That’s Entertainment!

A platitude keeps creeping up all the time. About movies as entertainment. A certain dissonance is introduced between cinema as artistic ‘object’ or one of thought and the mundane category of entertainment. In one corner of the ring the high art of cinema, in the other the low. And it is a struggle as we will soon learn! The ‘entertainment’ side of the opposition is always presented in banal fashion, as completely ‘neutral’. It is then equated with the idea of a majority vote in a bit of circular logic. What ‘everyone’ (the majority audience) likes is of course ‘entertaining’ and because a film was ‘entertaining’ in the first place it appealed to everyone! This is a bit like suggesting a politician was popular because he or she won the election. The figure of the politician will also turn out to be a necessary one. Because as we will also learn very shortly this entire debate has a political coding through and through. To think that there is something called ‘entertainment’ in the text of a film that is completely unrelated to the film’s narrative themes or its ‘politics’ or its ‘aesthetics’ is the worst kind of obfuscation. Note how people often refer to the lack of entertainment in a film almost exclusively with certain kinds of cinema. This complaint is often heard when it is the Raavan kind of film, never when it is the Kites sort. The former is of course ‘alternative’ cinema in some sense and certain characterizations are immediately attached to it (boring, dry, confusing and so forth). The latter though operates in an already authorized genre which is supposed to have ‘entertainment’ built into the system. Hence here when the reviewing is negative other terms have to be used to criticize the film. This entire opposition essentially derives from a bourgeois ‘ordering’ which is of course the only one represented not only in the traditional media but also the online variety. All these perspectives emerge from the very same resource of opinion which accounts for their hegemony. There are no real alternatives. Once upon a time when the ‘art movement’ took hold in Hindi cinema the adjectives I have just outlined were more or less the ones used for this cinema. A poor commercial film that no one likes or enjoys is never considered boring. It is only supposedly an example of ‘bad’ cinema. But alternative films can be boring even when they are dimly seen as ‘worthwhile’. Let me finally break the news here — there is no such thing as ‘entertainment’. One can be ‘entertained’ by movies which is really about a level of pleasure one derives from any work. But there is nothing called ‘entertainment’ embedded in a film that gives an audience a certain ‘fix’ and in turn satisfaction. I shall begin again with two examples. I found it very hard to sit through Kal Ho Na Ho the first time around. I went a second time as a favor to someone and slept through most of the film. Some years prior to these I saw Dil Se three times in the theater without being bored even for a single minute in any of the viewings. Sadly I was in the minority as I have indeed been with films like Thakshak or Dev or Mangal Pandey and more recently Delhi 6 and Raavan. If I were occupying the 1970s (which to my eternal regret I do not) I would have proved to people how films with greater substance and certainly much greater political edge usually outgrossed the merely escapist flicks. People in that period of Hindi cinema were usually not entertained as much by fluff. They expected and demanded narratives that extracted a certain emotional investment and ‘cost’ from them. The ‘cathartic’ is that which always leaves one with a wound. Today (which is to say since the 1990s even if thankfully we have exited the worst of that phase) it is the opposite. The cinema usually considered most entertaining is one in which the audience skits on the surface of things without ever getting invested in any sense. A total horror of the film that tries to startle the audience, or even move it too deeply, let alone disturb it profoundly. An audience that does not wish its political veins to be touched. Why politics? Entertainment is an ‘ideological’ category through and through. There is no ‘truth’ to such a noun beyond the index it provides of ideological choices. What we like in cinema we call ‘entertainment’. The standards of what an audience finds entertaining differ so drastically from age to age that there simply could not be nominated that one set called ‘entertainment’ which would contain a list of features equally applicable in every age in terms of gauging popular taste. Most audiences today who do not have any exposure to the riches of the past would find it quite impossible to sit through many Dilip Kumar classics that once enthralled an entire generation of movie-goers. The films work very differently in terms of their pacing, narrative elements and so forth. These would be and are often deemed ‘boring’ by contemporary audiences. The reverse is also true (even if bankruptcy exists only on one side of this equation). ‘Entertainment’ is the seemingly neutral, inoffensive term favored by bourgeois audiences to define films that they support in any given age. The opposite set is comprised of films that subvert the ideological choices encoded in the ‘authorized’ one (the films that are always ‘entertainment’). Any audience can never find a film entertaining the worldview of which it cannot digest. Some audiences are just better in this regard than others. A 70s ‘rickshawala’ to use the old cliche showed much greater sophistication than the 90s ‘auntie’ (my own ‘completion’ of the same cliche). Not because that older cinema was ‘greater’ in every respect but for the far less commonly understood reason that in that earlier age the biggest box office successes were often the better films if not indeed the best ones. If one examined for example Amitabh Bachchan’s career in that period one would note that actually his strongest films did the best, not necessarily the weaker ones that were also otherwise successes. ‘Strong’ here simply means a narrative less ‘escapist’ than another and insistent on more ‘engagement’ by the audience. In other words the ‘rickshawala’ was sophisticated enough to