Me and you and Bollywood

Technology facilitates our lives so profoundly that it has created a paradigm shift in social interactions. Basic household appliances like wine openers are so clever that you have to read a manual to learn how to use them. Why employ a carpenter when IKEA has warehouse stores of DIY furniture? People don’t go to the local watering hole, instead they sit at home with a 12 pack and visit or chat with underage, or in the case of Me and You and Everyone We Know overage people.

The ensemble cast structure in MYEWK is affective in how it narrates the story. The agency of the characters within the story world is disconnected from each other but is really like a missed call. The casualness with which the movie treats issues plays on the spectator’s tendency to respond to situations with the question ‘what if?’. By not isolating any one character as more important than the rest, we are invited to ask ‘What if I were in this situation? Would I react similarly? Are we that desperate?’ Miranda July seems to thinks so. JJ Murphy furthers this idea by concluding that the movie through its use of the ensemble cast and hence never establishing a clear protagonist, highlights the lack of intimacy within this suburb and its inhabitants quest for it.

Bollywood in my lifetime saw the wake of a new type of film similar to the ensemble structure of film. We discussed earlier in the semester about how viewer’s expectations really affect how we watch films where i mentioned how Bollywood films with alternative narrative structures are thrown amongst high-production value sing-song movies and generally don’t fend too well for themselves.

In the late 90’s Karan Johar, a bollywood baby made his directorial debut with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (locally referred to as KKHH, literally translates as ‘something happens’… owing to the tingling pre-coital feeling in the stomach) The movie’s first act is a mostly a flashback of a girl reading a letter from her deceased mother written for her to read on her 8th birthday. The first act shows the love triangle between Rahul, Anjali and Tina. Rahul and Anjali were best friends until Tina came along and everything fell apart.

In the second act, the daughter then goes to camp where Anjali happens to be the camp counselor… kinda Parent Trap but Bollywood style, he comes when he finds out his daughter has a cold, their love is rekindled. But she is engaged to be married. Third act begins and it’s all arranged and all (this happens a lot in Hindi movies… A Lot!) and he goes to the wedding and yes it does have a happy ending.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam (locally referred to as K3G) was also financed by daddy, Yash Johar, but this time he took this ensemble style idea and magnified it. K3g is about a filthy rich family, and I’m talking richer than the queen of england type rich. The eldest son of the family (adopted son) is coming back from school. We think that it’s going to be about family but then the son goes and falls in love with the daughter of the butler. The dad gets pissed, throws him out because he isn’t paying heed to family tradition… the little adopted bastard! There’s a younger son who never understood why they were exiled and so in act two the story shifts to the grown brother, who is now not fat anymore (he used to be chubby but is now transformed into the greek looking Hrithik Roshan. He goes to college and happens to fall for the sister of the maid (who lives with the adopted son and the maid and their son… blah blah) Younger son unites family and with a lot of backstory we see character conflicts and motivation from the parents. they are all developed! Well you also have 3 hours to do it all.

My point here is that the ensemble cast in these two examples did not set itself up as being different but incorporated itself structurally to fit the norms of classical Bollywood cinema. They were ginormous successes by the way. They have songs, dance sequences, gross suspension of belief, shifting protagonists (which is what makes a bollywood film an ensemble film), is three hours long and features comedy, tragedy, love, hatred, revenge and violence with a star cast… and a bow, if you wish! Since these movies there have been more but instead of not isolating specific characters as protagonists, they group people together and give them a common goal, and within these groups there are characters with their own subplots, wants, wishes and desires whereas MYEWK goes in the other direction and uses the ensemble structure to separate itself from the classical Hollywood narrative. Their stories get wrapped up independently with no apparent repercussions on each other whereas in Bollywood they mostly end up on a positive note where all the characters now know almost all details of the syuzhet.

xoxo Waylon

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