March 03, 2010

The Thin Line

When I watched Eraserhead for the first time, I felt offended. "This is the worst movie I have seen" - was my reaction. Today I realize the importance of that film. And it does not surprise me that it finds mention as one of the must-watch movies ever. After getting introduced to this surreal, abstract genre of films, through the works of Bergman, Lynch, Polanski and lately, Aronofsky, and starting to appreciate such cerebral works, No Smoking happened. I loved that film and still do. I could understand why most of the people were hating it. But there was something I fail to understand. Why did the lovers of surreal films hate it too? I have met so many people who worship David Lynch, but who fail to find a single merit in this Hindi misadventure. Is it because of a bias for foreign filmmakers? Or is there something so intricate that I fail to appreciate?

Who can really tell? There is such a thin line that divides a mature, intellectual, cerebral art with other over-ambitious, psudo-intellectual and pretentious expressions. But who can really tell? If Eraserhead deserves appreciation, why No Smoking should be ridiculed? How can we, the observers, decide or determine the level of intellect of a filmmaker, and rule out that he is merely pretending? And can the artist - the filmmaker - ever tell? Does he or she have the objectivity to critically analyse his/her own piece of work? Is the test of time the only correct way to assess the merit of abstraction?

It is still, at times, easier to judge such cerebral works. I watched Moksh nine years ago in a single screen theatre in my hometown. It was the worst case of hooting I have seen in a movie theatre. But I was impressed by the abstraction - it was my first taste of blood. Still, I could figure out some basic flaws in the film. At times it is not difficult to get over the psychological make-up and realize that the effort is truely mediocre. An example that comes to my mind instantly is Deepa Mehta's Heaven on Earth. It was a bad film. And the random switch from colour to B&W was, in my opinion, purely pretentious. But then, it was a Deepa Mehta film - a filmmaker whom I respect for her aesthetic maturity. So, isn't it possible that I really missed something and failed to appreciate the merit of this film? Something that Mehta could easily explain if I get to chat with her? Something that is beyond my comprehension?

Who can tell?

The only good thing with a bad intellectual film is that it does manage to stimulate you cerebrally. Whether it reaches a compelling resolution or not, it leaves you a bit stirred and you just start perceiving things a bit differently. Pseudo or not, it leaves you thinking. Guess that is an achievement in itself!


  1. guess people comepletely missed the point when it came to "no smoking" .. it was not a mass entertainer, got that but i had some friends who swore by Kafka but wrote this movie off summarily ..that baffled me no ends .. my first thought after watching the movie was more like 'honest and pathbreaking' than 'delightful' and i still believe it was ,in the context of hindi cinema was an acknowledgement of the craftmanship of guys like lynch and de sica but got derided on face value ..lets wish this movie gets its due atleast in hindsight :)

    P.S.- plz discuss lynch in detail some day .. yet to completely grasp "mulholland drive" :)

  2. I discussed this with Anurag Kashyap. He said he was in a terrible state of mind and things around him were not making sense. People around him wanted him to change. He was going through relationship problems. And he felt he had no freedom to do what he wanted to. His life had turned into a nightmare. And he wanted to share that nightmare with the audience. He wanted to show - what happens when nothing around you makes sense.

    If this is not honesty, then what is?

    I am still waiting for someone with some cinema sense to come and defend such attempts.

    BTW, I didnt get your statement about it being an acknowledgment of the work of Vittorio de Sica. His films are in complete contrast to No Smoking...

    Regarding Lynch, well, it is going to be a long talk. Try to watch all his movies, esp. Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, The Straight Story and Lost Highway, if you havent. We will then discuss.

  3. What is the Teen Patti poster doing in this post? Mistake or am I missing something :-)

  4. ha ha...
    watch Teen Patti and then read this post.
    You will get it.

  5. i watched 'no smoking' pretty late and had already read this

    before watching the movie... this piece was my first brush with the ground realities a non conformist has to live with in our cinema world .. dunno if it affected my perception of the movie :)

  6. Do i really have to watch Teen Patti. Is there no other way of knowing?

  7. In fact, you shouldn't watch Teen Patti. It's not worth it.

    Actually both of Leena Yadav's films started with great ideas but were ruined by terrible writing. I feel she is one true pseudo-intellectual woman. But I don't want to criticize other filmmakers on my blog. Hence this suggestive photo.

    After all, she is never going to accept that she is a pseudo and would defend herself by questioning my intelligence. As I said, there is such a thin line...