talking about. If we continue to watch these films, filmmakers will never understand that they are doing something wrong. Cinema and the arts is a reflection of the society we live in and I wish all societies to be open and welcoming to every citizen regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Let’s not be democratic or free in name only. The actions of every single one of us make a difference.