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Monday, July 04, 2005

how to build up suspense

For a crime story to be depicted successfully on the screen, where the audience holds their breath till the last scene, is an art perfected by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock. How to build up the suspense is what counts most. Stories penned by Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Earle Stanley Gardener invariably keep the readers on tenterhooks – because, that is the basic criterion. Keep them guessing, the murderer is revealed in the last but one page and the readers sigh as they put the book away. The end is so unexpected – how can anyone have ever imagined that so-and-so, who appeared to be the innocence personified, commit so ghastly a crime as murder? Remember films like the Rope, Psycho, and the Man who knew too much?

In contrast, our Indian counterparts whether they are from Bollywood or Tollywood or Mollywood never seem to get things correct. Right from the days of China Town, we have seen it happen. There will be silhouetted figures that will be shown with their faces shielded, with hats pulled down over their heads, only the lower portion of the body will be visible when he alights from the car, that also, his shoes will be milk white in color. By the time the camera moves ever so slowly to take in his face, that all-important part of the body will be lost in a haze of smoke. The best part is that, even when he wears white dresses, no one ever spots him in the darkness! To add to that, he will have rubber soled shoes but each step of his can be heard from a kilometer away - they will go thak-thak-thak! It’s a pity that the heart doesn’t go dhak-dhak-dhak with it!

The inimitable Mehmood’s version of what suspense should be like was depicted in the film ‘pyar kiye jaa’ – the creaking of the door as it is opens ever so cautiously, the sound of water dripping drop by drop in a half full bucket, the sudden rustling of wings as a bat flies overhead. These certainly add to the effect and create an atmosphere in which the audience expects frightening events to take place. Unfortunately, the effect is lost when the villain enters the scene flaunting his spotless white shirt and makes the building shake with every step.

The trouble is that the Bollywood, Tollywood and Mollywood villains are typecast; nothing is left to the imagination of the viewer. Our film makers should ring in changes to make such movies succeed – if presented properly with more natural responses from the actors involved, we can boast of desi versions of Hitchcock.

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