Thursday, January 31, 2008

What can Dreamgirls learn from Bollywood?

I finally got around to seeing Dreamgirls the other day. And outside of a few scenes featuring Eddie Murphy (the ones in which he's not doing his shtick) and Beyonce looking fine, it was a sorry mess of a flick. Tie me up and call me shallow for saying this but: Too Many Songs!

What can the finest film industry for musicals - Bollywood - teach its Western counterpart? I thought of the following things.

1. Don't have a conversation in a song. This compels the audience to pay attention during its course - thus making it antithetical to its purpose, which is to provide fluffy entertainment.

2. Don't advance the plot (if you have one) during a song. A song is a bad narrative device - the whole thing just looks too silly. But they are great for two things: infusing entertainment or facilitating a pan-beedi-sandhaas break. Songs that are integral to the narrative take away the opportunity to provide all of this.

3. Have a villain. Identify him early by making him tabaah karo someone early on lest your audience starts liking that person only to get pissed off later when he sleeps with the best friend. Note: don't give that person any songs to sing.

4. Happy songs must be accompanied by dance. Not just any dance, but delirious dance! Otherwise what's the point? Sad songs on the other hand must be shown with someone moping (note: the Big Sigh of the Lata-era is no longer in vogue to portray dissolution). There are no other types of songs as we've already noted earlier.

5. A musical with a plot stuck in a downward spiral is a bad idea. People go to see musicals to have fun - not to witness shiny, earnest people going down the toilet. And don't give me crap about how Dreamgirls is a story with a happy ending. It ain't.

6. Spare a few scenes for comedy. In a movie with high drama (which pretty much encompasses all the movies in Bollywood) even bad comedy comes in handy. I can laugh endlessly to a simple "Hahaa!" from Asrani if it comes right after the destitute Ma, shunned by her husband and forced to skip meals so her kids can eat, falls sick and loses her eyesight.

7. If possible, have Bappi Lahiri compose at least one song. You have no idea how much this movie was crying out for a chintzy disco song with low notes called "Aaja Aaja Dreemgaarrl".

Now you could argue and say that as a musical Dreamgirls set out to do something different than what a regular Bollyflick accomplishes. Or that Dreamgirls isn't a melodramatic Bollywood production with zero plot and actors who are cast for reasons other than their acting.

No.

Also:

34 comments:

Mind Rush said...

Aspi, Fantastic, superb, mindblowing! What an analysis!!

I wonder what Beth Loves Bollywood has to say about this comparison?

Jabberwock said...

Aspi: Agree about Dreamgirls being largely uninspired and dull, but I'm assuming the rest of your post is tongue in cheek - otherwise, with suggestions like "Don't have a conversation in a song/Don't advance the plot in a song", you've just dissed some of the greatest musicals ever made.

Also, I wonder if you've seen this piece by Baradwaj Rangan about the difference between song-and-dance films (which Bollywood specialises in) and musicals (of which Dreamgirls is a poorly executed example - it does in fact "set out to do something different from a regular Bollyflick", but it doesn't accomplish it).

As a viewer who loves good musicals, it's been interesting to see the way imaginatively made films like Jaan-e-Mann have been slammed in a country that thinks of itself as having a copyright on film "musicals". Another interesting phenomenon is that of Indian viewers, completely unaware of Hollywood's great musical tradition, seeing a film like Chicago and muttering "Yeh toh bilkul Hindi film se copy ki hai". Heh.

Jabberwock said...

Sorry, forgot the link to Baradwaj's piece. Here goes.

meg said...

the movie looked so lame and boring i didn't bother watching

and speaking of movies I watched these recently

the good:

Juno - awesome awesome movie.. Ellen Page is a goddess

Atonement - great

and No Country for Old men - i love Coen bros movies and this was their best after The Big Lebowski

the bad:
i am legend

and the strictly eyegasm

enchanted - OMG Patrick Dempsey!!! he's so HOTTTTTTT..hottest DILF! luv u bb

leera said...

