Do films have to bore us and lose money to be considered art?

From the reactions on social media to Naseeruddin Shah’s quote about #RajeshKhanna, one point of view that emerges again is that many perceive #NaseeruddinShah’s films, also known as ‘art’ films, to be more ‘intelligent’. Anything targeted at a mainstream audience, especially something that makes money at the box office is considered ‘trash’ and synonymous with ‘running around trees’. This has always seemed a rather biased point of view.

To begin with, what are ‘art’ films? #Filmmaking is an art, the seventh art. Architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, dance are the first six. Does making money for yourself and your producers make you less of an artist? Films are a business as much as an art and creative pursuit. Filmmakers don’t make films purely as an indulgence but for them to reach an audience. Having a larger number of people patronizing one’s work is always more satisfying to any actor or filmmaker. I have run into a lot of people who assume you can either make a good film or you can make a successful film. They assume that if a film is successful, it has to be bottom of the barrel in terms of sensibilities. To further make this point, they cite the most mind numbing and crass film they can think of. Ever so often, an ‘art’ film releases to a few hundred screens and interviews appear where people say ‘such cinema has to be encouraged’ and must be watched. This is usually said in a very sombre tone, like urging people to save tigers or an endangered species which is at grave risk of going extinct. Sometimes it is said like a doctor would, recommending that a patient take a dose of vitamin D pills everyday if he or she doesn’t want their bones going brittle. I’m aware that some films targeted at a larger audience are complete garbage. However many of these ‘art’ films make your eyes water with boredom and are absurdly pretentious. It would be an understatement to call them insufferable. We have had many entertaining films from great filmmakers over the years, which haven’t played to the gallery but are yet timeless in their appeal. Films have to make you laugh or make you cry or make you angry. They must affect you. They don’t need to lose money or be boring to be considered great art and filmmakers don’t have to be defensive about making entertaining films. Far from it.

There has been mutual disdain between the two sides. I recall Manmohan Desai, director of many blockbusters cocking a snook at ‘art’ films telling my father, “Kaise filmein hain yeh? Ek kutta rakh do frame mein, camera chalu kar do. Kutta so raha hai, so raha hai. Aur kuch nahin ho raha hai. Art film ho gayee!” translated as, “What sort of films are these? Keep a dog in the frame and roll the camera. The dog sleeps, continues to sleep. Nothing else is happening. You have an art film!” Manmohan Desai saw these films as a waste of his time and never attempted to make one. #ShashiKapoor produced many of these films. However, when he faced a financial crunch in the mid eighties he got good friend #AmitabhBachchan to feature in his out-and-out commercial film ‘Ajooba’, which eventually bombed at the box office.

The reality is that films cost money and must appeal to a sizeable audience for the filmmaker to get another opportunity to make a film. Anyone who puts in money does so with the idea of recouping his investment plus more. If there is anything that saves a film from degenerating, it is usually a bunch of artists who care what they make and who want to continue doing what they love.

To those who brush away commercial cinema, I would say, read about the era gone by and watch enough films before you sit in judgement. The requirements of every era are different. In the late seventies, it was the anti-establishment sentiment because of the emergency that set the stage for Amitabh Bachchan’s thrillers replacing the mushy sentimental romantic fare and melodrama of the sixties. The degeneration of films in the eighties is oft-repeated. This is only partly right because not all films during the eighties were bad. Amitabh Bachchan dominated the eighties and featured in ‘Naseeb’, ‘Silsila’, ‘Shakti’ etc in the early eighties. Gulzar’s ‘Angoor’ came in 1982. None of these films can be clubbed with the lousy films of the eighties. The second half of the decade saw the proliferation of video cassette players and recorders all over the country. This is when the family audience stopped patronizing cinemas altogether. It was expensive and more of an effort to go to a cinema when you could pay between seven and ten rupees to rent a video cassette. In the late eighties, new films were sometimes shown on cable TV. So they didn’t cost a dime. This meant that filmmakers had to cater to the lowest common denominator, which was the cinema going audience. This is what led to all the vendetta dramas that every major star in the eighties featured in. This is also how ‘Lamhe’ that came in 1991 bombed badly at the box office, despite it being #YashChopra’s best work and a wonderful film. Had it been released today, ‘Lamhe’ would have worked in a big way with multiplex audiences. All of this changed in 1994 when Rajshri Productions decided to put their foot down and refused to release ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ on video. It went on to become one of the biggest grossers of all time. Salman Khan was going through a rocky phase in his career but bounced back with this blockbuster and never looked back. This film brought back the family audience to the theaters. Yash Chopra followed it up with ‘Darr’ and ‘DDLJ’ directed by #AdityaChopra who made his debut, the year after and the tide had turned. Today there is a strong sentiment that women in India are unsafe. This has led to this theme being pushed in every form of fiction, from mainstream films to ad films, webisodes and short films. Riding on this wave, many films have gone on to become money spinners. Society undergoes changes and films change with them. A lot of films that get favorable reviews in the media today will be mocked and laughed at, twenty years down the line.

