What makes a movie entertaining is not random. There is a formula at work, common in most entertaining flicks. To understand that formula in the world Bollywood, we first have to understand what ‘entertainment’ is. Now, in attempt to understand or define such a broad category, there are few problems. First, people have preconceived notions of what an entertaining movie is. For e.g., some say a movie is entertaining if it makes you feel happy, or if it is engrossing. For others, it could be something they will once see and forget. For such a wide range of common people’s notions that it becomes difficult to actually pinpoint what actually entertainment is. The second problem is that it all evidently comes down to our personal tastes. Different people like different movies. What could be entertainment for one may not be for other. Hence, keeping it very general and along with looking at some studies, here is what we can reach to some conclusion.
What is entertainment?
It is the characteristic quality of a film that gets immediate attention of, and makes immediate connection with, the audience – accompanying a feeling that is generally described ad amusement/ excitement/ fun/ enjoyment… In other words, it is a two-step process, first we have the audience’s attention and then making some connection at an emotional level (whatever that emotion may be fear, delight, etc.), and enjoy it obviously. A person may be experiencing fear while watching a movie, but the person may not be enjoying along with it for he may not like horror movies in the first place. Thus, it is not entertaining for that person. He or she has to enjoy that emotion (or emotional connection) that the movie evokes inside the person.
We need to make one more distinction before we judge a movie. We have to understand the whole movie in pieces. If we attempt to judge an entire movie for it’s entertainment value, we fall into the same problem of diversity of opinion. It is because for some a single great scene from the movie may be enough to regard the whole movie to be entertaining. Whereas, for some hard critics, there needs to be several good scenes for it to be entertaining. Hence, to get around that problem, if we could limit our judgement to one scene at a time, we could have an objective agreement. Secondly, any movie cannot be entertaining from start to finish. That would be structurally incorrect because there are highs and lows in a movie – not every scene could be as entertaining as the rest.
Now, there are certain terms that are associated with the term entertainment. They are different, atleast by saying a movie to be entertaining we don’t directly mean these:
1) Being mainstream: it means something that is conventional and shared by most of the people of a particular region or time. It is generally the case that mainstream movies are mostly entertaining types, but something that is not part of the mainstream need not be non-entertaining. Many old movies and classics were entertaining at their times, but if a similar movie is to be made at current time, people may not find it interesting. Hence, the two terms mean different.
2) Successful: a movie may become successful for other reasons without having a good entertainment value. Popular cast, successful sequel or some latest controversy could be the cause of the success of a movie. Entertainment is just one of the criteria of deciding success.
3) A good movie: an entertaining movie cannot be a good movie by default. However, it can be called good in the sense that it delivered the entertainment it’s supposed to. However, other aspects can be looked for proper criticism: the movie’s technicality, message, moral or social implications, etc. Hence, once must give reason why one is calling a movie, good.
B -for- Bollywood
From here, I would focus only on the Bollywood movies. Again, the obvious disclaimer here is I have to limit to only to the mainstream successful movies. This is because one cannot quantify entertainment universally. What makes a mainstream successful movie entertaining to lot of people may be different from what would otherwise make a, say, a parallel movie entertaining to other crowd. Keeping the length and scope of this article in mind, I would focus here only the category of mainstream successful ones.
The first category of elements deciding the entertainment value of a film is its Story and Narration.
Story: it is often criticised that the Bollywood movies have no story, no content — nothing. That is not true, at least not completely. The proper criticism would be that the story has recurrent themes repeatedly. It is the lack of diversity that needs to be objected. The common themes are:
1) Religion and mythology: though in recent times the religious stronghold from the minds of the people have decreased, if you look back to the Bollywood movies of the previous generation, almost all movies are either adaptations of the epics – the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, etc., or are inspired from them. Moreover, it is not just the content, but also the way they are marketed through posters or otherwise. It is so attention fixating and provocative.
