Argument Against the Item Song in Kayamkulam Kochunni

I watched Rosshan Andrrews’s Kayamkulam Kochunni last day and I liked it. You can read my review here.

But there is one thing that I did not like: an item song titled ‘Nrithageethikalennum’ featuring Canadian model Nora Fatehi. The song itself is all right and adds to the masala and setting of the film, but the problem I have is with its sheer existence and the picturization. It has been categorically made to appeal to the male gaze, both in and out of the screen.

Even as the Indian film industry scrambles to think through and look at doing away with it, here we are using it to do what it has always been used to: drive more men into the theaters. I know that you may have your doubts with this article – coming from a male himself – but I am going to make my points anyway.

The Argument

I understand why director Andrrews may have resorted to putting an item number into his magnum opus, which is now the most expensive Malayalam film (INR 45 crores). He (and his producer Gokulam Gopalan) wants his money back and more. And for that people need to be barge in in the initial weeks. For those uninterested in history, flesh show compensates. At least that’s what I like to believe. It’s like falling to another low in box office business.

I also understand that the item number is a storyboard requirement. The makers want to show how cabaret was a common source of entertainment for English officers. And by showing that, also describe their sexist and condescending nature, mostly against Indians. I get it.

But what I don’t get is why. If showing what the British Raj enjoyed watching in the late 1800s in India was so important for the narrative, then why not also show other aspects of their lifestyle? Why does it have to be an isolated topic – an entire song that goes on for 4 minutes with a woman dancing and seducing? Finally, why make the central character validate it? I would understand if that was part of character development, but in this Malayalam film, it isn’t. Showing that the character was interested in cabaret has absolutely no impact on the rest of the story.

Lastly, the way the item number has been choreographed also points to the ultimate intention of the makers. If you observe the video song closely, the camera focuses on those body parts of Miss Fatehi that are devoid of habiliments or those that are naturally bound to evoke the feeling of sexual desire in a person (mostly male).

Cinematic Liberty and Style

I am convinced that the item number in Kayamkulam Kochunni (2018) was only placed to appeal to those who fancy it. And that’s a majority in a sex-starved country like India.

I am also convinced that this is what filmmakers consider as a catalyst to ensure box office success. But, I think it is high time that filmmakers – mostly in southern India – respect the current culture and social landscape and push the concept of item numbers into oblivion. The film industry is currently experiencing one of the most significant movements in a long time – the #MeTooIndia movement – and it is probably also the right time to shed elements that have dictated Indian cinema for ages. Item number, being one, and the idea of not passing the Bechdel test, being the next target.

It is up to each filmmaker to decide whether they want to add an item song in their film or not. The day when they don’t even think about it is when we will move towards being an industry that is culturally and socially sensitive. Otherwise, all this courageous activism is going to bite the dust in a few months, manhandled and subdued by the oppressive.


PS – I still remember the time I edited an article for The Review Monk during the 2015 edition of MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. I was summarizing an interview of a panel of women in Bollywood and had misheard the term “male gaze” as “male gays”. The lovely Ruhi Sinha corrected me later that day and here I am today. I hadn’t heard the term before that. How childish of me.

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The Definitive Guide to Surviving Shopping at DMart

It is a known fact that shopping at a DMart store can be a life-threatening experience. Which is why a guide like this is absolutely essential.

Today, shopping at DMart – the Indian chain of hypermarkets and a nightmare to local grocery shops – is an uphill task. Whatever day of the week or the time of the day or the store you choose to go shopping, you are going to meet the entire planet there. Kids and adults alike shopping like they are hoarding up for an apocalypse. And there’s no way you can have a peaceful grocery shopping experience in that mess. Unless you follow my directions.

I have shopped at DMart for the better part of my adult life, and I believe I have found the best practices that will take us as close as we can get to peaceful shopping in 2018. I can speak for all the DMart stores in Navi Mumbai and Mumbai in Maharashtra, but something tells me that these shopping tips can be adopted at stores across the nation. Here you go!

DMart Shopping Guide Basics

This guide considers the moment you enter the supermarket till the time you pay the bill and push your cart out of the exit gate. What you do before this matters but what you do after does not.

Men and women in the age group of 20-35 will be able to pull this off easily. People beyond that may find this childish and arduous. If you are one of them, feel free to spend your entire Sunday at DMart like you currently do.

