Lights! Camera! Introspection! (Fable - 22)
But not anymore! We’re in 2007 and Bollywood has become officially cool. Bollywood is the new sex. It's everywhere and, like sex, it can sell anything: phones, cars, stores, coffee, insurance, banks… It's on the TV news and current-affairs shows. Even internationally! There are hearty chunks of it in newspapers and even the no-nonsense business press. They're all desperate to pin their colors to something that appears to be getting somewhere. And Bollywood is definitely getting somewhere. From the crazy business it was, scorned, or at best tolerated by men and women who had better things to do, it has arrived with bells on, smack in the middle of mainstream culture; selling stuff, defining us, saving us from boredom, sprinkling a little sugar on a cruel, cruel world. No one escapes.
Bollywood is too curious to ignore.
What sort of mania drives this entire industry to do what it does best and finally, get worldwide acceptance and recognition? There is profound wackiness afoot here, everyone knows that. But then you wonder: Is something more interesting happening, too? Because you can't help but find reason for hope in this crass spectacle. Life in Bollywood had never been better. The paychecks are bigger, better and prompter! A happy afterglow has set in and everyone looks like they’ve just returned from an all-expense paid luxury vacation in Ibiza.
When I say “everyone” I mean all those hundreds of people whose names you only see in the credits before and after a film, and names which mean something only if you personally know the person. Otherwise, for the most part it’s always, “Did we miss the beginning? …No, we didn’t. It’s still the credits coming on… Let’s quickly get popcorn!” Well, thanks! You just ignored the huge invisible workforce that’s required to make that film you walked in to watch. And it’s that workforce that’s meeting this sweeping change head-on! And it’s that workforce which we will talk about in this post. And what’s life like for them.
Outside Bollywood, popular perception is that this is an industry filled with spoiled, outrageous, egotistical individuals with completely fucked-up lives. People who are chain smokers, alcoholics or druggies, with totally debauched lifestyles and sex is everywhere. A bunch of losers and uneducated drifters who weren’t qualified enough to do anything more substantial in their lives and sustain “real” jobs. Like sitting in an antiseptic looking office everyday, day after day, with the same people, for 8 hours or more staring at a computer screen while very seriously believing that if given a chance they can really make better films than the best of the experts put together, with no knowledge whatsoever about how the industry works and operates and completely lacking the courage to give up their corporate cocoons for real. Working in Bollywood is never about being given a chance. It’s about taking it. It’s about giving up the security of a monthly paycheck and the fact that if you work like an automaton and go through the motions you will one day get promoted and get a bigger paycheck and so on. Can this beat the smug satisfaction of making a film- right from the conceptual stage to putting it out there for the world to see and either like or dislike? The thrill of watching the first promo on air, of spotting the first poster or billboard, of hearing the songs on the radio, in autos and taxis and in clubs and watching people enjoy it, then going to the theater and obsessively narcissistically watching the people’s reactions. Keeping track of every giggle, laugh, snigger, rude comment, bad moment coming from the audience. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude. Especially during moments that make you wonder if you’d have been better off being a banker, or a computer programmer, or a lawyer. Something well-paid and regular that doesn’t require you to lay your heart on the line for a fickle public which takes great perverse pleasure in being mean to you in different ways. Yes, Bollywood has huge ego issues. It is a very strange and unconventional place to be and it’s not for the faint hearted.
Yet, making a film is a complete labour of love for the creative team that's involved. It's an incredible amount of fun, laughter, shared happy moments, pranks being played constantly on the cast and crew, heated creative arguements and slowly, step by step begins the process of taking a story from out of your mind, penning it down and putting it 'In theaters near you'. Any film set is this picture of cool camaraderie and everyone buzzing and bustling about with their designated jobs and even though it wouldn’t be obvious to a layperson, there is indeed painstakingly put method into the madness. When cast and crew members say, "It was one large picnic! We were all like one big happy family!" It's usually true.
And it’s surely not an understatement or a lie to say that our film industry was built on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. And sex. I’m not talking about the casting couch here. It’s still The Workforce. Getting some, trying to get some, got some now getting over it, promising some, denying some, wanting some but unable to get it, getting some without really wanting it… You get the picture! Sex is all pervasive. Bollywood works 24X7 not just professionally, but also because everyone is trying to get laid or getting laid. The hip parties are starting later and later because those floating irritants are everywhere – the gossip journalists. If a party is on the radar of the journalists, then it simply isn’t cool enough. Till the SMS’s start coming and you’re informed about the after party and the after-after party. It’s a marvelous world of opportunity for all the men looking to get some. Its also a dangerous one with a lot of mental health and career hazards. If you’re beautiful, good for you. If you’re powerful, even better. It’s a sexual revolution like never before and Bollywood is in a position of power like never before. But something’s gotta give!
