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Why Do Hindi Films Have A ‘Masala’ Format?

1362 words - 5 pages

‘Bombay filmmakers repeatedly stress that they are aiming to make films which differ in both format and content from western films, that there is a definite skill to making films for the Indian audience, that this audience has specific needs and expectations, and that to compare Hindi films to those of the West, or the Indian ‘art’ cinema is irrelevant’ (Thomas, 1985). In comparison to much of Western Cinema, Hindi films have much more hyperbolic narratives, hyper-stylised and exaggerated acting mixed with overblown dialogue and tend to show disregard for characterisation, history, geography and occasionally camera placement. The format in which all these features conjoin is known affectionately as ‘Masala’ and considered by Hindi filmmakers as a genre rather than a simple format of narrative. Masala, in culinary terms describes a blend of many spices to create the final dish. Similarly, in film, the term masala is used metaphorically to describe the blend of many genres such as, comedy, musical, action, romance and drama (or melodrama) to ‘create something new out of old ingredients’ (Cook, Pg.102).

The song and dance sequences in demonstrate the most obvious example of where Hindi films defy certain rules that are commonly practiced in Western films. The songs seem to be tightly woven into the narrative and removal of them would certain hinder the development of the narrative and would prove fatal to the films. However, excessive fantasy often comes in to play within the song sequences, disregarding continuities of time and space, which can prove problematic to the rest of the narrative and the already established narrative context. It is also in these sequences in which the acting becomes particularly hyper-exaggerated with elements of disbelief and lack of realism consuming the scene. In the scene featuring the song ‘Yahoo’ from Junglee (1961) it can be seen in one particular part when the male lead yell’s the word ‘yahoo’ and his female counterpart tumbles backwards down the mountain as if sent flying my his voice. Though this is comedic and adds elements of fun and unpredictability to the scene, it is far from realistic and removes any serious message that the song may be trying to send. What also can be seen in a quick insert clip of a donkey, which does not correlate with what else is being seen. The song is taking place on a snowy mountain side with very little around but trees and when the camera cut to the shot of a donkey, who’s location is unknown, it interrupts the flow if the song. This is done for purely entertainment reasons and is used to keep the scene fresh and interesting to the audience, insisting that spectators can never be sure what is going to happen next. The song and dance sequences were inspired by early Hollywood musicals (1920’s- 1950’s) although Hindi films differed in many stylistic ways “For example, the Hollywood musicals had as their plot the world of entertainment itself. Indian filmmakers, while...

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