The Romance of the Interval in Indian Cinema

Shiv Charan Pulugurtha25 Jul 2012

Shiv Charan talks about the importance of 'The Interval' in our movies, which goes beyond economics in this first of a 3 part series on distinct elements of Indian Cinema. He also jogs his childhood memories associated with 'The Interval' and takes us through some of the memorable crucial middle in recent times. Charan hopes that, this element of Indian Cinema will not fall prey to foreign influence.

With Gangs of Wasseypur’s successful trip to Cannes, Bollywood and Indian cinema are topics of passionate discussion across international film circles. It was only a matter of time before an Indian movie would be called the love child of Hollywood and Bollywood. This is a time when Indian cinema has opened its doors to outside influences, and storytelling techniques are becoming far more international. A movie like Slumdog Millionaire which was cut for an international audience didn’t find the same scale of success in India as it did internationally. But just 4 years later, we are finding that Indian audiences are increasingly receptive to films with a global grammar. In these times of fusion, there will be elements of Indian cinema of the yore which will be given up or lost. There will be elements from the West which will seep into our story telling techniques. It will be fascinating to see the evolution of storytelling techniques through this phase. But, this is also a phase for us to reflect on some elements of our story telling which are unique to Indian cinema. Elements which we grew up watching and accepting as an integral part of the way we tell our stories. Elements that we almost took for granted, till we were exposed to world cinema. This is part of a 3 part series which will discuss 3 such elements of Indian cinema. The first one is the INTERVAL!

The ‘Interval’ has existed in Indian cinema, right from inception. The concept, which was originally instituted keeping in mind the length of our movies also fit perfectly into the multiplex business model. It is believed that multiplexes make close to 25% of their revenue in the interval. So, any ideas of tinkering with the concept of the interval will need an extremely persuasive logic to convince the multiplex owners. But that’s the economics behind the interval.

The interval also plays a critical role in the story telling. It’s the last bite of your first helping which you savour for some time, before diving into the second. I am sure all of us passionately remember cool drink vendors walking into the theatre sliding the opener against the bottles a few seconds before the interval even as a powerful, critical scene played out. The combination of the sudden change in the lighting of the theatre (due to doors opening, the lights coming on), a great scene that just played out on screen which not only summed up the first half but also beautifully set up the second half and the urge to dig into those samosas and sip your favourite cola made the interval a compelling ritual for Indian cinegoers. In fact, the film makers in the South specifically gauge the audience talk in the interval to determine chances of success for their movie. They therefore, make it a point to end their first half on a high and ensure positive talk in the interval.

Cinematically speaking, the interval or the middle of a story is a critical point in a movie. It is here that the audience starts reflecting upon the story so far and also starts forming an opinion about the movie. The middle, if done well, can create a terrific anticipation for the second half of the movie and some times, even if the second half doesn’t live up to the expectations, the anticipation and positive feeling in the middle can make the audiences rate the movie high. In a way, the anticipation a good interval can build is equivalent to the anticipation of the next episode of a riveting TV series you are watching. It adds to the experience of cinema in India just like the wait for the next episode adds to the experience of watching television. It magnifies cinema’s larger than life status. It’s cinema, India style!

In closing, it is only fair that we celebrate some great interval scenes in the recent past that have lived up to this great Indian cinematic tradition and furthered its glory.

1) Kahaani: Towards the end of a gripping first half, the audience in all probability is too engrossed in the movie to realize that the movie is nearing its interval. Vidya Balan is walking into the metro station and Inspector Khan’s voiceover is giving very important details about who Milan Damji is. The audience is straining to listen. They know that these details are important and missing them would mean being behind the game in the movie. So, momentarily, everybody’s attention is on the voiceover and not on what’s happening on the screen. All of a sudden, a menacing looking Bob Biswas emerges and pushes Vidya towards the tracks even as the train is entering the platform. Vidya shrieks. So, do some people in the audience. Just as the train is about to hit her, FADE OUT: BLACK SCREEN: INTERMISSION. The audience is stunned. The movie is a SUPER HIT! What a scene!!

2) No One Killed Jessica: After a gut wrenching song (Aitbaar) , composed beautifully by Amit Trivedi, the song ends in a courtroom shot abruptly. The scene then moves to Rani Mukherji getting ready to leave for work. As she characteristically yells at her maid, she picks up the morning news paper. There is horror on her face and her voice over starts speaking about how wrong she was about the Jessica case and how right she was about the ruthlessness of Delhi City. As Amit Trivedi’s background score reaches a crescendo, she announces her intent to take on the culprits and give justice to Jessica. She throws the new paper down and walks off in a huff. The audience is thinking “What did she read in the newspaper? “The camera pans to the newspaper and the headline reads “ NO ONE KILLED JESSICA”-The “Dilli” Background Score-FADE OUT: BLACK SCREEN: INTERVAL! Absolute brilliance.

3) Ladies v/s Ricky Bahl: The three ladies are trying to locate Ranveer Singh’s character. They begin calling him Bloody Kameena since they don’t know his real name. Dipannita comes up with a smart idea to track him down using his hello tune as the lead. They shortlist some phone numbers and start calling them. There is much fun with Parineeti Chopra’s character keeping the audience in splits. Suddenly, they recognize the voice of Ranveer Singh in one of the calls. The number is from Goa. Dipannita exclaims ”Toh Goa main hain Bloody Kameena!!”. Cut to sunny Goa! There are some foreign tourists sitting on the beach. The title music takes over, as a fit , shirtless and well toned Ranveer Singh rises from behind the foreigners and lazily walks towards the sea. He stretches as the camera goes circling around him in perfect sync with the background score. FADE OUT: BLACK SCREEN- INTERVAL! Nice!!

All three movies had an interval which made the audience feel great about the first half and filled them with anticipation for the second half. All three movies benefitted from “interval talk”. All three movies are examples of why the interval is such an important and enjoyable element of Indian cinema.

Unlike the songs, the interval is one element of our cinema that is protected from foreign influence because of the economics. Thank God for that!

Tags: No One Killed JessicaKahaaniLadies vs Ricky BahlOpinionFeature

Shivcharan Pulugurtha works in sales for an MNC. Born in a family of lovers of cinema, Charan lives in a constant "state of film". He dreams of making / writing a film some day. He started writing movie reviews on the internet 6 years back. He hopes his articles reflect the thoughts of the hard core lovers of cinema.

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