Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No More Freedom of Speech...

By Anant Mathur (June 29, 2011)

It's disturbing to see that Political Correctness has taken away our Freedom of Speech and Expression.

Believe it or not Social Media is really messing up everyone's lives. The whole point, I thought, of Social Media was that it gave individuals a way to express themselves with others. But every few days you hear stories of people loosing their jobs because of what they wrote on twitter or facebook. Sometimes people write things as a joke but employer obviously lack a sense of humour and fire such individuals. Is everyone so afraid of bad publicity these days that they're willing to dictate what others have a right to say or not say?

A few days ago it was reported that the real reason Megan Fox is not in Transformers 3 is because Executive Producer Steven Spielberg had her fired. Megan apparently compared Director Michael Bay's on set demands to Hitler, when Bay told Spielberg he asked the director to "fire her right now". My first thought was that it's a publicity stunt because the story came out a week before the release of the film, it could have come out 4 weeks after the film released, but it didn't. If it is a publicity stunt, obviously it's in bad taste.

I find it odd that in today's times the Media can get away with slander and ruining reputations/careers, but the moment a celebrity says something it's totally blown out of proportion and the celebrity has to apologize or take back what they said, doesn't that defeat the purpose of Freedom of Speech and Expression. We supposedly live in a democracy, and the moment you stop someone from expressing themselves you're no better than a dictator telling them what they can or can't do. It should be up to individuals to decide if they want to believe or listen to what a celebrity is saying and decide for themselves whether it is right or wrong - and then if they feel it's wrong, they don't have to agree with it - but don't make the celebrity feel like they have no right to express their opinion. At the end of the day it's just that - Megan Fox's opinion of Michael Bay - it's not written in stone. One shouldn't have to resort to such tactics as having someone fired over it. I'm pretty sure Megan Fox didn't mean Michael Bay is going to have millions of Jewish people killed (because he wants a perfect race of people), not to mention the millions who weren't Jewish, like Hitler did.

What happened to the Jewish people was unfortunate and should never be allowed to happen again. How easily people forget that not too long ago the British controlled India for close to 200 years looting and killing millions - yet Indians have forgiven them. Perhaps Mr. Spielberg can learn something about forgiveness and not be so jumpy every time some says "Hitler".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending Megan's comments by any means, but last I checked she had a right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. I'm sure in the future she'll be more aware knowing how every little thing is blown out of proportion these days.

In 1998, a Hindi film with the title "Hitler" was released, the film has nothing to do with Hitler, it's called that because a Jailer is compared to Hitler. There are many more such examples, should these films and other materials be banned because someone mention a devilish man named Hitler. I would like to believe we have grown enough as a civilization not to be offended by the mere mention of Hitler, so much so that we're not filled with savage rage when we hear the name. How long is Mr. Spielberg going to hold a personal grudge against a dead man who know one cares about any more. You made a great point with an amazing film called Schindler's List about 18 years ago, let's leave it at that. We have the Al Qaida to deal with now, let's concentrate on the present and stop beating a dead horse over something as minuscule as a celebrity's opinion.

Until this incident I was really looking forward to watching Transformers 3 on the big screen, but if this is how shallow and closed minded Mr. Spielberg and Hollywood are (and worst yet if this is a publicity stunt), I don't think I'll be visiting the Cinema Halls this summer to watch Transformers 3 or any other film Mr. Spielberg is connected with in the future.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tip # 26: Marketing

By Anant Mathur (June 24, 2011)

Filmmakers in India have the media convinced and are now trying to convince their audience how important marketing is to a film's success. Well, marketing is important in places like North America where films cost over 100 million dollars, but Indian films are no where near that number. When you're making films for 10 million dollars it doesn't make sense to spend 25 or 50 million dollars on promoting it especially since no Indian film has ever collected 100 million dollars. The highest grossing Bollywood film has collected less than 45 million dollars worldwide. Even though more people watch films in Cinema Halls in India yearly, We must take into account that India also produces more films than any other country - hence the revenue that would go to 500 films in North America is divided amongst 1500 films in India. Producing more films is actually hurting the industry since they lack content.

