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75 Responses to “Images from Bombay Velvet (updated)”
What sort of first look is this? It looks as if he is peeing…
And it always amazes me that a lot of interesting Bollywood talents continue to be so colonized. These are just posters but why not do something more rooted or more defined in this sense when this is clearly an ambitious film trying to highlight the history of a city? And here the cues from Ratnam (Nayagan) have been completely missed. There are ways to be auteurist and rooted at the same time. Even RGV on his best days did bring something singular to the mix. One didn’t have the sense of an imported film festival or Hollywood template. In this sense the Rakta Charitra (his last worthwhile work) double continues to be woefully underestimated and ignored. In fairness BV might offer more but given that it’s not even set in the hinterland like GoV (a film where I certainly had some issues with Kashyap) the tracking of Hollywood codes might be that much closer.
The poster is obviously meant as a homage to Scarface, which Anurag has mentioned as one of the influences of this film. Personally I cannot wait for Bombay Velvet and I hope it gets a lot of international exposure.
Bollywood makes too many cheesy, crude, and artless films that can never be shown on an international platform. It’s actually cringeworthy when movies like Devdas get screened at festivals like Cannes because that only promotes the worst stereotypes that are associated with our films. They might get good reviews from some foreign critics but the tone of these reviews is always pejorative and condescending, like “hey it’s Bollywood, it’s meant to be stupid”.
Anurag is an exception, he is definitely inspired by Hollywood and foreign cinema but not colonized. He brings enough Desi rootedness in his films, whether it’s Gulaal, GoW or Black Friday. Colonized to me is someone like Sanjay Gupta.
I didn’t mean colonized in that easy sense (though I’d give Gupta a lot more credit on Kaante and perhaps even Musafir, but especially the former.. not anywhere else!) of cloning things (as with the usual stunt movies or rom-coms and so on). But precisely a serious director (and I like Kashyap just about everywhere but I still consider GoW to be his weakest film relative to ambition) needs to ‘rethink’ things within his own contexts. In other words there can be a rooted (as in GoW) which is simply about a global template in such matters. ‘Rootedness’ in this sense follows a certain global grammar (to employ this much abused word). Much as when major ‘third world’ cities are represented they are done so in interchangeable ways. Why? because a certain ‘grammar’ once more can make Mexico City look like Bombay. And so on. Similarly certain hinterland representations of India can look like those of Guatemala. In each case the visual codes if you will serve like empty boxes into which you can insert your own ‘rooted’ flavors. Which in the largest sense is more or less a name for globalization. As Zizek often points out globalization is precisely about valorizing the local in this somewhat insipid way and if this ‘rooted’ is then celebrated even by more ‘deracinated’ natives (‘ourselves’ in the case of GoW) it is because we recognize here that same global grammar in these films. On the other hand other ways of being rooted are not given as much attention or even dismissed as crude. It’s not just Indian filmmakers by the way. I have the same complaint with any number of films that do the festival circuit beat. So for instance you have a lot of little, lyrical films from different parts of the world that are ‘exchangeable’ in the same sense. There are authentic filmmakers here but many more that are just replicating a certain paradigm. So when it’s Kashyap the bar ought to be higher too. Of course he’s not Sanjay Gupta, of course he’s still important within contemporary Bollywood but both of those are low bars. And there are examples of the truly rooted from Tamil new wave cinema on a good day to something much more elevated like Adoor’s or Shaji Karun’s work that we don’t need to make Kashyap our only horizon. Scarface in 70s Bombay might be a very interesting effort on its own but Kashyap can do better. His own work in the past has pointed towards this. But to my mind GoW moves away from his older experiments in many ways to in essence make him a more ‘consumable’ filmmaker. Again not being too harsh on him. Just that the standard here ought to be different given the kind of cinema he’s practicing. And once more I would use similar standards for many global filmmakers as well.
Second the point that GoW films are Kashyap’s weakest. Haven’t seen Ugly yet.
He’s been far more interesting in his decidedly offbeat often quirky films (Black Friday by far his most complete film, the thoroughly compelling No Smoking), which even when not complete has some thoroughly engrossing parts (Gulaal was much more riveting than Dev D in this sense though the latter was the more even film, certainly interesting but just that it kinda fizzles out after a while). But on this front, I must add I didn’t get That Girl in Yellow Boots at all.
