Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Everything Looks Better in Black and White

I am crashed out on the couch. My legs, neck and back hurt. Even the imagined sound of the doorbell hurts my head. I figured I must have read about a possible alcohol famine in the Northeastern parts of the USA. Why else would I drink so much the night before?

Anyway, not wanting to punish ourselves with anything too heavy, we start playing a DVD of Dev Anand's songs. Turns out to be a wiser decision than opening that last bottle of Cognac.

The melodies of these songs - and these are some of the greatest songs out there - are lush, the rhythms gentle, the women honey-sweet and The Dev - always eccentric and funny.

Time has been far kinder to Navketan Studios' "song-videos" than to some of their films. It is easy to see why. The videos are shot very artistically, i.e., with a plan and passion. Attention is paid to details like camera movement and editing. It makes some of the songs look surprisingly modern. For e.g., that well-known song set inside the Qutub Minar - played on mute, it almost passes off as a sequence from a 1950s Neo-Realistic European film.

Many of the songs are shot outdoors. Even here, the artistry is obvious. (Pay attention to some of the newer songs shot in outdoors. The camera actually crops out the scenery from the frame because cleavage and butt demand top billing. The landscape barely even registers on our minds.) The lighting is mostly muted, except for close-ups, when the then aesthetic dictated a glowing soft-focus. Makes Madhubala's face glow like the moon and no complaints about that one.

The editing of these songs, very gentle and leisurely, makes the song so easy on the eye. Forget smashes and jump-cuts. Long-shots are common. Close-ups occur only for a Madhubala or a Sadhana and that too, to accentuate a lyric. The camera is not afraid to look away from the hero and the heroine.

It is true that Bollywood's only motivation is to produce song-videos with the main film as the filler. But why must it forget what it once knew? Why can't they make them appealing to the multiplex goer and the terribly hungover movie-lover?

Read this excellent technical analysis (opens a PDF, link to Sarai.net) on some the key Indian cinematographers. The essay also tells us how the changing dynamics of the studio business and the growth of the advertising industry pushed Bollywood films into adopting their present look and feel.


BangaloreGuy said...

Dev Anand/Navketan movies and their songs are amongst my favourites - I love them for their music, and they pace of life/ persona they reflect.

km said...

You bet, BangaloreGuy.


Thanu said...

I'm a huge dev anand fan. I used to be glued to TV when Upahar used to play his songs on sunday mornings.


Shruthi said...

Good analysis :) Have always been a fan of those b&w songs... and I always wondered how the heroines looked so beautiful (maybe because they hardly had any make-up on ;))
Will never watch Dev Anand videos the same way again! ;)

km said...

Thanu: Upahar - is that a TV channel?

Shruthi: just as long as you don't look too closely into Dev's songs from his later films (where his sense of color was - ahem - bold and adventurous :))


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