Response: A Twisted Tale – Reviewing Kahaani

Written by  //  March 17, 2012  //  Media & Popular Culture, Uncategorized  //  Comments Off

Recently, I have been fiercely arguing with an anonymous film critic (I make time). The scope of our arguments were epic in scope, about what it is to make and experience art, and what should be (or isnt) our mandate as a ‘critical’ audience (hope that for including the word ‘critical’ in single inverted commas twice,  CT doesnt do a Mamata Banerjee on me!). What I did achieve out of my acrimony with anon was a little re-think on my approach to reviewing cinema (given the low base that i start from, note that my sense of achievement is modest). This is why.

Last movie I ’5 starred’!

One of the absurd arguments I foisted on her (anon has to be a lady in her mid 30s, I can tell from the writing) was that when a movie that succeeds at the box office, it is the film critic’s humble duty to investigate the formula that makes it a commercial success. To my credit, I did not descend into a classic fine arts (or who is post-moderner) debate about the meaning of art etc., where I would stand on weak ground and sink into the pit I have been digging for myself. I went on – Why investigate the formula of commercial success? It helps us understand the audience to whom we (eventually we hope to) sell our work. Don’t be snobbish about commercial Indian cinema my dear, isn’t it that you are just unable to appreciate the magic behind Ghajini, Dev D or for that matter, Dabangg? You must realize that it does not convey your evolved sense of artistic merit but a void in your understanding of your audience. The villain of the piece is not the ‘big production house’ but your disconnect with the audience. No cold water on your arthouse, no. Just your arrogance, where is the humility to learn what does well? Take a leaf out of my book, and push cinema beyond you and the audience, into newer and more fantastic film-making times.

I riled on and on.  As you can see, I didnt make much sense. Not to anon, not to myself, not to anyone. Film critics dont budge in their assessment of cinematic merit just because the large number of the ignorant tremendously enjoy a most pathetic piece of work. As a film critic, it is expertise, my sense of cinema that guides me in my assessment, not my arrogance or my superior ability to decipher artistic merit. No.

Obviously everyone likes this movie for a reason!

 

So with that thought, I decided not to select movies to review based on opening weekend box office collections. It used to be a fairly objective criteria for picking movies to review, that and ofcourse – Vidya Balan. Without the first to fall back on, the latter becomes now my sole selection criterion for reviewing a movie. I dont see why else I must put myself through the pain. The kind of pain undertaken by professional film critics who have to go and watch everything that comes out, whether they like it or not and then talk about whether they like it or not.

A tad slow in the second half

 

Coming back to the point, what I did not do with Kahaani (wow, falls within my criterion!) was look at opening weekend box office collections. I also did not read other people’s reviews and paid no heed to the facebook feed. The last thing I am going to do with this one, is investigate the mood of the unschooled birdbrained ‘public’. Until the critic speaks, the rest can banter. I will delve into technique, casting, characters, narrative, plot, camera, direction, script, unravel merits and scoff at faults, with an arrogant all-knowing vehemence. I’ll wear my favorite smug look as I make or break films and film-makers, and their ideas. I don’t follow trends, I reflect the one and only trend. My thoughts are always the crucial one step ahead of time! (breaking paragraph to insert item picture before I fall in love with myself completely).

India’s best unintended parody! Yes, because I say so and I have a way with words.

 

I watched Kahaani the evening before. If it was terrible, like all movies I review (and dont!) are, it would have been simple. I would return and vent something balanced on the side of negative, grunt a few good one-liners, and pick up a few things from here and there to over-analyze (like I did with The Dirty Picture). But no, I actually thought Kahaani is good. Precarious position. I felt the same as I do when as a lawyer I find that there is absolutely no reason my client should be worried. Golden rule of lawyering, if your client has nothing to worry about, that’s your most serious worry. You will procrastinate forever, put a few junior colleagues on a spit then toast them black before you give your client a reluctant go-ahead. Much the same with saying nice things about a movie?

Damn! Betrayal of the poster.

 

Decided to I sleep over these thoughts after watching Kahaani the other evening. Didn’t wake up to much inspiration. What with Sachin Tendulkar and Pranab Mukherjee competing for attention (the cricket match and stock markets ending on the same high note). The little break before writing the movie I thought was a good idea. Always think a second time before you say something nice Suhas. Soon, I also began to realize that my multiple experiments with inventing criticism for Kahaani only ended up in nitpicking rants. The kind that readers will soon consider in the wrong spirit, or worse – WHATEVER (like this one by confused-as-hell Rajeev Masand).

Just when I attempted to constipate my appreciation of Kahaani, came this review by Mukul Sharma.  A mix of relief and consternation. Relief because if Kahaani sucks in retrospect, forgotten by cinema or ranked as a lesser achievement than Vidya Balan’s role in Hum Paanch it is Mukul Sharma’s (doubtful) credentials as a film critic on the line, and not my (doubtful) reputation! Consternation because Vidya Balan has become selective about the films she signs up for, and releases at most 2 or what 3 movies a year? By posting on CT a review of one of few movies that I review every year, Mukul Sharma is the (proverbial) cat urinating on my side of the wood.

Bugger off dude!

 

I did accuse him of pre-emptive plagiarism, while he harped about first-mover’s advantage. I take this opportunity to remind my loyal readers that we will NOT go down without a fight. Until I do, I persuade all of you to absorb my views on Kahaani which you will find here, very fluently articulated and to the point! Your trusted film critic never fails to disappoint.

 

About the Author

Suhas Baliga is a Delhi-based lawyer and constantly interacts with policy, government and business. His other interests include history, politics and popular culture. He hopes that in his engagement with Critical Twenties blog, his randomness will be excused as provocation!

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