Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Once in a while do odes to cinema itself also appear among all the others: in different guises and playing with all our emotions, as a film about films ought to do. The greatest ode perhaps remains Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, but Filmistaan remains the best one to Indian cinema in particular. The beautiful thing about it is that just like Cinema Paradiso manages to elevate itself into an epic story of undying love, Filmistaan (literally meaning "the land of films," but also rhyming with Hindustan and Pakistan, the entities that a barbarous partition created and the repercussions of which the film deals with) also becomes a film about human goodness: and amazingly, while dealing with a topic as complex as hardline zealots, presents a comedy par excellence.

Who would think of Sharib Hashmi as the leading man of a film? And yet how could this film have been made without him: without his thumkas, his infectious energy, his never-say-die spirit of playfulness? No situation can daunt this man; and it is easy to fall in love with him. And yet some have crossed over so much into the land of bitterness that either they come back too late from it or they never manage to do so (Jawad and Mehmood). While man keeps propounding ideologies and erecting idols, while he keeps drawing circles of philosophy around something as simple and uncomplicated as life, and thus makes life complicated, Hashmi, in the role of Sunny Arora, unravels it all in a wink, in a trick, in a dialogue from a Hindi film aptly suited to the situation: he doubts himself that maybe he is not an actor, but only a buffoon, but no one who gets to know him will doubt who he is and what he has given to them. In a way, he is the Idiot, the Prince Myshkin, of Dostoeyvsky, and it is rare for me to come across another Myshkin in literature, film, or life. So many years have been rolled back for me, and so many encrusted ideas of the other have been swept away for the Pakistani village. Because it is stories that human hearts thirst for: and the one who can be happy in stories is richer than anyone else, than any saint or assassin, any magnate or politician.

Films: as Indians we grow up with them. They are weaved into our afternoons, our lazy Sundays, our morning shows, our speech, even our gods and goddesses. Films have often changed a generation's outlook in India, as did notably Hare Rama Hare Krishna or 3 Idiots. But even films of a trend, from Maine Pyar Kiya to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, and thereafter, coloured the minds of many. The sterile Hollywood cannot give us what the rain-drenched, emotion-laden, suggestive-dance-attuned, melodrama-oscillating Indian films do. The beauty of Indian cinema is seldom acknowledged; if it is, it is only those like Ray, poor imitators of the West, who are spoken of. Indians are ashamed to appreciate the Indian idiom, the joy that we celebrate our life with and that reflects in our films: and Filmistaan unabashedly does precisely that. A much-needed injection of courage to those who love heavy Raj Kumar dialogues.

Note: The film's comedy depends heavily on the viewer understanding the Indian cultural context, more specifically the films and actors referenced. If you haven't watched a lot of Hindi films from all eras plus cannot recall easily who or what is being referenced, the film isn't necessarily for you. The subtitles would be meaningless unless you understand why the original dialogue of a referenced film is epic/memorable in the first place, and of course what is being referenced.

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