To all my brothers and sisters watching Indian regional language films, how many times have you heard someone say this statement.
Bro, that is so good for an (insert language here) movie.
Why do we say this to each other? What makes us feel like we need to bring in the fact that a movie being made in a certain language makes any sort of difference to its overall quality? Is this a good thought process to have or a bad one? These questions have plagued me for as long as I have been watching films.
The first time this line rang the proverbial bell in my head was when a few close friends of mine and I walked out a Kannada film which was released overseas. We went into the film extremely excited, as the film has garnered rave reviews from almost everyone in India, and we came out feeling like we had got our money’s worth. But out of the whole group, I felt myself feeling singled out because I felt that the movie wasn’t worth all the hype. It was by no means a terrible film but I felt that the film had received more than its fair share of hype. I tried to back my opinion up by saying that the film had some weak acting, unnecessary songs and a plot which flips on a dime without a natural progression. At this moment, one of my friends told me that, this was a great achievement for a Kannada film. I had heard that statement a whole bunch of times before but this time it felt different. I could only think of all the movies getting a pass for being made under the umbrella of a regional language.
I could name a multitude of films which slip under the radar of serious scrutiny because of this mentality. We accept mediocrity because of a technicality. Maybe the films or stories aren’t mediocre themselves but a few specific aspects of the film are, be it acting, production, visual effects, score or many others.
For example, let me take up Baahubali. The grandest film ever made in the history of Indian cinema.
Am I going to say Baahubali is a bad film? No. Most definitely not.
The simple point I would bring up here is that the VFX in the film are below the high bar S.S. Rajamouli set for himself in Eega. The film’s story might be quite the cliched one and the first act of the film has unconvincing motivations galore but the selling point of the film was its scope and scale. The film’s world felt massive. It was building a lore around itself and it invited the viewers into a world they had a hunger to see. It was supposed to be a thing of beauty.
But somewhere down the line, the visual effects work was not what the film demanded. Everything felt below par. The water seemed too fake, the gigantic backgrounds seemed too fake, the feats of heroism seemed too fake and the list goes on. The ingenuity used to create some truly inspired weapons and action sequences felt a tad undone because of the distracting CG work. After watching the film I spoke to a few people about it and how the visual effects just did not match up to Eega. I’m sure you could guess the response I got:
Bro, It’s awesome for a Telugu Film.
Is it, though? Is it really? I do appreciate the work put in by hundreds of artists to bring the film to its final form but that does not mean we can’t aim higher. We saw how good the effects in Eega were just a few years prior. We knew what Rajamouli and his team were capable of. We knew we could expect something close to excellence. When what we received was, in a sense, subpar, we need to do two things. One, appreciate the man and his team for the work they put in and two, talk about the room for improvement which is glaringly obvious.
This is a microcosm of a gigantic problem which I see exists with the Indian moviegoer’s mindset. We want to see excellence but we keep defending mediocrity. Mediocrity comes in many forms and we need to address those issues for the overall betterment of art. Blind defending creates an environment where we stop challenging each other to do better.
As a few more examples, I have never heard a person say:
- Bro, Lagaan is a great film in Hindi film circles
- Aa Dinagalu, is a great film in Kannada film circles
- Vedam, is a great film in Telugu film circles
- Kannathil Mutthamital, is a great film in Tamil circles
The resounding verdict coming out of audiences mouths for these films was:
This is a great film. Period
Those are the standard bearers of excellence our films should aim for. Those are the standards we must demand as audience members. If we demand better, we will get better.
There is always a natural progression to art. Sooner or later a visionary comes along who shakes everything up because she/he knows something better can be done. We have been witness to their work as well, be it Puttanna Kanagal, S.S. Rajamouli, S. Shankar, Mani Rathnam or Anurag Kashyap. Questioning, critiquing and working towards overall betterment will only accelerate the process of discovering such visionaries.
My plea is for all audiences to go into films not only as fans of a certain artist but as fans of cinema at large. Once we do that, we can objectify work. When we objectify work, we have an intelligent and unbiased discourse in place. If and when we meet our idols (in the film industry) with that dialog in mind, we can fanboy/fangirl around them, critique them and learn from them in the best way possible.
That method of thinking may aid us in creating excellence rather than half-heartedly approving mediocrity.