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Home » Bollywood » Latest News

Bollywood: the next generation

Call it Bollywood’s new swagger.

Once dismissed as being extravagantly over-the-top, the Indian film industry is on the receiving end of a global love-in: Bollywood dancing is now a genre on So You Think You Can Dance, and Bollywood stars are popping up everywhere – from Oprah to the Oscars red carpet.

But the fate of contemporary Bollywood masala films is in the hands of its audience, says director Rohan Sippy, and it pays to be faithful to them.

“The more specific you are, the more universal you become,” he says. “If I try to make a film that a guy in Toronto might want to watch, you start hedging your bets.

“Also, India’s profile has changed so much in the last few years, that there is a lot of curiosity.”

With this new curiosity, a generation of filmmakers like Sippy are tweaking the script and experimenting with new narratives within the convention.

Take, for instance, his third feature film Dum Maaro Dum, opening in theatres across India and North America Friday. Sippy describes it as a “dramatic-suspense-thriller,” and with its inventive camera angles, gritty dialogue and non-linear plot structure, it’s not a typical Bollywood film.

Set in Goa, it follows the story of four characters – a police officer (Abhishek Bachchan), a student (Prateik Babbar), a musician (Rana Daggubati) and an aspiring flight attendant (Bipasha Basu) – whose intertwining lives are connected with the city’s drug-trafficking underbelly.

Unless they are filmed outside India, Bollywood shoots mostly take place on elaborate sets and don’t have to deal with crowd control. So it’s unusual that a big-budget film like Dum Maaro Dum was shot entirely on location.

“We did a lot of hand-held shots, trying to make it feel naturalistic. The audience might not be able to pinpoint it, but it adds up to a new grammar,” Sippy says by phone from Sound City in Andheri West, Mumbai, where he was putting the finishing touches on the film.

For a scene set in a night market, Sippy decided to film Bachchan guerrilla-style, following him with hidden cameras as he melted into the crowds.

“It’s such a focused social point in Goa, with 600 to 700 stalls and all this life around it,” says Sippy. “and I scoped out the night market four or five times, just trying to understand the technical challenges – shooting at night, a live crowd, trying to be invisible.

“You are really standing on a crevasse, things are not in your control. But there’s an excitement in pushing ideas and bringing them to life.”

A scion of a filmmaking family, Sippy has been steeped in the Bollywood tradition. His father Ramesh Sippy and grandfather G.P. Sippy were behind one of Indian cinema’s biggest blockbusters, Sholay (1975). Starring Bollywood legends Amitabh Bachchan (Abhishek Bachchan’s father) and Dharmendra (who goes by his first name) as two petty thieves hired by a former police officer to catch a vicious dacoit, it was India’s first “curry western” – the Bollywood take on spaghetti western.

In Dum Maaro Dum, Sippy has the younger Bachchan putting his own spin on a role often played his father, as a young cop fighting society’s evil.

The starting point, and source of vision for the whole project, was Raghavan’s script. Raghavan, a former journalist-turned-screenwriter, vacations in Goa a few times a year.

Beginning in 2006, he started noticing sporadic reports of crime there. Intrigued by the underbelly of a place otherwise considered a paradise, he wrote a film treatment in a novella form.

When Sippy got a glimpse of that early draft, he assembled a small crew.

“A bunch of us travelled to Goa by train, and hung around for ages,” Raghavan says. “A crucial plot point … camewith a lovely elderly lady who owned this beautiful 350-year-old bungalow. Bit by bit, the story got more layers. That’s pretty much how it got made.”

Both Sippy and Raghavan grew up in an era of Indian cinema that saw films stay in theatres for years at a time. Everything about those movies was larger than life – but now audiences are looking for something more than the same old story.

“The multiplexes have opened up an avenue for filmmakers to do different things,” Sippy says.

“But that big classic Hindi film has not gone away either,” he continues, citing the recent success of Bollywood box-office hits 3 Idiots and Dabangg that drew “halls full of thousands of people.”

“And I hope it never does. Because that is really what is unique to our cinematic culture, this lovely blend of emotion, music, which comes together in our masala style.

“Evenhas a lot of modern sensibilities to it … but at the same time, music drives things in a very fundamental way thatcan relate to. I hope others also enjoy it. But it’s very much got our stamp on it.”

 

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