You will also require basic communication (and apology feigning) skills to completely pull this off and shop for a month’s groceries within 60 minutes. This also means that this guide is best suitable for grocery shopping (DMart ground floor). I sometimes do go upstairs to buy a few odd home improvement things, but I usually do it in a jiffy so that I don’t lose my filled-up cart upon returning.

Sometimes I wish DMart really invested in their online store and made it more user-intuitive using all that money they raised through the IPO, but here we are in 2018 still queuing up with carts filled to the brim with stuff that we think is enough for the whole month until you reach home to realize that you missed the one thing you needed the most. Honey, I forgot the agarbattis!

Note – It is assumed that you know the layout of your preferred store.

dmart shopping

I’d give good money to shop at a DMart store after they down the shutters. © Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

A Guide to DMart Shopping in Mumbai

This guide has been developed using tactics experimented on a DMart store located in Navi Mumbai. I have divided this into four sections:

  1. Prerequisites
  2. When to go
  3. Navigating the aisles inside DMart
  4. Checking out

I have considered all the options so that everyone can make use of this guide according to their preferences. Come on now, let’s do some peaceful offline shopping at India’s largest hypermarket chain.

Prerequisites

How you carry yourself while you go shopping is paramount to its success. Which is why you need to follow these tips carefully, no matter what.

Should You Go Alone or in a Group?

Consider going alone and taking a grocery list with you. Kids should never be taken along for reasons aplenty. The same goes for adult companions. It destroys the equilibrium needed to effectively and swiftly navigate the aisles in the third phase (see above). Wear something casual (tee, track pants, and sneakers).

Things to Carry

Don’t carry anything on you except a debit/credit card and some cash (at least a thousand rupees more than you estimate the total bill will be). Keep the wallet at home.

If you prefer traditional note-taking, carry a piece of paper for the grocery list. Otherwise, get a smartphone app. I prefer and recommend Xiaomi’s native notepad app. It’s by far the easiest checklist app. Remember that a phone is seen as a liability here as it is one extra thing you need to worry about. If you are thrifty like me, you can also carry large-size carry bags made of cloth depending upon your estimated cart size and volume. (Remember, plastic bags are banned in the state. There’s no enforcement, but better to be safe than sorry.)

How to Get There?

If you live nearby, consider walking to the store.

If you live far, there are three things you can try –

  • Take a public transport (autorickshaw is the best option here)
  • Drive your own vehicle (preferably a two-wheeler with space to keep the bags while returning) and park it not where everybody parks but at a place near to the store. While returning you can walk till there to avoid the crowd, hawkers, Greenpeace activists, and miscellaneous pamphlet distributors
  • If you plan to take a four-wheeler, beware of no-parking. There are a very few DMart stores in Mumbai that provide parking space, let alone free parking. To avoid your vehicle from getting towed away by opportunistic traffic police, use the method mentioned above
    • You may also get a sidekick who can drive you to the entrance and then go and park somewhere close by. After you check out, buzz them to come to pick you up. The downsides are that they will have to wait for around 60 minutes in the car before you finish your shopping and you will have to carry your phone. Going home and coming back is an option but fuel prices are rising.

When to Go

The new DMart timings are: 8 AM to 11 PM throughout the week. Assuming that you work from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays, you can either go after 7 PM or any time on Saturday or Sunday. But the problem is that everyone with the same schedule thinks alike. So, if you plan on going on a Saturday, there will be a thousand others who will do the same.

Unless you find out a pattern in how others think. Now, read carefully, because this is where I spew gold.

The perfect time to go DMart shopping is on a Sunday at 3.30 PM. Do it in the first week of the month for better deals and discounts.

Explanation:

Most people are tired at the end of a weekday. They think that others are too, so, they coordinate with their better halves and go shopping post work. They also think that people have off-days on weekends, so they don’t wait till Saturday. They usually do this on a Friday so that they can use the “weekend feeling” to push themselves and maybe get the bigger bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. But, since everyone thinks like that, everybody flocks to the store unknown to the fact that they got there using the same thought process. They end up crowding the store. You go to a DMart store between 6 PM and 10 PM on a weekday and you are bound to meet people. Lots and lots of people. With their kids.

Some people have an off on Saturdays, too, so, they plan to go shopping on that day. Unfortunately, everyone who has an off on Saturdays thinks alike. And they all flock to the store. (Repeat.)

Come Sunday, and most people are tired and hung over from previous night’s party where they let their hair down. The two types of people – who have already shopped on a weekday or on Saturday – are happier that they do not want to do it on Sunday. They laze around in the couch till the “Monday feeling” kicks in.

