Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Points to ponder - a rant against "good" movies

The last few weeks have not exactly been packed with movie-viewing but I have managed to see a few talked-about ones. Two of them - Black Friday and A Wednesday - were pretty disturbing. I am not going to review them because:
a) I am too lazy
b) please refer to point a

That doesnt mean that I wont talk about them! So here's my tuppence-worth.

Both the movies were extremely disturbing in unexpected ways. And no, I am not talking about the mass scale destruction of human-kind depicted, because that wasnt unexpected. They were movies about terror attacks. I knew that gruesome scenes of death and destruction were on the menu and was prepared for that. What disturbed me more was the depiction of police torture as a legitimate, even essential, component of interrogation.

Yes, we all know about (and take for granted) the use of third degree methods by Indian police, but I was disturbed by the movies' sympathetic depiction of it! The filmi police had no doubts about the guilt of the witnesses they tortured and always elicited truthful information as a result of torture! Isnt that strange? Havent several debates concluded that a person will say anything and do anything in order to end the torture, and information thus gained isnt reliable? Am I the only one who worries about people on the street not helping me against an assailant/molester for fear of police brutality? Surely movies at least, could project a more positive image of the police (even if it is untrue)? Or is it just that since jehadis are responsible for all of India's terror attacks, the majority Hindu population is safe from police brutality and therefore, doesnt care to object?

My quibbles with it apart, Black Friday was a movie documenting the events surrounding the 1993 Mumbai blasts and did it very well. A Wednesday on the other hand, took me aback with its insane plot line. No, I am not referring to the robotic cops that seem to make-up Commisioner Rathod's police force (they obey without question and salute all the time!) and the chief minister who actually bows to a city police commissioner's judgment (Right! Thats exactly how the executive works in India!) - those deserve a post of their own!

My chief issue against the movie is that it advocates the Rang De Basanti school of thought, i.e., if you find a cancerous growth in your body, kill one or two cells and the rest of the tumor cells will shrivel up and die out of sheer fright! If not, at least we have shown the tumor what we are capable of and that will make everybody happy and the cancer will cease to be life-threatening! At Beth's and elsewhere in blogistan we have discussed the cathartic effect of filmi violence but this movie takes catharsis to new heights and provides the most unreasonable justifications for reverting to anarchy and medieval practices of justice and punishment.

Why this unusual burst of strong feelings against a movie? I had read nothing but good things about this movie everywhere. Its been touted as a very taut and well-made thriller. And it has Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher together after a very long time (the last time I saw them together on-screen was in Pestonjee, which was great!). Can you blame me for having high expectations? Sure high expectations are rarely met, but this was soooooo far from what I expected! It does its damnedest to justify the eye-for-an-eye philosophy and cloaks its horrifying message in the garb of "awakening of the common man"!

I am sure before long this will also be labeled a "classic" that shows how a "generation awakened" and "rose up against the tyranny of terror"! Please tell me I am not the only one offended by the obnoxious sentiments peddled here.

On a lighter note - no more serious stuff - I promise! More of oldie masala coming your way soon.

16 comments:

Nicki said...

Every now and then I like to watch these type of movies. I've seen Black Friday and liked it. I've never heard of A Wednesday. Thanks for pointing it out. I totally agree with you about it being "disturbing"

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Bollyviewer: What's wrong with the serious stuff?! ;) Haven't seen A Wednesday or Black Friday, so I'll save commenting on them for now.

Agree that the eye-for-eye philosophy in the vast majority of cases does more harm, and I'm with the Mahatma on this -- it makes the world blind.


Ref: My chief issue against the movie is that it advocates the Rang De Basanti school of thought

This would mean I need to see it right away, except that I am in humble but major disagreement with this take on 'the Rang De Basanti (RDB) school of thought'! But that's the subject of another post =)

ajnabi said...

That was something that took me aback in MHN, to bring up an example on a far lower scale: brutality depicted as justifiable, right even. Not that it never happens in the Hollywood scene (see: 24) but I find it just as objectionable in either case.

Toonfactory said...

Thought provoking post indeed. But I am a big advocate of RDB School Of Thought myself...so wont make a comment over it to start another debate.
BTW I dunno if U noticed Dilaogues from a Police Chase sequence from Amar Akbar Anthony playing in the background while Police chases one of the culprits across chawls of Mahim in Black Friday(its the longest chase in the film).

Crazy on Bollywood said...

Not agree with u.A Wednesday is a good movie.After all it's a fast movie.I like that movie.Anupam Kher presents a superb performance in the movie A Wednes day.Worth watching.

memsaab said...

Interesting post...I tend to agree with you on the RDB thing, I didn't care for it either for the same reasons. In general I try to avoid films that are too realistic, I can always watch the TV news if I want to see such things :-)

Bollyviewer said...