Before we evaluate harshly a style of filmmaking or an entire era we must acknowledge that each period also has its limitations. Artists have had to grapple with technological changes apart from social changes. The transition from silent films to talkies made the actors with weak voices redundant. Those who didn’t move with the times became irrelevant. The introduction of color changed tastes and many lost interest in black and white films and some films couldn’t be released. I spent my entire childhood watching films. My father introduced me to the cinema of the decades before I was born. Apart from watching Hollywood and European cinema, I watched almost all the Hindi films I could, even the ones made long before I was born. It amazed me that a man like K Asif who could neither read nor write, made a film like ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, which had a budget that (adjusting for inflation) could be put at Rs.300 crores and it took over a decade to make. ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ has brilliant performances by the cast including Dilip Kumar, the stunningly beautiful Madhubala and Prithviraj Kapoor. When bookings opened, people slept overnight outside cinemas to queue for the tickets the next morning and it remains one of the biggest grossers of all time. More than 50 years before ‘Queen’ was made, ‘Mother India’ captured the imagination of the nation and it was a woman-centric film that dealt with societal issues at that point of time. Mehboob Khan again wasn’t formally educated but made a powerful timeless film that is sadly, as relevant today because debt-ridden farmers continue to kill themselves, as it was then. #RajKapoor was a school drop out, yet a genius filmmaker. The man directed ten films in all, all of which had powerful stories, great music and a lot of symbolism. None of them were pretentious. ‘Mera Naam Joker’, arguably his best work almost ruined him but he bounced back with ‘Bobby’, which played to the gallery unhesitatingly. It went on to be one of the biggest grossers of all time and became a landmark film. These people never went to film school. They probably didn’t have access to a tenth of the books an aspiring filmmaker has access to today and many begun at a time when the medium itself was still relatively new. Directors were exploring the medium. If we must sit in judgement on them, it is only fair that we consider the limitations of the artists at that point, the changes in society, technology and the flow of information that time has brought about.