Those who know that they have to do the shopping also laze around till it’s too late. And it’s already past 6 PM when they get up and start thinking about the things they want to get.

When you go shopping on a Sunday at 3.30 PM you will see empty aisles clear and broad enough to spot all those things that others have knocked over in an attempt to find the heaviest Kurkure packet. You can easily maneuver your cart and also don’t have to stand in a queue while at the counter. If you manage to do the shopping within 45 minutes, you can reach the goal of leaving the DMart store before there’s a crowd outside, especially at the baggage counter where serpentine queues are commonplace.

Navigating the Aisles Inside DMart

Once you have managed to enter the DMart store on a Sunday afternoon, the next step is to get a cart in good working condition. Make sure the tires roll easily and do not get stuck. Put the green-colored security bag in the cart and proceed to the good things in life: the grocery aisles of DMart.

dmart in mumbai

Such a sight is rare in a DMart store these days. © Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Pro Tip – If there is a queue at the cart area, don’t get in it. Instead, smile at the person who frisked you, move out of the store, and pull one by yourself. This will save you a few minutes and also earn you the envy of those standing in the queue. (Unfortunately, this may not be possible for women as they will have to again get frisked, which happens in a small, closed makeshift room.)

The strategy is to find a secluded place at the center of the ground floor and park the cart there. Instead of moving it around, it is better to briskly walk around, get the things you want, and stash them into the parked cart. I have tested and compared this with the traditional method, and it saves up to 15 minutes. I understand this looks a bit silly, but trust me it’s the best way. This is also the reason why I suggested the age group above.

Consider the grocery list but don’t follow its order. Instead, follow the layout of DMart and collect things as you move from one end to another.

Don’t Look at the Price

If you are going to be buying things that you need, then there’s no need to look at the prices. Especially for those groceries that you buy every month. Instead, look out for BOGO offers and discounts and festive deals and base your shopping on them. DMart sometimes also makes announcements, so, do keep an ear open. You might also catch some conversations between other shoppers and get some ideas. (Fun tip – some couples get real naughty even while they are shopping for a soap.)

Going Upstairs

If you plan to check out the higher levels of DMart, make sure you park your filled cart in a place that is secure from “good thieves”. You may have not come across them but sometimes the DMart staff will take your unattended cart and park it in the godown area to make space for other shoppers. Getting it back is always a struggle and adds time to your shopping activity.

If you plan to buy multiple things, consider getting a basket temporarily.

Checking Out

Once all the items in the grocery list are checked out, you should make a move to the counter area. This is one of the most crowded and confusing places in a DMart store. Due to a lack of space, there are serial as well as parallel counters. If you manage to reach the counter area before 4.30 PM, you will not find any queues. Maybe one or two people tops.

But, if there are long queues at each counter, you should consider the serial ones next to them. Of course, getting to these counters (on the nether side of the hall) will be a struggle, but it will be worth it. This is against the idea of “herd mentality” which is at full display at any DMart counter area. It is okay if you chafe a tire over a kid’s toe because peaceful shopping cannot be traded without sacrifices.

Once you are at the counter and are done with the billing, help the person who is filling your bags. This will expedite the process and you can also share a smile when it’s done. The person behind you will also thank you in his mind unless the chocolates at display have gotten the fancy of their toddler.

It is when you do your grocery shopping quickly that you achieve peace. And with this guide, you most certainly will.

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List: Types of People You Meet in an Elevator

The elevator is the most awkward place on Earth. Your intention might be to just transport yourself vertically but the people you meet in there make it a gauche affair. Whether it is an elevator at your housing society’s high-rise or your workplace or any other lift capsule, these people are omnipresent.

Outside the Elevator

  • Crashers – They crowd the entrance of the lift and hope to enter the elevator before people inside have even begun to walk out. They wake up in the morning with only one purpose in life: finding a place inside a lift
  • Sprint Runners – They are a variation of Crashers. They are always in a hurry, have a slightly swifter gait, and use their elbows as weapons to clear off the crowd. One moment they will be outside and the other they are in front of you turning into a Crasher
  • Delayers – They call the lift, see everyone else get in, and then stand outside waiting for their friends to join. They repeatedly press the call button and delay the lift’s movement. They often are the opposite in bed
  • Anxiety Folks – They tend to press the call button again and again till their ego and insecurity have filled themselves to the brim
types of elevator people

