Why Cinematic Liberties and Lazy Writing does not constitute fantasy

cinematic liberty

A common retort one gets from friends while ridiculing some of the obviously ridiculous sequences in Indian films is “At least we don’t have dragons or wizards on brooms.” This may seem at first glance to be the perfect argument as it is sure to end the discussion. But it’s not. The discussion has just been distorted beyond repair, making it impossible to continue without spewing a long monologue on why that is so. And in this age of Dekh Bhai memes, if your argument is not a one liner, it is probably going to be considered invalid.

When a guy hangs in midair for 10 seconds and hits half a dozen goons before landing on his feet while all the goons are still flying about, arms and legs flailing, it is cinematic liberty. Not fantasy. One simple way of determining if a scene is the consequence of cinematic liberty is to ask the question “Why is this happening?” (Often done in an exasperated voice while pulling on ones hair, or while shaking ones head in disbelief).If the answer is ‘Well, it’s only a movie…’ bingo! Cinematic liberty.

A fantasy movie would never use that argument. Fantasy requires rules to be established and followed. It is fantasy because certain aspects of the world differ from the real world as we know it. These differences are pointed out, and there is consistency within the world of the movie. So if it has been established that a story is set in a world just like ours, but with dragons, then a scene where a dragon flies overhead is logical. But even in this movie the earlier scene with the hero bashing a lot of people in midair would make no sense and would raise eyebrows. Neither the dragon, nor the physics defying action sequence are close to reality. But, while in context of the movie the earlier is believable, the latter is not.

Hence the difference between realism and believability. Each a different aspect of any story told in any media. And they are not interdependent. There can be one without the other. In fact far fewer movies tick both the boxes than you’d think.

While fantasy movies are not based in reality, a lot of effort is often put into making the good ones believable. And it has more to do with the plot and the characters and their motivations and reactions than the budget or the technology. The classic Wizard of Oz (The 1939 film, not the James Franco one) is proof enough that budget and technology is not what makes a movie convincing.

In fact it does not really matter whether the movie is fantasy or sci fi or plain and simple fiction. An effort is required to make any form of fiction believable or convincing. But that is an effort many Indian filmmakers are not ready to make.

The reasons are many and varied. A lot of the liberties taken are taken to pander to a certain section of the audience who are in the hall just for a bit of escapist entertainment. A lot of the acts of the protagonists are all about wish fulfillment. People put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes and feel empowered for a while. Hence there is a belief that a more realistic movie would take that away from the audience and consequently pull in a smaller crowd. And box office numbers have done nothing to disprove this notion. And while this reasoning is understandable, even acceptable in some cases, it is not the only reason.

Sometime certain liberties are taken just because it is easy to do so as opposed to spending hours and hours streamlining a plot and removing plot holes and irregularities. Why look for a more believable solution to a car chase (or bike chase) when it can be easily solved by introducing a bike than can turn into a boat that floats and sinks at will without any apparent change in weight and buoyancy. It is convenient and they know it will work. Attention to detail is not what pulls in the masses, so why bother at all.

It is in these cases that a certain section of viewers begin to feel that their intelligence is being insulted. Another issue is cop outs. When the protagonists or antagonists have to be portrayed as clever people, cleverer, for example, that the writers who are responsible for displaying that genius, they merely leave the clever bits off screen. A very good example is the statue heist scene in Dhoom 2. What they pulled off was mildly clever but the more difficult part was always going to be the transition from the statue disguise to the watchman disguise without anyone noticing. So what do they do? They just cut from one scene from the next leaving the difficult bits off screen. In Dhoom 3 we are supposed to believe Aamir’s character in incredibly clever but we are never shown any proof of that. All the heists occur off screen. Why work through the intricacies and difficulties of a bank heist when you can just show the hero running down along the bank walls with money falling all around him.

Not everyone likes their movie realistic. A little dose of escapism is always welcome. And while there are good reasons to keep realism out of some movies, believability cannot be similarly done away with. A little bit of physics defiance is all right really. Even the most picky movie goers can derive some fun out of those masala action sequences. But they can be toned down to some level of believability. And they should be inside movies that follow a believable sequence of events to come to a believable conclusion in the end. Just a little bit of effort. Is that really so much to ask for?


Roktim Bhattacharjya

B. TECH from Tezpur University. A voracious reader, writer, blogger. He is also a passable guitarist with an interest in writing original music. Currently serving Creativica as a Sub-editor.

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