Tag: Cinema

My Experience at MAMI’s Young Critics Lab

young critics lab 2019 edition

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.

Yashwardhan Singh 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 2018 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 a few likes/upvotes. And that’s perhaps the biggest issue today with film criticism, and that is where originates from, that phrase: everybody is 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 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) / credit 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 of YCL

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.

Baradwaj Rangan mentoring the 2019 batch of YCL
Baradwaj Rangan mentoring the 2019 batch of the critics lab / credit MAMI

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.

The 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 / credit 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 (glimpses of the 2018 and 2019 editions) and review all the films in the India Gold section to be eligible to vote for the Best Young Critic Award.

india gold 2019 mami mff
India Gold is one of the top categories of MAMI MFF / credit MAMI

I understand that the question of affordability arises for people who are not from Mumbai, but trust me, the Young Critics Lab is totally worth it if you really are an enthusiast. Plus, as noted above, YCL finalists are given free screening passes for all the films in the India Gold section.[1]In 2017, they handed out delegate badges for the entire festival. However, you can still register for the festival separately and take full advantage of your time with MAMI. This way you can catch all the screenings (4 per day, if you 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 of YCL

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).

Trailer of Purple Noon

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.

Trailer of The Talented Mr. Ripley

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 thirty 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 + Festival

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

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 (Venkat Ramanan) and racked 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 / credit 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 Yashwardhan, 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
Some thoughts by Baradwaj Rangan during the 2019 edition

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 20th 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, the Year Round Programme, and the Movie Mela (more details here). 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. (But since I wrote this, I have received dozens of emails and pings on Twitter from aspiring young critics looking for more information. Looks like the decision to write this was right.)

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.

Young Critics Lab 2020 is now inviting applications till 1 July. The 2020 edition will take place on the following dates: 8/9 August (round one), 19/20 September (round two), 2/3/4 November (round three), and 5 to 12 November (22nd MAMI MFF). You can register for the lab by visiting this webpage.

Featured image courtesy: MAMI

Update: copyedited; added images, a few lines, and new URLs. (16 September 2019)

Update #2: updated for 2020, added new URLs; copyedited subheadings. (22 March 2020)

footnotes   [ + ]

1. In 2017, they handed out delegate badges for the entire festival.

Festival de Cannes is Hiring: Professional Standing Ovation Timer

Last week (May 2017) at our prestigious Cannes Film Festival, Adam Sandler’s new film The Meyerowitz Stories received critical acclaim from both the jury and the audience. The director of the film likes to think the praise was for the whole film, but it was Sandler’s performance which was met with a four-minute standing ovation at the end, making film enthusiasts around the world spiral into a state of delirium.

This job posting is a direct consequence of that event. It is because of an error in calculating the period of that ovation. It was three minutes and fifty seconds, to be exact, and Dave got it wrong. (Dave was an intern from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the same folks responsible for the Oscars Best Picture snafu earlier this year. But, we the French don’t care about those Americans trying to make their country great again.) He will not be with us in 2018, and that’s for sure.

Job Overview – Professional Standing Ovation Timer

If you have always been interested in knowing who times standing ovations at our screenings and how, then this is the job for you. One of the most coveted jobs in the planet and one that does not require much skills, the responsibilities of a standing ovation timer are limited. (And still Dave screwed it up.) Consider it as an entry pass into one of the most important and widely publicised film festivals in the world where you can ogle at celebrities endorsing designers and designers endorsing themselves. If you are someone who prefers a wristwatch over a smartphone to keep track of time and know how many seconds constitute a minute, then you are already half-eligible for this job.

Do a better job than Dave. Do a better job than our former graphic designer who retouched the picture of Claudia Cardinale for our 2017 promo poster so she looked thinner. Do better than Adam Sandler does in most of his films. And you will be hired.

Job Requirements

  • Must have at least a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics or related majors
  • Must have answered all CAPTCHA math answers correctly in the first try itself in his/her lifetime
  • Must be a native of France (Cannes a plus)
  • Past experience in ovation timing is a plus, and candidates who have worked with the Academy (AMPAS) will be preferred
  • Interest in films would be a plus, but is not necessary. (Due to limited seats, you may have to stand during the screenings, but you cannot count yourself as one of the audience while tracking standing ovation time)

Job Responsibilities

  • Keep track of film schedules and be present during the allotted film screenings from start to end
  • Accurate standing ovation time tracking based on audience response. At least 10 people have to engage in applauding when you can start and stop the timer. (More details will be given to the selected candidate)
  • Liaise with the press coordinators and brief them about the type of audience response (elated, dull, etc.)
  • Understand who and what the standing ovation is for
  • Declare the exact standing ovation time to the press so that it appears on publications before the critics can even publish the reviews
  • Cross-check the tracked time with CCTV footage
  • Create reports based on the tracked time and associated categories (Palme d’Or, Grand Prix, etc.)

