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By Arun Gopinath
Diversity of genres has always been an issue in Indian cinema. Indian cinema has evolved in such a way that certain genres have never been given enough importance and whatever genres have been chosen and used extensively have not been given exclusivity.

What is genre exclusivity? It is something almost alien to the Indian style of film making. We have films that we call action flicks, romantic flicks, comedies, dramas etc. But, are these genres really exclusive in Indian cinema? No. here, every action film has a romantic track, every romance has action sequences, every drama has romance
  Aaranya Kaandam
and all films (irrespective of what their main premise is) have comedy and music. In short, Indian cinema does not seem to believe in maintaining the sanctity of a genre, which is why we are left with a confused feeling after seeing many films.

For example; can we slot Endhiran into one particular genre? Very difficult, because it has the robot bringing down trucks as well as singing ‘Irumbile Oru Idhayam’ with a girl. But, think I Robot in contrast, there is only robots causing mass destruction and so we easily say, I Robot belongs to the action (sci-fi) genre.

Perhaps Indian cinemas need to blend different genres, blur the lines and create fine mixtures. It comes from the strong Indian family system, with entire families watching movies together, which brings about the necessity of satisfying all categories of audiences at once. And that in turn has given rise to a unique genre that only Indian cinema can claim to have – the Masala entertainer. Just like we Indians invented masala in food, we have also invented masala in cinema. The art of blending different tastes to give a cocktail that is pleasurable (something like Chaat) is one thing that the Indians have perfected, be it cuisine or cinema.

Masala cinema is not something to feel ashamed or guilty about. Indeed, it has provided us with some of the most entertaining episodes of cinema and no other industry in the world has yet perfected this art. Masala cinema is as unique to India as the vada pav or the masala dosa.

But, our indulgence with masala cinema (while not being a bad thing) has also cost us certain other things. Most genres can be blended and compressed into one film without looking ridiculous. You can have romance, action, comedy, sentiment, drama and music – all in one film, and in the hands of a skilled film maker, it ends up looking pretty good. But, there are certain genres that just cannot be subject to half or part treatment, the way we do it in masala cinema. And, our industry’s indulgence with the masala variety of cinema has meant that such genres have remained largely strangers to Indian cinema.

What are these genres? Well, wartime films are the foremost of them. Hollywood has been the world leader in this genre, producing numerous films revolving around historical military operations, many of which are hailed as world classics. The very mention of a wartime film makes us think of the unforgettable Saving Private Ryan, the immortal classic The Great Escape, the stylishly intense Guns of Navarone or the tense K19. It is easy to guess why wartime cinema cannot be adulterated with any other genre. The very nature and requirement of the genre is such that it demands the director to steer away from all things outside the battlefield, just like a soldier needs to think only about his target. While Hollywood has been able to accept this diktat of the genre and make some classics, Indian cinema has always been a bit reluctant to make a film that does not include all the essential ingredients of masala cinema. And that is why we have so few wartime films to show off in our repertoire. The very few names that come to mind are the Hindi Border, the Malayalam Keerthi Chakra and Kurukshethra. Even these (some of best military based films in Indian cinema) are guilty of adulterating the genre with family sentiments, music and even comedy (at times) and that too in spite of Keerthi Chakra and Kurukshethra being made by a former Indian army major; such is the peer pressure from the Indian film industry to add ‘masala’. The best ever Indian film based on the military however might be the Nana Patekar directed Prahaar, but even this was guilty of straying away in the second half. Tamil cinema has been sadly very deficient in this genre; the closest it got was perhaps with Kurudhi Punal, even though it was more a police story.

Yet another genre that has been sadly missing from the cupboards of Indian cinema is the ‘courtroom drama’. Some of you might question whether this can be called a genre on its own or whether it should be clubbed under suspense cinema. But, those who have watched ‘A Few Good Men’ or ‘Rules of Engagement’ or ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ (one believes it is essentially a courtroom drama, not horror) will agree that making courtroom dramas is an art unto itself and only the highly dedicated and confident film maker can resist the temptation of leaving the confines of a courtroom and creating some artificial excitement through action. The films mentioned above were successful for these exact reasons; they never left the courtrooms except to show details of the case being argued. The way Indian cinema cannot adhere to such requirements of this genre can be seen in the Hindi ‘Shaurya’, the adaptation of ‘A Few Good Men’. The adaptation ended up having two romances, two songs, a widow’s sentiments portrayed through a guest appearance by Amritha Rao, sentiments of the mother of an imprisoned army officer, sentiments of a son who doesn’t want to inherit the legacy of his martyred father – all elements that were never part of the original. A Few Good Men in the end looks much better than Shaurya (which is one of the best going by Indian standards for courtroom dramas).

The point is; the Indian way of mixing, blending and serving different genres all rolled into one film is good; a unique signature of Indian cinema. But, there are times when the security of this tried and tested method has to be abandoned and a genre has to be served in its purest form to the audience. Of course, the audiences who have been accustomed to spiced-up concoctions will complain, but that is part of the process of acceptance. Gautham Menon showed the way when he abandoned his highly successful brand of romance, music and action cocktails to make a psycho story which showed only the central character’s psychotic acts. The reactions he got might have scared off many others who were looking to emulate him. But, now another brave man has come up with an unadulterated version of a genre that has been almost non-existent in Indian cinema – the neo-noir. Aaranya Kaandam is perhaps the first Indian gangster film in decades that does not even for a moment try to look clean, neat or decent. It is neo-noir in its purest form and it is pretty strong medicine; just like vintage wine. Some like it, some don’t.
Tags : Aaranya Kaandam, Endhiran, Gautham Menon, Amritha Rao, I Robot
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