Udta Punjab movie review

I just watched #UdtaPunjab. The film is excellent and holds attention all through. This is #AliaBhatt ‘s finest performance to date. She surpasses herself and you see Pinky Kumari up there, the farmhand from the hinterland who’s battling the odds, not the beautiful, vivacious star. She handles every scene with immense prowess. Knowing the craft of acting, I can tell you that it takes a lot out of an actor to give a genuine performance when portraying extreme trauma. You have a tap a part of yourself and it can be very draining emotionally. To pull that off at 23 is commendable. To be a small town girl in your late twenties and have to portray a small town girl in her early-twenties (Kangana Ranaut in at least three films) is probably easier than having a protected existence and portraying a character at the other end of the spectrum. Alia is helped by a good script, competent direction and a fabulous get up. #ShahidKapoor plays his part effortlessly. His personality helps him portray the underground pop sensation. It also doesn’t hurt that dancing is his strong suit. We see the intensity we were witness to in ‘Haider’ when he broods on the the time gone by and dwells on his regrets. #DiljitDosanjh has a large part too, since he is a name to reckon with up north and does well, especially in the second half. He plays a key role in the climax. Unfortunately there’s very little chemistry between him and Kareena Kapoor. Kareena delivers a restrained performance, playing a doctor who helps drug addicts battle their demons and feels strongly about the issue. Where the film falters is in part of the characterization. Diljit Dosanjh is shown as particularly naive about the drug problem, which is surprising considering he’s a cop. Cops and crime reporters see a lot of crime on a daily basis and it takes a lot to shock them. They also usually become cynical along the way and often overly protective towards their family members. This aspect was authentically portrayed in ‘Taken’ where Liam Neeson is paranoid about his daughter’s safety. So, Daljit’s naiveté and ‘babe in the woods’ act seems rather contrived and more of a narrative device to give #KareenaKapoor the moral high ground as she talks down to him. More so, because he is shown as complicit in the drug racket, even if somewhat reluctantly. Except for one character who struggles with rehab, very little is shown about the struggles of addicts trying to kick the habit. Alia Bhatt’s clash with the mafia is also overly stretched. With the number of people gunning for her, you wonder why they are wasting so much time over a farm hand? What makes her so special for all of them? Also, some scenes in which she gets into a physical fight with hardened goons to rescue Shahid Kapoor seem implausible and overly done. This is however the film industry riding on the coat-tails of new age feminism, playing to the gallery. #SatishKaushik delivers playing his part. The expletives in the film should be a non issue really. You hear more expletives at an average north Indian wedding. Had the CBFC not played moral guardian, no one may have cared about the swear words sprinkled through the film. When you see the film, you also realize that the film is somewhat unfair to the state of Punjab. The film has dialogues like ‘Zameen banjar to aulaad kanjar’ which tar the entire state with the same brush. Also Diljit Dosanjh appeals to Kareena Kapoor to join him in battling the drug racket saying that all the men in Punjab are sleeping, intoxicated by drugs. So the women have to do something. This dialogue would understandably annoy Punjabi men and it seems unfair also to club all of them together as drug addicts, whichever political party may be in power. The cinematography is good. So is the editing. #AbhishekChaubey holds your interest for most of the film. The film is a gutsy take on the drug crisis that Punjab faces and it’s great that someone went through the effort of making a film that gives an insight into it. The Punjabi dialogues are easily understandable. Besides, the film has English subtitles. Some of the scenes like the car chase in the beginning of the film seem stretched but overall, it’s a film worth watching.

Teen movie review

‘Te3n’ is an official remake of ‘Montage’, a South Korean thriller. This is a film about John Biswas, a man in his seventies, who is obsessed with tracking down the kidnapper and killer of his grand-daughter and spends eight years on the trail before making a breakthrough. Amitabh Bachchan as ‘John Biswas’ gives a flawless performance. The poster and the trailer of the film show Amitabh Bachchan riding a scooter that’s as old as the hills. John Biswas struggles to start this scooter, has to clean it to get it going once but you can see a bond between the man and his machine. It’s not in-your-face but it’s there. At one point, John Biswas has to bribe a government clerk to get some information that he badly needs to zero in on the killer of his granddaughter. When he realizes he can’t afford the bribe, he gives the scooter as a bribe instead. This scene is the highlight of the film. It’s a very well written and directed scene and Amitabh Bachchan further elevates it with his sensitive performance. You realize how the same scooter means two entirely different things to two different people. It’s a scene that brings a lump to your throat, despite the director not giving it a build up or rather because of it. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has an interesting character and does justice to it. Vidya Balan is stuck with a somewhat underwritten, one-dimensional ‘tough cop’ character and tries hard to rise above it. Padmavati Rao as Nancy Biswas is fine but has little to do. Sabyasachi Chakraborty also delivers. The film is somewhat disappointing on the script level though. There are inconsistencies in the way characters behave. John Biswas tells Sarita Sarkar (Vidya Balan) that his wife won’t be able to live in peace till the killer has been found. Five minutes later, his wife expresses boredom with his obsessive pursuit and seems to have reconciled with the reality. The film’s screenplay is not linear. There are flashbacks, which would have been fine if they wanted to show a glimpse of the past. Instead, they go the whole hog, showing all the relevant events of eight years ago except one key event. This is more like ‘conning’ the audience preventing them from reaching a conclusion that they would otherwise. Characters act in ways that are unconvincing. You wonder why they make certain choices and not other more obvious, easier ones. Police investigation methods are somewhat contrived and amateurish. Kids behave oddly. I can’t give away any more without including spoilers. The cinematography is good. Shooting the film in real places, gives the film an authentic feel. If you can ignore the plot holes, watch it for the performances!

