Melodrama, as the name suggests, is exaggerated drama. Everything is turned up to the highest volume. The key features of Melodrama include excessive emotions, high drama, telling music and more. Melodrama is a highly popular form and genre of films because of the ability of such films to show impossible and sensational actions, more so than the stage or any other format. Its main influences are the Greek Tragedies and the Sentimental Victorian novels, and these influences are plenty noticeable in the genre.
Melodramatic movies have excessive emotions and high drama. Most Bollywood films fit the bill. They have good vs evil kinds of plots. Here, the good is incredibly good, and the evil is incredibly evil. The evil characters have no redeeming qualities, and the good characters are filled with goodness and humanity. Take the popular movie “Om Shanthi Om” for instance. Mukesh Mehra is the villain and he is evil through and through. This movie is also a good example for the common feature of Melodramas to have a central female character. Here, that is Shantipriya. She is the epitome of goodness.
Melodramas emphasise on expressive gestures and visual iconography, rather than on dialogues or naturalism. In many cases, these movies have tragic outcomes. And they make liberal use of music and background score, in a very telling manner. The music will make sure the audience knows when it’s a happy scene, or when it’s a sad scene. The recent movie “The Sky Is Pink” is a good example to understand this. Melodramas also rely heavily on familial situation, illness, death or tragedy. And the movie I have mentioned, perfectly fits the bill.
The types of characters in Melodramas include victims, couples, villains, pure hearted heroes and heroines. Melodramas force these characters to struggle through some difficult situation and persevere with endurance and dignity and then it might just end with a sacrifice or with death. “Kal Ho Naa Ha” could be an example that incorporates all these elements of the Melodrama. Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is another easy example that comes to mind that utilises all these characters and features.
Melodramas have a very specific mise-en-scene. They use very strong primary colours, make clear contrast of dark and light and so on. “Om Shanti Om” would be the example I repeat because of its clear insistence on making obvious through lighting and mise-en-scene, the good and the bad characters of the film.
Melodramas are popular because they manage to tug at something very human in the minds (or hearts) of its viewers. By exploiting our emotional quotient, Melodramas are able to allow us to partake in an exaggerated expression of our feelings. These exaggeration expressions are in no way normal, nor does it represent accurately, or portray reality. And yet, by exaggerating emotions and feelings and dialling things up, Melodramas are able to capture the essence of these things. While critics look down upon melodramas, the very fact that it has such a wide reach and appeal shows that people genuinely enjoy this genre. People like being made to laugh and to cry. Like the Greeks said centuries ago, people want Catharsis. And that’s exactly what Melodrama provides.
Another reason for the popularity of Melodramas is that people want to believe in the simplicity of good vs bad. While the world is inherently more complex and complicated, by breaking it down into such binaries, such movies allow people to love and hate vehemently, the good and bad characters. And I think that the reason that people find the tragedy and struggles in Melodrama appealing is because they want to feel like their own life struggles and difficulties have a higher purpose or meaning. Melodrama glorifies the tragic. Melodrama reveres the sacrifices. And this gives meaning to people whose lives more often than not, don’t go the way they wish it did.
I also think that Melodramas are so popular simply because of their wide reach. The genre of Melodrama has completely taken over television serials and soaps. This genre, therefore, probably reaches the highest number of viewers. Hence, this is the genre that many feel most comfortable with. Melodramas are also the kind of films they will hence relate to closely, and find most easiest to comprehend.