Saturday, July 21, 2012

Of Film Criticism...

Last week, Anupama Chopra gave a dazzling review of Cocktail. On The Front Row, she told that it is the best romantic film she has seen since Band Baaja Baraat. Most of the time, I have agreed with her on her reviews and absolutely love her writings. She is my Roger Ebert. My writing style is somewhat inspired (or copied?) from her. But I didn't like Cocktail. I found it extremely boring and stereotypical. After I read the review, I was thinking was it just me who didn't like it? Maybe I didn't understand it. I always avoid reading reviews before watching any film. When I was in Class 11, and it was the time when I actually started watching a lot of movies, I used to read each and every review of the film before I watched any film. After watching about 10-15 films like this, I realized how foolish I am. I was actually stopping my own thinking and clouding my opinion based on someone else's liking. And inevitably as much as the reviewer tries, there would be spoilers. So, how can you enjoy the movie when you know everything before hand? Then I stopped reading reviews altogether before watching any movie. Now, I watch a movie and then read all the reviews. Anupama's Cocktail review had got me puzzled. Just to validate my thinking, I started to find other reviews where reviewers did not like Cocktail. Rediff's Raja Sen hardly likes any movie and I have disagreed with him on so many reviews. He had trashed Guzaarish like anything but I had loved it totally. Now, he again blasted Cocktail and I was nodding my head with each and every line he had written. And I found myself in agreement with a person whom I have never agreed upon. But if there is one review of Cocktail that is making waves everywhere, that is of Rajyashree Sen of First Post. Read it here.

I have always believed movie watching to be very personal act. Think about it - a normal person who is imbued with so many personal problems, at the end of a week, would he be willing to watch a movie that makes him sad? The fun he would get from watching Bol Bachchan wouldn't be the same if he watches But the thing is people get extremely judgmental about the choice of films you like. Oh you loved it? How can you love that movie? I loved Aisha but if I say in front of people, I will be accused of being vain, hollow and superficial. Why is that so? I connected with the story. What is the problem if I loved Karthik Calling Karthik or did not enjoy Love Aaj Kal as much as others did. So why am I thinking too much if she loved Cocktail ;-) Maybe it was one of those very few times I disagreed with her :) So each of us are different, so a film that appeals to me might not be as appealing to you.

Over the years, I have also learnt that I find it very difficult to give ratings to movies. Just like people, films are grey. There are somethings you like, somethings you don't. It is very hard to objectify a film into a rating. Because watching films is an emotional experience, and it is extremely difficult to quantify an emotion into a rating. For example, Avatar did not have a great story but the whole experience of watching it was so exhilarating that some people called it the movie that forced people to go back to the cinemas. Rajeev Masand, in his review of Avatar, wrote

Every once in a while comes a film that grabs you by the gut and throws you into an experience so profound that nothing else really matters. These are films that stay with us our entire lives; films that touch both heart and mind; films that make you surrender completely to the power of the experience. It's films like this that make going to the cinema an out-of-the-world experience.

And this week, Greatbong wrote a brilliant article on film criticism highlighting some of the points  that I have been trying to make.

However, when you review movies, the number of labels that may be attached to you is mind-bogglingly diverse — Salman fan-boy, Shah Rukh hater, Aamir lover, Hrithik camp slave, faux-intellectual, overtly-highbrow and so it goes. The only saving grace in my case is that because I am not a professional movie reviewer (which means I don’t get invited to pre-showings or special events), I have not been accused of writing paid reviews. Not yet anyway.

In a way, I understand why people get so frothed up over film reviews. You buy a ticket, go into the darkened theatre and feel a personal connection with what is on screen. It moves you, it makes you laugh, it makes you feel pleased with yourself. You come home, go online or pick up a newspaper and there is this weirdo brutalising that which touched you so deeply. How dare he? Who the hell is this person questioning, in effect, my taste and my intellect? Surely, he must be an idiot (if he isn’t, then I am). No he is biased. That sounds right. He has been bought by “them”. Or he must be a fan of some other star. Maybe, I was correct the first time. He is an imbecile. Otherwise how can this man like Gunda and not No Smoking?

