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It is almost a year since Chennai Express, a record breaking Indian blockbuster of the king of Bollywood, Sha Rukh Khan, was released. This Indian flick may have a few surprise lessons for students of the movie craft.
It is one of those rare events on the silver screen, which provides a lot of insight to anyone seriously considering to master the craft of cinema and how to press the right buttons to enter the hearts of millions.
Bollywood films routinely become blockbusters with record collections at the box office, thanks to a captive audience looking out for a pass-time and burdened with a deficit of IQ and excess of money in their pockets both in India and abroad.
Chennai Express which got only sub zero marks from film critics, but managed to add a record number of zeros to its box office collection, however, is different and something of a a mystery of the Indian silver screen.
No one really knows how and when the ‘rail cars’ of Chennai Express, with such complexity that they could all have hardly come alive in a single brain, came together.
If Chennai Express was a typical director’s film it might have been a Rohit Shetty film. It is actually a unique flick, with a lot more deeper and serious facets to it than a film director’s work of entertainment. Many of those can be attributed to its hero, the Indian movie star and entrepreneur, Sha Rukh Khan.
A rail car named desire.
It is clearly the enormous desire of Sha Rukh Khan to make more money by investing wisely in a sure-fire formula which compelled him to venture out to make a film with Rohit Shetty, who is a young Indian director with a string of blockbusters under his belt. Rohit had cracked what the modern Indian audience wanted and was ready to to pour oil on any desire which made good commercial sense. The result could hardly be anything but explosive. Chennai Express, a deceptively dangerous theme, was the product of bold commercial vision of Khan, as suicidal as it is genius.
A script no one will touch
With the fire of desire in its gut, the express train of Sha Rukh and Rohit Shetty could have gone in any direction, but it took a southern turn with its script writer Subhash, son of a veteran southern film director, connected with the leaders of linguistic strife in India before independence.
It was no surprise that his script came with a genesis of an impossible dream of unity and harmony between southern and northern India, which broke down with the departure of the British and was aggravated by the linguistic division of India after independence.
From Helen of Troy to Gone with the wind, regional human conflict had been the backdrop of great classics, depicted truthfully and presented to audiences who can discern life from entertainment.
However, it would be utterly irresponsible to ignore consequences of chauvinism, even if it is in mere movie entertainment, in the 21st century India more divided and ignitable than ever.
The script of Chennai express, dealing with the love of a northern man to a southern belle was explosive any day, novel yet fraught with danger of massive protests and national grief if not a civil war, with the risk of negative stereotyping of south Indians. Though the script has a strong message of the power of love to unite everyone, almost impossible to deliver today as it was nearly a century back, the great Khan was audacious enough to grab it because he saw a divine touch of great commercial success.
The divine touch
What actually created the spark of creation of Chennai Express was a touch almost divine as the one in the Creation of Adam of Michel Angelo. It was the final touch of Khan’s own blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, still running in Mumbai after two decades, as the longest running flick.
Khan has instantly recognised that the feel of goodness where he left off in DDLJ is his ticket for Chennai Express which had the pulling power to drag millions of Indian hearts along with him in to it. It not only sealed the script of the movie but also the soft corner he has managed to sneak in to in millions of hearts worldwide.
"If music be the language of love, sing on in English" will be how Shakespeare would have framed his famous quote if he were alive today! In the age of globalisation and social web, English seems to have acquired the status of a global currency, in which you can trade your emotions without losing your identity.
Jayalalitha, the chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, whose delirium tremens and tantrums have become a part of the new X factor politics destroying India, has issued in true Taliban style, a diktat that all children in her state must learn Tamil!
You can't blame her! The poor soul, despite her 65 years on earth probably has never heard of Shakespeare let alone realise how the world has changed with globalisation, and social web, how regional language no more is an essential element of regional culture.
For Jayalalitha, a film actress of yester years whose mother tongue is not Tamil but Kannada of the neighbouring state of Karnataka where she was borne and brought up, evoking chauvinistic emotions has nothing but political expediency.
For millions of Tamil speaking people, who have wasted hours staring at Jayalalitha on the silver screen, movie after movie, because of a complex and weakness they have for her fair skin, however, "Kolaveri Di" is the new sound of Tamil music which makes them proud rather than her sermon on the virtue of Tamil.
“Kolaveri Di” is a Tamil song video created in English, which went viral on the social web scoring 150 million hits and was parodied in numerous languages, all because people everywhere could relate to its real music content and simple lyrics about the throngs of love as they were penned in English of a sort.
In fact the song dominated the media for better part of past three months since its release, invoking such universal enthusiasm which provoked the youth from
to Tokyo to burst out in
spontaneous song and dance sequences of Kolaveri Di in public and private
venues. The Hague
Doing the whole video in a universal language has no way taken away anything ‘Tamil’ from the wonderful production which is nothing but an expression of genuine creativity. If anything, it has only helped to introduce Tamil along with its creator Dhanush and his team to the whole world.
This is not the only example why language shouldn’t matter for true understanding and harmony between cultures. A similar video production created a few months earlier by the popular American artist Akon with a team from Mumbai also bear proof that power of music as food of love has not changed from the days when the Bard of Avon proclaimed it.
Through a song titled “Chammak Challo” created for an Indian film of Sharukh Khan, a famous Indian screen actor, the American singer and rapper Akon has proved the point.
Akon, with very little effort and time, managed to muster the few Hindi words in the lyrics written in English and managed to sing the song to music composed of elements from the middle east, all to enchant and capture the hearts of an Indian audience.
As it turned out, the song and its video recording turned a viral hit on the internet proving yet again that, when it comes to music as food for love, cultural assimilation happen pretty fast and the social web is the modern platform where it happens.
It is really amazing that two productions which as music or artistic expressions of young artists have nothing much to write about, have become phenomenal success with an international audience in such a short time. Then isn't that the case with most of the hits with pop music?
One can hope that this is a trend which will catch up and bring more of such unifying efforts from all languages and culture on to the social web.
It looks like at least on the social web no one really cares what language people communicate with as long as it is English. As in the real world, real talent not ethnicity or cultural background which matters. As far as the language of love is concerned, it looks like the easiest way to some one’s heart is just saying ‘I love you’ rather than ‘Je t'aime’ or ‘Ya tebya lyublyu’
Follow Sreedhar Pillai on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lastingrose