How it is characterised...

WHAT it is…

A loosely defined genre that usually refers to films with a high degree of sentimentality. Although often used as a derogatory term to dismiss mainstream films with emotional excesses, the genre has specific artistic connotations that only certain films qualify for. The name “Melodrama” is a conjunction of Greek words for “Music” and “Action”, which makes for a fairly good starting point to understand what the term stands for.

WHO its pioneers were...

Besides the influence of Greek and Shakespearean tragic literature, Melodrama has deep roots in folk art and popular theatre of the nineteenth century, especially the emphasis on music, drama and performance. Directors across the globe who have made significant contributions to the genre include Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kenji Mizoguchi and Ritwik Ghatak. Most Indian films of the 50s and the 60s, though, could be classified as melodramas.

WHY it is

important...

Although derided regularly as a cheap form of expression, Melodrama has the power to unsettle the audience like few other genres. When realism, understatement and subtlety have become unwritten rules of good art, Melodrama takes the opposite route and punches through to the other side. With its excesses, it can distance the audience from the narrative and make them reflect instead of asking them to submit to the authenticity of what is presented.

WHERE to

find it...

Ritwik Ghatak’s wrenching Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) uses extreme deep focus cinematography with harsh, unsettling compositions as it follows Neeta (Supriya Choudhury), a single woman who must bear the burden of her family, even if it means the sacrifice of her happiness as well as physical well being.

srikanth srinivasan

Objectives

Many noted melodramas fall under the marketing term “women’s pictures” and involve a female protagonist and detail her trials and tribulations in regimented social structures. While the lesser melodramas might milk her condition for sympathy, the more visionary ones can elevate this hackneyed scenario into an ambitious realm, where, for instance, her tale might become the allegory of a society or a nation at large.

Style

The dramatic extravagance of melodramatic narratives is frequently reflected in its aesthetics as well, where the idea of excesses becomes a normative principle. Every cinematic element — acting, sets, geography, use of colour, musical score and architecture — reinforces the emotions in the story through its extraordinary nature — a trait the genre partly shares with German Expressionistic movement. Such an “over-determination” of drama by filmic elements is a hallmark of Melodramatic films.