Haven’t seen Ugly myself. On GoW I still liked the first part a fair bit. Didn’t like the second one at all and in many ways this is closer to Kashyap’s Tarantino-esque instincts. Also think he abandoned narrative for ‘gesture’ much too quickly. perhaps we’ll get a kind of balance with BV (though reports of reshoots and so on don’t sound promising).
Same here, did like the first part, but even there found the initial segment with Shahid Khan the most interesting, and Manoj Bajpai’s (who’s the central figure in the film) the least. Found the second part a bit boring (the long-drawn shootout sequence and such) to be honest.
agree completely on Shahid Khan. To be honest I liked Bajpai too here but Shahid Khan is really the charismatic center of the film or might have been had the film revolved around him. But notice how Kashyap could have made such a film, a much grittier work in fact. But he fell into this ‘generations’ trap or the two part biopic and so forth, all classic Hollywood canonical models. And lest people think I’m being harsh on Kashyap I didn’t like Mesrine either. It was fine but nothing special. In fact the only two part film I’ve really liked in recent times is Che. Because Soderbergh just takes this inheritance if you will and goes in a completely different direction. But also he’s not afraid to make his kind of film. You can take the structure of certain canonical gangster films, biopics or otherwise and do something else with them.
“In each case the visual codes if you will serve like empty boxes into which you can insert your own ‘rooted’ flavors. Which in the largest sense is more or less a name for globalization. As Zizek often points out globalization is precisely about valorizing the local in this somewhat insipid way and if this ‘rooted’ is then celebrated even by more ‘deracinated’ natives (‘ourselves’ in the case of GoW) it is because we recognize here that same global grammar in these films. On the other hand other ways of being rooted are not given as much attention or even dismissed as crude”
I am awestruck by these wonderful sentences more than the message it is trying to convey. I am grateful to our colonial masters for giving us this language so that I am able to enjoy reading this dramatic prose occasionally.
“I am grateful to our colonial masters for giving us this language”
Some will start rioting here after reading sentences like these! Ha! of course they’ll protest in English but that’s another matter. The easiest way to be chauvinistic about Hindi is to do so in English. Much as it’s also easy to be a hyper-nationalist outside India! In each case the point isn’t a cheap one. But if one takes either kind of chauvinism to a certain extreme such questions automatically arise. I won’t even get into the more nonsensical premises of such a position. yes let’s have a democracy that owes nothing to the West, let’s have constitutional and legal structures that borrow nothing from the West, let’s not borrow any technology from the same either, let’s redesign all our cities to remove traces of ‘foreign’ influence, let’s change all our ‘native’ languages to account for the same. etc etc etc. It might be easier to just take a direct flight to the Stone Age! Oops.. that milieu might be too sophisticated for some of these time travelers..!
***yes let’s have a democracy that owes nothing to the West, let’s have constitutional and legal structures that borrow nothing from the West, let’s not borrow any technology from the same either, let’s redesign all our cities to remove traces of ‘foreign’ influence, let’s change all our ‘native’ languages to account for the same. etc etc etc. It might be easier to just take a direct flight to the Stone Age!****
Satyam beat me to it, but Gupta’s not a serious example. He’s not interested in being noticed on an international platform, not least for legal reasons! But really, if he were interested in this he’d definitely be trying to tour the festivals with his shoddy remakes, and critics/audiences would take him seriously. He’s not, and they don’t. I think the whole “colonization” point applies more to filmmakers who are straddling both sides of the cultural divide and don’t necessarily negotiate this balance all that well. A whole generation of Yashraj and Dharma films are probably the best example of this.
On Kashyap, it’s a bit different. I think he is a pretty overrated filmmaker relative to his aspirations. Put differently, its exactly because he’s interested in getting to the level of those he admires and references that his films seem pretty average in comparison, far from the masterpieces that they’re often compared to.
LOL on the legal reasons comment. Even Gupta should get a chuckle out of that.
