From Book To Booked Reality Hindi Cinema
Unlike the tolerant and open Western societies, Hindi cinema has seldom tried to converge on contemporary social reality, and whenever done it camouflaged with a million layers of romance and comedy to escape both censorship and societal bias: both religious and political. Even the purveyors of art, or socially committed cinema used camouflaging devises to convey the message—however diluted and undigested it might have remained. Examples, Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kursi Ka which was mercilessly suppressed for highlighting the lust for power during the emergency; Gulzar’s Aandhi suffered a ban because the heroine’s resemblance to Mrs Gandhi; Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s The Naxalite; Dev Anand’s Loot Maar; Anurag Kashyap’s unreleased Paanch. Many of these are since also available in book form one way or another as are others on mainstream cinema.
Realism in cinema has generally been defined in western cinema as “neither a genre nor a movement, and it has neither rigid formal criteria not specific subject matter”. But then it does not even mean the moving images are just illusionary perceptions, or as Werner Herzog has defined because “realism has been an extremely useful concept for asking questions about the nature of cinematographic images, the relation of film to reality, the credibility of images, and the role cinema plays in the organisation and understanding of the world. Realism, at the very least, has been a productive illusion.” Now that may be true in the western perception where freedom of speech and expression in any literary or artistic form, including cinema, because both the people and the State have open, more liberated, tolerant and collective perception of liberty. But now so in the Asian region, especially India which is socially, politically, region-wise or even ethic and minority/majority levels of intolerance. That’s why its projection, or otherwise in popular cinema. The latest victim of which has been Kamal Haasan’s brilliantly made—by Indian standard at least—Vishwaroopam.
“In film history, realism has designated two distinct modes of filmmaking and two approaches to the cinematographic image. In the first instance, cinematic realism refers to the verisimilitude of a film to the believability of its characters and events. This realism is most evident in the classical Hollywood cinema. The second instance of cinematic realism takes as its starting point the camera’s mechanical reproduction of reality, and often ends up challenging the rules of Hollywood movie making.” Many Indian courageous film-makers, their contemporaries or successors, subsequently continued to dare the powers-that-be and often succeeded, however diluted by the depiction, in presenting hard-hitting contemporary society in its various manifestations, including Kashyap’s own Black Friday that ran into controversy because it sought to reflect and comment on the 1993 Mumbai bombings, or No Smoking; Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday which dwelt on mind games between a criminal and a cop during a 4-hour time frame; Mahesh Manjrekar’s Vaastav: The Reality.
Perhaps what began with Deewar that was loosely based on the life of underworld don, Haji Mastan, a number of films have sought to be ‘inspiration’ from the Mafia culture that has played havoc with life in the metropolis. Since then several variants have been attempted on ‘inspiring’ real life incidents or characters, and several investigative books on events that impacted Mumbai at large. And now Neeraj Pandey has come out with another edge-to-edge thriller in the form of Special 26, deploying once again the mind game between police and criminals. Another interesting feature about this film in which Akshay Kumar essays the role of a subdued but far-sighted wise conman, Ajay Singh, is the simultaneous publication of a novel by Gabriel Khan. A development if taken seriously could result in a boom: the novel a page-turning exercise in mind games for those who abhor cinema, and a no-holds-barred visual thriller.
Akshay has rewritten box office history like few others have done in the past. On the verge of being written off a couple of years ago, he has made a sensational return to ride the box office reigns despite some ludicrous attempts like the recent home production, Khiladi 786 after the likes of Tees Maar Khan, Joker and the surprise hit (though such surprises have now been made common, thanks to lady luck dating Salman Khan so frequently). But that he can convincingly carry off a role that demonstrates courage of conviction, restraint, poise and confidence at the same time is an indication of maturing. One can’t really think of another major star, Shah Rukh Khan included, who could live the role the way Akshay Kumar has done. That too without shedding glimpses of letting the reserves down in the limited romantic scenes with Kajal Aggarwal (last seen in the Hindi film Singham as Ajay Devgun’s love interest).
Special 26 is an almost no-holds-barred thriller that keeps the viewer glued to the scene even in the few comical and romantic interludes, including the wedding scene with the rural Punjab backdrop. Authenticity of locale further adds to the thrill. Loosely based on some real life incidents that rocked the country in the 1980s, especially the infamous heist and the con job successfully performed in Bombay’s Tribhuvandas Bhimji Zaveri outfit despite heavy police presence—after similarly performed acts in New Delhi involving a Minister; raiding a jeweler in Kolkata
Before the last heist is a scene (brilliantly enacted by Anupam Kher as conman Sharma, and Manoj Bajpayee as the designated cop-in charge, Waseem Khan) where he being interrogated and revealing the whole plan that makes the audience glued to their seats about the former’s betrayal, Gabriel Khan narrates it as such: “His voice became smaller and smaller. Waseem understood that realisation had dawned on Sharmaji—it was all over. The only thing he could do was to cooperate. We would have been there for not more than half an hour. The plan was for the four of us to escape with the booty, leave the Special 26 there at the Opera House. By the time anyone suspected something was wrong, we would have vanished.”
A graphic description follows the interrogation which is nothing but an illusion which ends nonchalantly, repeating Akshay, sorry Ajay’s dialogue: “He said the man who could catch him hadn’t even born yet.” The next scene would have been a giveaway, destroyed the narrative pattern till then. In fact, when one compares the narrative style of a novel and a film script, there are gaping holes. That precisely is the difference between the two narratives. And one needs to read the descriptive novel and then watch its visual presentation to realise the difference. The two differ substantially. What is also different about the two is, the novel is the outcome of the screenplay, and its visual presentation, rather than the other way round, a style brought into vogue by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, both as a scriptwriter and filmmaker long, long years ago.
By Suresh Kohli