Screensavour: Criticisms over coffee

Tags: Films

Listening to some youngsters dissect cinema, the question to be asked is if box office collections reflect a film’s worth

 <b>Screensavour</b>: Criticisms over coffee
In a heated discussion at a coffee shop in suburban Mumbai recently, a few youngsters were debating the relative merits of certain Hindi films released in the first quarter of this year, based on their box office collections. While one section insisted that the merit of a film was directly reflected in its box office returns, a few of them argued that there was no direct co-relation between a film’s worth and its box office status, and a film should be judged purely on its intrinsic value.

But who is going to judge the significance of a film by evaluating its aesthetics in terms of its content and form, irrespective of what it earns? Critics? Or viewers, who paid to see the films? Notwithstanding unqualified critics, many of whom are paid handsomely by producers to influence a film through their unduly favourable reviews, each reviewer is coloured by his cinematic upbringing and can go wide off the mark in the evaluation of a film. And when it comes to viewers, many of them determine the success or failure of a film that bears no relation to its actual worth.

The debate continued; examples to support both sides of the argument flew thick across the table. How can Gunday, Jai Ho or Yaariyan qualify as good cinema just because they scored high on the first quarterly box office report card? The counter-argument projected names like Queen and Hasee Toh Phasee, which deservedly won both critical and commercial accolades, whereas duds like Heartless and Gang of Ghosts bit the dust.

The argument gradually veered towards the issue of a film’s promotion, especially independent ventures, lack of which very often resulted in a film’s failure to reach its target audience. It was a valid point indeed, but someone at the table immediately pointed out the role of social media like Facebook and Twitter that have started playing a significant role in the promotion of films in recent times. “If a film is really good, no matter how low-profile it is, word gets around and it will seek its way into the audience’s heart and recover the money for its producers. Look at Ship of Theseus!” The other friend asked, “How can you say that?” To this, the first one said, “Till Kiran Rao (Aamir Khan’s wife) came on board, it had no chance!”

Like in any such discussion over coffee, the conversation gradually lost its coherence and focus as discussion from another table began to crave attention. It centred around a recently released film that has been garnering a lot of attention — Rajat Kapoor’s Aankhon Dekhi (see picture above), a low-budget film set in the middle class milieu of crumbling old Delhi. The sole girl in the group who had seen the film was animatedly extolling its cinematic virtues and its story that dealt with a 50-plus paterfamilias of a joint family whose quixotic decision not to believe in anything till he sees and confirms it for himself pits him in a series of humorous conflicts with his family members and earns him a band of loyal followers, all from his mohalla (locality).

Aankhon Dekhi has set the social media afire but despite all the praises from the critics and fans, youngsters — as was obvious from the clientele at the coffee shop — preferred Ragini MMS 2 to this film, a skin-flick which in terms of its box office run, was already way ahead of this bittersweet film that is a labour of love and a cinematic tour de force.

Does that take away anything from Rajat’s film? Yes, it does, if one were to take into consideration the disappointment of the people behind the making of the film, which failed to reach a wider audience unlike so many other mindless cinematic fare. The film does not figure in any of the discussions that centre around box office returns, and in a market driven nation that values the worth of a product by the profit that it fetches, the film definitely is a dud.

But when it comes to its reception by a discerning audience, which is always in minority, its makers have had more than their share of glory as they bask under the love that no economics can comprehend.

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based independent filmmaker, film instructor

and writer)


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