Maldives' most successful filmmaker Fathimath Nahula,
director of Kalaayaa Nulaa, Zuleikha and Yoosuf
director of Kalaayaa Nulaa, Zuleikha and Yoosuf
by Hilath Rasheed
A recent Dhivehi film to hit the Maldives’ screen was three and a half hours long. Moviegoers who viewed it claimed that the events portrayed did not justify the movie’s lengthy running time.
There were unnecessary scenes that the director could have cut, in order to hold on to viewers’ interest, streamline the movie, and not lose its tone and mood. The director’s lame excuse for the movie’s lengthiness: give the audience "value for money".
The movie was like those first-time essays that we write in school. Too much diversion from the topic. Too much unnecessary information. Of course, it then served our objectives; make our essays as lengthy as possible, regardless of what we wrote, our purpose being to deceive our teachers, and get good marks from a half-hearted effort.
But most students now know that teachers are intelligent, and that they are not to be deceived. Likewise, film producers and directors should know that nowadays, there actually is an intellectual and intelligent audience out there. (Blame it on awareness, if you like). And these intelligent and critical movie viewers do not like to be duped. They are not concerned with the length of the movies, but by the quality of them. Remember, all our lives, we have been asked to believe that "quality matters, not quantity"? Similarly, in the case of movies, it is the quality of the movie that matters, not its running time.
Of course, Titanic was an exception. It is a good example of a lengthy movie that actually delivers. Even at three and a quarter hours, the audience held onto the very end. Until the final blissful dream Rose had of a reunion with Jack on the grand staircase of Titanic. USA Today hailed: "Titanic is the only long movie in recent history that you can actually sail through with minimum wrist watch checks."
The reason? The movie had scenes that were in harmony with themselves, despite Titanic’s cheesy (tin-eared?) dialogue.
A segment of the intelligent audience admitted that the Hindi film Khamoshi was something unique, but only in contrast to the hundreds of mainstream, commercial Hindi movies that hit the regional and international market each year. While this was so, they also admitted that one reason why Khamoshi—critically acclaimed by Indian standards—failed to create a stir among audiences, was its unnecessary length that could not actually justify its plot. The beginning and end of the movie was gripping, but the body lacked evidence of intelligent movie-making. Filmgoers drowsed off towards the middle of the movie, and only woke up to see the ending.
A movie’s success depends not on its length, but by the creativity and wits of the director in holding onto viewers’ interest and ending the movie on the same tone it began, without losing track of the movie’s moods. It is like writing an essay without diverting from the topic.
Serious moviegoers likewise could not appreciate Khamoshi director Sanjay Leela Bansali’s most recent effort Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam; those who watched it would know that only the latter half of the movie after the ‘interval’ was what really mattered. Salman Khan’s fussy attempts at comedy, before the ‘interval’, was purely intimidating, if not irritating. It may have satisfied the cravings of those die-hards fans of his whose only reason to buy a 25 Rufiya ticket was to see Salman Khan, not the movie. Those who went to see the movie, and not Salman Khan, left the cinema, regretting on the better consumer choices they could have made with 25 Rufiyas.
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was a recent Hollywood version of a movie gone awry. Except for its gripping pod-racing scenes, the movie was completely off the track in the middle. Some viewers claimed that immediately after the Ben Hur-like pod-racing scene, they drowsed off towards the lengthy, eventless period where the Jedis debated on whether to take on Anakin Skywalker for Jedi training. The sleeping audience was jerked back to their feet only towards the climactic multiple-battle end.
The Phantom Menace was two and a half hours long—long by Hollywood standards, with nothing much to deliver, except the pod-racing scene, the underwater world of Jar Jar Binks, and a final light saber clash with Darth Maul and a galactic battle at the end, to wrap it all up. The Phantom Menace’s only saving grace was that Star Wars had die-hard fans like us who were willing to contribute to the 400 million US dollar worldwide box office gross.
