It started early, I think. My mum tells me I was very excited when Shah Rukh Khan’s Darr was about to release. As a kid, I used repeat “Jaadu teri Nazar” non-stop. And the only lines I could sing were, “Jaadu teri Nazar, Khushboo tera badan, Tu haan kar, Ya naa kar, Tu hai Meri Kiran”. And I’d repeat them, non-stop. So much, that my elder brother used to get frustrated. I don’t remember that, of-course. These are the stories my parents tell me. What I can vouch for is, though, I wasn’t absolutely a Shah Rukh fan, or a Juhi chawla or a Sunny Deol fan. I was, particularly, smitten by the world of the movie. Its posters, its songs, and the beyond valuable Shah Rukh stammer, which, in turn, is now a part of the pop culture. Indian pop culture, of course.
And, then I grew up, and the most exciting thing, I remember was the day at the movies. Saturday. My parents also loved movies, but more as cine-goers. Not as ones who’d like to be the movie, one day. But something was different with me always. An uncle of mine asked me what I’d like to become, when I was in class 7th, I said a doctor, following my parents’ footsteps. Which changed in class 9th and 10th, and I started saying engineer. But instead of my mensuration books and trigonometry problems, I always had fondness for movies. As in, not only which star is working in which movie, who’s shooting which movie, who is directing which, to the extent who was the action guy behind films like Satya and Company. You’ll not believe me, but in class 7th and 8th I knew Allan Amin (then credited as Amin Ghani) was the action Director of Satya (and a long time collaborator of Ramu), Santosh Sivan shot Dil Se and Sandeep Chowta scored Vaastav. Allan Amin, later, went on to do action for slick action movies like Dhoom. Though, the finest work, I feel he did was in Dil Se… perhaps the most organic action sequences I have seen on film. And in all of its glory, as far as I can remember, I wanted to be the film. Or, as now I have realized, the film maker. But, I digress.
For me, the stars and artists behind the scenes were equally important to me. At times, more important than the ones we get to know easily, like the director. I remember watching Black, and seeing the credits with equal curiosity, Monty did the background score, Omung Kumar did the sets, Ravi K Chandran shot the film, and oscar winner Resul Pookutty did the sound. And I used to read the reviews. I was blessed with the internet when I was in class 4th. That was 1999 I guess, and I used to search for movie reviews, and the most popular one, at that time was Indiafm critic Taran Adarsh. And I used to follow him, closely, until I grew up and started disagreeing, and finding his reviews to be, well, formulaic. And, I started finding more reviewers, like Raja Sen, Rajeev Masand (who used to run a show called Masand Ki Pasand on Star News), and lastly (and the one I still respect and read with maximum dedication) Shubhra Gupta.
That was my first exposure to film criticism. I followed Sen for a long time, since class 9th (2004, also, I think he started then, as a critic). Though I still do, I have, since, acquired a taste of my own liking and started disagreeing with his opinions. I sometimes gasp at his ineptness and dubiousness out of his bias for some films and makers. I have stopped following Masand because his reviews are ridiculously short and most of the times tend to explain his stars, despite the fact his stars are quite accurate, when I read or listen his reviews, I don’t get anything, in terms of the discussion of the art involved. So I, unfortunately, am left with the only critic to look up to, Ms. Gupta.
Yet again, I tend to forget what I was going to talk about. So we again go back to class 9th when I started losing focus at more *important* things then, and following movies, even closely. I had no point of reference, for English movies, and High School is so over-hyped, that my parents had to literally bite the marbles to get me to study. Just for the information, I cleared high school with decent marks. But I couldn’t let go of Ramu and Mani Ratnam and other relatively inconsequential filmmakers at that time, like Priyadarshan (his Hera Pheri is still amusing).