Why GST is trouble

Australia has a GST (Goods and services tax) rate of 10%, France has 19.6%, Canada has 5%, Germany has 19%, Japan has 5%, Singapore has 7%. India’s rate of GST is set to be the highest with a figure of 26% being bandied about lately. Why do we need to pay 26%? Till recently, the Congress party was insistent that #GST rate be 18% and that the cap on it should be in the Constitution amendment bill. Now they have softened their stance, doing a major disservice to the citizens. Senior congress leader #JairamRamesh has said that “If the cap in the constitution amendment bill is unacceptable, then the government can explore the option of keeping it in the GST bill… If the government wants, a creative use of the English language can solve the impasse.” This ‘creative use’ is going to come back to haunt the middle class as the government can go on raising the GST rate at will. Fixing the rate in the legislation would have made the system extremely rigid as the Constitution would have to be amended with a two-thirds majority if the rates needed to be changed in the future. Keeping it in the GST bill instead shows that the government has every plan of raising it higher from the 26% they will start with.

GST has long been projected as the panacea for a lot of the troubles that India Inc faces. It has been described as the tax to replace all the indirect taxes and one that will help free movement of goods across state borders. The reality is that GST may only add to the mess instead of solving anything. In its current proposed form, GST would have a dual structure comprising a central component levied and collected by the centre and a state component administered by the states. The central component would comprise central excise duty, service tax and additional customs duties. The state component will include value-added tax, entertainment tax, luxury tax, lottery taxes and electricity duty. Central sales tax (CST) will be phased out entirely. Entry tax or octroi would be subsumed from the start.

Like in the case of VAT and Service tax, currently, the supplier will be able to off-set the levy through a tax credit mechanism. This means, if someone buys oranges, sugar and cans and sells canned orange juice, they can set off the GST they have paid on the purchase of oranges, sugar and cans against the GST collected on the sale of the orange juice cans. This works in theory even now with VAT and service tax. The reality is that a lot of small businesses find complying with the current system very inconvenient. So they either fail to claim the input credit and eat the cost or they do not pay the tax at all. This is why, while mega sized companies are keen on GST, it will work against the interest of small business who will continue to find the system cumbersome. This has also resulted in over 1 million service tax assessees not paying their taxes and being classified as defaulters.

Petroleum products, tobacco and alcohol will not be covered by GST and this is not surprising. Alcohol and tobacco have long been heavily taxed by opportunistic governments, well aware of the inelastic demand for them. Demand for petroleum products is also relatively inelastic and the sales are massive. The overall taxation on these is well above 26% and the government wouldn’t want to lose revenue by bringing them under GST, at least for now.

Additionally, even if we assume that GST will replace all existing indirect taxes, there is no reason to believe that the government will keep its word. There is absolutely nothing to prevent the government from imposing a new indirect tax. Right now there’s a free for all, with the Kerala government announcing fat tax on pizza, burger and other junk food last week and Haryana proposing a new indirect tax to fund protection of cows. The centre has introduced a cess for #SwachhBharat. We already pay primary and secondary education cess. A cess for for relief of Bangladesh refugee that is imposed on bus tickets has been in force since 1971. What is to prevent the government from introducing a new indirect tax? This makes all the spreadsheet calculations that you see on the internet, only speculative and fantasy. Also, since there is a state component and central component, the state component of the tax may end up becoming a bargaining tool for political parties in coalition politics, at the cost of the citizen.

