Monday, November 08, 2004

Of old classics and their colourisation

The headline gives it away. This is about the newly-released, repackaged Mughal-e-Azam. Got into a little discussion with Jai about it on Saturday evening, when we were out at a friend's place. The combination of a decent amount of alcohol and some other not-so-interested friends meant we couldn't carry it on for too long. but by then we had agreed to disagree on some factors.
Firstly of course, we agreed on the point — we have for many years now, since our friendship developed on the basis of a mutual obsession with the now-defunct TNT channel on satellite TV — that black-and-white films shouldn't be coloured.
For me, remastering, or restoring, is fine. Bought a CD of Hitchcock's Lodger recently, for example, and couldn't see anything. Absolutely anything. But chose to watch some of it if only for the charm of not being able to figure anything out. It was so old and in such bad shape. Somewhat like picking up a non-functional gramophone or something...old coins or LPs and stuff.
But digitally colouring something is not.
Am I decided on that? Well, not entirely, because I feel some films might have been better in colour, and if the director had the option, it would be in colour. And there will always be the off-chance that — especially on a big screen — it would be really grand in colour.
Which is what I feel about Mughal-e-Azam. It's a film I wouldn't mind seeing in colour. Keeping this discussion entirely within the parameters of Indian cinema, I might even go far as to say that if Sholay had not been in colour, I wouldn't mind seeing it in colour. But then Sholay is a film that is best kept out of a not-too-serious debate. Umm...what else can I think of? Maybe Ghatak's Teetash Ekti Nodir Naam or Ray's Kanchenjunga.
Coming back to Mughal-e-Azam, I would say that it is a film best viewed in colour. Simply because of its grandeur. But then, like in Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, where Ray had the option of colour and used it in only a short sequence right at the end, it's evident that K Asif chose not to use colour despite having the option. The Sheesh Mahal sequence was in colour, wasn't it?
Then why did he not use colour all the way through? It was an expensive enough film anyway, and cost-cutting couldn't have been the prime motive. Do we trust a filmmaker's instinct on this, or do we decide for ourselves? (We have the option in case of Mughal-e-Azam of course)
While Jai continued to trash the idea, I felt a bit stuck for arguments, simply because I had my age-old obduracy with 'viewing the original' to defend. [Jai, by the way, saw the new Psycho, if only to trash it, whereas I gave it a miss]
My main argument — at the time — that it would be our generation's one chance to see people like Prithviraj Kapoor (oh! I won't even get into an argument about him in this role) and Madhubala on the big screen seems fair, but tame. Catching those bellows of 'Saleeeeemmmm' on the telly and catching it on dolby can't be a fair comparison. And, heck, where else will any of us ever be able to catch Madhubala's face blown up so big! [Dilip Kumar can go to hell]
Why else will I go to see it? Well, because my mother (who provided me with my initial Hindi film education and fuelled my obsession) saw it on the big screen, and this will be the first occasion when we will be able to discuss a film both she saw and I saw (eventually) on the big screen. It will mean Madhubala, Dilip Kumar, and most importantly Prithviraj Kapoor will be my actors as much as they are Ma's.
So watch this space after we (Ajitha and I, and maybe Jai) have been to PVR to watch it. I am sure I will have some stuff to write about.

PS: Don't know if that should qualify as a promise, because I still haven't gotten round to writing the Dalhousie blog I promised so long ago.