understand the distinction between Trishul and Khoon Pasina. This refinement was nowhere in evidence in the 1990s where even for that same conservative counter-reactionary ideological matrix (which I otherwise loathe) much better films could have been fostered. I often come across cinema where the ‘politics’ repels me but where I also have to admit the strengths of the films at other levels. But let’s get back to ‘entertainment’! Clearly the ‘entertainment’ standards are different for every age. This is only natural. But describing everything that does not conform to one’s sense and expectation of cinema as ‘non-entertainment’ is another matter. The bourgeois framework as I have been pointing out tries to delegitimize films that it cannot authorize not by ignoring them or even criticizing them but by introducing a new vocabulary for them. It is important for this ‘order’ to perform a move whereby the subversive work is not really seen as one in the overall set of choices for ‘entertainment’ but one that exists on the other side of the latter as the ‘boring’, ‘confusing’ work and so on. Notice how commonly it is said today that a film did not ‘connect’. This too is enunciated in certain contexts far more than others if not exclusively. Whatever the dominant bourgeois hegemony in a certain period ‘likes’ as cinema it also ‘authorizes’ as ‘entertainment’. Everything else is then banished from this realm where it exists in a black hole worthy of the attention of minorities who can then be called ‘out of the mainstream’ or ‘elitist’ or worse still ‘intellectuals’ (usually a term of abuse in India as it also is in the US). Amitabh Bachchan offered the most formidable challenge to this bourgeois hegemony by doing films that this segment of his audience found hard to absorb but which were also such miracles of script-writing that really for the first and only time in the history of Hindi cinema such ‘obstacles’ were overcome. But this audience also could not stop hating Bachchan or at least being suspicious of him for what he forced them to watch! Today it is another audience vastly more hostile than the one in the 70s and another Bachchan vastly less fortunate in the script-writers his industry produces. Hence the bourgeois order can drive itself to hysteria with his subversion, his failures. All in the name of ‘entertainment’. Raavan will not have been ‘entertainment’. It will have been ‘dry’, ‘boring’, ‘confusing’, ‘not for the masses’.. a long laundry list. Bourgeois audiences also have this complex. They indulge in all this labeling, all these ideological tricks in the name of the other, in this case the ‘masses’ or the ‘common man’. The dominant ideological choices of this class are presented in altruistic terms as simply enabling the ‘entertainment’ of the ‘masses’. It is never for oneself that one wants ‘entertainment’, only for the unfortunate other who depends on such escapist cinema. Much as one rarely rejects the subversive, alternative film in one’s own name. One insists that it is not for the ‘others’. ‘Bachchan’ is the exception to this rule, the name of that which can be resisted without recourse to the other. When a ‘traitor’ arises from within your class you must tackle him head-on! Why cannot Abhishek also be another ‘boy from Bandra’ doing multiplex films just like all his other peers? In the decade of the 70s at least this hypocrisy had a referent. Today it is rich irony to witness the bourgeois classes most responsible for the decimation of the entertainment of this ‘other’ (masses, B or C centers, single screens in A centers etc), responsible for the extinction of a cinema which formed the true dreamscape for so many such audiences, get up and posit ‘entertainment’ in the name of the ‘majority’. First neuter the space on which an ideological counter-balance might be produced, then pretend that what the other wanted all along was only one’s own politics! There is that other connected refrain — only certain kinds of films run! Yes of course! After one has eliminated the opposition only one party wins! Even as India democratizes in many ways (a move also not favored by the same bourgeois order.. note the disdain with which certain emancipatory political movements of the hinterland are held as opposed to those fascist administrators who are celebrated in metropolitan centers) and even as there is all this talk of ‘opening up’ it is rather sadly instructive to observe how the most democratic art form there has ever existed is appropriated by these same upwardly mobile classes, enabled by the economies of the ‘new India, and converted into its despotic opposite. Cinema only for the classes! The rest of you will never afford it, even if you do you will never find the subjects to your liking! We will call this cinema ‘refined’ and ‘sophisticated’, pretend this is an advance on the riches of the past (when other than technological gadgetry, which is not the same as cinematic vision, even ‘technical’ vision, we have nothing to put up against the triumphs of the past, except those few exceptions that we tear down as soon as they are released!) and chide those ‘masses’ for not getting better educated in these matters, those very ‘masses’ that we will occasionally becomes ourselves when it is a question of battling those evil intellectuals who make and support films like Raavan! And these intellectuals are so ungrateful. We have allowed them a space in our multiplex system to make minor and more minor films and do whatever they want but they insist on these large scale films to challenge ours. They even dare to keep losing money on them. Do they not even care for those ‘nice distributors’ whose livelihoods they are ruining? This is why India needs us. We take care of everyone — our families, our distributors’ families and we also fumigate when we spot the infection of subversive cinema! We will save India yet! Let’s round up all the subversives! Where’s Abhishek? [the image chosen here serves as an ambiguous sign of everything discussed here.. it is of course also the case that a certain remake is in the works and all kinds of rumors abound.. no one knows what the final casting will look like but whatever it is one or another observation here will be confirmed]

