The other day I sat with a friend discussing the merits of the latest Bond film, Spectre. She, being an enormous fan of the franchise, thought it was wonderful, exciting, adventurous, clever and fun, with fabulous locales, and the incomparably delicious Daniel Craig. I, on the other hand, was distinctly underwhelmed. Although, having always been aware of the tongue in cheek, wink wink nature of the Bond films, this time round I felt that belief had been stretched beyond the point of credulity. A villain that refused to perish, ladies, young and old, that swooned at one glance from Bond, and irrespective of the fantastic locations, a movie that lacked soul.
If I had to pick a franchise that still ticked the boxes for me, it would be the Mission Impossible one. The latest film: Rogue Nation had all the elements that had made the Bond films so beloved of so many generations of viewers. Topping those were a believable premise, an interesting hero, a kick ass heroine, amazing stunts and a villain who was scary enough, yet not unbelievably invincible.
Essentially though, both films were escapist fare.
Over the two decades that I have lived and worked in the West, I have constantly confronted the allegation that Indian films are just song and dance and hoopla. Boy meets girl. They fall in love and then over the course of three hours, multiple costume changes, and various kinds of obstacles to surmount, they finally get to their happily ever after. All loose ends are neatly tied up, and with (yet another) song on their lips, they dance into the sunset.
While not wholly unjustified, this widespread notion has completely sidelined the incredible films that came out of the stables of say, a Satyajit Ray, a Shyam Benegal, a Sai Paranjape, or a Mani Ratnam. Films that unflinchingly presented reality in all its grimness, its messiness, its mundaneness.
Yet the masses throng to the cinemas not for the latter, but for the former.
In every culture there exists some kind of escapist cinema. Something that allows us, just temporarily, to relegate to the background all our worries and heartaches. Why does Hollywood churn out multiple superhero films? Because the child in us wants to believe that this one person/super entity can be the solution to all our problems. Why do we admire a James Bond or an Ethan Hunt? Because they are the ‘good guys’- repositories of all our hopes and fears. In reality, there are no super heroes. Spies are not suave, Martini swilling gentlemen, but shadowy figures that in all probability do as much harm as good, pawns in a political game.
As for the eternal love story factory called Bollywood, the very same producers and directors that churn out these films are well aware that the headiness of falling in love and fighting for love is a brief moment in a lifetime likely to be peppered with disillusionment and disappointment. They capture it over and over on celluloid, in endless permutations, to let us relive that which may never ever happen to us again.
If life is a bitter pill to swallow, then movies such as these are the spoons full of sugar that we willingly ingest alongside. Let the cynics laugh. As long as celluloid dreams exist, we can live vicariously through our heroes and their adventures.
So whether it is a Bond seducing you on screen, an Ethan Hunt taking your breath away with his death defying stunts, or a Shah Rukh Khan beckoning you into his arms, let no man or woman come between you, and that which momentarily lets you escape a life where men are decapitated, women raped, children abducted, and you are powerless to do anything. If this momentary respite from reality lets you recharge enough to face another day without caving in to despair, so be it.
Long may the Dream merchants spin their webs of fantasy, and long may we stay in their thrall.