22 June 2008

AAMIR (Dir. Raj Kumar Gupta, 2008, India) - A Cautionary Tale About Terrorism

The recent high profile deals that were announced with great aplomb at Cannes 2008 between financially wealthy Bollywood film companies like AdLabs and mainstream Hollywood film stars like George Clooney and Brad Pitt has led many industry critics speculating on the future of Bollywood. The advent of globalisation has certainly played a big part in allowing struggling film maker’s to seek financing from all corners of the globe. Co productions have certainly become a dominant trend in many film industries and some directors have flourished.

Though Bollywood’s output in terms of film production overshadows most film industries, the number of quality films released each year has had a tendency to fall severely short of competing with the kinds of much celebrated movies produced by Hollywood each year. Such a crisis of quality exists within the Bollywood film industry purely because it makes way too many films. If it was to curtail it’s output and placed a greater creative emphasis on fewer projects then it might be able to produce far more consistent quality films, films that might even be remembered by audiences and critics alike. The recent disappointing cycle of films produced and distributed by the Yash Raj factory has provoked reactions that surmount to Aditya Chopra having lost the creative impulse to make commercially successful films. Though this may be true in some cases with films like Neal and Nikki, one only has to look at the reasons behind Chak De India’s enormous success. Not only did it have the star power of Shah Rukh Khan, it was a film that connected to mainstream Indian society as audiences intelligently made the correlation between hockey and cricket instantaneously.

Many of the best films that come out of Bollywood each year are usually ones that have something, whatever it maybe, interesting and topical to say about contemporary Indian society. Recent Yash Raj films like Tashaan and Jhoom Bharbar Jhoom completely missed the mark as they were clunky concepts aimed solely at the overseas NRI market; neither had anything relevant to say about contemporary Indian society other than being ridiculously well promoted with expensive marketing campaigns.

So far 2007 has been equally disappointing as last year with high profile releases such as Jodha Akbar and Race failing to live up to expectations. Denied a UK release, Aamir, is one such Bollywood film that has exceeded expectations, receiving a warm critical reception and is currently being referred to by many as one of the stand out films of the year so far. Produced by UTV Motion Pictures under their new subsidiary company, Spot Boy, Aamir signals yet another cinematic achievement for Ronnie Screwvala’s refreshing approach to Bollywood film making.

The directorial debut of Raj Kumar Gupta, Aamir is an intelligently conceived high concept film that takes the contemporary theme of homeland terrorism and uses it as a narrative device to explore the risky proposition of individual responsibility. Though Gupta does not present the friendliest of images of the Muslim community in Mumbai, he does exceptionally well to visualise the torturous and visceral journey that Aamir is forced to make by making remarkably effective use of location shooting in the cramped and dingy side streets of Mumbai. Very few Bollywood film makers have been able to capitalise on the potential of Mumbai as a character (Ram Gopal Varma comes to mind) and Aamir like Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s ‘Parinda’, shares with it a fascination for the city as an expressionistic manifestation of the state of mind of the central character.

Anurag Khasyap also had a hand in the production of Aamir and is credited with creative producer, and his influence seems to have been a key factor in moulding this film into a clever, enigmatic and forceful piece of contemporary cinema that is unlike anything typically produced by Bollywood. UTV could have been more cautious about the release of this unusual and challenging film and perhaps thought about opening the film closer to the award season in September.

Opening against Sarkar Raj, Aamir has literally sunk without a trace in terms of box office, but it has attracted significant widespread critical acclaim, underlining the growing international influence of UTV Motion Pictures as perhaps the most creatively important film studio in Bollywood today.

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