Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year of the DVD

It's safe to say that Hindi movies this year did not bring it all back home in 2008. After a triumphant 2007, with Chak De and Taare Zameen Par challenging one’s idea of a Bollywood movie, and Manorama and No Smoking pushing the envelope, 2008 had fewer epiphanies. Rock On was surprisingly thoughtful, Mithya turned out to be surprisingly serious. Oye Lucky and Dasvidniyan delighted towards the end of the year, Wednesday promised much but really delivered only ten minutes of truly memorable cinema. As for the rest, no better epitaph than the opening monologue in Mean Streets, “The rest is bullshit and you know it”.

However, not far from the theatres, in music stores and malls, in Planet M's and Music World's and smaller, more nondescript stores, a quiet revolution had started. 2008 may just be remembered as the year when the DVD revolutionized film viewing in India. It started with a trickle. Moserbaer had already brought CD prices down, it would now collaborate with Palador to hoist standards up. The Palador library saw its first releases on DVD. Delhiites saw, doubtless for the first time in a normal above-ground store, titles like Breathless, Seven Samurai and Wild Strawberries. More were to arrive soon – films by Jarmusch, Melville, Fellini. Difficult-to-find titles, even for someone familiar with the creepy underworld subculture of Palika Bazaar, were released – Kieslowski’s No End, Godard’s second feature, The Little Soldier, and the original Godzilla, in all its low-fi camp glory.

Palador was soon joined by NDTV Lumiere, whose initial focus seemed to centre around modern-day directors like Fatih Akin and Nuri Ceylan. Recently however, their portfolio has been balanced out by the release of stunners like Playtime by Jacques Tati, and 8 and a half by Fellini. With December also seeing the release of Melville’s long-unavailable, much acclaimed Army of Shadows on Palador, there seems to be, at least for the time being, enough of a market for these movie houses to sustain themselves.

The average movie watcher – whose movie diet includes a bit of Bollywood, a bit of Hollywood, maybe a few viewings of The Godfather – will probably be moved to ask “What’s the big deal?” But it is a huge deal – and any world cinema fan, classic movie buff, or serious collector would be at pains to explain why. It just wasn’t possible to get these titles before in Delhi stores. If you really wanted them you either had to order them off the net (too expensive) or get a pirated version (soul-scarring for the collector, and running a high risk of bad quality). Now in stores at around Rs. 400 a title (Rs. 500 in the case of Lumiere DVDs), they may still seem slightly on the expensive side. But they are a lot more affordable than they were before, and if my distant memories of honours economics serves me right, the scarcer the commodity, the higher the price.

Even if your taste is for more mainstream fare, it was a pretty good year. The rest of the market reacted to Mosebaer’s bottom-of-the-barrel pricing and offered more schemes and discounts then any year in recent memory. There were re-issues of classic Holywood and Bollywood movies. Regional movies became more easily available. Box sets abounded. 5 classic Guru Dutt movies for Rs. 250! Steambill Bill Jr for a 150 bucks!

A good year. A very good year.

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