In North America a bad film that's marketed well can run for weeks - the movie going culture is different, people have more disposable income and they like outings with their friends. In India most people go with their families and it's not marketing that matters it's the story, if the story is dull no amount of marketing or star power can help it run more than one weekend. Recent examples of this include big budget films like "Thank You", "Dum Maaro Dum", "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey", "Guzaarish", "Kites", "Action Replayy", "Game" and "Blue" which had star power and good marketing but each failed to click at the box office. If marketing worked in India 90% of films wouldn't fail each year - this figure alone tells us that marketing isn't helping these films. Marketing couldn't save the recent releases "Always Kabhi Kabhi" or "Luv Ka The End" - both made by reputed production houses.

On the other hand films without big marketing budgets that have interesting stories are making a dent at the box office and they don't have star power either. Recently we saw some of these in the shape of "Haunted - 3D", "Tanu Weds Manu", "Ragini MMS", "Peepli [Live]".

A good film will work from the first promo itself - take "Dabangg" and "Yamla Pagla Deewana" as examples. The audience was sold on both these films from the first promo after that there was no need for any further marketing. From there it was word of mouth. Once the audience entered the cinema halls they were entertained for 2+ hours and at the end of the day that's what they are seeking... entertainment. The audience is beginning to accept that a film doesn't need to be an original idea as long as it's presented in a new way & entertains them.

The bottom line is, a good film markets itself, no gimmicks are required to pull in the audience when you have a good story. It's bad films that require marketing and wrongly spelled titles for numerological reasons. Good films will succeed, always!

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tip # 15: Predictability

By Anant Mathur (June 16, 2011)

I truly feel film like "The Sixth Sense (1999)" and "Memento (2000)" have spoiled the audience. Because in a way these films are training the audience and giving them the ability to predict what is going to happen next. You may not realize it while watching films, but your eye sees something new and your mind remembers, so the next time you watch a film with a familiar theme or situation your mind will automatically remember and react. You will realize what's happening and be able to predict what will occur next.
As good as the story of "Inception (2010)" is, it could've been better. The main problem with Inception is there are too many twists - when a story has too many twists the audience has no reason to believe anything on the screen and the story becomes predictable because they can figure out that what they're watching is not real it's going to be another twist, and feel a little disappointed. It's better to have one really good twist in a story than to have too many twists and make it predictable. While watching inception I felt that if it didn't have so many twists I wouldn't have figured out what was going to happen next. 

Take the films "Saw (2004)" and "Saw II (2005)" for example - all through the films you're shown certain events unfolding and you believe everything you see to be true, but right at the climax there's a really good twist and everything you thought is totally useless and you're given a really great ending. With too many twists the ending is never as great as it could be because there are too many scenarios floating around and after seeing all the directions the story could have taken, if the ending isn't perfect chances are the audience will be disappointed.

As a screenwriter or filmmaker you have to be very alert nowadays. Let's take a scenario where your hero's wife is in danger or dying - the hero spends the whole film trying to find a way to save her - right away your audience is thinking that by the end of the film he will save her, it doesn't matter how he does it the audience already knows the end and snoozes through the film (that is if they decide to stay). They've seen this scenario a thousand times, it would be a much more convincing story if his wife died and he has to find a way to go on, now he has a more realistic problem to deal with. Or the story could continue in another dimension where his wife is still alive, something that the audience isn't expecting.

A film with a title like "I Hate Luv Storys (2010)" reveals the whole story to your audience. Even without seeing the film I know that by the time it ends the character who hates love stories will find himself in one. Titles like "Angoor (1982)", "Mughal-E-Azam (1960)", "Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959)", "Chupke Chupke (1975)", "Dhoom (2004)", "Sholay (1975)" or "Teesri Manzil (1966)" work well because the audience has no idea what to expect and has no preconceived notions before they enter the cinema hall. Choosing the right film title is just as important as the story itself, you don't want to pick a title that reveals the whole story before the audience has a chance to see your film.

