So I wrote a review recently for this movie called Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and most people did not like it because I slammed the damn film. Particularly because they were entertained by this movie and most comments were to this effect “dude, you don’t seem to like movies at all.” If they were aware of the word, some would have called me a cynic. Then somebody said that this movie brings together a whole lot of things, how the film was entertaining, that it was not just about the plot and that every film can’t be an art film. My critique was too much of a critique for this film by their standards.
So here’s a bit of defence on why it’s important that we critique our cinema and that we do it well, even if it entertains us because at the end of the day you’re paying for it and it had better be worth your money and time.
Cinema is an experience, a part of that experience has to leave you entertained, but one wishes that this entertainment does not come at the cost of making you feel like a dud. The other part of that experience goes beyond entertainment, it has an effect on you and if it’s really good it can move you. Most people think cinematic experience and entertainment are not possible in one package — hence the notion that all arty farty films are boring.
So here’s why a lot of Bollywood and Hollywood cinema is not worth it. Far too often it’s the same plot, rehashed with the same old dialogues, which have always worked, and a bit of brilliant aesthetics thrown in. It’s good entertainment policy. Good cinematic vision? I doubt that. Clearly the director does not value the intelligence of his/her audience too much because they know they can get away with same story line by just adding brilliant aesthetics since the commercial success of the film is hardly affected.
Aesthetics define cinema, of course they do. But the hard thing for directors to achieve is to create a cinematic sequence where aesthetics are not merely another tool to hid flaws in the storyline, the characters, the narratives, etc. They can’t be the sole technique around which your film revolves- it must go beyond that. Beautiful aesthetics are derived very often from the director’s cultural capital. And because a large portion of his/her audience may not possess the same amount of cultural capital they are likely to be wooed easily by the director’s beautiful sequences. Then the act of directions becomes about making a good business investment— not to deny the importance of commercial success- and good filmmaking gets lost.
Japanese and Korean films are an excellent example of good filmmaking, where everything, from aesthetics to characters to a plot blend all so beautifully that you’re left stunned. Clearly their directors know what good aesthetics mean but their entire cinematic experience is not just dependent on that. One such film that comes to my mind is Old Boy, which has so many plus points to it— an original plot mind you around the age old story of revenge — that it leaves you with an actual experience that is beyond entertainment. The experience of love, of incest, of relationships, of beauty; Old Boy just brings all of that together.
Even Tarantino whose films seem to be about blood and more blood, is not your simple film-maker. His character line is often quite complex to understand. Look at what he does in Inglourious Basterds— the guy kills Hitler in the end of his film. He brings alive an idea has perhaps always haunted the world is — What if they had got Hitler? A pretty simple idea, it would be seem right? Or perhaps it’s a little more complex than that? That’s for you to answer.
When I go watch a movie I want a little bit more than entertainment. I really wish to know the purpose of the film. Is there an idea that the director was trying to challenge, to portray? If I find that the end of the film I’m not even asking that question, then it’s an ordinary film for me. The problem is never with its emphasis on commercial success. The problem lies with the director discarding cinematic vision completely as to ensure that the former is not affected. For me, this is not cinema.
Perhaps it is the curse of our age, where we are so used to the idea of seeing moving images all around us, all the time, online to theatres to television, etc., that we are happy with what we get. Perhaps the people who really experienced cinema were the ones who lived in the early 20th century. Cinema was their revolution. For us, it’s just an exercise in entertainment.