They don't play it like us

There's the competition? Amelie is a sweet, feel-good fairy tale about ordinary people grappling with the ordinary business of life. Sadly, an overdose of sweetness has almost soured the Oscars over the years.

Only last year, we tasted Chocolat, didn't we? Elling is an attempt to accolade the achievements of a pair of dysfunctional friends who combat the pressures of a normal world in their own abnormal ways. Normal is boring: now hasn't Uncle Oscar already echoed the Fido Dido credo nearly nineteen times till date. Oscar history throws up a never-ending love bond between the mentally or physically challenged wonderboy who transforms the all-faculties-intact guy into a midget.

Remember Tom Hank's Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man, Daniel Day Lewis' My Left Foot and Al Pacino's Scent of a W oman. No Man's Land shifts the Academy's by and large blinkered vision to virgin territory. Nevertheless, the Bosnian war drama remains an oft-voiced cry for peace.

Lagaan is all this and so much more. It is about love, peace, patriotism, ordinary heroism, underdog grandeur, sportsmanship, comradeship, anti-casteism, anti-imperialism, secularism... But that's only about content. And only about the competition in the foreign film category. Lagaan stands heads and shoulders above its competitors merely on the strength of its story, the style of its craft and the scale of its canvas.

Time to go ten steps further and pose the million dollar query to Hollywood itself: Where's the competition, big brother? Take the best of Indian cinema and pitch it against
Hollywood's hall of fame. A Mother India will stand out amidst the Bravehearts, the Ben Hurs and the Rambos. Let's get real. The world's largest entertainment industry overwhelms not only by sheer numbers - over 900 films a year - it wrings the viewer dry by the sheer sweep of its emotions. Three-and-a-half hours of rona-dhona, naach-gaana, fantasy, escapism, thrills, chills and heroism, all encapsulated in the eternal parable of goods victory over evil: Does Hollywood ever play it larger-than-life like this. Lately, they have even begun to realise what they lack -the magniloquence of the Bollywood dream. So much so, you now have our Occidental clone (Moulin Rouge) competing for Best Picture, even as Andrew Lloyd Weber is busy weaving his musical eulogy to the Indian film idiom in Bollywood Dreams.

If Bollywood (read Lagaan) feels threatened today, it is not so much an external threat.
Ironically, Lagaan suffers no competition even from the mainline contenders like A Beautiful Mind (critics are calling it a lie-epic), The Lord of the Rings (incoherent gobbledygook for non-Tolkein fans), Moulin Rouge (simply our clone). No. The real threat comes from within - the rot that seems to be setting in at the desi box office due to an overriding mediocrity of content, style and vision. Week after week of box office duds: Time for Bollywood to pay its due to the desi viewer, even as it claims its Lagaan from Hollywood.

By Nikhat Kazmi, dated Monday March 25, 2002.
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