Nicki, Black Friday was indeed a well-made and interesting movie. A Wednesday is a brand new movie with a stellar star cast - Nasseer and Anupam Kher, plus Aamir Bashir and Jimmy Shergill - and came out just a couple of weeks (or is it a week) ago.

theBollywoodFan, the good was in quotes to indicate the absence of goodness! Though I really dont class Black Friday in that category - it was disturbing but interesting.

"I am in humble but major disagreement with this take on 'the Rang De Basanti (RDB) school of thought'!"

I know Aamir movies can do no wrong in your eyes! lol Its perhaps wrong to compare RDB and AW as the latter is very coherent and focused while the former was more geared to idealism (an idealism that went seriously off the rails, fast) in a close-to-masala format. The only common point the two share is that their protagonists "awaken" and this "awakening" leads to murder and mayhem.

ajnabi, I dont remember all that much about MHN (only the main plotline and Sushmita's outfits! lol) but I'm not surprised. The media propagates the idea that the moment you are a suspect you are human no longer and a legitimate target for anger that should be more appropriately directed against actual perpetrators!

Toonfactory, from what I have seen around me, you have plenty of company in the RDB school of thought. I'd rather stick to Gandhigiri (which by the way, proved a lot more effective than Azad and Bose's modus operandi) myself.

They actually had AAA dialogues in there - wow! I need to re-watch and catch that... I was too interested in the chase to pay attention to anything but the action on-screen and missed the background noise!

Crazy on Bollywood, both Anupam Kher and Nasseeruddin Shah performed very well but I am naturally biased towards Nasseer - he had the meatier part after all! :-)

memsaab, wise people always think alike! ;-)

There is nothing realistic about A Wednesday, though. Its a fast-paced action thriller in the style of Hollywood thrillers and is about as realistic. It is so well-packaged indeed that when its insane message hits home, one cant help but admire or hate it (I obviously hate it!).

I do like realistic films though - too much masala can be bad for the stomach. Besides, as I never watch news or read newspapers, realistic films are as close to reality as I ever get on the screen!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Oh wow- I read ur review just in time- I am watching A Wednesday tonite! - I was excited for the same reason as u- naseer and anupam- oh mannnnnn. A bit scared now :)

theBollywoodFan said...

the good was in quotes to indicate the absence of goodness!

I know! As I said, I'm with you on the underlying philosophy here. So I'll see the films, and from the sound of it, will probably agree with you too, because I do believe in Gandhigiri, and am secure enough in that respect to feel that my love for RDB does not contradict that at all.


I know Aamir movies can do no wrong in your eyes!

I saw this coming, Bollyviewer :) For this decade after Mela (2000), that is indeed a true statement! I think he's figured out a way to make meaningful masala movies, if that makes sense. So I know it's hard to shed the image when ones blogging on Bollywood is inspired by one actor, but assume for a moment that Aamir wasn't in RDB...


an idealism that went seriously off the rails, fast

...without the last five minutes in that film, I'd agree with you. But I really thought they were back on track because of the way it ended, with a bit more after the overwhelmingly dramatic climax. The climax might well have understated what I thought (and I know many many agree with this too, just as they do with the inverse) was the school of thought the film intended to advocate for -- one in alignment with Gandhigiri. I'll eventually have a post with reasoning for that (lest my statement be dismissed as maniacal :), so I'll save that discussion for then (for fear of having a post-length comment here, which I think this already is, LOL).

Bollyviewer said...

Shweta, cant wait to hear what you thought of it.

theBollywoodFan, long (and thoughtful) comments are always welcome!

I guess you and I will just have to agree to disagree on RDB! To me, the second half made martyrs out of the misguided students and equated the Indian government to the colonist masters (not too wrong there, perhaps?!) - in short glorified the very opposite of Gandhigiri...

theBollywoodFan said...

I guess you and I will just have to agree to disagree on RDB!

Aah the beauty of film, to mean something so different to the receiver! It's all good Bollyviewer. Disagreements can be healthy! :)

To end this thread...I mostly agree with your analysis of the second half -- as I said, the film would be very different if it weren't for the last five minutes of the media coverage comprising dialogue with members of the film's target demographic, that recommended an approach contrary to that employed by DJ and his gang.

What the actors did in the film wasn't Gandhigiri (far from it -- and we know the legendary freedom-fighters they modeled, or claimed to model their actions after, were not the biggest proponents of Gandhi's philosophies any way)...but their actions were, to me, portrayed by the film as not being ideal, leading eventually to the ideal as an achievable framework, which we agree is Gandhigiri. The youth who are shown discussing action items at the end all point to positive and peaceful contributions to society -- nothing violent about that.

They were wrong in glorifying it the way they did, absolutely. But their 'peers' (to the film, us, perhaps?) resolved to a more sustainable approach in the long-term, one that is free of violence (which some key politicians back home do use to propagate hatred), and is based around a culture of goodness and understanding.

To me, that is what Gandhiji advocated when he said, "The more efficient a force is, the more silent and the more subtle it is".

