Cinema as a storyline

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

I’m looking for those films in India because it is the biggest movie producer in the world, with an estimated 800 films annually. Producers are constantly under pressure to deliver prints to movie theatres not only at home but abroad as well. It is therefore understandable why film producers love financing screenplays about the art of making movies.

It is killing two birds with one stone. The cameras, lights, sets, extras, crew are right there, so it is faster to make a movie such as Om Shanti Om, directed by Farah Khan and produced by Gauri Khan. Hats off to Gauri Khan for assembling all those busy actors for a shoot on the same day! Such movies might be popular with producers but they delay the making of just one million original films in our lifetime.

Om Shanti Om is an educational movie for film students because it is the Lamborghini of films where cinema is the story line. It even takes a walk down memory lane and makes fun of scenes when the hero fights animals for example, Mr. Natwarlal, directed by Rakesh Kumar. In Om Shanti Om, Om, played by Shah Rukh Khan and his friend Pappu fight a toy tiger, which was a real scene played by Amitabh Bachchan in Mr. Natwarlal. The same actor also had such a scene in Adalat.

Om Shanti Om also recreates the scene in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay where Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) run away in the tricycle, laughing at their foes. Om Shanti Om doesn’t hide the fact that it is a film about producing films. In one scene Om says to Mukesh, played by Arjun Rampal. “As a maker, you must believe in the script Mukesh.”

Nikhil Advani’s film Salaam-e-Ishq is an unusual story line that has a tapestry of characters that meet at some point. Khamini, played by Priyanka Chopra is tired of being an item queen. She wants to be a tragedy queen and move into the big leagues with Karan Johar, a film director and producer.

She is so ambitious she tells her manager that she wants to be like Meena Kumari in the film Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Nargis in timeless Mother India and Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azaam. In fact, I bought two of these films because of Khamini in Salaam-e-Ishq. The owner of the video store where I buy my movies smiled and said, “You like old movies?” He is used to me now but I’m sure he still finds my interest in Indian cinema very strange.

There seems to be an obsession with Amitabh Bachchan the legendary actor in screenplays where cinema is the story line. He is a sub plot in Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam directed by K.S. Adiyaman, because Prashant, Radha’s brother is obsessed with Amitji and has a framed photo of him in the house that drives his mother crazy. He even has his photo on a tie and a t-shirt.

In Hum Kisise Kum Nahin directed by David Dhawan, Raja (Ajay Devgan) thinks there is a film shoot going on and grabs the gun of a real gangster, and Muna Bhai (Sanjay Dutt) the don, jokes with his men about blind justice in Anda Kanoon, starring Amitabh Bachchan.

In Khakee, directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, Inspector Shermar (Akshay Kumar) has a line about reality and the movies. “I’m tired of listening to such film stories. Father was a freedom fighter, mother used to teach children.”

Santoshi’s later film Halla Bol, explores a delicate terrain, actors’ support system i.e. their wives. We see them in awards ceremonies and film premieres but we don’t know how they handle living with somebody who works with beautiful actresses all the time. Vidya Balan’s character in Halla Bol severs all relationships with her husband Sameer (Ajay Devgan) when she catches him fooling around with an actress. The film also centres on actors and product endorsement.

Raja (Govinda) in Kyo Kii Main Jhuth Nahin Bolta, tries to impress Sonam (Sushmita Sen) in a department store with names of movie directors. It is interesting that Mumbai producers admit that they seldom have original screenplays. This is echoed by Saif Ali Khan’s character Deepak Kumar in Main Khiladi Tu Anari, when he complains about fluffy roles on his plate and demands tangible ones like the ones given to SRK, Jackie Shroff and Salman Khan.

WAQT, directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah also has film production as a sub-plot. Aditya, Akshay Kumar’s character is Ishwar’s (Amitabh Bachchan) only son. Aditya is forced to take odd jobs to feed his wife Pooja (Priyanka Chopra) when his father kicks him out of the main house, withdraws his credit card and money he used to have as the only son of a rich man. He ends up doing dangerous stunts like being chased by vicious dogs and being burnt, running away from explosions.

Atithi Jum Kab Jaoge, directed by Ashwini Dheer and starring Ajay Devgan and the talented Konkana Sen Sharma, also has cinema as a story line. Ajay Devgan’s character is a screenplay writer, working for an impossible director. In Kitne Door Kitne Paas, directed and produced by Mehul Kumar, the baggage man mentions Coolie and Coolie No. 1 as some of the films where his job is a story line.

In Bluffmaster directed by Rohan Sippy, the movie starts with a frustrated producer because the main actor, who happens to be his son, is not on set because he wants more money. It is early in the morning in order to get the best shots while the cruel sun is asleep. Extras are in costume, dolly tracks are on the ground, lights with tripods are ready, grips are laying cables basically, the set is ready but there is no main actor.

In a scene from Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, directed by Raj Kanwar and starring Aishwarya Rai as Sahiba, Ronnie, (Anupam Kher) Sahiba’s junior father is a cinema buff. He tries to impress Karan (Abhishek Bachchan) with his birds, which he has given actors’ names such as Shah Rukh Khan. He even mentions Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge starring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan.

Cinema as a storyline works well for audiences that know every film ever produced. For example, they understand what Anupam Kher’s character in Dhaai Akshar is saying about a film where a character is feeding pigeons because they saw Dilwale, and the opening scene where Kajol’s father(Amrish Puri) is feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London. The joke will fall flat to someone who has not seen it.


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