Job Benefits

  • Competitive one-time-project package with full access to the festival events
  • Gift hamper and Festival de Cannes merchandise
  • Free lifetime passes for two for Palme d’Or film screenings
  • Resume building experiences where you can get associated with films and actors
  • A mention on our Wikipedia page
  • A chance to watch films from around the world (Blue is the Warmest Color was watched by two of our former standing ovation timers who brought in their spouses with them.)

We are looking for a dynamic team player who is the creme de la creme of professional standing ovation timers. Come and be a part of Festival de Cannes 2018 and help us understand the importance and accuracy of standing ovations. Help us create experiences so that our films achieve creative and box office success.

To apply, visit our website (http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/contact) and fill the form. Please do not attach a CV, but instead describe why we should hire you. Also mention your favorite Palme d’Or winner. Since this job has to do with tracking time, should you receive a reply from us about your application, your next step would be to calculate the exact time it took for us to reply from the moment you submitted your application. Good luck!

How to Fall to a New Low in Cinema Box Office Business?

We all know that Malayalam cinema is not known for its marketing techniques, and yet they somehow sometimes succeed greatly. Sharing reviews posted by nobodies on social media, posting the BookMyShow seat booking status of a specific show in a popular theatre, and republishing substandard reviews posted by amateur reviewers/publications like FilmiBeat are some common methods employed by the makers. Yet, this past weekend (third week of May 2017), something happened that defined a new low for the Malayalam cinema box office business.

Adventures of Omanakuttan, also known as AOK or AOO, an avant-garde romantic feature film by debutante Rohith VS and starring actors Asif Ali and Bhavana in the lead roles, became the cynosure of the Malayalam film industry for a brief time. After being stalled for months due to a variety of reasons, the film finally released on 19 May 2017 to polarized reviews, hitting all its chances to be counted among the best Malayalam films of 2017. Quoted as “a tedious watch” by Sify, sentiment soon spread across social media that the film is trash, and that it is only suited for people who adore experimental films. Considering that two other big titles – namely Kannan Thamarakkulam’s Achayans and Basil Joseph’s Godha – also released the same day, the film was going to have to beat heavy competition to come out victorious. In addition to the obvious factors (poor trailer and response, lead actors’ last film’s poor box office performance, and other recent related affairs), one another reason why the film failed to perform was because it was distributed in a very few theaters in Kerala, with no presence anywhere else in the country or in the UAE.

So, what do you do to salvage the situation? Use social media non-sparingly and request people to watch the film without making presumptions and without giving in to reviewers’ dumb-downs. Ask the debutante director to cry out loud, literally, by posting a heart-breaking request on his Facebook page urging people to go and spend some money before the film is taken off the listing, so that “Malayalam cinema” can stay above the waters. Ask the cast actors to support the cause. Ask fellow friends in the film fraternity to support the cause. Create hashtags like #SupportAOK and #SupportGoodMalayalamCinema. Mercilessly post updates about the booking statuses of different shows in different theaters and share related photos. Create memes.

And as days pass by, cash registers will start to make more noise, and you have succeeded at it, because people are gullible. The ratio of negative reviews to the positive ones started minimize, and Adventures of Omanakuttan somewhat became a hit. That is how you save a film from tanking at the box office by using the power of social media and compromising a bit on self-esteem. The actual roots of the problem – quality cinema and not distributing widely enough – was unfortunately lost in the wind.

Why I Am Always Late to the Movies These Days?

Some people who know me might think it’s because of my perennial habit of being late (to school, college, dates, and now even work). I assure you it’s not.

It’s because of two things, primarily. One, because of that redundant anti-smoking advertisement that takes you through the disadvantages and consequences of smoking. While we are subjected to that pointlessness only once – at the start – in Hindi films, in Malayalam films, they show it even before the start of the second half. You buy a medium-sized bucket of popcorn using the money you got after selling your house and now you start nibbling at it watching some folks crib about making some pretty bad life decisions. I am 100% sure that not one smoker who has watched these ads has kicked the butt because of them. But, then you would claim that such adverts have been appearing since Marco Polo immodestly wrote the description of the world. I agree to that point, but these days, it’s almost like a short feature film. It’s like to watch a 2-hour long movie, you have to watch another movie, and that too, featuring the Wall.