2) Extreme idealism: the central story is so far away from the reality that it almost seems dreamlike and impossible. A theory such idealism took its roots in the Bollywood culture is to go back to the history. We find that after the Britishers left India, we were left so poor and in pathetic situation that this medium of movies provided them a means to escape from the life’s turmoil. Added to that, the filmmakers of that time exploited this genre so much, with the themes such as- everything works out in the end, hero beats all the bad guys, good is rewarded, happy ending, etc. – it set the entire template for what a movie should be. Thus, it became an eternal trend and the perception of most people. People would not even recognise a movie to be so if it didn’t have those elements.
3) Limited genres: The movies have not explored many genres. They have always played safe with the few such as romantic melodrama, action, comedy, etc.
Narration: it usually not just what you show, but how you show the story on the screen that matters. The more dynamic and engaging it is the more is the entertainment. The best example here would be to look at the various adaptations of the story the Devdas. There were over 15 adaptations of the story before the version of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, which got the most praise. One key difference was that in all other adaptations the childhood story (In Devdas, the male protagonist is sent abroad for studies; when he returns back, he is forbidden from marrying his childhood love) is actually shown on the screen, whereas in the Bhansali’s adaptation, two women narrates the protagonist and his lover’s childhood. This creates a huge dynamism and makes it feel their love to be boundless.
The next element that decides the entertainment is the casts their personality.
The Bollywood actors have huge fan base. It is not just the numbers but also the amount of emotional investment that fans have for their idols. The fans tattoo their favorite stars’ names and faces, imitate their hairstyles and clothing, etc. There are temples in India where they are worshiped. If such be the craze, how could stardom and fandom not be the deciding factor in the entertainment business. This desire to see their favorite actors on screen makes the job the directors easy as they could easily get away without a good story.
However, the important thing to point out that it is not just the cast but also their personality that they bring to the picture. This is important, and often that people miss. There are four things they generally focus on: the clothing, hairstyle, iconic style of expression, and dialogue. Therefore, it is not just the actor, but also his or her team of fashion designers, stylists, choreographers that contribute to the overall persona. It is not an individual effort, but team’s.
The final elements include as follows:
Music and songs:
1) Musicals: they include from actors dancing around the trees to jumping up down to the beat in a party. It has been the central element of Bollywood culture. The main reason why it continues to be so is that it has always been a part of the entertainment. Now we have proper theatres and IMAX, but earlier people would sit on the group or on loose chairs. Therefore, when they would see their actors dancing on-screen, how could they have prevented themselves from throwing their hands and legs in the air off-screen? Secondly, it is an alternate source of revenue. So in times when the movie doesn’t run, the music videos and songs compensate for that.
2) Film-music: This criterion is often overlooked that how diverse our Bollywood film music is. They have now started calling it as a new genre, though it does not have any specific rhythm or anything. Earlier we had only classical songs, R.D Burman experimented with Rock and Blues music, now we have rap and Electronic music. We also make adaptations of old evergreen songs. Even a non-professional singer can sing with the help of auto-tuner. Therefore, this diversified culture of music helps in the overall entertainment
1) Set: the Bollywood films have an obsession with clean spaces. The shots are either taken in properly organised and fabricated studios or shot in abroad at London, Switzerland, etc. This is the case even though the most of the country is unclean.
2) Sex, drugs, and violence: Nothing sells like these in the entertainment. The censorship term for that is vulgarity. No matter how much censors tries to prevent that, the directors’ find some ways or other to show that on screen.
3) Use of VFX: the very idealistic and dreamy movies of Bollywood heavily rely on the use of visual effects on screen. Whether it is hero beating all the bad guys within a minute with extraordinary fight scenes or the magnanimous background scenes, it would not be possible without Bollywood.
Hence, to conclude, it is apparent that Bollywood films have been very limited and formula based, but it is also the audience, who decides what they want to see. The entertainment is what we have long desired given our past, and that probably worked for a long time since. However, like everything else of our lives, the Bollywood industry needs diversification. As it is known, the change is the only constant.