Fashion: The Cinema of Haute Torture

Supriya Suri

Once the thesis(film) by Madhur Bhandarkar is out, you know the controversies will be there for his authenticity in exploring the industry, and presenting before us the reality about them. His films are based on a great amount of research, which we all are yet to see being presented in a cinematic way. The research so widely advertised about his movie does not come across in a ways that could be attributed to cinema; its ontological values, and not just interviews, observation, research and his thesis put across the screen that, I believe, could be better suited for a some other medium, but definitely not cinema.

More than understanding the topic, the content, the story, that apparently in our country marks the distinction between other oeuvres and the greatness of a filmmaker. It's the exploration of the form that is something requires immediate attention. Because there is a need to explore its dimension, since cinema is not just about content, or form alone, but it's the balance of both that gives rise to an expression, it's exactly such element that is missing from this movie due to the absence of the former and, the lack, of which makes ' realistic' movies like Fashion a mockery of the word realism itself.

The director Madhur Bhandarkar is known for his off- beat subjects and themes (content) but Fashion for me was just another mundane venture that swept away the audience emotionally inside the theaters and got them back to their respective lives once it was over- in other words failed at provoking the audience to think. I don't remember the last time in years when I came across a Hindi film that provoked me to think over the subject, to have a discussion on, to have an urge to find out on what was being talked about. It is just for those hours that we experience; sway along to what we see and then the lives move on, nothing changes. Films here in general fail to make us reflect upon what has been said inspite of the fact that their research and realism set out to do the same.

Fashion is a chaotic attempt in exploring the fashion industry on film. The narrative is told via three models: Kagna Renaut, Priyanka Chopra and Mughda Godse. The reason I said chaotic attempt was because in the entire film neither did we get an insight to the characters nor did we get familiarize with the space enclosed around the fashion industry. Apart from that we saw a lot of characters and scenes that the film could do without. I would like to quote here what Robert Bresson once said:-

"Cinema is about subtraction and not addition."

The film was full of added sequences for example, characters like Priyanka Chopra's uncle and aunt in Mumbai whom she lives with and then is forced to leave the house. Similarly, there was another scene where we saw the director himself in a special appearance being talked by the models for his attitude of presenting realistic cinema before us. This scene reminded me of Emir Kusturica's documentary, Maradona, where he kept cutting away to his own films and talked about them. This modesty publicity sequence has a resonance to the shot of Madhur Bhandarkar that seemed like a subtle advertisement (this is where we humans start becoming brands as well). The film had many more of these modest publicity stunts because the director is most interested in making 'realistic cinema,' as he naturally used: real actors, models, designers in the film that would enhance the realistic approach irrespective of their acting potential. The film included Konkana Sen, Karan Johar, Ranvir Shorey and many more such human brands and the product brands like Reebok, Sunsilk, Kimaya having a win-win situation where fashion needed them and vice versa.

Madhur Bhandarkar has been one of the few directors who tries to use songs in a very non- conventional manner, using them as an important part of developing the storyline yet his effort falls under the same conventional league of directors because there is no growth in the approach of developing the story formally. The movie had three such songs showing an important plot development through added montage and dissolves. For eg we see Priyanka and Arjan Baweja falling in love in the first song and then a montage of Priyanka Chopra gaining confidence (a character transition) with various auditions through a montage. The repetition of using these conventional montage and dissolves have narrowed down the entire potential of the form. Even if, in the whole conventional aspect, the director tries to break free from the traditions and conventions of narrative and story telling structure and is interested in giving something new in the content; the clichés in using techniques like these makes us anticipate 'the new' that he wants to present. So the cliché of using background music, songs, dissolves, the hand held shaky camera and other repetitive techniques have 'also' started making us anticipate the obvious or even the unobvious("which earlier the cliché in narrative or the story line did").

Moving on to the cinematography, most of the directors in Bollywood score full marks in mugging up in how to establish the content before us and so has Madhur Bhandarkar. Most of the directors and cinematographers have a very fixed pattern in their shooting styles which have become equivalent to stock shots stored in their brains. Fashion represented the same monotonous use of these stock shots, the only difference lies is that every director re-shoots these stock footage with new actors and have mastered the art of cheating. The continuous mis-use of close-ups leading to cutting between the space, manipulating emotions and bringing down the potential of cinematography, acting, art decor has let the whole process being very mechanical and deceptive. The abuse of lenses for e.g. in the film, the director used telephoto lenses while cutting a conversation between Priyanka Chopra and another actress in an office that marked cutting between space, which represents the easy solution to stage a scene and has deep resonance to the style and methods of television shooting.

