‘Streaming saved the film industry’: Anupama Chopra

‘Streaming saved the film industry’: Anupama Chopra, the vie

Ahead of the launch of her book, ‘A Place in My Heart’, film critic Anupama Chopra explains why OTT and movie theatres will co-exist peacefully

In journalist and film critic Anupama Chopra’s A Place in My Heart, there are individual chapters devoted to a wildly miscellaneous range of Indian films: from 1960s classics like Mughal-e-Azam to early 2000s trendsetters like Dil Chahta Hai to the much more recent, unorthodox fare like the short film Tungrus. When one has been talking and writing about cinema for so long, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what one primarily looks for out of a film, especially on the large screen. What stands out in the book, however, is her evolving taste in cinema thanks to film festivals, and the acceptance of newer formats and languages.

Ahead of her book’s launch, Chopra recalls her formative years, filmmaking fundamentals that remain key draws, and how streaming has changed the cinema industry in an interview with The Hindu Weekend.

The film festival advantage

“When I started off as a journalist in the early 90s, it was hard to access anything other than very mainstream cinema — except for the festivals,” says Chopra, adding, “Over the years I have developed a palate for more non-linear narratives or a cinema that’s more about stillness. But the first response is always to story, to narrative. I want the drama, I want the plotting. For me, [a film] is always story and character-led.” Film festivals, as Chopra mentions, were crucial when it came to accessing films outside the world of commercial Bollywood. In A Place in My Heart, she writes affectionately about MAMI (Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image), the film festival she became director of in 2014.

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(L-R) Film director Ari Aster, MAMI artistic director Smriti Kiran, Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, and festival director Anupama Chopra
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

Talking about their future, she says, “It’s wonderful that there’s a hybrid model now, so I can watch films out of Toronto, for example. But the truth is that festivals are about watching films on the largest screen possible. And also, when you’re at a festival, you’re completely immersed in that world of cinema for a few days. There’s no real way to replicate that. Moving forward, the prospect of showing films uncensored at festivals will be a huge plus, too.”

Chak De India, a favourite

Throughout A Place in My Heart, there are chapters breaking down Chopra’s favourite films in a simple, elegant manner. For instance, there’s an early chapter about the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De! India (2007) that will resonate with a lot of readers. It’s sharply written and makes some fine observations about the director Shimit Amin’s narrative style, but what I found particularly noteworthy was a paragraph towards the end, one that addresses how the film has aged, thereby acknowledging its weaknesses.

“You could argue that the film’s feminist stance is specious because ultimately Kabir is the male saviour who’s constantly pushing and inspiring the women to fight the odds, the circumstances and their worst instincts (at one point Bindia offers to sleep with him if he makes her captain). But Shah Rukh plays the role so persuasively that I’m willing to make my peace with that.”

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Retrospective criticism is a tough balancing act at the best of times, but I feel Chopra gets it exactly right here, especially considering the actor in question. A lot of Shah Rukh Khan films through the 90s can be considered regressive by contemporary standards; that a lot of discerning viewers like Chopra still remember them fondly is down to Khan’s enduring charm, his unimpeachable likeability. Even as his films have yielded diminishing returns over the last decade, this aspect of his stardom remains undimmed.

Appetite for Malayalam cinema

Chopra also spoke about how running a specialist films publication (Film Companion) has expanded her horizons, cinematically speaking. “I have started watching a lot more movies from the Malayalam and Tamil industries, in particular,” she says. In the book, too, Chopra writes fondly about films like Kumbalangi Nights (2019) and Angamaly Diaries (2017). “What I love about new-age Malayalam cinema is that it is unvarnished storytelling. I think some of the most exciting work in India is being done there right now. There’s no veneer; the people in these movies look and behave like real people. But there is great dramatic heft. The storytelling grips you without the seduction of glamour or fantasy. And they’re so beautifully shot! I could taste all that food in Angamaly Diaries — and I’m vegetarian, so I wouldn’t even eat most of it!”

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The OTT shift

Perhaps significantly, one of the only made-for-streaming films Chopra talks about in the book is Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, that too in the context of a theatrical screening organised by Netflix at Delhi’s Regal Cinema. “Movie theatres are my office and my place of worship,” she declares pithily towards the end of A Place in My Heart. At the same time, she believes that in the immediate future, “theatrical and streaming [models] will co-exist happily”.

“Streaming saved the film industry. All these films over the last 18 months found distribution platforms online, found ways to recover their money. It threw up new stars: Jaideep Ahlawat, Pratik Gandhi. So that genie is not going back into the bottle, I feel. At some level, consumer behaviour has changed because of streaming.”

Published by Penguin Random House India, A Place in My Heart is available at leading book stores and online in January.

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