Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Decline of Artistic Merit – VI – How a Duet Became an Item Number

I was meaning to write this a long time ago but kept postponing, lazy procrastinator that I am. (Sometimes I think if I win an award it will be for being an "Outstanding Procrastinator of the Year 2010," or, something such.) Anyway, now I have got my lazy bones to inch towards the computer keyboard let me see what I can do to justify the pompous title. Yes, whatever made me want to write about the decline of artistic merit? As if I was an expert on it.

Well, hm, heck, I will leave that to the critics.

Chandralekha is a pretty script writer of Hindi movies with a genius for words and images. People tell her she has a sort of vulnerable look that appeals to men. She often manages to create very effective imageries from her words to inspire her directors to be called avant garde and even new wave – after the movie is made, of course – which they proudly lap up as their achievement. She has written many scripts, all hits, credits for which were snatched by the undeserving directors themselves. She has written the following scene which occurs at a point of denouement in the movie script that she is working on for an up-and-coming Bollywood movie director. The movie is about romantic love between two youths hailing from different states, therefore different cultures.


Hero (Mallu) and heroine (Hindi) are sitting on a parapet near the sea and they are supposedly talking intimately and singing a duet, rather a faux duet imitating stars of yesteryears, playfully cavorting around trees, and all. The heroine is an aspiring dancer and she executes a few dances moves in faux Bollywood style, trying to convey her contempt, rather cynicism of the medium. The Mallu hero tries to do a few steps in the manner of a successful Mallu star. By mocking Bollywood and Malluthengu (yeah, my coinage meaning Malayali Thengu [coconut tree, since mostly Kerala has this variety of wood]) rather than endorsing it they try to convey the freedom of modern Indian youth to laugh at themselves and at their stars. So they – Mallu hero and Hindi heroine – bungle the dance in a heart-rending way and laugh at themselves and have a good time. (Chandralekha feels this will give the movie a new twist, a new angle as yet unexplored in the annals of Bollywood-isms.)

That's the scene.

Then the harassed looking director, who is a horny-as-horny-can-get guy, who has a permanently leery grin plastered on his face, intervenes. He wants to convert the scene into a beach-side item song with naked women in briefest of bikinis dancing to a throbbing beat wearing glares and playing around two huge and suggestively kept, what else, coconut trees, with gazebos, deck chairs, balloons and white-skinned women dancers – nobodies from Russia, Rumania and Latvia out to grab a few bucks when they are on holiday in India.

"But sir, I wanted it to be a very dramatic scene in the movie, something that would be so ironical it will strike a chord in the viewer's mind."

"Iron, iron, what iron?" He is deliberately mocking and hectoring. He knows the meaning of irony but is playing a clown to distress Chandralekha.

"Sir don't change it into that item girls shit. It is over done, the scene I have written is quite novel."

"Who says so?" Which actually means, "How dare you disagree with me?"

"Sir, I am doing something innovative, remember you said you wanted some fresh new ideas?"

"But where else will I place my item number and you know every movie these days has to have an item number."

"Well, then you can place it at the end like in 'Slumdog Millionaire'."

"That wasn't an item number, that was a regular number."

"Why do you think so?" She adjusts her black tresses behind her ears.

"Because all the girls wore regular dresses not bikinis. I need girls in bikinis, about a hundred of them, so every man in the audience gets sexually aroused." He leers, the stupid man.

Chandralekha couldn't believe her ears. Was she hearing things? Or, more importantly was he okay? She knew he has a reputation. But so blatant a statement? Or was he trying to make a pass at her?

No, no, no, not the latter. Dear God! She prayed.

"Sir, but I want this scene in the movie as I have written it, or I want out."

"Okay, you are out then," he said without hesitation, "don't come from tomorrow. I have my standby script writer Tripathi-ji who will carry on from here."

Chandralekha packs her bag and quits. The movie, like all Bollywood movies, gets made in a patchy and erratic sort of way and the result: another flop of the "Blue", "Kites", and "Chandni Chowk..." whatever.

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