The Clap Trap (1993)
Dir: Jill Misquitta
Vinod Khanna, Juhi Chawla, and a portly Rishi Kapoor strut to the strains of Ina Mina Dika, while the bearded villain looks on. Just as you notice the two hijras on either side of him, someone off-screen yells, “Cut!” and a mirror arrives for the villain to get his nose powdered. The mirror again, and the man in the hijra outfit turns a baleful eye to the camera. The eye is large, round and glassy, also crooked, for maximum comic effect.
Misquitta’s opening sequence makes it quite clear that the film industry we’re going to be shown here is not the one we usually see – where noses are already powdered, no glass eye ever shocks us, and mirrors never reveal anything. This is the gritty underbelly, where the men and women popularly still referred to as “extras” (despite their official title of junior artists) are graded into classes based on their looks and the quality of their clothes. One girl describes herself as “super class”, which means that she has “personality” and “good clothes” and gets called for “party scenes”. Another man is agitated because “good clothes” are now being demanded even of “B class” artists, who earn Rs 84 a day.
The film successfully combines a broad-strokes sense of the landscape that junior artists inhabit – the long hours of waiting, the dimly-lit back of the studio, the daily haggling with producers’ agents – with careful portraits of particular people. We meet Maqsood, who came to Bombay to become Mr India, and was once cast opposite Mumtaz, but ended up a junior artist, and Pammi, whose story suggests that however politically incorrect it might seem to us, the lines between being a film extra, a bar dancer and a call girl can often be blurred. The Clap Trap is that rare documentary that manages to be both brutal and gentle – it is brutal in its pursuit of the unglossy, but gentle when it finds it. At a time when films like Om Shanti Om, Mithya and Luck By Chance are competing to draw us into their versions of the industry’s interior, this is a film well worth a watch.
Published in Time Out Delhi, Vol 2 Issue 25, March 6-19, 2009