Secondly, and this one is important, the forceful patriotism. Yes, I have stood up countless times for the national anthem before a film, and still do whenever I am at an event and they play it. But, after the Supreme Court verdict, even my body refuses to give in to the newfound practice of forcing patriotism on people. Only a fool would go to a movie these days and not stand up during the national anthem. The better alternative is to just be late. (I’m sorry, fellow cinema-goers who have to shift in their seats to let me in.) Missing few intro scenes of a film is a lot better than having to consume your dose of entertainment with patriotism and righteousness forced into you by conservatives.

An acquaintance of mine has just stopped going to the movies since the SC verdict, but a cinema aficionado like me just cannot do that. Can I?

Ban On PK Will Be Murder Of Creativity

Just before the beginning of this millennium, Deepa Mehta struggled with the release of her first instalment in the Elements trilogy, Fire (1996) as some Hindutva bullies said its homosexual themes and adultery are against Indian culture and tradition. In the previous decade, at least one film per year had been deemed unfit by India’s callow Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC). While the board consists of a bunch of worst film critics in the world, the damage is borne by the filmmakers alone. But when a film which has been widely released and then deemed unfit by self-appointed censors, it marks a point in history which we can lavishly term as the “murder of creativity.” Only difference: here the damage is shared by the audience.

Rajkumar Hirani’s Aamir Khan-starrer PK is now being considered an anti-religious element as it trashes the idea of God. So they say, the hindutva bullies have the whole plot of the film as a weapon for their cause. While the film has been successfully accepted by audience and critics alike, there is no doubt that it addresses a stark topic that we all seem to have put into saturation for ages now. I, for one, think the film was an average drama that briefly forces its audience to question the religious orientations and practises they follow. The people who are seeking a ban on the film should accept the fact that the film has been widely released and most of the people who watch movies for entertainment and other purposes have seen it. So, their argument is invalid.

While the CBFC has strangely stood in defense of the film, the bullies do not seem to  be retreating. The only thing that can be derived from this adamant behaviour of the bullies is that at a time when free speech is being hugely advocated around the world, a priggish squad can snip it using outdated ideologies. Historically, the power of a faction in general has always been questioned. But when free speech is involved, these factions always seem to defy history. Reason? The topic. When Anurag Kashyap refused to add anti-smoking warnings on his film Ugly (2013), he was threatened with halt of its release. Eventually, he had to give in. Cigarettes and smoking are big topics that are debated around the world, and our government earns a lot from its business. Similarly, PK is related to religion and deities, which is even bigger and an object of a highly lucrative business worldwide.

This means that when creativity slithers out of its box and touches topics like religion, its span is numbered. And if it somehow manages to stay, it is murdered, to both dissolve its influence and create and drop another example in the ocean. Creativity cannot grow if it doesn’t influence our surroundings and the way we lead our lives. But this incident will warn some experimenters and then we have to rely on our individual intuitions and imagination to come up with ideas that we unfortunately cannot share. There is no ready solution for this unwarranted censorship which will be cumulative in its process and a grave problem future generations will have to handle. My instincts say they will.

What’s Wrong With The IMDb Page Of The Film, GUNDAY?

Not to fret over how bad or good the movie was, as I usually do when it comes to movies, this article is being written after I saw a snippet on my Facebook feed shared by The Low Budget Satya Show. It was a snapshot of the IMDb page of the latest Ranveer Singh starrer, Gunday.

I had watched the movie first day, second show and ended up rating it a 3/10 here. I can understand Himmatwala ranking at 31 of the IMDb Bottom 100 Chart, but Gunday is not worth this ignominy. Because if I were to be kidnapped and given 3 movie DVDs of Himmatwala, Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbai Dobara & Gunday to induce torture, I would select & watch Gunday again & again & again till my family accepts and then fails to bring the ransom because I come from a poor family. But that is another story.

Now, the Himmatwala score is legitimate; IMDb users are often true and rate films solely based on how they feel about it, the IMDb inside tactics notwithstanding. But, the score of Gunday has another story behind it. On the day of its release, it had a fair rating of 6.0 from an average 3000 registered users and about 20 user reviews, all genuine. The next week, the score dropped to 4.8, then to 3.0 and eventually 1.2 as of Sunday, February 23, 2014, a week after its release on Valentine’s Day. Around 34000 users have rated it, more than what Swades: We, The People (with a rating of 8.5) has. There are more than 800 user reviews now and 98% of them say one and the same thing, that the plot manipulates Bangladesh’s Liberation War history.

Now I am not much of a history guy, but as far as the movie is concerned, only the opening few minutes talk something about it as the two leads are introduced as two Bangladeshi immigrants. [And I have been told, the movie DOES manipulate the history. So, I understand their plight.]

