Over the last few months I’ve been researching the music of Bollywood and the digital humanities (or perhaps more appropriately digital culture). For the former I have been acquiring a knowledge of the Bollywood repertoire and trying to understand the narrative importance of music in these films. For the latter, I have been looking at how web technologies and digital developments might inform research in the arts and humanities, and how these technologies may affect the way in which we research and engage with the arts. For this blog, I am going to see if I can put the two together.
This morning I watched for the first time Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) which, as Rachel Dwyer notes in her book 100 Bollywood Films (British Film Institute Screen Guides, 2005), is ‘generally accepted to be the greatest Hindi film of all time’. I enjoyed it and was particularly impressed by the use of generic mixing for dramatic effect. But before I get sidetracked into my own analysis of the narrative, I wonder what I can learn about the film from my mobile and my tablet? Indeed, what does digital culture offer up for a study of this Bollywood classic?
My first port of call was the mobile application ‘Thumbs’, a survey-based app that lets you ask a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ question to others currently ‘online’. The app also has a text facility so that people can add further comment if they want. I posed the question: who has seen the film Sholay and, if so, did they have any thoughts? Over 20 minutes I received 83 responses: 13 neutral or no opinion, 2 responses were positive and provided comment, the other 68 were negative. From a quick survey of the results there was an approximate 50:50 male/female split with most respondents living in the USA, Canada, or the UK.
So what can this tell us? Well from this quick (and by no means comprehensive) survey, it seems that despite Sholay being thought of as one of the greatest Hindi films of all time, it has not caught the imagination of the majority of users of this app. [For a point of reference, I posed shortly after the question ‘Who has seen the film The Magnificent Seven?’, a film with a narrative similar to that of Sholay. This generated 69 responses: 6 neutral, 34 positive, and 29 negative.]
Those who responded positively on Thumbs to having seen Sholay also provided additional comment, although neither viewer was particularly taken with the film. One respondent said they had seen the film but did not enjoy it, while the other said that he had seen the film when he was younger and had seen it again only a few weeks ago, saying that when watching it for the second time round ‘I thought to myself how naive we once were’. I wonder if the respondent here is referring to the film’s lack of realism, as Sholay takes a more theatrical rather than realistic approach to the action (at least by today’s standards) and if the comments are indicative of a changing aesthetics and change in audience expectations since Sholay was released.
My next port of call for this preliminary study was to look at the public reviews of Sholay posted on the Rotten Tomatoes website (via the ‘Movies’ app) and on the Internet Movie Database website (also available as an app). Both these sources provided more nuanced information on audience reactions to the film. The Rotten Tomatoes website states that 95% viewers liked the film and IMBD gives the movie a viewer rating of 8.1/10. Both these ratings seem to align with Rachel Dwyer’s observation above.
It is the reviews, though, that are in my opinion of the greatest value. Looking over a number of reviews from both websites there appears to be particular themes and comments that recur, with four being particularly prominent: 1) the film’s length (it being over 3 hours), a length most viewers of Hollywood films aren’t used to, but that is quite standard for Bollywood films 2) the western feel of the film, with reviewers making comparisons with Once Upon a Time in the West and Seven Samurai 3) the exceptional quality of the music and 4) the film’s use of a variety of different genres (one reviewer describing the film as ‘a curry western with heavy American influences has a little bit of everything. Suspense, Slapstick, Romance, Singing and Violent Bloodshed’).
The music and mixing of dramatic genres seems to have had a significant impact on many of the reviewers. To my mind, the mixing of genres in this film is certainly one of its highlights and something I see as essential to the narrative. Indeed, Sholay constantly hops between moments of light and shade, suffering and happiness, creating stark contrasts that intensify the drama. Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the scene that follows the Holi festival celebrations, the musical celebratory scene suddenly turned into a scene of terror and violence as the bandits invade the village (unfortunately the clip below cuts out just before the invasion):
YouTube is another fantastic resource for research, as videos are often followed with a plethora of user views and comments. Indeed, several of the videos showcasing songs from this film provide an intriguing account of people’s emotional reactions and understandings of specific scenes, reactions that a researcher can pursue and follow up on with the author if required and if possible.
While the above is a merely a quick overview of what information can be gleamed from web 2.0 technology, I hope it shows some of the potential for using these sites for research, as I do think that it allows for a new approach that engages with the wider public. There is much room for future research into how these tools can benefit the arts and research into the arts and they forge connections between art, the public, and how art is accessed and understood.
Thoughts and comments as ever appreciated.