Wow if dreamgirls would have panned out like your post, I might have mistaken it for a Kjo film and actually watched it.
i did watch the new hairspray, any takes on improving that one? Maybe if they switched the race angle to 'nari empowerment' and based the whole thing in a village with a grand finale naach gaana emotional crescendo moment.
Sweeny Todd? I wish.

Joules said...

ok guys and gals, off to India today. Fortunately got upgraded so will have to forgo studying fellow passengers sleeping poses.

Will check in to the drift over the next month as time permits.

sidekick said...

aspi, funtaaastik! loved the evisceration of the musical that was dreamgirls! like others here i too found it wanting and was baffled by the amount of hype and positive buzz it generated.

jabberwock, i think its safe to say that anything that aspi writes is tongue in cheek. that said, while aspi's tone is a light one, the bharadwaj rangan piece seems to suggest that perhaps the audience does seriously embrace the tenets aspi has laid out ---- his reasons for why audiences rejected good bolly-musicals match aspi's!

leera, i'm a tad ashamed to admit that i slept thru hairspray. i watched it on broadway and enjoyed it, but the movie did nothing for me. yr ideas for the kjo-ization of the movie may have saved it for me!

joules --- safe trip and enjoy yr time in india. we'll miss u :)

Aspi said...

Joules, Happy Wanderings. Be sure to do some research on how is it that everyone can sniff NRIs out. Is it the look? Is it the walk? Clothes? Shoes? Hair? I need to know!

Meg, I need to see Juno. There is just something about a stripper turned writer who scores big with her debut script (an offer she got via blogging no less) that demands attention.

Jai, I was trying my best to skewer both Dreamgirls and the new Bollywood (which for me is pretty much since the movies started getting Hollywood production values but remain mired in poor writing). I read Baradwaj's piece as I do most of his stuff (I think I was introduced to his blog via yours).

I enjoyed Jaan-e-mann quite a bit and against all expectations. The rest I haven't seen but I get Baradwaj's points.

Aspi said...

leera, I haven't seen Hairspray yet. And I'm sorry to say that when you have two boys in the house these kind of family films never make it on the list.

Enchanted is another example of something I'd like to see out of major curiosity (the buzz on Amy Adams must be checked out) but won't be able to.

girlie girl said...

Aspi...Excellent, Fantastic, MINDBLWOING!! I was laughing so hard, people at work are looking at me weird! My favorite parts..."infusing entertainment or facilitating a pan-beedi-sandhaas break" and of course the reference to Bleeng Bleeng "Aaja Aaja Dreemgaarrl". Where do you come up with this stuff...I dont know, but keep it coming!!

Meg, i agree with you, I had/have no desire to see Dreamgirls and now, if i watch it, it'll only be so i can agree with your suggestions, Aspiji!!


Have a safe trip Joules...keep us posted on all the new/trendy/not-so trendy things going on in India!!

Saritha said...

Happy journey,Joules!Will miss you,but I do hope that you'll keep us posted in between.

Speaking of Bolly music,hey,I like the songs that are part of the narrative.Unless the song is out there for pure entertainment with great music,locales and costumes,I usually prefer movies like 'Company' 'Ab tak Chappan' where I am not forced to watch 5 to 6 songs,that do no good to the crisp screenplay.

'Jaan-e-man' was a brave effort,I must say,though I didn't like it much.Sonu's 'Sau dard hain' was really good and I also liked the baby a lot...cho cute.
Couldn't complete 'Dream girls'-got really bored after a while.

anu g said...

Joules, Bon Voyage, and Welcome to India!

anu g said...

Aspi, now that Incog is back, I think its time u take up filmmaking.....u r sure to make a blockbuster movie.

anu g said...

Btw, tom's episode of srgmp ilchamps has been dedicated to Suresh Wadkar! Can u just imagine how exciting its going to be!!!

headmistress said...

