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DAREDEVIL MUSTHAFA (Kannada) and THE KERALA STORY (Hindi) - The contrast in the filmmaking of the present times, (Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing)

30 Mar, 2024 | Just In / Articles on Cinema / Movie Reviews / 2023 Releases

The present decade of the new millennium is the era of extremes, wherein ‘either you are with us or against’ is the new life mantra for a concerning majority. A similar extremism practiced in cinema is fast making us forget the art of cherishing our cultural and religious diversities. Storytelling and filmmaking are not the same anymore, and cinema is honestly being exploited as a medium, ignoring the social responsibilities associated with creative liberties. The political inclinations are further adding a lot of ‘colour’ into the depictions, and ‘the writing’ is not as bright as it used to be in the last century.  
Looking back into the Hindi cinema after the Indian partition in 1947, one finds references and storylines subtly based on the theme of partition in very few films like Aag (1948), Lahore (1949), Nastik (1954), etc, made in the first decade after the independence. The portrayal in these films primarily expressed the pain, sorrow, and guilt felt after the tragic partition, as the spirit of brotherhood still had its roots intact in the hearts on both sides of the border. The hidden anger and aggressive confrontations were first witnessed a few years later in Yash Chopra’s Dharamputra, in 1961, facing a social outburst among the viewers. Then, the two wars between the neighbors introduced bitterness, further widening the gap, thoughtfully narrated in cinematic gems such as Garm Hawa (1974). Incidentally, the film was released after 11 months of struggle with the censors as everyone was unsure about how it would be viewed and the reactions among the audience.
The scenario of projects based upon partition largely remained the same in the next two decades, led by classics such as Tamas (1988), until two devastating political events shattered the entire country in the early 90s. Post the Babri Masjid demolition and Mumbai blasts and riots; the subject didn’t remain the same for Indian cinema as the anger gradually started moving towards hate. The change was loudly depicted in films such as Bombay (1995) and Border (1997), which came just a few years before the Kargil war in 1999 and the attack on the Twin Towers of New York in 2001. 
Next, the new millennium bringing along the digital revolution and the era of social platforms entirely transformed the world without any second thoughts. The new-age films post-2010 were now more interested in talking about religion, terrorism, forced conversions, and the cultural differences moving ahead of the partition. This is precisely where our cinema also got divided into two groups, representing two kinds of thought processes, strangely expressing almost the same thing.
The first kind can easily be called ‘old-school cinema’. It still remembers its roots and is never interested in spreading hate, adding fuel to the already existing tension among the communities. This form of cinema is thoughtfully made to enlighten the viewers by stating the facts and does not attempt to provoke one against the other. 
For instance, try to recall the experience of watching any film made before 2000 about partition or war between the two neighbouring countries. Those films make you feel tension, anger, and even hate for a few moments, but they never end on that hateful note, even movies like the hyper-aggressive Border. All those films responsibly end on a positive, inspiring note, to build a better world ahead, taking essential lessons from the past. But they never leave you in an angered, tense, or restless state, willing to confront anyone from the other community while moving out of the theatre. That was never the intention behind those films made by their socially responsible filmmakers, and they rarely resulted in any chain of hateful events during or after their screenings.
The second kind is the new-age cinema that doesn’t mind purposeful exaggerations of the facts and isn’t interested in enlightening the viewers with some introspective depiction of events and characterizations. On the contrary, this cinema is more interested in targeting and widening the gap, making viewers more fearful instead of intelligent or aware through brutally shocking visuals and dialogues. This represents the storytelling following a narrow perspective with a specific goal and no fear about its negative consequences on society. In fact, more unrest makes it more successful in targeting a particular set of audiences who energetically respond to its provocative narrative. Furthermore, these kinds of films very carefully devise their ‘endings,’ as that remains in the minds of millions of viewers worldwide. They never end on a soft note, in a socially responsible manner, promoting peace among the citizens, as that is never the vision behind their making. 
Stating recent examples of these two kinds of cinemas existing in our present world, while DAREDEVIL MUSTHAFA represents the first kind of responsible ‘old-school cinema,’ THE KERALA STORY belongs to the second kind of aggressive new-age cinema featuring intentional targeting and exaggerations. Both films broadly talk about hate towards a specific community, the inter-faith marriage in youngsters going against their families, and the tense co-existence of the two communities in a region. Yet their storytelling, writing, script progression, treatment, and characterization are hugely conflicting, representing two individual visions and intentions.
DAREDEVIL MUSTAFA is a beautifully conceived Kannada film about teenagers and their college life, with only one student belonging to a minor community. Though the entire movie is about the hate expressed for the youngster and his unnecessary bullying, it never makes you feel that hate as a viewer. The writing and the direction maturely execute its various sequences, including the one involving ‘religious sentiments hurt’ during a stage show and riots amidst a religious procession. The film's overall feel remains far away from anything hateful or ugly disrespecting any one community, and you feel like you are a part of the young team emoting on the screen. An essential sub-plot of the film revolves around an inter-faith marriage, which is the reason behind all the hatred. It also has an entertaining cricket match in the climax involving players from different communities.
In short, it is a simple, heartwarming film, decently shot and enacted as a teenage venture that never tries to overdo things, with an inspiring culmination promoting peace and harmony among the students.
As it ends, you feel like you've seen an upbeat and entertaining youthful drama that honestly doesn’t look like a representation of the existing world surrounded by hate and anger. It makes you recall the good old times, feeling bright and hopeful for the future, which has to be much better and more pleasant than the present.
The fact that a debutant director has presented it as a delightful college drama with a religious twist is nothing short of an achievement in the world we are currently living in, and that too with the hero representing the minor community. The film is a crowd-funded project based upon the famous story of legendary writer Poornachandra Tejaswi, written in the last century when fake message campaigns and mobile phones did not yet disrupt life on this planet. Its poster prominently makes an interesting mention: “For the first time, fans of a writer join hands to produce a film.”
On the other hand, THE KERALA STORY builds its entire narrative around the real-life case of 3 girls with an exaggerated mention of 32,000 similar cases, both in its promotion and writing. As this hard-to-believe number got challenged, the director took it back, changing it from 32,000 to just 3. Surprisingly, this quick acceptance of misquoting the facts did not reveal anything important for many. Both the people and media ignored the intentional exaggeration. However, the film still mentions many such references in its dialogues, quoting even the key politicians and their controversial speeches from years back. Plus, its entire writing and story progression never showcases even a single positive character from the targeted minor community, declaring everyone a culprit involved in the heinous crimes, sparing none.
That said, THE KERALA STORY also bravely reveals the mission and tactics of the terrorist organization targeting young girls and getting them forcibly converted. The specific sequences involving their trafficking activities and inhuman killings are shockingly brutal, and they do contribute to the generation of awareness along with hate as desired. Shot on striking real-life locations, its performances are average, but the writing never takes its focus off the blame game with constant hammering in its dialogues (reminding you of many WhatsApp forwards), deliberately trying to influence the viewers. 
After two hours of such forceful storytelling, the film decisively ends with the real-life footage of the victims’ families sharing their sufferings and pain, hitting you hard. These insertions indeed leave an impact, and one feels loaded with the extra baggage of hatred while moving out of the theatre, which ideally should never be an outcome of any movie made in any part of the world. However, since an ethical culmination was never the aim, the film further widens the already widened gap in our society, creating more enemies than friends.
THE KERALA STORY certainly has a message for young girls who need to be much more aware of their relationships and surroundings, but that doesn’t mean closing all the doors on a community and painting everyone black. It certainly shows us the mirror but also asks us to reflect on how we are dealing with such eye-opening facts and what the consequences will be for the next generations.
Returning to the comparison, neither DARE DEVIL MUSTAFA is a perfect film, nor is THE KERALA FILES with its forceful depiction. While the first never bring in any reference to crime or terrorism in its region, staying away from any complexity, the latter simply denies seeing anything positive in the other community because of its tunnel vision. However, while DARE DEVIL MUSTAFA can still make a constructive contribution to our society, films like THE KERALA FILES can result in more damage than spreading awareness that might not be visible or imaginable in the present. 
On a concluding note, it all depends upon the vision and intention with which we write, make, and watch our cinema, following our individual thought processes. Take the example of this write-up, which never uses ‘Hindu-Muslim’ or any names even once in the entire text of more than 1800 words and still manages to convey everything about both films. 
That depicts the difference between how we responsibly used to make our cinema in the past and how we are forcibly conceiving it in the present, influencing the vulnerable audience.
To put it straight, you have the choice about what you read, write, watch, and promote in the present, and this choice will only make all the difference in the future.
Bobby Sing

(The article was first published in an edited form in PICTURE PLUS bilingual magazine in its June 2023 issue)

Tags : DAREDEVIL MUSTHAFA (Kannada) and THE KERALA STORY (Hindi) Contrast in filmmaking by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, New Bollywood Movies Reviews by Bobby Sing, New Hindi Films Reviews by Bobby Sing.
30 Mar 2024 / Comment ( 1 )
sandeep panwar

Hello paaji

first off all your article isvery good. sir aapko kehna chahta hu ki old school cinema ka woh daur alag tha. aaj ki audience ko whatsapp university se sirf ek community ke khilaf kiya jaa raha hai. apne agenda ko poora kiya jaa raha hai. abhi 5 saal ye aur dekhna pade. baki new school cinema ki kuch films like bastar, the vaccine war hype karwanee ke baad bhi flop hui hai jiska matlab ye hai ki accha cinema chalta hai.

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