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WHY FILM REVIEWING HAS TO CHANGE?
By Arun Gopinath
Recently watching Madhan reviewing Ra One on his show (good to have him back reviewing movies), one felt that he was being stretched by a few factors. He was quite vocal in his opinion that the film was not too great. He admitted that the movie made a mockery of Tamil and a Tamilian; in fact he called the entire gimmick cheap. Really, the character of Sekhar Subramaniam was an absolute caricature, something like a Mr. Bean. And, the most ridiculous thing here was a Tamilian who couldn’t speak proper Tamil, but could sing and dance in Hindi. Wow! And, how on earth is ‘Koncham Koncham’ pronounced as ‘Condom Condom’? Really, SRK did have some nerve to go about mocking Tamil in a movie that needed a Tamil superstar to push up its market value.
  Sargunam

The film was marketed and hyped as India’s first superhero film. According to Shahrukh himself, it was a film that he made because he wanted Indian kids to have an Indian superhero to idolise. Yes, the film was primarily aimed at kids! And yet, it had an insanely sick and perverse sense of humour, something that would have put a B grade flick to shame. How could a straight thinking person insert so much sexual innuendo and plain foul mouthing into a film that he made for children? The film shows a woman (the heroine) who wants to do a PhD in novel terms of abuse to reverse the current trend of women being the ‘butt’ of all jokes; God, save Hindi cinema!

The point here is not to sling mud on Ra One; the film has done a fair job of it. The point is that Madan noticed all the points said above, mentioned them in his comments, and said that the movie was only good enough for you to come out of the theatre without feeling that you have lost your money. That’s it; it’s just a middling affair. Yet, he gave it 3 stars, which, looking at the film’s standards is a princely gift. Many other experienced reviewers all over India have done the same thing; brought out all the shortfalls of the movie and then gave it a star rating which just did not concur.

What happened? Were they all too fond of SRK or did they just find it too heavy on their conscience to deride the most expensive Indian movie ever? Well, the latter seems to be the more probable. Yes, Madan and many other critics like him were equivocal in stating that the film had unparalleled special effects and CGI; almost on par with Hollywood cinema. And, stands to reason that all the stars they awarded the film were because of its technical supremacy.

Apparently, the makers of Ra One got so obsessed with the technical side of the film that they forgot the most important aspect of cinema; telling a good story. Looking at the promos and other publicity activities of Ra One, one always got the feeling that the only thing they wanted to show and tell was that they had made the most expensive movie in Indian cinema. All the efforts were strained towards making new opening day records, setting the maximum prints, setting new CGI benchmarks, tying up with the Champions league, Youtube and every other product you see in a supermarket, that they just lost sight of the fact that at the end of the day a film is remembered for how good it is; not how expensive!

Yes, Ra One made the money that it spent, mostly on effects and publicity! One wonders whether a little could not have been spent on a better script, decent dialogues and digestible comedy. Anubhav Sinha’s track record shows that he can go wrong with scripting, sometimes leaning too heavily on technique and flair; like in Dus or Cash. It would not have hurt to get an experienced hand to help with the script.

After seeing Ra One, there is absolutely no doubt that Anubhav Sinha and Shankar are the top technical directors in our country at the moment, with Sinha probably slightly ahead. But, where Shankar scored over Sinha is that he sought the help of the right people to work up a script that propped up the technique; people like Sujatha. One can only imagine how better Ra One would have been if a deft hand had taken care of the script.

Now, coming back to the stand that critics took. They said that the movie did not boast of great content, they said that the comedy stooped low, but they were forced by the technical accomplishment of the movie to give it a thumbs up, or at least half a thumb. Interestingly, a Tamil movie that released on the same day as Ra One placed a similar predicament. 7 Aum Arivu took a wonderful subject and brought it down with a wandering script. Yet, the technique, especially in the first half an hour, made it a hard job for an average critic to give it a thumbs down.

The fact is technique is threatening to usurp the position of content in mainstream cinema, at least at the top level. While content has to be given the top position always, it is also not possible to ignore the larger role that technique has begun to play. So, while content has to be given the top position always, it is also not possible to ignore the larger role that technique has begun to play. So, perhaps the way forward for a film critic, when faced with such situations, would be to evaluate the two aspects independently, perhaps even giving separate star ratings, so that the situation of giving an overall high rating for a film that bores the audience never arises. Just like many exams have portions on reading, writing, comprehension and listening, film criticism might also consider taking up that route.

Else, we will have more Ra Ones where you get distasteful comedy, caricature characters and a half baked script, all pasted ungainly on a background of world class technique. We don’t need that kind of cinema!
Tags : Ra One, Shahrukh Khan, Anubhav Sinha, Shankar
 
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