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33 Responses to “That’s Entertainment!”

  1. Clear and bracing, this was a great (entertaining?) read. In particular, I thought two portions got to the heart of the matter:

    “Entertainment is an ‘ideological’ category through and through. There is no ‘truth’ to such a noun beyond the index it provides of ideological choices. What we like in cinema we call ‘entertainment’. The standards of what an audience finds entertaining differ so drastically from age to age that there simply could not be nominated that one set called ‘entertainment’ which would contain a list of features equally applicable in every age in terms of gauging popular taste. Most audiences today who do not have any exposure to the riches of the past would find it quite impossible to sit through many Dilip Kumar classics that once enthralled an entire generation of movie-goers. The films work very differently in terms of their pacing, narrative elements and so forth. These would be and are often deemed ‘boring’ by contemporary audiences. The reverse is also true …”

    &

    “The bourgeois framework as I have been pointing out tries to delegitimize films that it cannot authorize not by ignoring them or even criticizing them but by introducing a new vocabulary for them. It is important for this ‘order’ to perform a move whereby the subversive work is not really seen as one in the overall set of choices for ‘entertainment’ but one that exists on the other side of the latter as the ‘boring’, ‘confusing’ work and so on. Notice how commonly it is said today that a film did not ‘connect’. This too is enunciated in certain contexts far more than others if not exclusively. Whatever the dominant bourgeois hegemony in a certain period ‘likes’ as cinema it also ‘authorizes’ as ‘entertainment’. Everything else is then banished from this realm where it exists in a black hole worthy of the attention of minorities who can then be called ‘out of the mainstream’ or ‘elitist’ or worse still ‘intellectuals’ …”

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  2. IAMTHAT Says:

    Off Topic Satyam, But wat is written below is also Entertainment…

    Mystery cracked: Chicken came first

    LONDON: It’s the age-old question that has puzzled the finest minds for thousands of years — which came first: The chicken or the egg?