I personally found GoW as authentic a representation of the place and time it’s set in, as one is likely to find in commercial Bollywood cinema. Whether it was the scenes in the coal mines or the intricately detailed workings of the Qureshis, Kashyap achieved a degree of verisimilitude that I have rarely seen in cinema.
And I don’t find him overrated at all – even his misfires are interesting, and Black Friday and GoW remain two of the best films I have ever seen.
Just look at the reviews GoW has received from western critics upon it’s re-release, only quoting them because these are serious reviews unlike those from Indian media and to underscore the point that I am not the only one excited by his talent.
Black Friday is easily his best film, and deserves comparison to the films it tips its hat to, like Traffic and The Battle of Algiers. Also quite liked Dev D and Gulal, even though the latter kind of became less interesting as it rattled along. Was aware of the glowing reviews on GoW from the West, and I didn’t change my mind about it then. I think it’s actually his least unique effort, and the only one of his films that, irrespective of their overallmerits, didn’t really stick with me after having seen it. And I can’t even say that about an inferior work like No Smoking.
Agree with your choices. Gulaal especially for all its unevenness (I give him some leeway here because the film had been in the making for some time) is the counter-example on ‘rootedness’ to GoW. At least as I see it. And Girl with Yellow Boots, perfectly fine on its own, is also the perfect example of the festival malaise. And you’ve hit the nail on the head. There’s a certain kind of filmmaker, commercial or more serious, who is simply interested in rising above the local competition and pats himself on the back the moment he does so. But this is different from thinking differently in a given space. And to make it clear to everyone here I am not suggesting that every film ought to be revolutionary in this sense. Just that the level of lionization that Kashyap sometimes gets seems rather uncritical. Your Black Friday example and judgment is appropriate. Has he ever made a better film (overall) than this one? I don’t think so. He’s made interesting ones for the most part, he’s been experimental, he’s been ambitious but BF still seems to be his mostly fully realized work. Now I do concede that BV because it has much more commercial aims perhaps should be treated more leniently.
Here a related point can be made on Agneepath. For all the film’s strengths (and its considerable weaknesses) the real reason for its strong reception in the present is because it can be read as some sort of Scarface equivalent. Once again subscribing to that template supersedes everything else. People routinely say about Trishul that it’s overrated. As an aesthetic matter I’m not going to argue that it’s comparable to Agneepath but it’s a much more profound film in every other sense. And Deewar has become Sholay-like in many ways, which is to say a film impossible to argue against, otherwise it’s quite clear judging from many of the relevant responses that Agneepath just ‘turns on’ (!) many (especially within the male audience) the way Deewar doesn’t.
Finally it would be interesting to track the cultural history of Scarface in India but perhaps in the ‘third world’ in general. In many of these cases this has proven to be the much more resonant film and role compared to say the best of Scorsese and DeNiro. Not saying this is an indefensible choice. Just making an observation. Interestingly both strands are heirs to the original Scarface. One more loosely than the other.
I know but the point is that here the iconic Scorsese films with DeNiro are either ahead or at least not behind. Certainly as film these are always higher on various critics’ lists. And again I’m not saying that it’s a good or bad thing one way or the other. Just that sometimes a film (or any other work) might become popular for reasons that are not proportional to its overall achievement and in another case there might be greater symmetry in this sense. Many Bachchan films from the 80s are more popular than many of his much stronger scripts from the 70s. Sometimes the larger gesture of a film or its various formulations supersede for the audience these other questions relating to accomplishment. Agneepath again. At one level it’s an interesting rewrite of Deewar. At another level it’s a (glorious) disaster. Because its operatic strengths and certainly Bachchan’s titanic presence overwhelm everything else. The film never really comes into its own. Again it’s a worthwhile work so I am sometimes unsure whether it is more one or the other or both simultaneously. Naam is a much better, more even Deewar version but it’s also far less interesting. And this is a good moment to state again that I am not always looking for the even, fully-achieved work. There are very many failures (in every sense) that are better than very many successes. The Deer Hunter is a film I have a great weakness for but the director’s far more important work seems to me to be the one he made after this and which bombed at the time — Heaven’s Gate. Now it’s being resurrected all the time. One can still see it has problems but it’s much more interesting.