It sucks when all of them enter together. © Photo by Vale Zmeykov on Unsplash

Inside the Elevator

  • Network Seekers – Always the ones talking on the phone just when the lift starts moving. They know that network connectivity tends to get weaker when you are moving at a high speed on a vertical plane but boy they talk. And a few seconds later they begin to shout
  • Gangbangers – Typically a group of two or more people whose primary purpose is to measure the sound proofing of an elevator capsule. From cackling to roaring to snickering – with loud and intense sound waves – they are also often the people who crack the worst jokes
  • Leaners – Physically incapable or not, they just lean on the wall of the elevator. They enter, choose any of the three sides, and lean their entire body on the elevator wall panel. These are mostly people who are fed up with their life (housing society) or work (office building)
    • Ultra Leaners – They lean on the doors (fourth wall) of the elevator. They are so fed up, they have suicide in their subconscious mind
  • Watchers – They enter the capsule and stand without turning. While everybody is facing the door of the elevator, these guys look at you. And smile
  • Oglers – Probably the most common type of elevator people. They usually have a phone in hand that they give the remaining 30% attention to when they are not looking at you, your attire, and the visible body beneath your attire. Their only regret in life is that they don’t have see-through glasses
  • Hitpeople – They walk in, stand facing the door/s, look at the changing numbers on the display panel, and get out when it’s their floor. In their free time, they kill people and bury their bodies in the hull of the lift structure
  • Noobs – They enter the lift and later realize that it does not stop at their floor. These are the ones who empty an entire bucket of ice cream later that day when such a thing happens
  • Helpers – They usually stand by the control panel of the lift and give in to requests of pressing floor numbers by other travelers. They often end up with partners who abuse them mentally for the rest of their lives

There is never a good way to travel in an elevator which increases your chances of being one of these people. Happy elevation!

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My Experience at MAMI’s Young Critics Lab

This is a long-form take on Young Critics Lab, the annual workshop on film criticism for youngsters organized by MAMI which is the organization behind the Mumbai Film Festival. I attended all the three rounds of the lab in 2017 between August and October, which typically ends with the finalists attending the week-long festival in various venues across Mumbai and selecting a film for the Young Critics Choice Award.

A guy I only know as Yash won the Best Young Critic Award that year, with the lab again having a successful bout in 2018. I’m a bit late with this editorial but I think that guy from Kerala who pinged me on Twitter back in July with some questions about the lab would find this helpful. I hope he (and countless others) make it to the lab in the future years because it’s one hell of an experience.

A Bit of Personal History

I have been a fan of cinema for the better part of my adult life. As a young boy, I was least interested in any form of art. I didn’t read books nor was I exposed to any kind of screen-based entertainment. That’s because I was brought up in an environment that didn’t encourage much blending with the arts. Poverty may have something to do with it, but that was a long time ago. As a child, I remember going to one or two circus shows that I immediately grew to despise. And the fondest memory I have of watching a film on the big screen was when we went for Jijo Punnoose’s 1998 fantasy drama, Chhota Chetan, which is also known as India’s first 3D film. I don’t remember the specifics or even the details of the plot because I haven’t seen it again after that day, but the idea of sitting in a dark room with people having similar interests, wearing a contraption over my eyes, and watching motion picture unfold in front of me taking me beyond reality really stayed with me.

Although it took me some time to actively pursue this interest, I wanted to do more than just watch and analyze films in my head. My interests in cinema then grew exponentially in 2012 when I created an account on IMDb and started reviewing films in my free time. Rating films (out of 10 stars) and reviewing them on the platform gave me an instant rush, but I soon began to realize that instead of appreciating them, I was ranting, finding faults, and spreading negative opinions. And fellow IMDb users seemed to love it. Today, some of my most popular (or useful) reviews on IMDb are those where I have given the films a negative rating (mostly one or two stars).

Instead of appreciating cinema the right way, I was belittling it. Breaking people’s hard work up into pieces and describing them using negative adjectives to gain personal gratification. And that’s perhaps the biggest issue today with film criticism, and that is where the phrase originates from: “everybody’s a critic today!”

I had no formal education in the arts or any experience in the department of filmmaking, which showed in my reviews. I was calling films good, average, and bad without even analyzing their aesthetic, technical, or artistic qualities. I was what you would call “the self-proclaimed film critic” and the web is brimming with people like that.