Welcome to the Age of Un-Innocence and its biggest victim is Love. While our films are still all about falling in love, that’s where it stays. The glittering lights of Marine Drive that served as the backdrop for romantic trysts are still glowing – but the stage is empty. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s and no one has affairs to remember. Instead, we have breakfast at seven A.M. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. How did we get into this mess? Truman Capote understood our modern day dilemma very well. The Bollywood dilemma of Love vs. The Deal. In Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak were faced with restrictions – he was a kept man and she was a kept woman – but in the end they surmounted them and chose love over money. That doesn’t happen much around us these days. We are all kept men and women – by our jobs, by our apartments, and then some of us by the pecking order at Olive and Enigma, the number of invitations to Strictly By Invitation Only parties at the Big Boys’ Cliques in Bollywood – and we like it like that. Self-protection and closing the deal are paramount. Cupid has flown the co-op in the industry that makes its billions by peddling love and fairy tale fantasies.
When was the left time you heard someone say, “I love you!” without adding on the inevitable and/or unspoken “as a friend”. When was the last time you saw two people gazing into each others eyes without thinking, Yeah, right? And what turned out to be the hot, most debated, most talked about film of 2006? KANK, which was all about falling out of love. Hardly the stuff we like to think about when we think about love but very much the stuff of the modern urban relationship. There’s plenty of sex in Bollywood but the kind of sex that results in friendship and business deals, not romance. These days, everyone has friends and colleagues; no one really has lovers. Even if they have slept together.
And as always, That Woman went hunting for the answers...
"People here build up a total facade that you cant penetrate," said Successful Married Actress. "I feel so lucky that things worked out for me early on, because it's so easy not to have a relationship here - it almost becomes impossible to go back!"
A friend who was recently married called up That Woman. "I dont know how anyone makes relationships work in this town. It's really hard. All the temptations. Going out. Drinks. Drugs. Other extremely gorgeous people. You want to have fun. And if you're married, what are you going to do? Sit in your little poky apartment and stare at each other? When you're alone, it's easier," she said slightly wistfully. "You can do what you want. You don't have to go home."
A few years ago, when Smart Successful Banker, another friend, was one of the most eligible bachelors in Bombay, he dated every woman in town! Six years ago we were still romantic enough to believe that some woman could get him. He has to fall in love someday, we thought. Everyone falls in love, and when he does, it will be with a woman who's beautiful and smart and successful. But then those beautiful, smart and successful women came and went and he still hadn't fallen in love. That Woman was wrong.
Today, Smart Successful Banker is almost 40 and he says he's ungettable. He doesn't want a relationship. Doesn't even want to try. Isn't interested in the romantic committment. Doesn't want to hear about the neurosis in somebody else's head. And he tells women that he'll be their friend, and they can have sex with him, but that's all there is and that's all there's ever going to be. And it's fine with him. He says it doesn't even make him sad anymore the way it used to. So now, he works insane hours, travels a lot on business and when he's home, his only company is a bottle of Scotch, a few DVD's and his new Playstation. All the beautiful, smart and successful women he once dated have moved on too and pretend to have amnesia whenever he's mentioned.
A few weeks back a young writer told her, "I just dont believe I'll meet the right person and get married. Relationships are too intense. If you believe in love, you're setting yourself up to be disappointed. You just cant trust anyone. People are so corrupted these days.
"But it's the one ray of hope," That Woman protested. "You hope it will save you from cynicism." Yet, she understood his cynicism. Recently she found herself telling another friend that she didn't want a relationship because, at the end, unless it lasted, you were left with nothing. And being with the wrong people is far more taxing to one's system than being single!
The writer continued, echoing her thoughts. "We have no alternatives. Look at you and me and people like us whom we know. We wouldn't be in shallow relationships, so we do nothing. We have no sex and no romance. Who needs it? Who needs yet another relationship breaking up? You're too busy with work and other things. So why not just be with your friends and have real conversations and a good time?"
That Woman pondered over the profundity of that statement for a while. It was completely true. She worked insane hours and had great fun doing what she did. But the flip side of being in a job that you so enjoy is that it gives you a sense of fulfillment and well-being that could be completely deceptive. Your sense of self-worth shoots up crazily and you keep raising the bar for the men who're interested in you simply 'cos nobody matches up. Or is able to sustain your interest for more than a week. She'd turned down two nice, eligible men recently who'd asked her out simply because the conversation had been mindnumbingly dull and predictable. And while anyone could discuss books, art and world politics, not many are gifted enough to have inane yet hysterically absurdly funny conversations.