Here is the thing many forget. Movies are evaluated as per the parameters of their genre. For example, the fact that I consider both Deewana Mastana and Dekalog as masterpieces should not be taken as proof of intellectual schizophrenia or of sinister design. It is just that my definition and parameters of ‘enjoyment’ and ‘brilliance’ are context- and content-specific.

In the final analysis though, a review will always be one person’s opinion. Just like any other viewer, a reviewer brings his own biases, preferences, personal history and beliefs to the theatre. And just as a film is the projection of light and shadow on a screen, a ‘review’ is a projection of that film on an individual’s mind. Thus it can never be impartial. Nor can it be expected to be.

Beautiful! I love the way some people write..

And as the first half of 2012 ended (it is July already!), here are some of my best films of 2012.

I loved this movie like anything. Perfectly average...Greatbong makes a fascinating observation about Rahul in his review. He says
I liked “Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu” for the way they develop Imran Khan’s character. In a sequence which I felt was the highlight of the film, the hero rues how mediocre he is in everything, despite his best attempts. What is surprising is that unlike what usually happens, Imran Khan stays average right till the end. He does not “rise” in love like Shahid Kapoor in “Jab We Met”, becoming super-successful in business by selling a calling-card in the name of his lady-love. He does not discover the champion in himself like in “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”. Nor does he become a super-photographer like engineering-misfit Madhavan in “Three Idiots”.

In “Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu” only one side (Imran Khan character) falls in love, the other side (the Kareena Kapoor character) does not, the one who does blames the other for leading him on, they resolve their issues, the love still remains unrequited even though they maintain their close relationship.

Too good! How did I not notice this....

Kahaani - although it is very difficult to watch it again, I liked this film a lot. My most favorite character - Rana. The way he falls in love with Vidya...At one point in the film, Vidya asks him his name and he says Satyaki. She says -  Arjun Ka Saarthi. Wow! A perfect name.  Have to read about Satyaki though. Mahabhrata is seriously one of the greatest stories ever told.

Shanghai - Dibakar Bannrjee's political thriller, based on an old film called Z, and adapted with a story on contemporary India. Terrific characters (in one scene, they show Emraan who shoots a C-grade porn films  gets a call from 'Dreemgirl' on his phone....notice the spelling) matched with, as Anupama Chopra writes, Dibakar's knack of finding humor at the least likeliest of places. 

Vicky Donor - Superb first half, great music, great acting. It would be a blasphemy if Diana Penty wins the best debut award over Yami Gautam. Of course, Karan Johar's Student of the Year with three new comers is expected to come out later this year and as it happens in award functions, the producer with the power will get the most awards. Karan Johar, John, or Saif? Who wins here? 

Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur. Trademark Anurag style with excellent characterization, in depth research, whacky music, and  superb performances.

Films that I am eagerly waiting for in the second half of 2012: Barfi, Heroine, Student of The Year, English Vinglish, Shireen Farhad Ki To Nikal Padi, Yash Chopra's Untitled Film, Talaash

Dialogue of the Day:
"Aisa pehli baar hua hai sathra athra saalon me,
andekha anjaana koi aane laga khayalon me,
aankhon ki khidki par ek saaya sa lehrata hai,
dil ke darwaze par koi dastak dekar jaata hai,
gehri gehri kaali aankhen mujhse mujhko poocti hain,
haathon ki lakeeron me ek chehra sa banjaata hai,
uski saanse resham jaisi mere gaalo ko chu jaye,
khushboo uske haathon ki abtak hai mere baalon me,
Aisa pehli baar hua hai sathra athra saalon me...
Andekha anjaana koi aane laga khayalon me.."
 - Simran's Diary, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge

1 comment:

  1. Another interesting and informative article Pankaj.Regarding 'Kahani'...i liked the character of 'khan', which has been portrayed brilliantly by 'Nawazuddin Siddqiui'. Its really sad that this actor, also portraying the role of Faisal in Gangs of Wasseypur, along with other non-mainstream brilliant actors never fully get their due, while average performers such as Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal and many others are heaped with praise and constant media attention.


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