    Now, scientists claim to have finally discovered the answer to the conundrum — it’s the chicken which came first. A team from University of Sheffield and University of Warwick has found that a protein called ovocleidin (OC-17) is crucial in the formation of eggshells.

    It is produced in the pregnant hen’s ovaries so the correct reply to the egg riddle must be that the chicken came first, the experts say. However, the research does not come up with how the protein-producing chicken existed in the first place, the Daily Express reported on Wednesday.

    The team of researchers used a hi-tech computer, called HECToR, to look at the molecular structure of a shell. They discovered that OC-17 acts as a catalyst, kickstarting the conversion of calcium carbonate in the chicken’s body into calcite crystals.

    It is these that make up the hard shell that houses the yolk and its protective fluids while the chick develops.
    Lead scientist Colin Freeman of Sheffield University said: “It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first.”

    The scientists now hope the breakthrough could be used in industry to help develop new materials.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/uk/Mystery-cracked-Chicken-came-first/articleshow/6169249.cms

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  3. This is a strong and well structured essay combining much of what you’ve (especially) recently touched upon elsewhere.

    And KHNH in the theater twice? Ouch.

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  4. I am keeping this piece pending at the moment. My thoughts on similar topic (look like) at NG :

    “No, cinema Is not meant for education. Its primary motive is to entertain audience. message out of entertainment is Bonus. Even entertainment out of Message is also acceptable. But Message excluding entertainment is not cinema at all. If I record 40 minutes philosophy lecture of any reputed professor and screen it at multiplex, who the hell will come to tolerate the lecture @Rs. 150-200 cost ticket ? I am sure no one will come to grab the education even if you screen it for free and publicize it full mood at all media available. So education is not cinema at all. Exclude entertainment from cinema and you are almost find yourself in hell of 2.5 hours. But biggest question is what is entertainment ? Making you laugh is just one attribute of entertainment. The process which keeps human being in flow with the emotional journey for which it was meant for is actually an entertainment. Even court drama entertains you and keep you gluing to screen for entire show (Like Ek Ruka Hua Faisala) and even a comedy movie can take you to journey of hell if it fails to invoke the similar emotions in you for which it was intended (Like Do knot Disturb). So basically cinema can be an education withstanding entertainment but cinema can’t be termed as cinema if exclude entertainment.”

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    • thanks Yakuza..

      on another note what are your thoughts on IHLS? There seems to be some reason to believe that the numbers reported by Taran/BOI/BoC (identical these days, probably the producer number) were wildly overstated in week 1. IBOS seem to claim as much and also quite a distributor who’s saying the same on twitter. Because of week 1 the week 2 number makes it look like flop trending.

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      • Satyam, Hard to tell about box-office these days as i am on leave for this entire month as well. Last time i checked Rentrack server was 19th june and though i didn’t analyze collections of Raavan for all india, but shallow analysis was making me believe that 5.75 crore reported by BOI was definitely under reporting figure. That’s another thing that movie was destined to flop, but opening figure was not that bad.

        About collaboration of Taran/BOI and Boc, some-one at my blog commented that Glamsham/Planetbollywood/Bollytrade are all reporting similar figures without knowing the fact that all sites share common reporter. if you notice Taran/Boc/BOI reporting almost similar figures since the day Taran stopped publishing weekly numbers. You can toss the mystery behind it.

        BTW i will be active for BO reports from next month.

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  5. Honestly, I am not even sure if I am worthy of commenting on this post.
    One of the most persuasive pieces ever written about Bollywood anywhere.
    I wish it would get published somewhere, where it would find wider readership.