The Why

In May 2016, I watched and hated Rajeev Ravi’s crime thriller, Kammattipaadam, starring Dulquer Salmaan and Vinayakan. Everybody else seemed to love it. (I would later come to know that Baradwaj Rangan, our chief mentor for the 2017 edition of the lab, was one of this everybody.) And so started my quest to know more about cinema and do film criticism the right way. The problem was that I was very passive about it.

So, when in June 2017, I found out that the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) was organizing an informal crash course on film writing and criticism, I didn’t think twice before applying myself. The Young Film Critics Lab required its applicants (aged between 18 and 25 years) to submit a short test, which I enthusiastically did. In the third week of July, I was confirmed as one of the students for the lab which would have its first round in August at J W Marriott, Juhu in Mumbai.

The Young Critics Lab (sometimes abbreviated as YCL) was going to take me by surprise.

Walking into the Young Critics Lab

I was one of the 60+ students who attended the first round of the workshop in August 2017. Before it even started, we were given a list of 50 essential films to watch. Films that Baradwaj Rangan, a National Film Award winner (for Best Film Critic; c. 2006), and a renowned critic currently with Film Companion, wanted us to see before we entered the hall that day.

Young Critics Lab

The watchlist for the Young Critics Lab 2017 (click to enlarge) / © MAMI

I had seen a mere eight films out of that list then and I am ashamed to say that the number has risen to nine as of today. Ironically or not, I watched Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) a few weeks ago, and let’s just say, I’m not a fan. I am not allowing you to judge my takeaways from the lab because there’s more to it than my relationship with this list.

Round One – August 2017

The first round, like the other two rounds, was a two-day workshop. It began at 9 in the morning with a scheduled wrap-up at around 5 in the evening. Lavish breakfast and lunch, and unlimited coffee were served by Marriott so that we could entirely focus on the learning. Boys and girls from different parts of the country (but mostly Mumbai) were present, with a majority of them still studying. Most were from an Arts background, which was evident throughout the workshop. I also met and talked to a bunch of guys who had quit their jobs to pursue full-time careers in film, and this was their first active participation at a cinema-based “discussion platform”. Which made me jump a little because I had never thought of reviewing films as a full-time job. And I never will. (Maybe that calls for another article, but not today.)

I had registered for the Young Critics Lab purely for the experience and to learn a few more things from reputed critics who have been in the know for years. In that way, the first day of the workshop was overwhelming.

Lessons from Baradwaj Rangan

Baradwaj Rangan, who also maintains a blog, talked about a lot of things in the first round. My notes for those days tell me that we discussed what a review is and how it should look like, what all it should consist of, and the duties of a film critic before, while, and after watching a film. Apart from the general list of takeaways that I have listed below, the first round taught me this, in my own words:

A review of a film is a write-up about what you feel about it, first-hand while and after watching it. It’s an opinion directed chiefly at the reader. Criticism, which is a subset/variation of a review, is describing why you feel what you feel.

We also talked about filmmakers (Imtiaz Ali, Richard Linklater, and David Dhawan), film theory, basic-level cinema interpretation and analysis techniques, the process of reviewing and writing it, and the mythical concept of the perfect review. According to Baradwaj Rangan, the perfect film review – if it exists – is a mix of two approaches, reviewing and critiquing. How you differentiate between them is up to you and that will shape your reviews.

From Maxim Gorky to Pauline Kael

The Young Critics Lab took us on a route to the history of film criticism. We discussed the personalities and works of writers and notable film critics such as Maxim Gorky, WG Faulkner, Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Chidananda Dasgupta, and many others. Compared to the times when these greats were most active in, the landscape of cinema and film criticism has changed drastically. Because everyone is a critic today, film criticism has turned into a beginning of a never-ending conversation.

With TV and web shows being consumed like water in the middle of a summer night across the globe, film criticism is no longer a concept that was considered niche between the 1940s and late twentieth century. So many films are released to the public that today it is up to you to choose what films you want to watch and review. A privilege that we both enjoy and are cursed with. Because there are so many films and shows and so little time.

Qualities of Good Film Criticism

The most memorable takeaway from the first round was finding out the essential elements of a “good review”. Mastering some or all of these qualities can ensure that the review does not stray away from its main purpose: delivering an outlook or a perspective about the film to the reader. According to Rangan (with respect; apologies for calling him by his last name), everything from bibliographic information to spoiler-less plot description to the identification of theme/s to the overall feel of the film is important.