"You're crazy," interrupted an Assistant Director who was with the writer too. "It's not that simple. Emotions dont cost a thing. But you have someone to go home to. You have someone in your life."
"Love is dangerous," said the Writer.
"If you know it's dangerous, that makes you treasure it and you'll work harder to keep it," said the Director. "Look at all the old-fashioned romantics?"
That Woman jumped in. She knew the kind he was talking about. "Every time a man tells me he's a romantic, I want to scream. All it means is that he has a romanticized view of you and as soon as you become real and stop playing into his fantasy, he gets turned off. That's what makes these romantics dangerous. Stay away." She was talking about a Promising Young Director she had been in a relatioship with two years back and it was a disaster. She swore never to date anyone from Bollywood ever again, after that! "But still," she continued, "I totally believe in love. I would be so depressed if I didn't believe in it. People are halves. Being in love with the right person makes everything have more meaning."
"Then someone takes it away from you and you're fucked," The Writer continued.
"Maybe what you want is wrong," said the Director. "Maybe what you want makes you uncomfortable."
"I want beauty. I have to be with a beautiful woman. I cant help it," The Writer said. "That's why a lot of the girls I end up going out with are stupid," he said unhappily. "And that makes you uncomfortable!"
"I want to be with someone who loves Hindi films as much as I do and can have deep, meaningful conversations as well as totally inane, absurd and meaningless ones," That Woman grinned cheekily. "And who can make me laugh. ...And it makes a lot of men uncomfortable!"
And speaking of men, what turns up are basically re-runs of past relationships. Not reruns in the sense that you've actually been out with this particular man before...ex-boyfriends are too easy to recognise. Relationship reruns are much more subversive. they sneak up on you in the form of a fresh suitor who slowly reminds you of an ex-boyfriend until you realize you've already been there, done that, lived that episode of your life.
That Woman noticed she was in relationship rerun only recently. She had, in the past, dated a filmmaker and a corporate type guy and learned precious lessons when the relationships hadn't worked out. The lessons were - Never date anyone from the film industry. Never date any corporate type till they are put to rigorous tests and come out with flying colors.
Back Story -
They broke up three months after that and she swore she'd never ever date anyone from the film industry ever. The insecurities ran way too high and disillusionment ran way too deep to make you feel happy about another person's achievement without resenting them somewhat.
Corporate Guy came next. Was all nice and caring and understanding till the time he really saw her work schedule and couldn't comprehend why she worked such long hours. And how could she come home late at night and rant about having a long, tiring day and a headache too when all she'd done was be at a music director's studio "listening to music all day long!" She began explaining that she wasn't "listening to music" but actually the songs for the film she was working on and hadn't liked the way one song had turned out and because they had a deadline and studio time booked much in advance, all damage control had to be done that day itself. And it's not easy to compose a song and then make changes in it later. At which point Corporate Guy got all patronising and smirked, "I like the way you make it sound like it's a REAL job." She was stunned. It was a REAL job. It paid her bills and rent. How much more real could it get? The relationship was all downhill from that point on and they broke up soon. But not before a kickass parting shot where she told him how there're no real and unreal careers. Instead, a fine line between a career that's great fun and a career that's so uninspiring and dull, it marinates your hypothalamus in sleep serum.
About two weeks back she was at a party when another Corporate Guy was flirting with her and telling her how much he loved films and would she have dinner with him someday. He came across as a warm, sincere guy till she decided to scratch beneath the surface and put him through a couple of tests. Did he like proper Bollywood masala films? "Err, sometimes! I loved Black and Omkara," he said. What about Dhoom-2? And Don? And KANK? "I didn't watch any of those. They just look very inane and dumb. Films should make you think," he said. So what did Black and Omkara make him think? "Hmmm...tragedies that can happen to any of us...how ephemeral everything is..."
Her party epiphany: It's tempting to settle for a rerun when there's nothing else on, but if you recognize some of the lines, and you know how it turns out, why waste your time? Especially if that particular episode of your life wasn't so great the first time.
Few days later, they were all discussing the film script they were working on and when the above conversation was brought up again before a famous happily married actor, he said, "I totally believe that love conquers all. Sometimes you just have to give it some space."
And that's exactly what's missing in Bombay. And in Bollywood.
And as we strive to find some for ourselves while avoiding relationship reruns, we often forget to check out a new season of men and relationships.