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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'Filmfare And Cine Blitz' Flops On '100 Years Of Cinema'

By Deepanjana Pal (Guest Writer)

When I saw the “collector’s edition” of Filmfare on the newsstand, with Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Dilip Kumar on the cover and the words “100 years” printed in one corner, I was perplexed. Did someone have worse math skills than me? Bachchan’s 70 years plus Khan’s 47 and Kumar’s 90 definitely do not add up to 100.

It was only when I saw Vidya Balan on a nearby Cine Blitz cover, in a Mother India pose with the words “100 years” printed near her armpit, did I realise what both magazines were trying to commemorate — the centenary of cinema in India.

Raja Harishchandra, the first full-length Indian feature film and the one we can blame for starting a tradition of weepy, melodramatic stories in the industry now known as Bollywood.


Contrary to what the Filmfare cover suggests, 2013 doesn’t mark 100 years of Bollywood. In fact, the term Bollywood is just about 40-odd years old. It was coined in the Seventies, mimicking Bengali films’ Tollywood (most of the studios producing Bengali films were in the neighbourhood of Tollygunge in Kolkata), which in turn was a play upon Hollywood.

Some could argue that the fact that “Bollywood” as a word is a copy of a copy is rather telling as far as the industry’s output is concerned. But whatever anyone thinks of the quality of Bollywood films, it’s become as distinctively Indian as butter chicken. So magazines like Filmfare think they’re justified when they only mention commercial Hindi cinema while celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. Forget the thriving film industries in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Never mind the films of Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala.

But even if you think only about Bollywood, the arrangement of the Filmfare and Cine Blitz covers at my neighbourhood newsstand was, unwittingly, a rather poetic portrait of journalistic misogyny and narrow-mindedness.

On one hand, you have the Filmfare cover with three men and no babe, as if they sum up “100 years of cinema”. Then on Cine Blitz’s cover is Balan doing a Nargis and looking beautiful despite a miserable expression, strategically-placed splodges of dirt and a humble sari. To my mind, she’s inadvertently become a symbol of everyone whom the Filmfare cover has chosen to ignore: the women, the people who do the heavy lifting in the film industry, the technicians, the unglossy ones.

It’s an irrefutable fact that actors can (and do) sell us everything from potato chips to an entire state. Consequently, it’s inevitable that film magazines would choose to focus on stars rather than the subalterns of the film industry. My inner Leftist may roar in protest, but there’s no denying that star actors have become the most important aspect of Bollywood rather than a script or an editor or cinematographer. So a starry cover is not just predictable; one could argue it’s an accurate reflection of priorities in Bollywood.

What’s unfathomable to me is that Filmfare didn’t find anything odd about the absence of women in the edition of the magazine that’s supposed to celebrate the industry. If Bollywood has an international profile today, the ladies have played a significant part in this. After all, the only Indian film stars who have managed to break into Hollywood are actresses. Irrfan Khan wasn’t a star until The Namesake. Anupam Kher and Anil Kapoor play mostly bit parts in American films and TV while Aishwarya Rai has played the lead heroine in five foreign films. Yes, they’re godawful, but she is the lead. In contrast, the biggest Bollywood heroes do only stage shows for South Asian diaspora audiences.

At home, you cannot have a Bollywood film without at least one woman in it. Hers may be an irrelevant role with little dialogue and even less clothing, but the oh-so-awesome hero must have a woman on his arm. No one dares to make a film that doesn’t have a love scene or two. So how did Filmfare imagine they’d devote an entire issue on this industry without mentioning any of the women who make sure the Bollywood show goes on?

In comparison to Filmfare, Cine Blitz does a decent job of celebrating Bollywood’s leading ladies. From Fearless Nadia to Rekha, the magazine is full of admiration and gossip-fuelled awe at the commercial Hindi cinema’s unforgettable actresses. I ended up fondly YouTube-ing old songs by actresses like Suraiya, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Dimple and Rekha after flipping through the magazine. These women, however, get no nods of recognition from Filmfare.

In Filmfare, less than a handful of the industry’s women get a half-hearted wave at the back of the magazine, where the popular choice winners are listed. Among the woman mentioned is Lata Mangeshkar who is hailed as “Most Popular Playback Singer (Female).” That’s a bit of a joke, given she’s sung thousands of songs in 20-odd Indian languages in the course of a career spanning approximately seven decades. With her trademark white sari and neatly-plaited hair, she’s instantly recognizable at sight and no one who has listened to Hindi film music can confuse her melodious falsetto with anyone else’s. She’s not just the Most Popular Playback Singer (any gender) ever, if there is one living personality who could be the perfect cover model for a magazine edition celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema, it’s Lata Mangeshkar.

Filmfare, alas, only thought she was good enough for a mention at the back of the magazine.
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