I do have the detailed notes for these qualities but I do not want to share it publicly here. That would make future editions of the lab redundant. Therefore, I take this opportunity to highlight the importance of being physically present at the lab – which is free – if you want to experience what I did. (If you insist, however, I can share all the notes with individuals. Ping me here (beware; opens on the same tab).)

Rangan also feels that an able critic will know where the film is going in the first 15 minutes itself. If you don’t then you were not paying enough attention. Reviewing a film is an art as it is a process, which is why there is no designated length for a review. It can be a few lines or more than 2000 words – there’s no limit. But, then again, it depends on the medium of your review, publication limitations, and actual content. (Note: This is something that I have been experimenting with since the lab. I try writing short, shorter, long, and one-line reviews of films. You can check them out here.)

Conversation with Raja Sen and Anupama Chopra

On the second day of the first round, we also got a chance to hear eminent film critics and writers Anupama Chopra and Raja Sen talk about criticism. A lot of interesting points were made – mostly about reviewing Bollywood films. Two of the biggest takeaways from this conversation:

  • It is more difficult to review average films than good or bad films (Chopra and Sen)
  • There can never be a film that’s 10/10 because there’s always something that’s lacking (Sen)

We also had the lovely Smriti Kiran briefly talk about MAMI and the festival over the years. And that’s the photo below that we clicked to end round one a very high and eclectic note.

Young Critics Lab - Round 1

Coffee on me if you can spot me. / © MAMI

Major Highlight of Round One

One of the main highlights of the workshop is that it not a monologue but a conversation between the mentor and the students. Although I was too shy to ask, during my time at the lab, I found satisfactory answers to these questions:

  • Should a reviewer avoid reading other reviews?
  • Is hating a classic film blasphemy?
  • Should I base a review on first viewing only? Or can I watch it one (or a few) more time?
  • Should I worry about hurting the cast and crew of a film while reviewing?
  • Is film reviewing a sustainable profession?
  • Is it okay to publish a review on a blog and a publication at the same time?
  • How do I assign a rating? And what rating convention should I follow?

If this is the type of questions you have about film criticism, you can be sure that the Young Critics Lab is made just for you. Here’s an active thread about it on Twitter.

Concluding Round One

Round one ended with two things:

  • Reading and analyzing reviews of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) written by Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael
  • Watching a short clip of Satyajit Ray’s romantic drama Charulatha (1964) and reviewing it.

We had to write a 500-word review of the clip considering it as an independent short film. The qualification for the second round depended on this review’s merit. I hadn’t watched the film before, which I think was helpful that day. Here’s an excerpt from my review:

There is relevance all over the place in this film, as is with any other Satyajit Ray film, but it’s the theme that makes Charulatha worthwhile and elevates the overall experience despite being a monochromatic film in a digital age known for its maelstrom of colors. It’s about a lonely wife who does not expect an acknowledgment of her situation, but instead a solution, which does not seem to show itself, not even in the politics that her husband brings into form.

A fortnight later, I received a mail telling me that I had passed the first round. I was elated as I saw the qualification to both the second and third rounds as a sort of validation to my writing and perspective on films. The Young Critics Lab had already crossed its worth. Here’s a take on YCL by The Hindu.

Pro Tips for Off-Station Folks

Most of the people I met who had traveled from afar stayed in local lodgings and hostels around the area (Juhu) to attend the workshop. This was both affordable and convenient because the festival also takes place in venues in a 30-kilometer radius from the usual venue (J W Marriott) of YCL.

Venkat Ramanan (who is a video editor by profession), a friend from Chennai, stayed at the low-cost Urbanpod. He used to fly to Mumbai the night or two before the workshop, stay there for the weekend, and fly back the next week after exploring the city. He repeated this all the three months and I think he pre-planned this at work sometime in June/July. You may also get discounted rates on OYO rooms (partners of MAMI), so do check with the organizers before booking anything.

So, if you are not in Mumbai, you are looking at staying in Mumbai for at least 5 days each for the first two months and then taking a longer break (of around 12 days) for the final month. Because you also have to mandatorily attend the festival and review all the films in a certain section (in 2017, it was India Gold) to be eligible for the Best Young Critic Award.

I understand that the question of affordability arises for people who are not in Mumbai, but trust me, the Young Critics Lab is totally worth it if you really are an enthusiast. Plus, YCL finalists are given free passes for the entire festival. Which means they can catch all the screenings (4 per day, if they book online through BookMyShow) all the 7 days. You are anyway not gonna be working or studying when you are here, so why not make the most of it?