And then came the legendary 11th and 12th. In India, that’s a stereotype, to choose PCM. Now the thing is, I wasn’t particularly bad at Biology. So, I could well become a doctor, like my parents. I am glad that didn’t happen. Anyhow, this time, I was the one to bite the marbles. The only thing that got me going was movies, and information about them. Like what was Ramu smoking when he made “Naach”, and I liked it as a kid, while my parents slept beside me in the cinema hall. Like his “Nishabd”, that I liked, and no one, including Ms. Gupta did. And later on I realized Sen and Masand liked it. So, a different kind of fondness was growing, somewhere inside me. To talk about them, to think them as an art form, and think of what a good movie is made of. Is it the looks of the movie? Is it the charm between the hero and the heroine? What is it, actually? I remember hating DDLJ. I never liked the movie, so looks and the charm thing was out of the window, for me. Something else made movies more like-able. Something that is far more emotional.
That’s when perspectives started changing for me. That was the time when I was in class 12th. And, I didn’t grow up on comics, but on cartoons, and Byomkesh Bakshi, and Malgudi Days: the TV serial, and Bharat ek Khoj. And that was when I realized that Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki is atrocious, and TV is going all ludicrous, every day. And, that was, well, a different kind of a puberty, I guess. When I watched “Ab Tak 56”, I realized the movie’s greatness lies in its normalcy. That it is devoid of glamour, and the way Sadhu talk to his son is, by all means, cinema. That, is perhaps, the art of cinema.
I am not saying great cinematography, great production values, good visuals aren’t necessary. But that’s the style part of it. Movies are, after all, a reflection of our own subconscious. Perhaps, a reenactment of truth? May be, I am not sure. But what I learnt over a period of time about movies is, they work on a very organic, visceral level. Unlike literature, or drawing, where the recipients’ imagination is needed in equal measures. In movies, I’m not saying imagination is not required but, more than anything else sensibility and understanding is required. Imagination is automatically triggered, feelings seep in, and in a well made movie, the world becomes yours. No matter how little close to reality it is.
That prompted me to do my own talking and thinking of movies. Many people I know didn’t like Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya. I loved it when I watched it in cinema hall in 2007. I was so fond of it, that I thought, that day, that one day I’ll make my own. To be honest, Eklavya for me, is influential cinema, being someone who wasn’t exposed to international cinema, then. And then, in that flow of madness, I got admitted to engineering. Which was an absolute liberation. Freedom to watch movies, all kinds of movies. Hindi, English, French, Arabic… There was no restriction to the number of movies. You just need to catch hold of the right guy with a Hard disk. And after a series of such viewings I thought of having my own blog about movies. But sometimes I used to wonder why these reviews of mine aren’t so satisfying? To write? Or to read?
So I stopped. Through those international movies I watched, there was only one critic whose reviews I found satisfying to read. I discovered Roger Ebert. I read his reviews and the way I looked at movies changed, completely. When I didn’t understand a movie, I looked up to his reviews and I realized movies are much more than visual effects, and locales, and sound, and moving images. I miss him, everyday. He passed away earlier this year.
That was when I realized, talking about movies needs to be as personal as making them. I don’t even know how much I have learnt about making films by reading Ebert’s reviews than I have by watching them. Someone on twitter introduced me to Kieslowski, Ebert guided me through his world. Everything changed, the way I make my movies, the way I think about them, the way I see them, and the way I write them. I haven’t discovered finer cinema, since.
Amongst all this euphoria, and being over energetic about movies, trolling others on twitter, and showing off nerdist behavior, I realized this is all rubbish. Unnecessary passion for things I don’t completely understand. When great movies promote sombreness, we choose aggression. When great movies promote sensitivity and democracy, we choose apathy and elitism. Madness for movies got nothing to do with show off of understanding cinema. So, that was another kind of puberty, at that point of time. It led to few blogposts that started getting some audience. And as it happens, one thing led to another, I reached here through twitter or a popularized blogpost, I wrote on mine, and now, all my content about movies is here.
And here we are, fighting, loving, hating, and singing along, for opinions that matter or don’t. In some context we are talking and promoting movies, albeit good ones. I am proud that in this journey, we are touching two years, and joined hands with a pretty good number of writers. Quite a journey, this. I joined last Feb, it is one and half years since, and yet (unlike my professional journeys in IT), I hope this journey never ends.
3 Cheers for 2 years, Madaboutmoviez. Here’s wishing this madness continues, forever.
PS: And I deserve a promotion. Sethu, you gotta oblige.