But, the IMDb reviews and message boards are filled with messages of protest, asking for apologies from the makers for maligning the history of Bangladesh‘s Independence. Here as well, 98% users are from Bangladesh (Dhaka, chiefly), so suggests their profiles. One stands to wonder, at this point, that how come so many Bangladeshis own an IMDb profile, taking into account the fact that there are not many Bangladesh-origin films listed there. I am not saying they cannot come over and rate foreign films along with their own ones, but that just doesn’t look credible. I myself am not into much of my own language flicks, but had joined IMDb last year to keep a record of everything I watch. If I were to joke about it, which I am not, I could say that there are more Bangladeshis in IMDb than in the country itself. But then I would have to look oblivious because the country is the 8th most populated country in the world.

One review, with 2029 out of 2063 people finding it useful, reads,
“I just began to watch the movie (though I do not watch Hindi movies a lot) but in the beginning, the timeline of 1971 war between Bangladesh and Pakistan (Which was later changed as Indo-Pak war 1971) was full of lie and manipulation. Bangladesh was never born from the war between India and Pakistan, 1971. It was a long history and clash between Bangladesh and Pakistan since 1952 Language revolution. Later India joined the war (3 December, 1971) and helped the Freedom Fighters’ of Bangladesh. As a Bangladeshi, I am not denying the fact that India helped us a lot that time, but its my right to protest against the proper manipulation of a country’s birth history! It was our great leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who declared the independence of Bangladesh in 26 March, 1971 and after that the war began between East and West Pakistan. East Pakistan later became Bangladesh, a sovereign state. Along with 90000 soldiers Pakistan army surrendered to the commander in chief of India and Bangladesh joint forces. The instrument letter of surrender clears the fact. Anyone can search in internet and even in wikipedia for the truth : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Liberation_War”

It is interesting to know that that this single review has been copied around 400 times and published by other users, ridiculing the film, giving it a single star and hence forming a factor, for the drop of overall score to 1.2. Now, as an Indian Y-gen adolescent, I truly am not aware of what happened, neither have I read about it. And if the reviews were not enough, the message boards of the film has at least 10 messages, asking for apologies from YRF studios for not sticking to reality and showing the Bangladesh freedom fighters in low or no light.

It is ironic how IMDb editors do not even have a gander at the reviews thrown at them, let alone edit them. It is evident how even a 2-year old kid can cook up a review and they will publish it in few hours. I was under the impression, previously, that a new user needs to rate and/or review few films before he is considered a true user and only then his rating is considered. But, looking at the fact that the users who have helped in the decline of Gunday’s score are only one or two day old account holders, I am sure there is no guideline or stopping from a film getting poor reviews and since we have reached a point where IMDb ratings play a sizable part in the success or crowd-pulling factor of a film, the one and only victim is the film itself. And if the film is genuinely a true celluloid, there is no measure of the woes and that will per se, appall me, as a movie aficionado.

Why this personae non gratae have taken up a topic so trivial yet bold to prove a point is beyond the theorizing part of my brain. Its not about making the point I am concerned in, but on how  they are making their point. Mainly because there was nothing much reasonable to hurt anyone’s sentiments. (The pre-title prologue of the flick runs for less than 5 minutes; if the whole film continuously showed disrespect, if they at all did, that is, I would have struck, as well) And if I were from Bangladesh, maybe even I would have joined them because when it comes to the love for one’s country, nothing can be ignored. Maybe I would have chosen another way to prove a point. Their step will attract more people and fanatics to have a look into the film thereby upping the revenue collected by the producers, if they don’t know how to torrent, that is. It could be a publicity stunt by the producers, but the use of heavy expletives in these messages prove that wrong. How a Bollywood movie with no famous actors, but only newbies enacting came into so many Bangladeshis’ sight is also a factor to ponder upon. Yet, the one thing we can learn from this event is the power of unity of Bangladeshis or the group of so-called right-wing activists called Gonojagoron Moncho. I appreciate their like-mindedness but their modus operandi, I laugh at.

I am in no way supporting the makers, either. They didn’t do their homework and now their month-long efforts will forever be etched in history as the “film with the lowest score in IMDb.” I’ll drink to that!

My idea of a win-win situation would be that since it is impossible and non-economical to re-release the film reels all over the world/continents a disclaimer from the producers apologizing for referring wrongness in their film’s DVD/DTH/BluRay release would calm the situation; a media letter of apology citing this action of appending the disclaimer, to the citizens of Bangladesh would calm the moment for now. After all, it is peace that we all desire.