Round Two – September 2017

I did not expect it but the two days of round two mostly entailed watching and discussing in vivid details two films – Rene Clément’s Purple Noon (Plein soleil) (1960) and its American remake, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).

It was one of the most scintillating experiences for me, being in the midst of English Literature students and film enthusiasts who quoted Descartes and Homer and Oedipus while finding references in the films. A popular topic amongst debaters around the world, the workshop witnessed high-intensity comparison between the two films (each and everyone was going gaga for Alain Delon), with Rangan shooting points to discuss and us students breaking them into more points that even the two filmmakers would gasp at hearing. I think the 1960 French-Italian classic won the debate by a hairline margin but I think a majority of the folks present would agree that a tie would be the best way to end that debate. Once and forever.

What I loved and would like to point out about these workshop rounds is that most of the discussions had natural humor in them. For instance, I remember a fellow attendee referring to a chef and his Italian pizza and comparing it with the anti-heroic character in the two films. It was a lively discussion which was elevated by an active participation by the students. Which is generally rare in such workshops.

The 30 or something of us then proceeded to round three, which was scheduled on days adjacent to the start of the film festival. This way we could continue our discussions about films while experiencing the festival first-hand with newfound knowledge on film criticism.

Round Three and Festival – October 2017

If there is one international magazine that I fervently follow then it is TIME. So when I received the mail about the third round informing me that TIME magazine critic Stephanie Zacharek would be mentoring us, I jumped up and down on my seat. I still remember going numb reading her reviews online and updating my watchlist on IMDb. Meeting her was not exactly a dream come true but heck! I thought it called for a selfie.

A selfie

A precious souvenir, a selfie with (l-r) Rangan, Anurag Kashyap, Zacharek, and me.

Under Zacharek, we chiefly dug into international film criticism. Since Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) had released in the US just then, 2 out of 4 topics that we discussed in round three included a reference to that. Which automatically made it a not-to-be-missed film at the festival for all the attendees.

We read and studied reviews written by James Verniere and A O Scott, and other critical works written by other popular writers. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot of the discussion because I was so enchanted by the discussion I forgot to take notes. (And, guys, that is why you always take notes. Always.)

However, here is a list of the top takeaways from round three:

  • Every film is two films – one that you see and one that you remember
  • A review can be written in a way so that it encompasses everything you know and everything you are when you think about the film (because you should never compose while watching a film)
  • Reviewing films during a festival is probably the most challenging task for a film critic. You are looking at at least four films a day and you are supposed to write at least 1500 words of content per film and send them to the publishers because web publishing is nasty and time-sensitive.

At the end of the first day, we watched a short clip from Jerry Lewis’s comedy, The Bellboy (1960). The task – which would partially help in adjudging the Young Best Critic – was to review that sequence and send it to Zacharek for review. The second day, we discussed some of the most interesting reviews. Mine did not make it, but it was exciting to see how others had perceived the scene (it was irritating).

End of the Workshop

The workshop ended on a merrier note as I had made one friend (Ramanan) and raked in lots of great opinions and perspectives on cinema and its criticism. All finalists were handed a participation certificate as well as a coffee mug with the phrase ‘Where Literature Meets Cinema’ inscribed on it, probably describing what Mumbai Film Festival aspires to be or already is.

Then we were given a bunch of guidelines as to what we were supposed to do during the week-long festival. Unfortunately, I had to cut short my experience on the second day of the festival due to an urgent surgery. I watched a couple films in the India Gold section and enjoyed the festival wholeheartedly while it lasted for me.

Looking back, I would have done a couple things differently when the lab was in session. I would have also rescheduled my surgery, but for all that it’s worth, I had a hell of a time with everyone that I met and talked in the lab. And that definitely called for a photograph. To show to my grandchildren if they are ever born.

Young Critics Lab 2017 finalists

The finalists of Young Critics Lab with Baradwaj Rangan – 2017 edition. / © MAMI

In the above photo, that’s me (checkered green shirt) on the extreme left on the bottom row. Behind me in a red shirt is Yash, the Young Best Critic of 2017. Behind him, standing in a purple and blue checkered shirt is Venkat Ramanan, my friend from Chennai.

Concluding the Young Critics Lab

I would be lying if I said all the three rounds were equally interesting and informative. Round one would take the pie for me as I learned a lot of things I didn’t know from Baradwaj Rangan. Watching the films and comparing them in the second round was exciting and a level-above experience. Stephanie Zacharek helped us see beyond India, as she also talked about film criticism as a profession in the West. But, out of everything, if I had to choose one great takeaway from the Young Critics Lab, then I would choose Rangan’s commandments on film writing and criticism. I believe every aspiring cinema writer should stand by these rules from day one. Only then can they make a difference.

