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mainstreaming quirk

Quirky, indie, edgy - the new mainstream


WEIRD BUT NOT WONDERFUL: We misinterpet quirky as garish and over the top. Stills from 'Aiyyaa' (Above) and 'Ghanchakkar'

Bollywood is incapable of being quirky in the real sense of the word. It now simply uses the adjective as a marketing tag.

The marginal is in danger of becoming the mainstream. Or so they would like us to believe. They, who tell us what's cool and what's not, the early adopters of Wes Anderson and Pedro Almodovar. The trendspotters and zeitgeist sniffers all agree that quirk is in the air. With it comes the realisation that we spend all of our childhood trying to fit in and then discover that adulthood is all about 'being different'.

We saw quirk first making inroads into fashion. The uncoordinated colours and kooky prints of designers Masaba and Kallol Datta set the ball rolling and now there is a new hipster wave that's taking along everything that's vaguely counterculture and depositing it on the cultural shorelines.

Bollywood's embrace of the quirky has been less intrepid. The low-budget Bheja Fry (a remake of French film Le Diner des Cons and the French have all but patented quirky as a national trait) set the tone. Delhi Belly in 2011 proved to be a definite milestone, followed by Rani Mukerji's comeback movie Aiyyaa and last year, Barfi!. Recently there was Emran Hashmi-Vidya Balan starrer Ghanchhakkar;Delhi comedy Fukrey features a female villain named Bholi Punjaban and a character named Choocha who dreams of winning lottery. Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2 too were populated with sounds and characters that were all too often labelled quirky. The word has also been used to describe Vicky Donor and Bombay Talkies.

Has 'quirky' become the film version of 'organic' ? An overused adjective that means all things to all people and is now a convenient cut-and-paste tag that makes for a great marketing strategy. We now have many words to describe anything that is not mainstream. There is 'alternative', 'indie', 'edgy', 'dark', 'cult', 'noir', 'kitsch'. Basically anything that's weird but loveable can be called quirky and the non-threatening nature of this weirdness makes it aspirational.

Hollywood's been on the quirky bandwagon for years and director Jim Jarmusch, a poster child for oddball films like Dead Man and Broken Flowers, once bristled at the tag in an interview: 'Is that the only adjective they know? It's like every time I make a goddamn movie, the word "quirky" is hauled out in the American reviews. Now I see it's being applied to Wes Anderson too. All of a sudden, his films are quirky. And Sofia Coppola is quirky. It's just so goddamn lazy.'

He has a point and he is a bit of an expert on the odd, having recently finished a vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive, with the 'Global Goddess of Quirky', Tilda Swinton. If you really think about it, Bollywood's been doing quirky for years. Utpal Dutt's Hindi-loving, moustache-worshipping character in Golmaal is quirk personified. As was Sridevi's showbiz impersonator, Manju, in Chaalbaaz.

Characters with unexpected traits that endear themselves to us are quirky. It's a shortcut to becoming memorable. So it's not just alternative cinema that has a copyright on quirkiness. Dabangg's Chulbul Pandey qualifies as well.

Bollywood is, however, unique in that it uses quirkiness almost always to further the likeability of a character. More so if it is a woman because heroines have to remain at all times the upholders of morality. Thus, there is no edge when our A-list heroines portray quirkiness - it is used to humanise their characters superficially but are mostly a thing of costumes and dialogues. It's going to be a while before we see desi versions of the bluehaired Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Ellen Page's pregnant teenager in Juno.

Worse still, we often misinterpret quirky as synonymous with garish, overthe-top. Both Aiyyaa and Ghanchakkar tapped into this and given that your average commercial Hindi film is already low on subtlety this means very little. Films that are offbeat in the real sense of word don't tack on quirkiness as a USP; it is integral to the film. There is the melancholic quirkiness in Wes Anderson's cinema, the idiosyncratic charms of Amelie or Natalie Portman in Zack Braff's Garden State and the irritatingly quirky Summer from 500 Days of Summer.

There is also a peculiar self consciousness in our stars that makes them incapable of true-blue quirkiness. For that you need the so-called character actors. When Salman Khan rattles off a dialogue, he is not really addressing the person in the scene;his intended subject is the audience watching him in the theatre.

Bollywood has been playing to the galleries so much that it kills most possibilities for fearless quirkiness. In fact coming to think of it, maybe it's the audience that needs to be quirky, not the movies or the characters.

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