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Are masala films making a comeback?

Are masala films making a comeback?
Can anybody make sense of these lyrics? These are just two lines from a song in the soon-to-be released movie, R…. Rajkumar, a film purportedly promising to be a three-hour-long ordeal, ensuring that the audience does not need to use their brains.

As the Indian economic situation goes through a period of depression, suppression, oppression and frustration, the audience, it seems, is also returning to a mood of escapist cinema. Cinema has always been considered a reflector of the society, and also, at the same time, a reflector of the society’s mood. With the economic slump striking deeper roots with every passing quarter,
Bollywood is back to the phase of masala films, in tow with nonsensical lyrics which are present just for the sake of words.

This year has seen the release of several such films, far outnumbering the non-masala films that have been produced. In economic terms, the return to the masala formula can be seen as an indication of the cycle we are following. Are we, by admitting that we prefer masala films over the ‘meaningful’ and ‘good’ flicks, returning to the 1990s – an era of bad movies and even worse scripts, storylines and lyrics?

The ’90s, especially the early part of the decade, were marked by frustration, unemployment and a whole generation of youth who wanted more from the government and the society at large. And as the calendar waits to be taken off and replaced with a new one for 2014, the scenario outside is not very different – there are job cuts in almost all sectors, industrial production has stagnated, economic growth just about hurtling through, the profits declining and the youth voicing their disappointment with the political-economic scenario.

Cinema is following suit. While the early ’90s saw a succession of revenge movies – Vijaypath, which introduced Ajay Devgn astride two bikes to the Indian audience, would be a typical example – the biggest hit of 2013 is a battle between
Krissh 3
and Chennai Express. Both movies came with an unwritten disclaimer – Do not use your brain!

At the same time, I am not saying good movies are not being made. In fact, there are quite a few of them – smart, intelligent, off beat.

The year saw some exceptional films like Madras Café and The Lunchbox, among a few others, by directors willing to experiment. But on a larger scale, which were the bigger hits?

With the preference tilting towards the masala, is the larger Indian audience saying that we will pay for three hours worth of cinema so that we can escape the realities of life? By reflecting the mood, is the audience saying, please do not reflect our reality? Are we so fed up of things, which are seemingly going beyond our control, that for those three hours we would rather see a hero take out our frustration on a villain for no real reason other than his mere presence, and a heroine who looks so colourful that even the Christmas lights this year seem dull?

Exaggeration is a practice, which, we as Indians have been very well equipped with. But the recent popularity of masala films and their ‘suitable’ lyrics brings out a bigger question that we may have been alluding – if art is reality twice removed, then what is the reality that we are choosing?

On arrangement with Governance Now
Ankita Lahiri

Ankita Lahiri

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