I've had a few lively conversations with my new Hindi/Urdu teacher this semester about films ... partially because he went to film school in Mumbai and "knows" people. We found that we both like Mithun and Sridevi (one can spot the 80's Indian generation a mile away by these markers) lekin 50's filmon ke bare mein hamare khayyalon alag-alag . . . I was surprised to hear that mere teacher ko Geeta Bali to boring lagta hai.[Pardon the messy Hindi attempts, one has to start somewhere.] But my teacher at least likes older films, if not all the old stars. The rest of my class, not so much. This has made for some interesting conversations and arguments about what filmi songs and lyrics should be used in class.
The bewilderment of my classmates in regards to my tastes have made me realize I need to learn to better articulate why am I not likewise bored. In the heat of the moment, it seems like such a big task to explain the appeal in a concise fashion, and I never even know where to start.
Here's what I do know.
I like the old-school ethics...
I'm generalizing I suppose. The kotha-goer of one film generation is the club-goer of another's. One could argue that in both lifestyles, time and lives are equally wasted. Or one could chock up both onscreen environments to the need for fantastical spaces, unreal locations that exist for the purpose of over-the-top performance: especially talent-centric dance and music.
But in most older films, there's a general agreement that the kotha is not the ideal. Nature is an ideal. Clean air and clean pastures. But only when inhabited by folks trying to to live well. There's no better example of this than Pakeezah. For all my struggles with the film, I like that it is about a woman who wants more than a lifetime of entertaining strangers, or dancing for other people's pleasure. And a man who wants more than the unending blandness of beautiful panoramas. Perhaps it is not the "old" values then, that I appreciate, but "old" dreams. Such things get lost in the shuffle when there's too much neon and too little reflection.
I want to take part in another time ...
New movies often bore me on a certain level because they show me what I already know. They depict a world I recognize, with accoutrements of daily life that are close to my own. And even if I wasn't bored by these elements, my aesthetic tastes have always run towards the past. I was that weird kid who pretty much exclusively listened to classical or orchestral music (even at 9 or 10 years old). Not because it was mandated, but because I preferred it. It certainly wasn't something my parents taught me. I still remember that first time, around eleven, that I heard Rhapsody in Blue on the radio. It was more like Rhapsody in Me. Something similarly magical happened the first time I heard the Suite from Carmen or the Overture to Tannhauser, etc. etc.
It's hard to make any sort of argument (that holds water) about this array of "old" things being "better" than their counterparts in the present. But I will say that we can't really control our own sensibilities--it's really the other way 'round. The "discovery" of Hindi films definitely bulldozed me into an unrecognizable person for a time, similar to what I've seen happen to friends when they like, get married, not just discover an artistic industry. But I've been into world music as long as I knew it existed, and I watched all the Hollywood musicals I could access in middle school ... and so Hindi films were an extension, a fulfillment of earlier loves, not something entirely new or out of character.
I am moved by love as resistance...
When cosmopolitan protagonists move easily between male and female circles, it's hard to believe (even if it accurately depicts the modern experience for many) that women and men somehow can't make their relationship work because of societal restrictions. Thus, social dramas and family dramas have become romantic comedies--where the focus is localized on the neuroses and petty misunderstandings of the main romantic interests.
In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, the rather old-fashioned heroine (short-shorts do not a modern woman make) encapsulates the ideal Indian woman who is happy with her home soil, and pines after someone who clearly doesn't deserve her. The hero wants to travel, to see the world, to run away.
And yet ...
Either way, the stilted metaphors that held currency in the past are more powerful for me than the casual prose of the present. I guess like my clothes comfortable and my stories corseted.