By Subhash K. Jha
My old friend and sensitive filmmaker Onir is heartbroken. This week his latest film “Kuch Bheege Alfaaz” bravely and defiantly produced by the music giant Saregama’s film branch Yoodlee Films, opened in shows at the most unearthly hours in selected multiplexes, while all the primetime shows went to “Padmaavat”, “Pad Man” and “Aiyaary”.
This is known as the big fish eating up, or at least sidelining, the small fish. Only the mighty survive. I’ve seen so many “small” films with a large heart being a victim of theatre-timings. How many people actually saw the highly-lauded “Masaan” or “Newton” in movie theatres?
So what happens to the small but significant films, the kind that has always struggled for space since Bimal Roy made “Kabuliwala” and Raj Kapoor made “Jagte Raho”? Today, when the number of theatres has grown so dramatically and the theatres are sophisticated venues of enjoyable engagement, the small significant cinema is still suffering in silence.
Last year there was Milind Dhaimade’s “Tu Hai Mera Sunday” that big-little charmer. It was one of the odd gems which we are lucky enough to get at least once a year in our cinema-going experience. That film got cent-per cent positive reviews with critics raving over the work. But did it help? No.
Why would a critically acclaimed film not get an audience? Because critics seldom make a difference to a film’s boxoffice destiny. If they did, the Oscar-nominated films would be flooded with audiences. Instead, theatres across the country screening Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape Of Water” and earlier Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” wore a gloomy, deserted look while “Black Panther”, the comicbook contraption of hideously inflated dimensions conveyed a seriously festive look as audiences clapped and cheered at the 3D monstrosity where everyone and everything was larger than life.
Well, if that’s what the ticket-paying audience wants, can theatres ignore the demand?
It is all very simple, really. If you want to conquer the masses through a movie, fill the theatre with sound and fury signifying “nothing” beyond the “something” that cinema was always meant to convey. As for Onir and his “Kuch Bheege Alfaaz” it must find an audience beyond the massive infrastructure of the film bazaar.
Maybe the internet is a solution. But then I saw this delicate fragile tender film first on the small screen and then in the cinema. All the delicacy, fragility and tenderness is lost on the small screen. So what do we do? Where does Onir take his creative impulses? This is a question which has not found an answer since the beginning, all those who are unable or unwilling to do mainstream cinema.