Naseeruddin Shah on acting schools is only partly right

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Naseeruddin Shah says “There are no acting teachers in the country, they are all shams..all these people running acting schools are absolute and utter frauds, they are fooling the kids who come to them and teach them nothing”. #NaseeruddinShah should be taken very seriously considering his body of work and stature as an actor, no doubt about that. However, he is only partly right. It is true that the two biggest stars to emerge from India, Dilip Kumar and #AmitabhBachchan never saw the inside of an acting school. There are also acting schools in the country that have no business teaching acting. However, to say that all the acting schools in the country are a sham and actors don’t need schools is a stretch. The truth is that a lot of people who sign up at acting institutes are simply not cut out to be actors and no one wants to be the one to bell the cat. Who will tell an aspiring actor to go back to Uttar Pradesh or Punjab when he or she is willing to sign up for a course and pay a large sum of money for it? There’s a clear conflict of interest here. This also raises the question whether such people are competent enough to separate the wheat from the chaff or they could just be turning back brilliant raw talent.

The other depressing aspect is the overwhelming desire of aspiring actors and even singers to mimic their screen idols which is why when you watch short films and webisodes these days, you’ll notice girls with #KanganaRanaut’s twang and guys with a #RanbirKapoor hangover. I had an actor proudly display a showreel to me, in which he played a scene from Sunny Deol’s ‘Ghayal’ doing his best imitation of the beefy actor. How that will get him any work is a mystery unless someone is working on a parody of ‘Ghayal’ or wants to cast a lookalike of Sunny Deol. The current system is partly responsible for this. Most reality shows that claim to be talent hunts do nothing to encourage originality among artists, whether singers, actors, musicians or lyricists. The singing contests have contestants singing songs that were once chartbusters, and doing their best to sound like the original singers, from Lata Mangeshkar and Geeta Dutt to Arijit Singh and Sonu Nigam. The fact is these songs have already been sung and were well received then. One is compelled to ask what these people aspire to achieve by recreating the same melodies over and over again? Film personalities who judge these contests get paid millions to appreciate the contestants and critique them. However, if I want to listen to ‘Mere sapno ki rani..’ I would rather listen to Kishore Kumar on my iPod than to some aspiring singer from Rohtak, whatever the sob story that he’s trying to sell me! Every singer has a unique style. Give the same song to two different singers and the way they sing will be entirely different. Similarly, no two actors will perform a scene in the same way. Hell! Even the same actor won’t be able to give the exact same take twice, if he is half an actor! Acting is an organic process and every performance is at least somewhat different from the earlier one, as actors tap into a part of their inner selves. It’s important for singers and actors to find their own voice and style and we need an ecosystem that will enable that instead of turning them into mimics.

I trained professionally myself as an actor at Roshan Taneja Acting School (run by Rohit Taneja, son of renowned acting guru Roshan Taneja) before I decided to make my first film because I knew it would help me put myself in the shoes of an actor when I direct him or her. A lot of directors run roughshod over artists and I wanted to avoid doing that. I was witness to and participated in the whole process myself. There are a lot of everyday essential technicalities, from understanding a script and accepting directions from a director to blocking and dubbing, that a good acting school teaches an acting student. In the process, I also met struggling actors, from the talented go-getters to those who make you wonder why they signed up!Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

To quote Sanford Meisner, ‘Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’. I believe that acting as a craft and art can be taught by an articulate and perseverant teacher to a reasonably talented and keen student. Sometimes even a complete newcomer, an untrained actor at that, can get cast and deliver, given the right script and director. Some of the artists in my short film ‘Screwdriver’ had never faced the arclights but did a fabulous job! It’s also possible for a director to work around the limitations of an actor and every actor is limited in some ways. This is especially so if the artist looks the part which is half the battle won though bagging a role solely by virtue of looking the part may not take an actor very far in the long run unless he or she has talent to fall back on. Besides, acting is a very personal process, which takes a lot from the artist. You need life experiences, perseverance, sensibilities and a tremendous amount of patience. Rejection is also much more personal for an actor. It’s rare to come across sound designers and cinematographers giving up on life but failed actors taking the last desperate step is unfortunately far more common. Perhaps, this is why one hopes that genuine acting schools exist as talented aspiring actors do, so that the twain shall meet and create the magic that only moving images do!