Coming of Age of the Hindie Film


When I first came across the term Hindie Film, it instantly struck me as smart and appropriate. We’ve had Hindi films, aka masala movies, aka Bollywood big-budget productions, for years now. You know, those movies made in Bombay with lots of song and dances. And of course, the spoken language is Hindi.
But what is a Hindie film? Yes, you guessed right, they are your made-in-Bombay films, have Hindi (mostly) as the spoken language but with an Indie/low-budget feel and flavor to them. They may or may not have song and dances in them; they may sometimes be totally in English or a combination of Hindi and English; and they have a screenplay that is more Western/Hollywood in its structure than the average Bollywood blockbuster. The Hindie film is also known in India as the ‘multiplex movie’. Makes sense, since they are exhibited mostly in the multiple-movie halls housed in urban multiplexes. But somehow, Hindie film is more apt, and also has a nice ring to it. Familiar but different.
The Hindie films got a boost way back in 1988 with the release of Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. It was among the first wave of movies by Indian filmmakers that appealed to global audiences with realistic Indian stories, devoid of the kitsch of mainstream Bollywood. Not surprisingly, these were branded as “crossover” films. Nair’s Monsoon Wedding and Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham (and later Bride and Prejudice), Deepa Mehta’s trilogy, Earth, Fire and Water were all part of the crossover genre that began doing the rounds of film festivals.
The Hindie film has also grown in stature over the years. Ever since corporate houses started funding them. Many of these have begun to show up in international film festivals and some have even grabbed a few awards, giving Indian films a global audience among those not particularly enamored of the standard Bollywood fare. Being more experimental in nature, many of these films give a glimpse into Indian lives and stories that have normally been given a wide berth by masala movie makers. Peepli Live — a black comedy about an Indian farmer who is encouraged to commit suicide and the media madness that follows in the run-up to elections — not only made it to the Sundance Film Festival but ended up as a box-office success after its release in India.
Udaan, the coming-of-age story of a small town boy, broke the jinx when it was invited to compete in the Cannes Film festival after several years in which no Indian film had won such a privilege. Despite its ‘film festival’ tag, the film went on to win a clutch of awards at several of the awards functions hosted to celebrate the success of mainstream movies in India.
Hollywood too has begun to take an interest in the Hindie film. Recently Harvey Keitel signed up to act in his first Indian film, Against Itself, which will be in English and possibly dubbed in Hindi. Against Itself is produced by Sanjay Singh who also produced Udaan. It is written and directed by Kranti Kanade whose award winning 2007 feature debut Mahek premiered at the London Film Festival while his 2002 graduation film Chaitra won India’s National Award for best short film.
With the new direction that Indian films have been given by movies such as Dhobi Ghaat, Dev.D, A Wednesday, Love, Sex aur Dhoka, the road ahead seems to be full of promise for Hindie films. But as Vikramaditya Motwane, the scriptwriter and debutant director of Udaan, cautions: “Bollywood is not just about small scale and arty or big, masala movies. There is a middle of the road cinema that needs to sustain itself over the next few years, otherwise this will be a blip rather than a wave.”

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4 Responses to Coming of Age of the Hindie Film

  1. Michael Faunce-Brown says:

    Is there any future for non Indian script writers in what sounds an exciting new movement?
    I have ten polished full feature scripts and have just finished re-writing another for an American, Larry Taylor, “Seeker Of The Lost Mint”, which he liked very much.

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  2. pema dhondup says:

    As a filmmaker and person born and brought up in India, I keep track of Indian cinema. Your perspective on ‘Hindie’ cinema is fresh. It is indeed exciting time for filmmakers. However, unless the market expands to worldwide audience ‘Hindie’ films will not find investors in India. Producers and production companies are mainly ‘investors’. Artists have to rise up and make their films go beyond the India audience which we know is limited so that investors keep making them. Some Chinese and Mexican filmmakers have transcended very well into American market even if it is a small audience. Actually few films have even captured the general audience. Usually such films are genre driven even though they are cultural and language specific. As a filmmaker I am striving for that and I am hoping some writer and or a director does that from India too. I argue Slumdog could have been made by any filmmaker from India. However, I am not sure any producer would have dared. If some thing like that happens to a filmmaker and a producer, Indian cinema would actually transform dramatically. A film made couple of million dollars if it makes 100’s of millions to any producer in India, who wouldn’t like to do it again and again? Let’s pray that happens.

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    • Thanks Pema for your insights. You’re right, we need to make films that tell a universal story (even while retaining its Indian-ness) but conform to a storytelling structure that is more Western. I think that’s already beginning to happen. Slumdog Millionaire’s success has shown what is possible, and I’m hopeful that in the years ahead, our movies will appeal to a wider global audience. And wish you all the best with your films.

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