Sunday, May 20, 2012

The 'Camp' Amitabh

Sometimes back a friend of mine argued that Hindi films, produced in that mythical, non-existent place, proudly referred to as Bollywood, are the perfect examples of “Camp”, as defined and popularised by Susan Sontag. There’s some truth in the statement. I remember a long time back a friend elucidated the reason why he loves Hindi movies: It gives him a perfect antidote to his own drab existence. In Hindi films, everything is larger than life, even a poor man looks well groomed and wears designer clothes, you get the drift...

Coming back to Camp sensibilities, yes, everything in Hindi films are exaggerated, everything out there is artificial, starting with the lovers breaking into songs as soon as they fall in love. (A German friend once pointed out: “In our films, when the lovers fall in love, they make love; here they sing a duet.”)

Though my friend was eloquent in his arguments, I had my doubts. First of all, being camp demands a conscious attempt at being camp. A drag queen is a drag queen when he imitates being a woman, but doesn't try to be the woman herself. If a man dresses up as woman to pass off as woman, it’s not camp, it’s something else. Therefore, I find it hard to categorise Govinda’s drag acts in almost all his films as camp, it’s something else, a naiveté.

Now that the latest RGV film, ‘Department’ is out to universally bad reviews (what did you expect?), I can talk about our good ole’ Amitabh Bachchan’s camp avatar in the film. If “Camp” means excess in all its various meanings, then the “colourful” underworld don character Mr Bachchan plays in the film qualifies to be camp. I would like to believe that Mr Bachchan knew what he was doing when he signed up to do this, yet another, inane role (Otherwise, how would you continue to respect this man, who was once a “superstar.”).

Anyway, whether you liked ‘Department’ or not (no, I’ve seen the film, only the promos), one thing is certain, Mr Bachchan had a good time playing his part. There is a child-like enthusiasm in his dressing up the way he does in the film, with an anklet and all. Like a child appearing for a fancy dress competition!! Such innocence!!

But, what I found most camp in Mr Bachchan’s get-up was the bell on his wrist, yes, the twinkling bell on his wrist. Seriously. Why on earth anyone would want to wear a bell on his wrist? On the second thought, why not??

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Camp:

Camp is an aesthetic sensibility that regards something as appealing or humorous because of its deliberate ridiculousness. The concept is closely related to kitsch, and things with camp appeal may also be described as being "cheesy". When the usage appeared, in 1909, it denoted: ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical, and effeminate behaviour, and, by the middle of the 1970s, the definition comprised: banality, artifice, mediocrity, and ostentation so extreme as to have perversely sophisticated appeal.

American writer Susan Sontag's essay Notes on "Camp" (1964) emphasised its key elements as: artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and ‘shocking’ excess. Camp as an aesthetic has been popular from the 1960s to the present.

Camp films were popularised by filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar, Andy Warhol, and John Waters, including the latter's ‘Pink Flamingos’, ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Polyester’. Celebrities that are associated with camp personas include drag queens and performers such as Dame Edna Everage, Divine, RuPaul, and Liberace. Camp was a part of the anti-academic defense of popular culture in the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1980s with the widespread adoption of postmodern views on art and culture.
More here.

No comments:

Post a Comment