These methods of using easy methods for a shot has exploited the role of many people involved in the cinematic process. It is not only the various elements in cinema that have been narrowed down in terms of its usage, exploited in their exploration but also the people involved in creating these elements. For e.g. Through the extreme usage of close-ups or these lenses, henceforth restricting the space, actually makes one feel what exactly was the value of the art decor or the location, the surroundings in the film. After the film got over, I didn't remember one single surrounding or space or any location, all I remembered were the dresses and the faces, it was then I wondered the what exactly Nitin Desai had to do in the film?

From these camera tricks to the casting, everything was a cliché and stereotyped. The way homosexuals were represented in such an obvious manner creates a wrong preconceived impression among the laymen. Apart from generalizing the homosexuals the director carried forward the tradition of repeating Kagna Ranaut in a role that seems to have become part of her career graph. Since this not the first time that she played the role of being an alcoholic and drug addict. As a result of which we didn't see anything new coming out of the actress. Although her attitude and expressions did show her potential, yet there was a sense of repetition.

It has become quite often that acting skills and talents have been overshadowed by their looks in our industry. I read in an interview where a designer of the film said, "We used Kagna's hair in an exotic manner; we cut it short but kept her mop of curls to make her look more vulnerable when she loses it all". He also added, "During that phase she is also shown sporting log tee shirts that would make the audience feel sorry for her." With make up, camera and costumes all trying to force us to feel the emotions that the characters are going through, it makes me wonder again how we are actually underestimating and not fully realizing an actors potential. It is this example that again adds up to another example of exploitation of exploration in cinema, the unexplored potential of the actors.

Despite of all of this some of the actor's potential did come across the screen well. I especially enjoyed Priyanka Chopra's acting skills and felt in a few scenes she did quite a remarkable job; first was when she comes near the mirror and tries to wipe her tears after she sleeps with a stranger, then a scene where she restarts her career and walks the ramp then freezes thinking about her past and the last scene where she walks the ramp and flashes attitude and anger together. Even though the dialogues of the film did feel a bit weak in some places, her acting was commendable. Mughda Godse, although in the beginning we saw a bit over, yet the subtlety in her acting came as the story developed.

The whole potential of acting, cinematography, editing, songs, music, art decor, space, narrative technique, in short the mise-en-scene has still remained unexplored. And it is this lack of understanding that is failing in evolving cinema, making it a very mechanical and stagnant process. With no experimentations in any form, the growth of many people associated in the process and the directors themselves have remained very confined. And to the launch of Fashion, the director added "For me, every film I make is like an experimental cinema." An experiment where we have failed to evolve the form and are regressing with every film we make and cinema is being a medium where evolution is has turned to an opposite way in the graph.


nitesh said…
Interesting write-up supriya especially the idea of ‘stock- shots’ that more or less has become a staple syntax of the film industry, and couldn’t agree more with what you had to express in the review. Beside we have to question the directors what does the word realism or research in contemporary society mean to them, and how does it translate to cinema. I also think that the male actors did show signs that they acting abilities could be explored further.
Anonymous said…
I havent seen the movie yet, but my cousin, who is a fashion designer says its a good movie and these things do happen in the glamour world.
supriasuri said…
Obviously a well researched director is beyond to represent what exists in fashion world.
My concern lies more in exploring the potential of cinema than doing PHD , thesis about the subject.
Anonymous said…
very nicely written....
although, i hv to confess that i somehow liked the 1 time watch..anyway, the last time a hindi mpvie forced u to think was rang de basanti..
Anonymous said…
I appreciate the way you have explained the banal cinematic language, or complete lack of it that most popular hindi films display. Perhaps this has something to do with the "filmed plays" of yesteryear. I agree with your reading of the angles and lenses that the cinematographer uses to cheat viewers of the surroundings.
a well written analysis of the film.
supriasuri said…
Thanks so much surbhi for appreciating the article. I completely agree with the fact that you said that it has something to do with the yesteryears, the tradions are continuing and no one is ready to breakfree from it.
The sad part is even when people understand the potential of cinema, they choose to be ignorant and take an easy way out
jj said…
i thought it was well written and agreed with quite a few points u made, specially in terms of acting, casting and the characters not letting us in as much as they could have, while time was wasted on other comments to which the audience was expected to say ''oh yaa! aisa hota hai''.
however, i think most of ur critique focussed on the cinematography aspect- heres my question: if that was done well and added to the depth of the movie, would u have called it another one of the techniques to overshadow the acting skills and talents too? or is there some hierarchy in place where cinematographers work is art, but make up and costume artists work is 'crutches'?
But overall agreed, the movie was fine- made u sad and glad while u watched it but lacked innovation in the true sense of the word.

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