The curse of the back-story


A scene from Table no. 21

☞ My latest entry on the main narrativeblog is on the back-story in revising a novel. This article is an interesting complement to it: on the endemic resort to the back-story in Hindi films.

“Indian filmmakers – specifically Hindi ones – have always, annoyingly, felt this need to ‘explain’ the story, using pointless dialogues to spell out every last detail about plot and character. In other cases – like Table No 21 – you have what you call the ‘back-story’, a smaller part of the narrative, used to explain character motivation, or to help put pieces of the jigsaw together. The back-story itself isn’t a problem; Thakur taking his revenge on Gabbar Singh in Sholay wouldn’t have been as rewarding if you hadn’t witnessed how brutally the dacoit killed his family.

However, in a film like Table No 21, which is supposed to be a straightforward, snappy thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for a little under two hours, to have a back-story is the worst idea possible, especially since it’s not required. Worse, it comes at a point when you want the film to come to a quick finish. You have invested over 90 minutes already, enjoying bits, not caring much about others, and want to know how the story ties up together eventually. Then comes the back-story.”


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