Bappi & Beyoncé would seriously be a killer combination - sparklespandex overload!

but a lot of contemporary (vestarrn) musicals seem to not quite hit the right mark... it's not so much the songs (dreamgirls' songs aren't so bad!) its all the filler in between which is supposed to make the film work. You can't just cut and paste songs with 'normal' non-musical film dialogues and hope it all holds... Sweeney Todd was a real disappointment for me on this front. Aspi, do you think the 'new' bollywood is also heading down this limp and lukewarm path now?

also if you're interested in Juno, you should also check out Jenny, Juno - the (original) Korean film. Although (in a Bollywood inspired move) Cody denies any knowledge of the earlier film...(despite the same name, plot etc! grrar!)

Lastly, you've got to have singing villains. I can't recall any off the top of my head but they do make the world a better place. And Alan Rickman's evil merry ba ba buming in ST was its most redeeming feature.

Aspi said...

anu g, great news. I shall definitely watch the Wadkar hi Wadkar episode.

I would love to remake Amar Akbar Anthony (of course I wouldn't know a grip if I saw one). Zayed Khan would be cast among others. He wouldn't act in it but I'd have him around the sets for laughs.

headmistress perhaps Alan Rickman is allowed to sing no matter what he is doing in a movie. Thanks for the Juno tip, I didn't know about that - will check out the "original".

anu g said...

Oops,i have to clarify lest u think that at my age,I find Suresh Wadkar a very exciting person,... I was being sarcastic!He is quite a cute-egg as Sidekick once mentioned, but interesting?No way, poor guy,tho he does try hard!

anu g said...

Now heres some news on Aspi's behen Rakhi Sawant. Now that SHE is going to be interviewing people, will she manage to still get high trps?http://entertainment.oneindia.in/television/top-stories/news/2008/rakhi-sawant-talk-show-300108.html

Aspi said...

I think it'll be interesting - from a Bollywood power perspective - to see who shows up on her show.

Mind Rush said...

I am reminded of a old Bolly song but can't place it...

"Dreamgirl, kissi jheel ka kamal
Dreamgirl, kissi shaayar ki ghazal
Dreamgirl..."

Help!

Mind Rush said...

Now on a serious note...this for Jabber ji:
Bollywood films with songs do not take themselves seriously. Neither does the audience. The "arty" type phillums pretending to be serious do not have song-n-dance.

So when you watch a Hollywood musical, there is a serious disconnect. Is the film meant to be a tamaasha or is it meant to be a real story with a plot?? The song-n-dance throw us off. They do not neatly fit the Bollywood dichotomy.

At least that's what I thought Driftji was saying....

anu g said...

Music plus cricket for charity!Wow, what a combination.
http://www.ibnlive.com/news/bwood-music-frat-plays-a-new-tune-with-bat--ball/57869-8.html

Aspi said...

headmistress, you bring up a good point which I thought about a bit. I think there are two problems with Bollywood that precludes any serious discussion about its capabilities.

One, the utter lack of respect mainstream Bollywood has for tight scripts. I'm not talking about plot but just how things hang together (actually Dreamgirls is a great example of this: why did those two fall in love in the first place again?)

Two, the family-style system by which actors break into Bollywood.

Anonymous said...

Aspi asked:
>> on how is it that everyone can
>> sniff NRIs out. Is it the look?
>> Is it the walk? Clothes? Shoes?
>> Hair? I need to know

I am sure it's many things, but I was told that one way we (NRIs) are identified is by the way we cross a street. Apparently we survey both to our left and right before we cross a street.

It can't be the hair in my case :-).

Anyways, a belated HAPPY New years to fellow drifters (hey, it's still January here).

-- Texan

sidekick said...

