Indian cinema has always pandered to formula and still does. With the Indian economy pummelling other countries into oblivion, it's no surprise India now wants to prove that Hindustani national cinema is just as exportable as its beloved cuisines. But the problem is that Indian cinema has always struggled to make inroads into Western markets, being largely thought of as something hyperbolically camp in nature that only appeals to the diasporas residing in foreign locations. This is why the makers of Delhi Belly consciously set out to develop a film that is seemingly risky enough to garner plaudits in domestic markets, yet familiar enough to international audiences as not to put them off seeing it. It was a win-win situation that paid off brilliantly. Delhi Belly may be set in a foreign country, but the jokes to do with crude vulgarity and scatological humour are, in fact, culturally neutral.
It's easy to sit here and highlight the laboured attempts of Indian cinema to court the attention of Western moviegoers, but the situation is not that different from either American or European cinema. The international markets have become ever more important to Hollywood studios. The studios are tiring of unreliable domestic audiences that refuse to buy inflated 3D tickets for movies that emerging economies like India and China gladly purchase. That is why action-heavy tentpole franchises like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Harry Potter (whatever the latest one's called) have played better internationally than at home.
There is a catch to all this and that has to do with how best to manufacture a cinematic hamburger the entire world can collectively consume together. The key is to play down intelligence and to play up spectacle. That's why the sight of watching transforming robots beating the shit out of each other in 3D will astound folks the world over in a way that , for example, watching a respected middle-age actress playing a woman dying of cancer will not.
So what gives? Are people bothered by inane special-effects, or should one just accept that the world and cultural tastes are homogenising?
Some 30 years ago the American director Peter Bogdanovich complained gloomily about the "juvenilisation of the cinema," brought about, he said, by films such as Jaws and Star Wars which appealed to an audience of those aged from 12 to 25 that , according to Bogdanovich, simply hadn't existed before.
Bogdanovich didn't know the half of it. The true "juvenilisation" is happening right now. Blockbusters of the 1970s were largely very good films, whereas most of the present crop are not. Jaws was as much driven by both character and plot development as was something like The Godfather. That can't be said about Transformers 1, 2, or even 3.
There is an underlying issue that explains much of why Hollywood cinema has gone to the dogs and that has to do with the death of its movie stars. Movie stars are still alive and kicking, it's just that they don't wield the sort of power they once used to. What's more is that there is no bonafide movie star under 35-years of age. Hollywood now tends to opt for relatively unknown actors in their late-teens or early-20s to carry movies. The reason why these films strike lucky is not because of its stars but rather due to the fact they are high-concept in nature. The problem with modern films is that concept has become king while substance has become redundant.
This summer has seen the release of films like Larry Crowne and The Tree of Life, both featuring big name acting talent, both failing to attract anything close to a satisfactory audience base. Audiences chose to eschew The Tree of Life due to its non-commercial pantheistic meditation on the meaning of life and everything in between; this despite fact that it starred Brad Pitt. One can argue that The Tree of Life is not to everyone's taste and would never have been anything more than a niche arthouse article. That's true but the same could have been said about Eyes Wide Shut back in summer 1999 and that film held its own against a myriad blockbuster extravaganzas like The Matrix and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
On the other hand, Larry Crowne doesn't even have the excuse of being too cerebral to attract mainstream audiences. Despite masquerading as a movie relevant to our times because of themes concerning redundancy and unemployment, audiences knew that the film was flimsy stuff trying to get by on its movie stars' past glories. Rather than making a grown up movie with respected actors dealing with real issues, Larry Crowne became a meaningless insult to the millions of Americans that are experiencing the hardships unemployment in its bitter reality.
Let's just dismiss Larry Crowne as a one off and think about the merits of movie stars. The great thing about movie stars in the past was that they were likely to only accept a role if they felt it would play to their strengths. This meant it was essential for scripts to demonstrate qualitative character development and rich dialogue. That is why Tom Cruise could star in a film like Born on the 4th of July and turn it in to a critical and commercial success. The same can be said of Al Pacino in Carlito's Way or Mel Gibson in Hamlet, both attracting bigger audiences because of star power.
The flipside to all this is the actuality that movie stars effectively out priced themselves of a job. Tom Cruise, who at one time charged up to $22 million plus portion of gross revenue for a star appearance, now only got the bargain price of $12.5 million to act, write, produce and do his own stunt-work in Mission: Impossible―Ghost Protocol. This is a far cry from the gross participation fee of $70 million he earned in 1996 for the first Mission: Impossible.
For further proof of ailing star power just look to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former California governor had been tipped to return to the big screen in Cry Macho, a road movie about a down-on-his-luck horse breeder railroaded into travelling to Mexico to kidnap his boss's young son from the child's mother. It was reported that Schwarzenegger will receive a $12.5 million on a 25% share of the first dollar gross for the project. That all changed when nervous money men began questioning Schwarzenegger's star relevance and dropped the project. Schwarzenegger will now star in Korean director Kim Jee-woon's English language debut The Last Stand. However, The Last Stand reportedly has a modest $30m budget and is not likely to prove nearly so lucrative for its star, thus proving movie stars no longer shine as bright.
To conclude: cunnylingus will always have its place in cinema but it seems a shame to have sacrificed star power in order to accommodate it. The basic principles of economics prove that it's more cost effective to hire an unknown actor to simulate oral sex than an expensive movie star. Cinema is shirking and our expectation of what we want from films is becoming unilateral. The concept of cunnylingus has become more valuable than the actors hired to act it out.