It’s Friday, the day when new movies hit the movie theatres and the film world hopes like hell that all of us will scurry to the box office and buy tickets for the week’s releases. The news this Friday is that all the theatres with James Cameron’s Avatar are full. There were 700 prints of Avatar released throughout India and, in case you were wondering, that’s a staggeringly high figure. Aside from the English version, there Avatar in Tamil, Telugu and a bunch of Indian languages so making it the biggest Hollywood release in India so far. It’s a big deal, and not just because of the amount of money spent on Avatar and how Fox must be desperate to recover the $ 230 million (nope, no typos there) that the madman Cameron has spent making this movie. (Though, if this New Yorker profile is anything to go by, then the suffering inflicted by Cameron upon Fox is more than financial. At some point in the making of the movie, Cameron had a message for the Fox executive via one of the producers, “Tell your friend he’s getting fucked in the ass, and if he would stop squirming it wouldn’t hurt so much. “) What is significant, though, is that Fox is clearly looking at India to supply some noticeable percentage of the earnings from Avatar.
This is weird. Because traditionally, Hollywood has accepted that this is one of the few countries where it doesn’t stand a chance. Till about five years ago, English movies came to India monstrously late and hideously-edited, if they came at all. The first movie to be released in India at the same time as the rest of the world was The Matrix Revolutions. Hollywood producers ignored blatant remakes of their films by Indian filmmakers, probably because it would cost more to sue my brethren than the compensation that they’d get from the chastened party. There was no money to be made in India, despite its English-speaking population, because we like song-and-dance extravaganza. Bollywood ruled. This weekend, however, no Indian producer wanted to release their film because of Avatar and Rocket Singh, released by one of Bollywood’s biggest production houses, may well be booted out. It’s sad, not because Avatar shouldn’t make money, but because Rocket Singh is an extremely well-made film. Mostly when we say a Bollywood flick is good, we mean that it’s better than the average nonsensical fare this industry serves up. Rocket Singh, however, could hold its own against any other indie movie from any part of the world. The acting is natural, the story is realistic, the characters are real, the dialogues are crisp and credible and its flawlessly paced until the last ten minutes. Director Shimit Amin used locations that anyone who lives in India will recognise. From the peeling posters on the wallsspeckled with old paint, to the characterless-cubicled 0ffices, these are places we have all around us and they’ve been shot beautifully. The only weak point is the end, which felt somehow off-key, but that’s just about five minutes. For two and a half hours, Rocket Singh is superb. It’s insightful, cleverly-observed, frequently funny, idealistic and everyone who has ever been in a dead-end job will feel like Shimit Amin’s protagonist is their homeboy.
However, if Rocket Singh makes it through this weekend, it’ll only be because the producers are buying out theatres and that’s tough to do because all theatres want Avatar. They want the blockbuster and apparently, everyone is going to see Avatar. Rocket Singh doesn’t stand a chance, it’s being said even though everyone who has seen it has loved it. But it’s understated, realistic, unspectacular in terms of effects and essentially, more (indie) Hollywood while Avatar is fantastical, ludicrous, and in spirit and intention, somewhat Bollywoody (but for the spectacular special effects although there are those who could claim Jaadu was Na’vi 1.o). So even though it may look like the world is changing when Hollywood finally notices India, actually the world isn’t changing. The good indie flick remains small and the blockbuster still wins. It’s just that now that we’ve been allowed into the global village, our big guys don’t look so big next to the really big guys and our little guys look punier.