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!