Journalists are not the only ones responsible for sensationalism. Film producers and directors are guilty of this act, too. Which is why most of the Dhivehi films, and Hindi films from neighbouring India, are overwrought productions of underlining melodrama and farfetched-ness.
Producers and directors seem not to know the meaning of restraint. Small wonder that local movies are of stories that surround so much on emotional outbursts, weeping and crying. All that the actresses —and actors—can do, seems to be, cry, cry, cry. Outbursts occur even for trivial things. Few, if any, Dhivehi movies show restraint.
Some Hindi films do show restraint, such as the recent commercial hit Dil Kya Kare, which showed some elements of good movie-making: running time was two and a half hours (short by Bollywood standards), songs were not intimidating, and actors and actresses, quite surprisingly, showed restraint. There is only one outburst throughout the whole film, even though the movie was a highly emotional drama. The only outburst is at the climactic end, and the situation justifies it; for anyone who has watched Dil Kya Kare, one can actually understand the emotional abyss Kajol and Mahima had fallen into. Dil Kya Kare had intelligently shown restraint, unlike any recent Hindi film.
No matter how much weeping and crying there is in a movie, if those outbursts are not justified by the script, no audience will feel any emotion towards the movie. Viewers will not identify themselves with the actors. They will only feel intimidated.
For those producers and directors who do not understand what restraint is, they have a wide variety of choices to watch from. If you want to watch a movie with restrained humour, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral will do. In Jeet, Amrish Puri shows restrained humour. He won a Best Supporting Actor Filmfare Award for the role. Dil Kya Kare shows restrained emotion.
The director of the three-and-a-half-hour long Dhivehi movie that hit the Maldives cinema this year—let’s call the movie, Movie X—had a lame excuse to cover up whatever loopholes could be found in her script (which she herself wrote) and her effort at movie-making. She said that audience should be given "value for money" for their spending on to see the movie. Since the price of tickets, at 40 Rufiya each, were deemed reasonably high by Maldivian standards, viewers had the right to see a movie that were of "satisfactory length (or running time)", she claimed. This maybe a marketable argument for the gullible, but thinking people are not to be deluded. If the producer and director of Movie X were sincerely concerned in giving "value for money" for their moviegoers, they should have offered a "quality" movie, not a movie of unnecessary "quantity". Her argument can be sold to those people who are actually concerned with the length of movies.
This may come as surprising, but there are some people who seem to have more than enough time in their hands, and treat movies as a form of entertainment to while away boredom. This segment of the audience cannot be termed as "serious moviegoers". What they need is long hours of entertainment—movies, serials, soap operas—to while away their carefree lives. No wonder that some people can sit in front of TV round-the-clock, channel-hopping, sipping whatever crappy programmes offered.
To cite an actual incident that proved that this audience exists: two friends who were recently in Malaysia went to a shopping mall. The male friend checked cinema listings, and saw that most-wanted recent movies were on play, such as the likes of The Haunting and Deep Blue Sea. The female friend looked at the cinema timings and commented that she didn’t want to watch any of those movies, however good they were, but that instead she wanted to go home. The male friend asked her what was wrong, and she replied: "All of the movies that are playing are too short. I don’t like when movies end too fast. Let’s go home. We can rent and watch something that is long." Perhaps a three-hour long Hindi movie? Quality didn’t matter to her. Quantity did.
A recent trend in Maldivian cinema is to put out movies of record running time. Maybe to cater to that certain breed of cinema-goers who like their movies long, however crappy they are. There was a movie (‘epic’ they called it) that was of three hours and 45 minutes running time— half an hour longer than even Titanic. Should these movies be run on cinema as serials? Or should producers and directors start making ‘made-for-TV’ movies or soaps that can fill the empty slots of air time on television channels?
Such trends leads us to question: Is the purpose of producers and directors to make a half-hearted effort in order to make profit in our consumer society? What happened to the element of artistic value? Did it get buried by prevailing popular culture or the pressures of our market-oriented society? Isn’t there anyone, anyone who will be bold enough to stand up for art?
(This article was published in Haveeru Daily on 18 Nov 1999)