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  6. Excellent article
    Sorry to go against the general mood , but is raavan a movie like À bout de souffle which the general secessionist & mediocre middle class of India wont be able to understand. This is a very good article but giving example of raavan is ironical to absurdest degrees , a sad state of affair for bollywood. Firstly you make a mediocre movie like raavan ( you have got excellent music , excellent photography still you somehow manage to make a mediocre movie ) , then our bourgeioa class fails to acknowledge it ( even if it will acknowledge stuff like rajneeti day in and day out ) , then our critics come to say that this mediocre movie is a masterpiece and middle class doesnt have the brains to understand this . Sad state of affairs imo . Country which has 1/6 of humanity and best she has to offer ( in recent times ) is lagaan . Looking forward to peepli live . btw i liked LSD a lot , if anyone of u can tell where was the idea ie 3rd person camera ( or whatever it is called ) was taken.

    Posting for first time , hope none gets offended .

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    • thanks for your comment.. the thing is this — even if it were something like Breathless it would be savaged.. I am not suggesting one cannot dislike Raavan.. just that with this kind of film it is sometimes ‘undecidable’ how good or bad it is.. it takes a while for such a film to find its audience.. this is incidentally true even in the West where many films since considered among the greatest were treated unkindly by their initial critics and of course didn’t find an audience.. today they’re part of history..

      Incidentally I would never say a middle class never has the brains to understand a film.. but they might not be open enough to the different or willing to accept that a film could be good without entirely satisfying their sense of cinema.. Ultimately this is what any authentic work and its reception should be about.. one shouldn’t be for or against a film in an uninteresting sense… there ought not to be dogma either way.. so for example why are you so certain Raavan is mediocre? you should be willing to allow that other possibility.. I am certainly always amused when people pick examples from the past.. they are unaware of history in many instances…

      No one’s offended by the way… and hope to see more of you.. we welcome all kinds of commentary on any and every film.. what I often try to battle in militant fashion is a certain attitude more than anything else..

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      • satyam , do you think raavan will grow in popularity with time? consider year 2010 , will raavan even come in top 200 movies across the globe in this year ? There is no certain mathematical formula to prove how good a movie is . How many movies can a normal working man ( mon -fri ) watch in an year , I watch may be 200 at the rate of 4 a weak . That includes about 15 new releases , major works from hollywood , nominated movies in cannes,venice,sunbeam et al , old classics from from various languages and certain movies just on the name of directors and actors and keep on exploring the vast treasure of movies with a little torch on my yellow helmet and thus according to my humble opinion Im saying that when you look at raavan from a birds eye view you will certainly find it to be mediocre although in any case its not maniratnam ki aag .

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        • It’s hard to predict how these things shape up over time.. usually the way it works with this sort of film is that a band of enthusiasts start arguing for it.. that’s already happened here on this blog and frankly I’ve come across very many people who really liked the film as opposed to D6 where no one had a very intense negative reaction to it like Raavan but no one loved it either.. so there is already a strong pocket of support for Raavan but of course it’s a small minority.. on the other hand there are also those viewers who just didn’t watch the film having gotten scared with the hysteria and so forth.. many of these viewers when they eventually encounter the film on cable or wherever will not mind or at least consider the reactions disproportionate.. this is how a new coalition slowly emerges.. it is not that an entire majority suddenly starts watching it.. the more important step is that opinion changes on such a film.. for example Iruvar has enormous prestige now and often called the greatest Rathnam film… when it released the reaction was very different… it wasn’t hysterical like Raavan but I think such was produced on Raavan in any case and specially with respect to the lead performance.. I know many more people who disliked the film than the performance.. but it is precisely the Raavan kind of film that is re-appraised over time.. something that doesn’t happen with ‘disposable’ cinema. In some ways the intense negativity (even if the hysteria is considered manufactured as it is by me it is still ‘symptomatic’ of something.. why was it necessary to get so hysterical over this one?) suggests that the film did register quite strongly but it wasn’t acceptable.. this very same can become an ‘enabling’ factor when things cool down and there is more sobriety over the film.. again there was a small but significant critical minority that had enormous praise for the film.. in terms of having a ‘bird’s eye’ view I don’t believe that is possible.. one can never be that distanced from a work one is judging.. but to the extent I and some others here have tried to make an argument for why we responded to the film a certain way check out (if you haven’t so far) the pieces in the sidebar..