Baradwaj Rangan’s Critical Commandments for Aspiring Film Critics

There are 20 commandments in total and it’s not easy. I would like to apologize to both Rangan and MAMI for publishing these without permission.

  1. Learn/know cinema
  2. Watch movies; read reviews after
  3. Make a note of what you feel (while viewing)
  4. Be detailed (while writing)
  5. Entertain/engage the reader
  6. Don’t worry about authorial intent
  7. Don’t go along with the hype (compare with #10)
  8. Understand ratings
  9. Be confident
  10. Don’t let the editorial desk influence you
  11. See the classics
  12. See Indian films
  13. See both popular and art-house cinema
  14. Try not to do reviews for films you don’t have a feel for
  15. Don’t mock directors
  16. Watch one slow film a week
  17. Give films one more chance
  18. Know your audience
  19. Keep writing
  20. Keep reading

Further Reading

If you somehow do not qualify for the lab or are above 25 years of age, you can still use this editorial as reference material. Plus, if you took the 2oth commandment seriously, here are some book suggestions by Rangan and Zacharek for further reading:

  • All books of Walter Murch
  • Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992) (Man Booker winner)
  • Ralph Rosenblum’s When the Shooting Stops, the Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story (with Robert Karen) (1979)
  • All books of Sidney Lumet
  • Works of Australian film critic Robert Hughes
  • All works of Kenneth Tynan

That’s it about one of the most interesting and fruitful products by MAMI other than the festival itself and Movie Mela. I can confidently say that my knowledge of cinema and its criticism has improved considerably over the past year. I cannot say that I follow all of Rangan’s commandments, but I am on my way. I caught Blade Runner, didn’t I? And that definitely counts for #16.

The Young Critics Lab will essentially give you some actionable tips and show you the direction. How you take it and what you make of it depends totally on you.

Participating certificate for YCL

I broke the mug last week but here are the certificates I got.

I know I have talked a lot in this editorial and I’m not sure if I should have. But I had been meaning to do it ever since I prematurely ended my lab experience in 2017.

Then when a guy named Cyril Samuel pinged me on Twitter to share my experience at Young Critics Lab, I just had to do it. I hope he makes it to the lab next year. If he does then I think my job is done here. TN.

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List: Why People Don’t Wear Helmets

Every day while traveling to my workplace I see people riding motorcycles without wearing a helmet. And every day I wonder what makes them skip the one essential safety element that can save their head from breaking in case of an accident.

So, one day, I sat and thought deep about it. I also asked a few friends what they think. Friends who wear, even have an extra for the pillion rider, do not wear, and do not even own one. And this is what I found.

riders don't wear helmets

Most people own a helmet, but they keep it at home. / Jon Tyson

17 Reasons Why People Don’t Wear Helmets

  • It screws up their hairstyle
  • It’s uncomfortable and borderline suffocates them
  • “The stock unit that I got with my Honda Unicorn would anyway not save my head so why should I bother”
  • It’s an unneeded expense and petrol prices are only rising
  • “I don’t like to hold it in my hand when I am not riding”
  • “I couldn’t find a large one”
  • Good quality helmets are expensive
  • “I know how to talk to the traffic police”
  • “I only ride short distances”
  • “I would pay the 500-rupee fine once than buy a helmet worth 5ooo rupees”
  • “My helmet was stolen twice”
  • “I ride safely and am confident that I will not meet with an accident”
  • It’s heavy
  • It stinks
  • “I started losing hair because of it”
  • “I have never been stopped by the traffic police”
  • They don’t like to follow rules

There are even dumber reasons that people give when asked about their habit of not wearing a helmet. It just baffles me that people are ready to put their lives in danger because a helmet will distort their hairstyle (#1 reason) and they always want to look presentable.

I have tried describing to them the problems associated with helmet-less riding, and so far, I have changed the mind of not a single person. Which is why people don’t come to me when they want to convince someone.

One day I will write about why people don’t wear seat belts but for now read what I have observed in today’s taxi-cabs.

What are your thoughts on helmet-less riding or unsafe riding/driving in general? What dumb/weird reasons have you come across? Let me know in the comments below. Check the conversation at Reddit. TN.

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  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a freelance copywriter based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »