in Bollywood, India

Stories Untold: How the lack of Character Development affects Indian Cinema

I have often observed that Indian movies have a habit of skipping over various aspects of a character’s development in a rush to tell the entire story in the allotted time. Story telling is a noble pursuit, in that the audience is nowadays impatient and quick to judge. It takes a lot of combined work by everyone involved, from the script writer to the editor, to release a product that is worthy of people’s time and money. Consequently, if the end product is a confused, winding tale, it is a failure of every single person involved in the storytelling process.

Note: Spoilers Ahead. I encourage you to read them before you go waste your money on the movie.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s recent movie ‘Ram Leela’ has failed me in this aspect. The movie has been called everything from an Epic to a piece of beautiful cinema, and it is all of that. The story is fantastic and the sets were something straight out of Saawariya. But the characters left something lacking. Here are my main complaints –

  1. When did they fall in love? This is the first questions my friends asked as we exited the movie. A Holi scene with the firing of a gun does not constitute the beginning of a love affair. The Storyteller (since Bhansali is the Writer, Director, Producer, Songwriter and Editor of this movie, I’m going to call him the overarching Storyteller and place the entirety of the blame on him) seems to believe in love at first sight in a world that is increasingly practical. This does not fly. The characters do not seem to have ever had any interaction before that scene and yet, they do not waste a moment in falling in love.
  2. Why is the second half bereft of Ram’s emotions? The first half of the movie seems fairly balanced, with each character’s perspective being explored. Suddenly, in the second half, the focus shifts on Leela’s actions (not thoughts, the director forgot inner-monologue) and completely ignores Ram’s actions. The reasons for Ram’s apparent indifference towards Leela, his unwillingness to call or contact her even after he is declared Don and has his mobile phone with him, his new-found hatred towards Leela’s family are all unwarranted and unexplained. The Storyteller could have easily forsaken a song here or there to allow for such story arcs to be explored. Instead, while making what is obviously an Art film, Bhansali chose to walk the confusing middle path of raunchy numbers and long cinematic scenes which left someone like me, who goes to watch a movie for its story and not its cinematography, in total anguish.

  3. Why is Leela not angry at Ram in the second half and then suddenly all rage? Leela, upon discovering Ram’s apparent disloyalty, doesn’t show a speck of anger, instead sends her sister-in-law to pass along a message to Ram, leading to a rape scene that though beautifully shot, makes no sense at that point. I do acknowledge that such scenarios happen, where, in India, a woman of one family is raped as revenge for some act against a woman of the other family. This, it seems, is a reality that the Storyteller successfully captured. But the story does not naturally flow towards this. Specially because when Leela suddenly becomes Don, she unveils anger which has suddenly appeared out of nowhere. By the way, the actions leading to her becoming Don were fantastic, but the next point will show you that they were not at all well executed.

  4. The ‘Nagada Sang Dol’ song has one Leela too many. Baa despises Ram and wants to end him. Thus, the song and dance sequence as a time to accomplish an execution is excellent. Except that Baa would not allow Leela to even step in front of Ram in this sequence, let alone allow her to dance in the assembly, knowing full well that Leela still harbors positive emotions towards Ram. Everything else about that sequence makes perfect sense, but Leela’s presence there literally destroyed it for me.

  5. The ending sequence makes little to no sense. No, I do not mean what happened in the end. I’ve not read Romeo & Juliet but I know that the fate of the two stories can be no better than that of Soni Mehiwal. The fact of the matter is that the absolutely last scene was useless and stretched well beyond the requirement. The point where Baa fires the gun should have been the end all. The bodies could have been discovered by the sister-in-law upon her joyous arrival. But instead, the Storyteller went all mushy on us by adding romantic dialogue over dialogue, taking away the essence and brevity of the scene with every word.

 

That’s all I remember from the movie and will add my complaints as I remember them. At first I thought that maybe in the US there was a shorter print of the movie based on people’s taste for shorter movie times. But that is not the case. The Storyteller was exceptionally incapable of executing such an interesting story because of the pitfalls of commercial cinema and blindly assuming that people enjoy a half-baked story. I am not asking for Twilight-styled inner monologues, but the least I hope from Indian Storytellers is that they will consider the full development of a character while they go about writing, directing and editing the stories that they present to us.