One of my pet peeves is when a writer or filmmaker says that he has written a story with a certain actor in mind. Right away I know there's no characterization, what I see on screen is going to be the actor - as I have seen him in hundreds of films - and not a character. It is the responsibility of every writer to create interesting characters and then find a suitable actor to play that character - actors should be challenged to deliver a performance they've never given before with each film, if you're just going to play the same romantic hero you've not grown as an actor and shouldn't be considered among the best no matter how good you're in one genre. 

Actors, writers and filmmakers need variety. If you made a comedy try a thriller next or a drama or a sci-fi film - even if you're not good you will learn a whole lot by giving it a try. Research is extremely important - it's surprising that with everything just the touch of a few keys away how many writers don't do any research for their stories. You don't know everything, but you can find out. If you're writing about a master thief who can open a safe in 10 seconds - you must know yourself how it's possible otherwise how will you convince the audience. 

You're probably not a master thief, but that's why research is so important. You need to know inside out how the safe works - what mechanism is used to open it and lock it, can it be opened in 10 seconds or does your character need 30, etc. etc.

Today it's not very easy to write an original story considering that most situations have been used in the thousands of films released over the last 10 decades, what one must remember is that even if you're telling a story that's been told before, it's predictability is what's going to keep the audiences from staying or leaving. The less predictable it is the more likely it is that the story will find an audience.
© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Most Overrated Bollywood Films

By Anant Mathur (June 05, 2011)

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't seen the following films continue at your own risk:
Housefull, Krrish, Jab We Met, Dhoom 2, Chachi 420, Chak De India, Dostana, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mother India, Aisha, Memento, Kal Ho Naa Ho.

A good story is something that starts at one point and ends up in a completely different place. If a story starts at one point and comes back full circle, what was the point? In the film Aisha for example, it starts with a wedding, the moment the sequence started I said, I bet this will end with a wedding - that's how I knew it was going to be lame and I was right! If a film ends up where it starts, you just wasted 2.5 hours of the audiences time and there was no growth in the story. An example of a movie where you can see growth very easily is Memento. We are given a character who can't remember anything - this makes him seem weak at best, but as the story progresses and he learns more about what has happened he becomes stronger, to the point where he's able to take charge of his life and get his revenge.

In this post I wish to tell you about some Bollywood films I feel are overrated. Although some of these films fared well at the box office initially their content is not solid enough to consider them among the best since they lack repeat value. Watching them more than once actually hurts the brain.

Housefull (2010)
Director: Sajid Khan
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, Ritesh Deshmukh, Lara Dutta

Many people, espcially Akshay Kumar, would have you believe that Housefull was a box office success but the truth of the matter is... a film that costs the distributors 60 crores (Budget+Prints+Publicity) and gives them returns of less than 45 crores can't be considered a success in any part of the world. Housefull is one of the least funny films I have ever seen, I think I laughed maybe once at most and I wouldn't even call that a laugh, it was more a chuckle. There's no originality in the film what so ever, every joke in the film has been done thousands of times in the past. Forget the lack of creativity, some films are enjoyable even if they're rip-offs of others because they entertain, but Housefull doesn't even do that, it just leaves you disgusted and wondering how Sajid Khan is allowed to make films.

Krrish (2006)
Director: Rakesh Roshan
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Rekha, Naseeruddin Shah

Just because it's the first Superhero film to come out of India doesn't mean it has to be horrible. If comic books and Superhero films didn't exist, I could understand a film like Krrish. But we live in a world where thousand of Issues of comic books are released yearly and a variety of Superheroes come alive on the silver screen each year - not to mention the classics made in the 70s and 80s. If Bollywood writers aren't experienced in writing a Superhero films they shouldn't be scripting them. It takes a lot of knowledge and not merely super powers to make a superhero story come alive. You have to be passionate about comic books and this genre. Superheroes are probably the most complex and multi-dimensional characters. In Krrish we are only shown the story of Krrish there's nothing else, from what I saw there's no difference between Krrish and the numerous Cop films made in Bollywood, Krrish could just as well been a Police Officer - there's no real conflict. There needs to be an underlying motif or theme which effects the hero to put on a certain costume they don't just pick up a mask at a circus, save a kid from a fire and become super - firemen do this everyday! When I read or watch Superman, Spiderman, Batman or X-men I see the main character in conflict plus the stories of many other characters who may not be present but their essence and importance can be felt throughout the story. There's a back story which explains why the main character becomes a superhero and circumstances which cause them to get their powers and use them for good and not evil. Why doesn't Krrish just rob a bank and help his friend save his sister? Why is he good?

