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Celebrating unreality

Friday, August 17, 2018

When it comes to festivals, Bollywood’s exaggerated portrayals often seem surreal­, says Tanmaya Vyas

If you have a brother and are planning to tie a Rakhi on Raksha Bandhan (August 26), you have exactly nine days to get ready. One part of the preparation, of course, is to buy a rakhi and these days there are a whole variety of them available – from simple red threads to designer rakhis made from gold or silver to even one with your photograph on it (presumably, so that your brother doesn’t forget what you look like).

This preparation aside, if you go by Hindi films, singing a cringe worthy, syrupy song underscoring the love sisters have for their brothers is absolutely mandatory. (Remember ‘Ye Rakhi Bandan Hai Aisa’ or ‘Behneno Bhai Ki Kalai Pe Pyar Bandha Hai’) And since you won’t have the advantage of a master lyricist, the soulful voice of a playback singer or a 40-piece orchestra, you have a challenge. So better start practicing those vocal chords.

Hindi films have a way of exaggerating most festivals. Which is fine, after all films are supposed to exaggerate reality. The problem starts when the portrayal in films stops being unreal and starts tending to surreal.

Dahi Handi, (this year on September 2) for example. If you have seen even a single dahi handi troop, you would have observed that the guy at the top of the pyramid (actually that should read person, considering the proliferation of women dahi handi groups), is generally, the smallest, most and agile person of the group. The reason is simple, if you are going to climb a six or eight storey human pyramid, the smaller the person on top is, the less weight the entire pyramid has to carry.

But this just won’t work for Bollywood, which has to use the occasion to showcase the machismo of the hero. So you have beefy guys like Shammi Kapoor in Bluff Master and Sanjay Dutt in Vaastav  on top of the pyramid. As someone quipped sarcastically, it was probably seeing such footage that the courts decided to put curbs on Dahi Handi celebrations.

Mumbai’s biggest celebration is the Ganesh festival. (On September 13, this year). The sheer energy and intensity of the festival, the huge numbers which participate, all make it ideal for Bollywood scriptwriters to include it in their blockbusters.

So, you have countless films where the hero is shown to be arch ‘Ganesh Bhakts’ accompanied by song and in recent years high intensity dances (it is Bollywood what do you expect?). But since Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya, a new trend has been added to the immersion scenes – murder. Agneepath, Shor in City showed similar scenes, which Vaastav and Aan, Men at Work used it as a background for shootings.

Earlier, the immersion scene use to be the backdrop of even more implausible plots of smuggling – (Hum Se Badhkar Kaun and Teen Ekkay.)

Then, of course there is Diwali, which falls on November 7 this year. Diwali celebrations as shown in movies could give any person in the audience an inferiority complex. The entire homes lit up that can give a ‘shocking’ electricity bill, cost of the costumes that actors wear could easily buy a one bedroom hall kitchen flat in Mumbai and the women wear so much jewellery as to make one wonder how they are able to walk, leave alone dance under all that weight.

It is not just major festivals, but even minor festivals result into massive celebrations on the screen The master of this genre is undoubtedly, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

An age-old tradition in Maharashtra of Haldi Kumkum (essentially a social gathering of married women) which is celebrated on Gauri Tritiya, the third day of the Hindu month of Chaitra. Comparatively a minor festival, it is blown to another level by Bhansali.

However, when the cast has two gorgeous heroines, why lose an opportunity to get them to dance, according to Bhansali’s logic. The result? The Pinga song and dance sequence with Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in Bajirao Mastani. Among the hundreds of historical anomalies about this was the fact that Kashibai, (Peshwa Bajirao’s wife, played by PeeCee in the movie) was arthritic and couldn’t walk properly, leave alone dance.

Similar to Chaitra Haldi Kumkum, North India has a tradition of Teej, celebrated on the third day of select Hindu months. Again, social gatherings of married women. Celebrations in Rajasthan involve the Ghoomar Dance; a golden chance for Bhansali to make his muse, Deepika Padukone dancing in his controversial film Padmaavat. The Rajput community rose up in arms over the dance sequence as it showed Queen Padmaavati’s (played by Padukone) midriff. Finally, Bhansali had no option to but cover this offending midriff by   post production computer graphic work.

Of course, Bollywood finds nothing wrong with these over-the-top celebrations. As Komal Nahta, Film Trade Analyst, says, “Over the years the depiction of festivals in Hindi movies has been pronounced and the trend has never toned down and is unlikely to be toned down even in the near future. The reasons are simple and basic; Indians love celebrations even in real life and thus even our movies show festivals in splendour. Secondly, music and songs are an integral part of our movies and festivals sequences are great excuses to showcase the grandness, as cinema is a visual medium. However, there is nothing wrong that film directors show about the festivals, just that the sequences are exaggerated.”

Such is the enormous impact that Bollywood has on society that what started off as art imitating (and exaggerating) life has now turned into life imitating art imitating (exaggerating) life.

A classic example is Karva Chauth, a festival praying for long lasting matrimony and a seven lives contract, which is up for renewal every year. The tradition also involves the wife (never the husband, remember patriarchal India) fasting for the whole day, praying for the husband’s long life and breaking the fast only after watching the moon through a sift. India may have launched a spacecraft to the Moon, but these regressive festivals continue to become increasingly popular thanks to Bollywood. So much so, that this writer knows of a few Gujarati Jain women as well as one Tamilian wife, who also celebrate this essentially north India tradition.

There is, it seems, is really no escape from the influence of Bollywood. Which brings us back to our original point. If you plan to tie a rakhi on your brother’s wrist in nine days’ time, start practicing your vocal chords as well!

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