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  7. sunil: satyam again wrote a long post about how the bourgeouse rejected raaavn.he doesnt seem to understand. He says the audience of the 70s are more knowledgable to watch Amitabh;s filmsHis understanding of history is by internet,watching dvds,hearsay of people.Deewar has commercial elements which entertained the audience.Trishul is just commercial revenge drama.Why didnt manzil or alaap make as much as deewar or tishul?They are genuine art films.Not films which have commercial elements.No genuine art film is a superhit with any big star since 1970s.No one should balme the audience.Raavan flopped because it doesnt have commercila elements.Why was swades a failure?because it is genuine social message film.So is mangal pandey.The failure of swades,mp is proof that no genuine quality film has succeded.Satyam is going on with his propaganda.

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    • too tired to argue with you on everything you’ve said here Sunil.. most of this strikes me as not worthy of a response.

      Manzil did reasonably well by the way..

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    • by the way you could have said all that over here.. I might or might not have responded.. I just insist that people not be abusive or indulge in obscenities.. or say the same thing over and over again in one line responses that then clutter the forum.. for this kind of response you have nothing to worry about..

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  8. Any Shutter Island posts or comments?

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  9. I was on sb and thought of putting it on there.Ofcourse the thoughts came later.
    The question why didnt manzil,alaap didnt do asmuch as deewar,trushul? 😀

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  10. Blaming the audience is wrong in the for Raavan.Abhishek should not be blamed for this debacle.The film is very bad.
    Something that Amitabh will agree.

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  11. Satyam , i think much of lobbying by people like you for raaavan is due to the fact the whole pseudo-intellegensia of bollywood came heavily against the movie and started a propaganda work against it due to reasons which have been discussed in the ‘sidebar’ . To give an example just because you like pakistani fast bowlers ( who doesnt 🙂 and like to have a jab at indian supporters about level of fast bowling in india you should not say that mohd. sami is a good bowler and people will realize his qualities later although in any case sami is better than any Indian fast bowler . Similarly I think raavan is a mediocre movie but is far better than million my name is shits , I just dont think its going to be called a classic in due time .

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    • “To give an example just because you like pakistani fast bowlers”

      But I actually don’t like all of them! Only a few. I have serious questions even about Shoaib akhtar! In other words I do not support all films that attempt something serious, nor even all Rathnam films. I enjoyed Guru a lot too but I did not say similar things about it. Of course because it was a far less radical effort it wasn’t resisted in the same way. But even with Yuva I did not argue quite as passionately about a film that I continue to find quite interesting. It’s a question of perspective. Over the years the one Rathnam film in Hindi that has always intrigued me more and more is Dil Se. Raavan is very much connected to that film in certain ways. Now one might dislike both, that’s fine. But the problem in your position is the insistence that Raavan is mediocre for Rathnam but still better than most other films. That is fine, it’s your position. But other views are possible as well.

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  12. @satyam.. have just taken overview..

    khnh- i liked it.. srk ott, and long roles and stretch a bit at end… but nice film overall new version of anand.

    dil se.. ws very small felt asleep.. (i must be 10 yrs old if it was released in 1998)

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  13. alex adams Says:

    “LOL, I’ve seen KKHH in the theaters four times!”–satyam, u r also allowed your guilty pleasures but this was not expected from u…lol.
    Is this the same teeny bopper movie where kajol jumps around with a false wig and rani starts singing “jana gana man” in the middle of a superhamfest by the “king” himself.
    Having said that, this is one of the more innocent “staight from the heart” film from kjo, before he got corrupted by the lure of “bigness”!
    the scene where kajol breaks down before going away near the interval polint was the high point not only of this film but also of kjos career (till now)….

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  14. masterpraz Says:

    And seems like another stunning piece which I’ve somehow missed.

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