Jab We Met (2007)
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Starring: Shahid Kapur, Kareena Kapoor, Pawan Malhotra, Dara Singh, Kiran Juneja

As love stories go, this film will never appear on any of my list accept perhaps the worst love stories of all time. I hate it when a filmmaker fails to communicate with the audience - JWM suffers from this in abundance. What is the point of stretching a story for almost 2.5 hrs when it could've been told in 10 minutes, all you end up doing is copying other films to extend your story. How I wish Bollywood filmmakers would learn to write short films before they start with full length feature - writing short films teach you how to tell a story quickly and gives you the ability to see what prospect a story has (if it should be a short film or has the possibility to be feature length). I would rather that they tell 10 short stories in 2.5 hours than bore us with a 2.5 hrs story that could have been told in 10 minutes.

Dhoom 2 (2006)
Director: Sanjay Gadhvi
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Uday Chopra

As exciting as this film was to watch I can tell you exactly where each and every frame of this film is copied from, it's one of the most unoriginal action films ever made. But again, it's a Yashraj film, so one expects no originality here. Will we ever get a Bollywood action film which doesn't have stunts copied frame by frame from an Hollywood film?

Chachi 420 (1997)
Director: Kamal Hassan
Starring: Kamal Hassan, Tabu, Om Puri, Amrish Puri

I know a lot of people who love this Mrs. Doubtfire remake, but I for one can't stand it. I think this film is watchable once but not more than that. For some reason though it's constantly on TV. Even the original (Mrs. Doubtfire) is no great film, it's worth watching once, but there's no repeat value.

Chak De India (2007)
Director: Shimit Amin
Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Vidya Malvade, Sagarika Ghatge, Chitrashi Rawat

As sports films go this one certainly leaves a lot to be desired. I love good sport films, I have seen hundreds of them, this one makes a mockery of a great genre. I know Bollywood filmmakers have started to delve in different genres, but until you understand a genre and what is required, please stay away from it. You can't  make a sport film unless you know everything about the said sport or at least have done the required research - sadly, as with most Indian films, it's obvious that not an ounce of research went into making this film, it's a childish attempt at best as the film tries to capture the excitement we felt while watching the cricket match in Lagaan, but fails miserably.

Dostana (2008)
Director: Tarun Mansukhani
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham, Bobby Deol, Kirron Kher

As sex comedies go this one is alright - but I still feel it got too much attention. It's a one time watch and doesn't deserve the attention it received.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
Director: Karan Johar
Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Salman Khan, Neelam, Anupam Kher

It may be Karan Johar's first and most beloved film but it's not one of my favourites. I actually feel KJO's best is Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (his worst Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna). The only saving grace of this film is Kajol's performance.

Mother India (1957)
Director: Mehboob Khan
Starring: Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar

I personally think Mother India is one of the most terrible films to come out of Bollywood. It's certainly no classic. Mother India was filmmaker Mehboob Khan's remake of his own 1940 film Aurat. This rural story may have touched the hearts of millions in the 40s and 50s - it was a different era. Some films work in the period when they are released and can't stand the test of time, Mother India is one of them. If Mother India were to release today, and not in 1957, it would be a box office failure.

Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)
Director: Nikhil Advani
Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta, Sonali Bendre

The only saving grace of this film is it's editing - without it's crisp editing techniques Kal Ho Naa Ho wouldn't have had the success it did. Barring that the story has very little to offer and gets predictable after a short time. The songs of this film have been so overplayed that even they get annoying now.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved