Cinema Marte Dum Tak
Onto the next release of the weekend and strangely so, this was the most awaited release of this weekend for me personally. And with that I have finished watching the new Hindi documentary series Cinema Marte Dum Tak which is streaming on Amazon Prime. The OTT giant had released its trailer only a couple of days ago which was odd straight up, given the pulpy and exciting content which the series did promise. Based on the ‘C Grade Film Industry'(for a lack of a better word/phrase), this series did seem to be filled with lip-smacking chaos and madness that may have formed a major part of our childhood in more ways than one. A Hindi film based on this subject, ‘Miss Lovely’, was also made and I had enjoyed the rawness in the film which at that point did seem close to reality.
If you have been following my reviews then by now you would know that I am a cinephile who also is in love with the idea of cinema and filmmaking. I was introduced to films very early on in my life, thanks to my grandma and ma, and since then that fascination was always present. But a lesser part of my childhood was also that one theatre(later converted to a multiplex and now closed) which did fall along the route to my school. That theatre was slightly shady, showcasing films with ‘colourful names’ like Loha and Khooni Panja to name a few. There was a fascination for these films primarily due to its poster, something that was very different from the films shown by my mother like DDLJ or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
It was much later during my impressionable years that I did stumble upon a classic, ‘Gunda’, a film that was cringe in poetry but a lot of fun to watch. Dialogues like ‘Mera Naam Hai Bulla, Rakhta Hun Khulla'(Bulla Is My Name, Keeping It Open Is My Game, translation Courtesy Sandeep my cinephile friend) or ‘Mera Naam Hai Ibu Hatela, Ma Meri Chudail Ki Beti, Baap Mera Shaitaan Ka Chela, Khayega Kela?'(never mind the translation), were such entertaining lines that stuck on so much so that they made the film unintentionally funny. So a series based on these films was an attraction in itself. And when I did see that a rare breed filmmaker and a cinephile himself, Vasan Bala was at the helm of it, I was sold and eagerly awaiting to watch Cinema Marte Dum Tak. Now that I have finished watching, here are my two cents on it!
Show Concept & The Alternate Film Industry
Cinema Marte Dum Tak is a unique documentary in many ways simply because of its pulpy concept and the way it has been presented. It is madness personified and I loved every moment of it. What it did was bring together, 4 forgotten filmmakers of the 90s who had resorted to films that were the only source of ‘pleasure’ to the public in the pre-internet era! Stalwarts like Vinod Talwar, Dilip Gulati, Kishan Shah and J Neelam may not be known by their faces. But people did associate them with their work in an industry which was thriving and how! I must admit that I had no clue that these films did have a market. But from a business stand-point, these were made at such a shoe-string budget that they ended up recovering money and also making profits. The entire eco-system was thriving which might seem unbelievable today!
The series did an unthinkable thing! It did bring the four prolific filmmakers to make ‘low budget’ films from the yesteryear’s era and in process make a series around that. If ever there is an example of a meta reference then this is it! I cannot recall any other documentary(to the best of my knowledge) that has created characters out of the people who are ‘guests’ on the show. And through them, the viewers are taken on a nostalgic ride in more ways than one.
I am born and brought up in Mumbai, the hub of cinema in the country. And the major part of my childhood has been in South Bombay which was then the heart of the film industry. There were multiple theatres around my area then, a few of them restricted only to ‘certain kind of films’ lile the ones showcased on the show. And I had a fascination for discovering new theatres too. So I would go to the theatre section of the newspaper(yes no BookMyShow in those days, late 90s is the era), and check which theatre is where and which films are they playing. It was one of my favourite past times wherein I would often discover odd films playing at the shadiest of places. And my fascination was also based on three things – who would watch such ‘trash’ and why wouldn’t their parents stop them from making these films which ‘we’ weren’t even allowed to watch. But more importantly, how are these films made. And the series did shed a lot of light on this aspect of filmmaking, right from the inception stage to casting and costumes to the eventual shoot and post production. Ahh the cinephile in me did sleep well yesterday!
Filmmaking Histrionics & The Dark Underbelly
One of the easiest jobs in the world is of a film critic like me who would just criticize films left, right and center, highlighting its flaws more than its positives. But filmmaking, on the other hand, is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Especially when it did come to the ‘B or C Grade Industry’, there were multiple factors at play all together. Needless to say that there were budget constraints and the demand for the films was on the rise with the distributors demanding the films, days apart from one another. And so the series does highlight on the amount of hardwork gone in, in putting a project together. Needless to say that the hustle was a daily process in the then ever thriving industry.
The series also did highlight on the fact that the easiest target for the censor board was these ‘shady’ films. Any explicit content would get snipped off, thereby defeating the purpose of these films altogether. Remember that an average Indian in those days had zero access to p*rn and so the only source of ‘pleasure’ was these films. Enter the King of B Grade films, Kanti Shah, who changed the whole ball game(aptly introduced in the series in grand fashion). The introduction of multiple s*x scenes in the parameter of the censor board was the new go-to. With prose that felt like poetry like ‘AIDS se bachane ke liye Nirodh ban jaoonga'(to counter AIDS, I will become your condom), and catering to a ‘thirsty’ audience, the films began to mint money!
As they say, Modern Problems Require Modern Solutions, and so the filmmakers began to create ‘bits’ that the distributor could incorporate at any given point in a film which was already censored. And the public did go beserk, what a business strategy, Sharks of Shark Tank, are you listening?(on a lighter note ofcourse). The series did faintly touch upon the casting couch which may have been prevalent then. Especially when it did come to female actors, the casting was a ‘pleasurable’ experience(cringe, I know). But the series was also quick to highlight that the industry saw some superstars in their own right. All of them packaged in this ever so engrossing and engaging series.
The Downfall & The 'Pulpy' Nostalgia
The business model(of showcasing soft p*rn) was always flawed and illegal and sooner than later, it had to fall. The rise of high end multiplexes which did cater to the masses did not help the case either. Mine would probably be the last generation which may have been privy to the culture of the single screen theatres before the multiplexes did crop up right before our eyes. The experience of magic unfolding onscreen was first experienced by me in a single screen theatre and to see so many close down right in front of my eyes was a tough pill to swallow. That then marked the end of the ‘B or C Film’ industry(for a lack of a better word), a thing which would be oblivious to the current generation.
There was a sense of innocence too while watching ‘any’ movies back then. No I did not look at the performances or the cinematography or direction. My lens was that of awe and enjoyment, something that may have been corrupted today when I dig into the technical details of a film. But every time I recall that era, there is a sense of nostalgia. And the series did a great job in bringing the entire bunch of actors and directors of the ‘alternate’ industry under one roof. But more importantly, it was about giving them the respect which they may never have got otherwise. The feeling of walking the red carpet on a premiere night with your loved ones beside you would be a dream for many filmmakers. And you could see the emotions in their eyes(they are humans after all and can feel things, so easy to judge them right?) as they walked hand in hand with their spouses or even mothers that left a tingling and warm feeling within me. Kudos to Vasan Bala and the entire team for laying out details of their lives without any prejudice or differentiation. Only a bunch of cinephiles would really understand the phrase ‘respect’ for an artist’! The sense of ‘pulpy’ nostalgia was real from the fact that an entire ‘fullhouse’ was clapping and hooting while enjoying the four films(yes films no inverted commas here) being played out. Isn’t this what cinema is? To enjoy in any form and spread the love through films!
Cinema Marte Dum Tak is my first WOW moment of 2023, one of the best documentaries of the year, any year! Do Not Miss This! Available on Amazon Prime and Highly Highly Highly Recommended!