Films have always been an integral part of India and the very fact that we churn out the maximum number of films in the world every year confirms my statement. Indian cinema has been divided into two ‘types’ – Mainstream and Parallel or Commercial and Art House. This distinction was correct also but over the years things changed and so did the cinema and so did the audience. Art-House/Parallel cinema became Off-beat. The line between the two ‘types’ of cinema started to blur and we saw that off-beat films can be commercially viable too. I wouldn’t say that the line between the two has completely vanished; however; we now see a greater acceptance of all kinds of cinema.
In this post, I write about 5 ‘Off-beat’ Hindi films which I saw and why I loved them.
1. The Lunch Box
The Lunch Box is one of the most beautiful and ‘delicious’ love stories that I have seen on screen. I love this film because it takes an unconventional path with respect to storytelling. In the age of SMS and internet, this love story develops over hand-written notes delivered via lunch box. There is a comfortable ingenuousness in the notes which the protagonists exchange. There is an intense vignette of loneliness; and what’s interesting is that the characters talk about their life, experiences, and problems to each other but never really profess their love or meet each other. But, the magic is that still you can feel the love that grows between them and that is the beauty of the film.
2. Stanley Ka Dabba
Well coincidentally, Stanley Ka Dabba is another film based around food & lunch box that I absolutely love. There are many reasons why I adore this film. One of the many reasons being that it is a slice from our lives. It takes us back to our school days when the lunch time was the most cherished hour with friends. The time when we used to play, fight, laugh, cry and of course share food with our classmates. Stanley Ka Dabba also brings back innocence into the kids. The kids here are just their age and not the over-smart or overly matured bunch of kids as shown in most films. Around all this, the film conveys a deeper message against child-labor. It isn’t easy to address serious issues through a film and not sound stodgy. Stanley Ka Dabba excels here!
3. B.A. Pass
Based on a short story ‘The Railway Aunty’, B.A. Pass is a gritty story about sex and betrayal. The film shows us a Delhi that is beyond India Gate and Lal Quila. It shows us the deep dark and ruthless city that it becomes as the neon lights are switched on. It exposes the life of middle and upper class people where the middle class is battling with hypocrisy while the upper class is battling loneliness. Amid all this is enveloped the story of a boy who is forced into male prostitution and the film tells his tale brilliantly. It also talks about sex from a woman’s perspective; how physical needs are not just meant for men. Women too yearn for physical satisfaction. There aren’t many films which have touched the subject of male prostitution; B.A. Pass does and it passes! For all these reasons I love the film.
4. Dhobi Ghat
Most films have stories which are set in some city but we seldom come across a film where the city forms a character in itself. Dhobi Ghat is one such film and one of the major reasons why I absolutely loved it. It is the story of a city with four people living in it. In fact, it can rightly be called an ode to Mumbai. The film takes you to the chaotic lives of the people of Mumbai from all walks of life, their daily struggles; sometimes with themselves and sometimes with others, their hopes, their desires, their dreams. Just like a free flowing river, the film has a free flowing narrative and it’s still interesting how the four people are connected to each other in the film. It’s a painting of Mumbai with people filing colors into it.
Shyam Benegal’s Ankur is one of my favourite films of all times. Interestingly, this was the first film of Shyam Benegal and Shabana Azmi who created the path for parallel or off-beat cinema as it is called now. Based on a true story, Ankur is a film that mirrors the brutal feudal system which prevailed in India and the evil social customs that had (still have) chained India. The beauty of Ankur is that it addresses various social issues from alcoholism and casteism to inequality and dowry; yet it is more about the underlying human relationships. The title of the film also has many connotations left to our imagination. It can refer to Lakshmi whose womb is waiting for an offspring to grow in it or the seedling of uprising that takes birth against the feudal system and social customs. However, if I have to pick one reason as to why I love this film then it is because of Shabana Azmi who shines in the character of Lakshmi. She excels as a coy yet strong house servant who submits to her master who is attracted to her. We don’t know whether Lakshmi also loved her master or approved of the affair or whether she used him to get the child she had been yearning for. Her eyes speak of the emotions which churn within her. Ankur is truly class apart!
Miss Lovely, an off-beat film directed by Ashim Ahluwalia is set in the lower depths of Bombay’s “C” grade film industry. It follows the devastating story of two brothers who produce sex horror films in the mid – 1980s. A sordid tale of betrayal and doomed love, the film dives into the lower depths of the Bollywood underground, an audacious cinema with baroque cinemascope compositions, lurid art direction, wild background soundtracks, and gut-wrenching melodrama. Miss Lovely is scheduled for commercial release on 17 January 2014.
You can check the trailer of the film