Monday, February 27, 2006
We all know Ram Gopal Varma's latest production Darna Zaroori Hai is going to hit the theatres soon and you might ask what's different about the film. Well, the one thing that sets this film apart is its episodic format. We saw its predecessor Darna Mana Hai give a fresh taste of film-making to Bollywood. Though the film did not set the cash registers jingling, it did however generate quite a lot of curiosity.
What is an episodic film? Well, an episodic film comprises of a number of different chapters that run parallel to each other and merge to a common climax. Each episode is an independent story or sub-plot that is usually unconnected to the other episodes in the film until the climax. Like in Darna Mana Hai, we saw a bunch of friends scaring each other where each one had a frightening story of their own to narrate. Each story was unrelated to the other in any sense and it was only in the climax that the friends and the fear-factor correlated. And while Darna Mana Hai was a noticeable film with an episodic format, not many might know that it wasn't the first.
It all started in 1957, when the great storyteller Hrishikesh Mukherjee debuted with Musafir. The film was about a house owner who lets tenants into his house. Each tenant has their own story to say before they leave. Suchitra Sen is the part of a runaway couple who are the first tenants. Kishore Kumar is amongst the second set of tenants while Dilip Kumar with Usha Kiran forms the third set of the paying guests.
Decades later came Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda by Shyam Benegal in 1993. The film was laid out in three different parts in which the protagonist played by Rajit Kapoor has romantic involvements with women of different social strata - the lower, middle and the upper class. Benegal did a beautiful job with interlinking the separate stories. He also tried a similar format years later for his film Hari Bhari where he had woman in roles of daughter, mother and grandmother from the same family narrating their life-stories.
K. Bikram Singh's Tarpan in 1994 presented a series of inter-related incidents in the form of four stories which initially appear as individual disputes between members of different communities having different means of livelihood and different life styles, but eventually merge into a single story of a communal holocaust. The film starring Om Puri and Revathy was jointly produced NFDC and Doordarshan.
One of the most interesting episodic films of all time comes from Hollywood in the form of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994). The star cast comprising of major stars like John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman and Tarantino himself created a really new style. Not only was it episodic but also the screenplay was in a non-linear format. Precisely one of the reasons why we see John Travolta alive and kicking 25 minutes after he was shot dead. Pulp Fiction due to its innovativeness is considered one of the best films of all time. Sadly the film could not get a theatrical release in India as it was considered too violent according to the censor board.
In the recent past we have seen quite a few films which have tried and failed to follow this trend. M.F. Hussain seems to be fascinated by this format of filmmaking. Both his Gaja Gamini and Meenaxi were episodic though no one knew when the movies came and left the theatres. Rajkumar Santoshi tried to portray different woman-related issues in the chauvinistic male-dominated Indian society through his four female protagonists - Manisha Koirala, Mahima Chaudhary, Madhuri Dixit and Rekha in Lajja.
Mani Ratnam's Yuva narrated three parallel stories of Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan and Vivek Oberoi and was connected by one common incident in each of their lives - an accident on the Howrah Bridge. Each story started and ended on the bridge accident giving way to the next episode. Structurally the film was inspired by a Spanish film Amores Perros that too had a car accident connecting three different stories.
Then there was Khalid Mohammad's Silsiilay. The film narrates the stories of three women - Tabu (a housewife whose husband is being unfaithful to her), Bhumika Chawla (a rising Bollywood actress) and Riya Sen (a working girl who longs to discover tenderness in her relationship). The females are not even remotely connected with each other and they don't come together till the very end. Shahrukh Khan played the sutradhar trying to connect the three stories.
Director Prawaal Raman who made Darna Mana Hai says, "It's not really difficult to make an episodic film. Though the stories are different and have to have a common climax, the main point is to keep the genre in mind. Darna Mana Hai was of the horror genre and the same should be done for other films as well." Well, handling such a film might turn easier since the screenplay need not essentially has to maintain continuity as the sub-plots are unrelated. Also the editor might not have to work on the whole version of the film but can edit individual stories at ease.
Interestingly there are a few episodic films in the making as well. Apart from Darna Zaroori Hai, there is Nikhil Advani's Salaam-e-Ishq. This mega multi-starrer from the director of Kal Ho Na Ho, which is rumored to be a remake of Love Actually (also an episodic film) apparently is based on six separate love stories. The six love pairs in the film include Salman Khan-Priyanka Chopra, Anil Kapoor-Juhi Chawla, Akshaye Khanna-Ayesha Takia, John Abraham-Vidya Balan, Govinda-Shannon Esra and Sohail Khan-Perizaad Zorabian.
Then there is Naseeruddin Shah's directorial debut Yun Hota To Kya Hota? And it promises to be nothing short of an extravaganza. There are going to be four stories in the film which all link up to one end. There will be a thriller with Irfan Khan and Carran Kapoor, a social story with Konkona Sen, a young love story with Ayesha Takia and newcomers Ankur Khanna and Sameer Sheikh and finally a comedy with Paresh Rawal and Ratna Pathak.