Brute force and elegant fight scenes

About a month back I happened to watch some random Kannada movie playing on TV starring wifebeater Darshan (it was called “Boss”, I think). It seemed like yet another of those typical masala flicks, with twin brothers and a weeping mother and lots of rowdies and corporate rivalry and all that. Overall it was a mostly sad movie but for me the biggest turn-off was the final fight-scene that takes place in some warehouse.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a big fan of action movies. After we got our VCP, I remember going up to the videotape rental store close to home every Saturday evening and asking for “some fighting movie”. I didn’t care at all for the story or the lack of ┬áit in any movie I saw. All I cared about was for “action”. After I had whetted my initial appetite for “fighting movies” by watching a bunch of Shankarnag action flicks (CBI Shankar, the Sangliana movies, etc.) my father started bringing home James Bond movies. I remember watching You Only Live Twice and Moonraker back then. I remember watching The Spy Who Loved Me, too, but there was a problem with the tape so I wasn’t able to watch it fully.

Coming back to Darshan and Boss, the turn-off about the fight scene was that it was an unbelievable “brute force” scene. The hero, a rather muscular sort of guy, singlehandedly beats up a whole bunch of bad guys. And it’s not even in the traditional form where the bad guys come one by one. They all come together and attack him and he repels them all simultaneously by means of sheer superhuman muscular strength. There was absolutely no fun in watching it. It was a similar story with the Puneet Rajkumar starrer Jackie, which I saw on TV last weekend. Though it was a rather well-made movie with a nice (and unusual) storyline, it again suffered from the problem of a superhuman hero who would overpower bad guys by means of muscular strength.

Earlier today I happened to watch the “Indian James Bond movie” Goadalli CID 999 starring Dr. Rajkumar. A rather poor attempt to make a “James Bond style” movie in Kannada, with a rather lame plot and underground hideouts involving automatic doors and the likes. The redeeming feature of the movie, though, was the fight scenes, especially the ones with Narasimharaju (who plays CID 888, 999’s sidekick). Clearly recognizing that this fellow didn’t have any means of brawn to beat up the bad guys, the fight scenes were “elegant”, where the good guy uses his brain rather than muscular strength in order to overpower the villains. So you have a gun that fires ten seconds after the trigger is pulled, and you have the good guy getting the bad guys to shoot each other, and things like that. It was a joy to watch.

The unfortunate trend in recent Kannada movies, though, is to make a superpower hero who simply beats the bad guys, which completely takes the joy out of fight scenes. That clever movement to deflect a punch, the use of easily available props to get away from the bad guys, setting bad guys against each other, stuff like this is completely missing from these movies. One reason could be that directors are not imaginative enough to put more care into fight scenes to make them enjoyable (though this is doubtful given that the general quality of Kannada movies in the last 5 years is better than that of earlier movies). The other reason has to do with the actors who play these roles. Perhaps they want to build up a superhero kind of image among their fans, one in which they can do no wrong and are supremely powerful. And a scene where they have to rely more on their intelligence and trickery to win a fight might go against this kind of an image they want to cultivate. Whatever it is, it only goes to remove entertainment value from a fight which could have been a joy to watch.

My all time favourite movie fight scene is from the “original” Don, featuring Amitabh Bachchan. The centre of attraction in this scene is this little red diary which contains all the information about the bad guys, and the good and bad guys are fighting for it. In the mix are a bunch of kids, the heroine, a paralyzed stuntman and of course the hero. The good guys play “monkey” with the diary, and in the process beat up the bad guys. It is an absolute joy to watch and for me that was the high point of the movie. Sadly, they don’t make movies like that any more.

Movies and thoughts

I find Bollywood movies thought-provoking. No, seriously. The thoughts that they provoke may not have anything to do with the movie itself, but provoke they do. This is in total contrast to, say, Spaghetti Westerns or James Bond movies, which are excellent tools for escapism. The good movies of the latter kind totally immerse you, have you completely detached from the real world, and are excellent tools to get you out of NED.

Maybe the thing with the Bollywood movies is that they don’t engage you enough. They don’t engage you enough in order for you to be immersed in them. And that leaves you with enough CPU time to start thinking of other things. Then, it is easier to empathise (in some form; maybe some 10% empathy if not more) with certain characters in certain Bollywood movies, which is impossible to do in case of characters such as James Bond or The Man With No Name. And this empathy will end up directing your spare CPU time to thinking about yourself.

Bollywood movies also have a lot of “slow moments”. Passages in the movie where nothing really happens, and this includes the songs. Passages where nothing enough happens, and which allows you to be able to switch off and devote your entire CPU time to the other thing that you are thinking of. Also, the language is generally easy enough that even if you were to miss a few dialogues (when lost in thought), you are able to catch up with the rest of the movie.

Maybe it has to do with the intent of the filmmakers. Whether they intend to make a gripping movie that will help the audience go off on an escapist trail, or whether they want to purposely keep the movie light so that it doesn’t demand much brain power from the audience. Or maybe it has to do with implementation. It may well be the case that someone wants to make a gripping movie, but does such a bad job of it that the minds in the audience start meandering. Or maybe the filmmakers try to make a movie where the audience sees the movie through the eyes of a certain character. But the problem with that is that in such cases, there is the chance that the viewer equates himself with this character, and starts thinking of the similarities and differences, and focuses on himself rather on the movie.

It also depends upon the intent of the viewer, as to what he is expecting when he goes to the movie. Does he want the movie to present him a mirror so that he can see himself in the characters? Mostly not, I think. Does he go for general entertainment? Mostly yes, I think. Does he go to the movie for some sort of an escapist experience so that he can momentarily be detached from his normal life? Maybe yes, which I think signifies a higher fraction compared to “mostly not”.

I don’t see too many movies. Even those that I see are those that have generally been certified as hits. i don’t normally see art-house kind of movies – which are perhaps actually made to be thought-provoking. The last three Hindi movies I’ve seen (approximately) are Jaane Tu… , Jab We Met and Rock On. I have no clue what the intent of each of these movies was, though I would imagine they were made for general entertainment. Each of them ended up holding a mirror to me, and made me ask myself lots of uncomfortable questions while watching. Maybe the last Hindi movie that involved me enough to distract me from myself was Omkara. I wonder which of these movies I should regard as being better – the one that held the mirror or the one that made me detached.