For generations, we Indians have had one phrase for intelligent cinema – “English movie”. “Hindi movie” translated to Bollywood, rather than our frequently dour art film movement, with its penchant for senseless bad taste. All that was stupid, unrealistic, melodramatic, incoherent, illogical and – alright, I’ll admit it – occasionally fun, converged in glorious technicolour in a Bollywood film. It’s not as though we didn’t know Hollywood had its share of trash but the perception was that even their trash had more sense and better production value than most Bolly movie.
However, to quote Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, there are strange things afoot. I’m noticing a most disturbing trend in American filmmaking – they are looking east. It might be unconscious or, heavens forfend, it’s a considered decision. The reason I’m inclined to believe this Bollywoodification of English-speaking cinema is deliberate is that it’s happening too damn often. Not just that, respectable reviewers, like the New York Times’ movie critics, are liking these films.
Stephen Holden liked Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. If he had been asked to read out his review, it would have been a drooling gurgle like the kind emitted by an infant at the sight of a cute teddy bear. Intoxicating, he called it. Perhaps you need to be intoxicated to appreciate it. Populated by very pretty people (Jim Sturgess is delicious with about as much acting skill as a mop and Rachel Wood’s expressions live up to her surname), it was a song and dance extravaganza where the songs had barely any causality and nothing connected to the plot that held together as well as wet toilet paper (a la Bollywood). And what was the story? Brace yourselves – a love story. Naturally (once again, a la Bollywood, where all stories have to have a romantic angle). Plus, it had neatly choreographed riots and photogenic injuries and showed the turbulence of the 1960s like it was the whirlpool created when you pull the plug out of the bathtub. Never mind the trauma of seeing vapid copies of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin doing Beatles’ covers.
Moving on to Manohla Dargis who liked Enchanted. “An unexpectedly delightful revisionist fairy tale from, of all places, Walt Disney Pictures”, she wrote and said that the film didn’t make her want to reach for Taser. Oh, the betrayal! Now, I’m not one of those anti-Disney creatures. Some of my favourite childhood moments (Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, the 300-piece Snow White and the Seven Dwarves jigsaw puzzle) come from Disney’s oeuvre. However, this does not mean that I can appreciate Amy Adams doing the same joke repeatedly or feel feminist pride because a Disney heroine finally has a cleavage and (at the end) a sword. Not only was the story lame (fairy tale heroine pops up in our world), the twist in the tale (Amy Adams goes for Patrick Dempsey, leaving Prince Charming, portrayed brilliantly by James Marsden) made it absolutely unnecessary for Susan Sarandon to dress up for a fetish ball and turn into a dragon. But what the heck? So, in spite of the fact that there is nothing threatening Evil Stepmother’s (Sarandon) claim to the throne since Prince Charming isn’t marrying anyone, Sarandon turns into a purple CGI dragon all the same. Not just that, she does a King Kong and it is up for debate how good an Ann Darrow Patrick Dempsey does. And to add salt upon sore wounds, Amy Adams sings songs in Central Park as if her name is Karishma Kapoor.
Even David Cronenberg seems to have been touched by Bollywooditis. History of Violence was frighteningly low on logic and while Eastern Promises is a much better movie, there are some disturbing resemblances to Bollywood. While we’re very far from seeing any Indian man do Viggo Mortensen’s fight scene (thank god), the plot of the film moved pretty much exactly along the lines of the crime thrillers of the 1970s even if it was filmed with Cronenberg’s characteristic gory poetics. If A.O. Scott had seen Don, he would have found Eastern Promises a lot more predictable. Plus, not only does the bad guy end up being the good guy, he ends up kissing the girl! Why? What on earth was the need to randomly add that kiss at the end? It’s EXACTLY what happens in Bollywood. They show all this crackling tension between a man and a woman, forget it when the actual meat of the story starts cooking, and unnecessarily stick it on at the end, like garnishing (who needs a sprig of parsley on their steak?).
If Hollywood goes on like this, it’ll take all our 33 million gods to save English cinema. Fortunately, though, for the time being Daniel Day Lewis is drinking all our milkshakes.