...and yet i think there is hope for naach gaana in new bollywood. i thought Rang De Basanti was a good example of a film that worked at all levels --- it wasn't a musical, but the songs enhanced the emotional content and didn't require any suspension of disbelief.

Aspi said...

Excellent input, Texan. One day a post shall be written.

Sidekick I haven't seen Rang De.. but Aamir is an example of an actor who questions the script and his character's motivation in order to tighten the story and everyone runs off and labels him difficult.

Saritha said...

Gosh,Aspi!You've not seen 'Rang de...'??
Give me ur address,I am sending you a copy right away.You CANNOT afford to miss it.

Sidekick,Rang de.. is,indeed, a good example.The soulful music is an integral part of the movie and it helps us connect with the Kirdaar.

Spruha said...

I agree with Saritha!
YOU CANNOT MISS RANG DE...!
It's a brilliantly made movie and Aamir Khan is exceptional!

headmistress said...

I echo the shock...

how can you have not seen Rang De...?? it is bloody brilliant. And the songs there were not too forced - a slight drift into fantasy sometimes, but at least no one was cavorting in a translucent sari in the egyptian sunset. or something.

mind rush's point is interesting. There is a real disconnection in modern Hollywood musicals, and that only highlights the surrealness of a random group of people bursting into song. (The Buffy musical episode exemplified this perfectly. Plus we saw Spike dance. Heaven.) But it's done with such a heapload of bitter, postmodern irony that you lose all the fun. The earlier musicals don't have this bitterness - they still understood that music, dance was an art that could work alongside the narrative, and not just as a quick loo break.

aspi - I think there's still hope for bollywood though, despite its often shoddy plots! Jab we Met was my fave film of last year - it was small, contained, warm and focused. It wasn't being pretentious and just had fun, but it still had a lot of sincerity. I can't wait for Imtiaz Ali's new film - esp seeing as it doesn't have Kareena!

megan said...

I didn't like Rang De basanti.. first half was decent, it was fun but the second half was so flawed..i never once felt anything for any of the protagonists.. it looked forced and rushed, they didn't provide any of the justifications for anything.. i see the boys as terrorists..it wasn't intelligent movie at all

also, at the end when all of the India were so inspired by these boys seemed so contrived.. thats mob rule not patriotism..

didn't like it at all...

megan said...

oh yeah that buffy musical episode was soo good. Almost as good as Angel singing Barry Manilow in Lorne's karoake Bar!

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Megan. RDB didn't work for me either. I am a sucker for realistic cinema (okay, at least give me plausible plot). To borrow Megan's phrase, the second part did indeed look contrived. I think Munnabhai 2.0 was more patriotic.

-- Texan

megan said...

*spoiler of RDB*
also, the boys killed the politician not for their love of the country..it was revenge plain and simple.. they didn't do it for the goodness of the people..had the dead not been their "friend" they wouldn't give two hoots.. also if everyone started shooting every corrupt person in India then there'd be anarchy all over..

Its not even like Dexter (from Showtime show) who kills all the evil people of society (pedofiles, human traffickers, serial killers etc).. that i sorta understand but don't condone it..

Saritha said...

I love Lage raho Munnabhai a lot.And RDB and Lage raho belong to diff cinema-It's like my idea of world tour,I might want to visit Europe and SA for diff reasons.There's no way Iam going to trade one for the other.

Before RDB,we've seen n number of Indian flicks where the protagonist goes abt killing corrupt people b'coz they injured or killed his family or friends.There was 'Hindustani',starring kamalhasan a huge hit back in 90's with similar plot but we don't see anyone doing that in real life.
Rajinikant's Shivaji,the latest from director Shanker,finds a way to turn the black money into white-not sure if that's feasible but it's a director's idea to see a corrupt-free country.

RDB's music,background score,the editing,Cinematography are A class. Mehra manages to run two diff parallel stories-one from the past and one in the present and integrates them towards climax,introducing Bagat singh,Azad and others to the gen Y without sounding like a history class.