Friend of mine (who I met on Clubhouse) pings me into a room run by actors and film “enthusiasts”. These enthusiasts are a substantial chunk of the Indian population and the literacy level doesn’t really matter. Someone with a good score from an Institute of Good Repute with a Bachelors Degree in a Hard Science shares the same appreciation as a laborer from a mud house in the deepest recesses of Bihar. In that way, this art is indeed universal.
One of the problems of being alive in 2021 is that wherever you live, you live in America. The boundaries of your cultural consumption are defined by the latest fad coming out of the incredible marketing machine of the United States. It’s only a matter of to what quality and to what degree it is aped and modified. The modifications have produced incredible results, the aping not so much (spare me the point of one not existing without the other)
India insists on importing the worst quality ideas formulated in the worst way possible for some reason, I don’t know why. So the US has Roger Ebert and we have Rajeev Masand. Considering that Rajeev is the pinnacle of fame when it comes to Indian Cinema criticism, consider the quality of the average Bollywood movie. This consideration is easy because there is no quality worth mentioning.
None of this has anything to do with the hundreds of thousands of people who work very hard in the industry, trying to do their best to satisfy the demands of the market. Once you get past the immediate middle class knee-jerk reaction to copying, even the fact that all the nostalgic ideas your parents had about Bollywood songs from the 70’s to the 90’s were copied is easy to get used to. I just wish the liked of Burman et al. had done more public acknowledgment of their lifts from the Western classical and modern canon.
And sure, the industry is extremely incestuous and nepotistic but who said it’s not supposed to be this way? I notice that the majority of the people espousing such an opinion are, like me, surrounded by the trappings of the Professional Managerial Class. These folks are the ones living in an artificial world of meritocracy, meanwhile the real world has always been intensely nepotistic (consider monarchies across the world across history). Yes the industry is nepotistic and the usual characteristics associated with nepotistic environments emerge. The sons and daughters are, at best, intensely mediocre and meanwhile the film “enthusiasts” say things like “the audience will accept or reject but they still work hard” meanwhile there is a 50 year old assistant director with 8 movies to his name who can’t catch a break. It took an outsider, Priyanka Chopra, to make it all the way to the US and make a name for herself there. Good on her.
It’s a chicken and egg problem. Is the content really bad and people have learnt to love it? Or is the industry meeting the audience demand perfectly?
One thing is happening for sure, the old generation is dying and usually that’s a good thing. Indians are now wealthier, more educated and with more exposure to what’s available when it comes to movies and TV shows (thanks to Amazon & Netflix) and are making the same demands. Even though it might take Sonam Kapoor 5 attempts to break through to a role people actually talk about (and maybe it always will), there are simply more movies and TV shows for those whose last name isn’t Khan or Kapoor to express their talent.
That can only be a good thing and I’m looking forward to it.
Note: This article was originally published on personal blog of the author on Substack.