Of course, those on either side of this argument could read into it further and draw conclusions as they see fit. I think this ambiguity is both a strength and a weakness of RDB. The end to the film was changed to accomodate exactly this, after feedback from the test audience.

Whatever the case, the film could have done more to hammer home this message (and with this definition of 'awakening', which it arguably speaks to as well), because the climax with DJ and his gang was so overwhelming, it was the image we were most likely to be left with after the first viewing of the film.

And I'd *told* you this was a post of its own :P

PS: Now I can't help but wonder how the end would be different if it were an Aamir Khan production... :)

Reviewer said...

I haven't watched either of these movies yet but I agree with you about the RDB point...I thought the same thing when i watched RDB

Amrita said...

I partially agree with you on these movies. Black Friday was so disturbing when I saw it, it took me a couple of days to process it. A Wednesday was easier.

I think the primary diff between AW and RDB is that in RDB the personal becomes political, whereas in AW the political becomes personal. And unlike RDB, there was nothing very attractive about any of the people in the movie. The policemen were psychos, the jihadis were venal and the protagonist is definitely fucked in the head.

And unlike RDB, they place the question of right and wrong front and center in the movie itself where each character is forced to determine for himself whether what he is doing is correct or not. And they acknowledge that they continue to perform their actions in spite of the fact that they know they're doing the wrong thing.

It's very self aware in that sense unlike RDB which is manipulative but tries to mask it.

And as far as realism is concerned, I thought the relationship between the CM and the Commissioner was one of the real things - in my experience there are two types of high ranking police officials, the cringing, boot licking kind who're usually on the take, and the kind AK portrays who really don't give a shit if their ass is on the line coz they don't have extra income dependent on the job. The crazy efficiency of the Mumbai police force, however, was hilarious.

Full disclosure: I wrote a review of AW. Short review - I loved it because I'm an angry person.

Bollyviewer said...

TheBollywoodFan, you've convinced me to re-watch the last 10 minutes of RDB (I dont think I can wade through the whole movie again!) to see if I can find grounds for agreement with your viewpoint!

Reviewer, I look forward to seeing your point-of-view when you do see these.

Spoiler alert!

Amrita, I did see your review (I have linked to it in my post above) and it was instrumental in raising my already high expectations! Needless to say, I consequently found the movie more disappointing than I would otherwise have done.

I guess I find it very hard to empathise with the "angry common man" as I havent learned to be angry yet - inspite of living in Delhi in early 80s at the height of Sikh terrorism (several bombs went off very close to our home), inspite of having family living close to a site of '93 blasts in Bombay and inspite of living close to Washington DC when the sniper was active. I might as well choose to be angry about the number of people injured/killed in road accidents worldwide (in Canada alone there are over 2500 deaths annually). A lot of road fatalities involve rash driving and drinking-and-driving that are (in my opinion) just as consciously criminal as terrorism! Plus, having the public appropriate the right to be judge, jury and executioner is my idea of a nightmare. Isnt that what lynch-mobs are? Movies that advocate this lynch-mob mentality (AW goes further and actually glorifies it!) make me as angry as the chief protagonist in AW is supposed to be! Of course, in my case the anger takes the form of an angry blog-post rather than taking a homicidal turn.

And as to each character in AW being aware of the wrongness of their action, I disagree. They are all depicted as being very aware of the absolute rightness of their actions – from the police force who torture suspects to gain information (it is all about convicting criminals, after all), stage encounter deaths (the suspect must be a terrorist since he was suspected of terrorism!) and later release terrorists (to save Mumbai), to the entire team that falls over itself to congratulate the nameless “common man” - everybody is convinced every step of the way that they are doing what is right for the greater good even if it involves such trifles as murder.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Bollyviewer: I saw A Wednesday today, and I was thinking of this post afterward.

*Spoiler*
What bothered me most about it was that the aam aadmi ka representative was let go of so easily. So the guy planted stuff at a police station, did all that, and didn't face any consequences at all, just because his two minute speech was so striking?

The biggest difference between this and Rang De Basanti is that in the latter, the characters were brought to justice, which is an end everyone agreed with.

Here, if it was someone named Raj in Mumbai who got away like that, one could understand :P But aam aadmi, who are they kidding?

A couple of other notes/thoughts:

1. I wish the Bombay police were even 10% close to what they were shown as here, not in the encounters/torture, but in response time.

2. Like you, I am stumped at how overwhelmingly positive the reaction to the film has been. There are too many things to question, and everyone seems to have given them the pass because its release was timed right. I too am disturbed more at the analysis than the film.

Cheers!

Bollyviewer said...

Glad to know your views about A Wednesday resonated with my own. Yes, aam aadmi would never get away with anything, not even honesty! Guess thats why there is such a positive reaction to the film. Everybody sees the protagonist do what they would like to do - kill with impunity someone he police are too "soft" to kill! Such lynch-mob philosophy might be a nightmare for you and me but the aam aadmi feel they are getting their revenge. A lot of people I talked to about the movie felt it was admirable and just!!!