With Kashyap I’d say that he’d be a far greater filmmaker if he’d learn to relax a bit. the problem is he feels the burden of being auteurist all the time. Which is great as an ambition but he’s also nervously tracking ‘world cinema’ all the time. The true auteur also has the completely confidence to be ‘alone’. In other words you can borrow as much as you want but you should never be afraid of a making a film that no one will understand much less like. At least if you’re a Kashyap kind of filmmaker. For a commercial filmmaker the stakes are of course very different.
I would take Pandey over dhulia, kashyap, banerjee, bharadwaj, raghavan etc for the sheer masala entertainment and consistency of movies. Rest of them are good but not consistent. Hirani is consistent but his genre of movies (off late) are preachy-SMJish and not terribly ‘entertaining’ (I don’t want to use the word boring for the backlash).
“The true auteur also has the completely confidence to be ‘alone’.”-
Couldn’t have put it better.
“In other words you can borrow as much as you want but you should never be afraid of a making a film that no one will understand much less like.”-
Agreed, but Kashyap did make precisely that kind of film in No Smoking (lot many folks said that it was often incomprehensible at points). Of course it should be noted that this was pre-GoW Kashyap. That being said, I think it was courageous of him to follow GoW with a very small, minimalistic film like Ugly which was almost like an indie/festival project. I think with both Ugly and Bombay Velvet coming one after another, it’s quite clear that Kashyap wants to keep mixing up the smaller festival projects with the more mainstream (yet edgier) films. Incidentally at this moment his production house is far and way the most important one in Indian cinema.
Re.-Just look at the reviews GoW has received from western critics upon it’s re-release, only quoting them because these are serious reviews unlike those from Indian media and to underscore the point that I am not the only one excited by his talent.
Talk about being Colonized !!! Oh my the Irony !! LOL
The kind of director he is, I don’t think he should have invested 100crore in his movie; robs it of creative freedom and apparently it has created a lot of stress by having to do “post-production” work for a year which essentially is re-shooting the whole movie 😦
He should have taken 100 crore and made 4 awesome movies that can/could tank at BO but gives him creative freedom.
I mean if its as good as Ugly in terms of it being engaging. Thats what will make the film to work. Ranbir made Rockstar to open but that was powered by ARR music as well. Lets see how this turns out, this is the same weekend that Ranbir opened the Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani.
Just back from Birdman. As perfect as Amores Peros. As exhilarating as a Kiran Nagarakar or Haruki Murakami novel.And what a killer soundtrack! ( Cant think of anything other than Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur in in Indian films in terms of giving so much on all fronts – cinematic, dramatic, linguistic, musical, histrionic.)
I was working myself up to a feverish pitch to write an appropriate review of ‘ Birdman’. Then I found this. Saved me the effort. ( This is also the kind of feeling I had when I watched GoW 1 and Gow 2 back to back in a theatre.)
“I’m jazzed by every tasty, daring, devastating, howlingly funny, how’d-they-do-that minute in Birdman. Like all movies that soar above the toxic clouds of Hollywood formula and defy death at the box office, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s cinematic whirlwind will bring out the haters. They can all go piss off. Birdman is a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption. Buy a ticket and brace yourself.
The short take on Birdman is that it’s a showbiz satire. Yeah, like Pulp Fiction is just a crime story. We’re talking reinvention here…”
“The ridiculous scenes are endless. Samples: Walken, surrounded by gunmen and trapped in a burning cabin, scribbles a farewell note in which he observes that he is trapped in the burning cabin, and then he signs his full name so that there will be no doubt who the note was from. Kristofferson, discovering Huppert being gang-raped by several men, leaps in with six-guns in both hands and shoots all the men, including those aboard Huppert, without injuring her. In a big battle scene, men make armored wagons out of logs and push them forward into the line of fire, even though anyone could ride around behind and shoot them. There is more. There is much more. It all adds up to a great deal less. This movie is $36 million thrown to the winds. It is the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen, and remember, I’ve seen Paint Your Wagon.”
”Heaven’s Gate,” which opens today at the Cinema One, fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Cimino sold his soul to the Devil to obtain the success of ”The Deer Hunter,” and the Devil has just come around to collect.
The grandeur of vision of the Vietnam film has turned pretentious. The feeling for character has vanished and Mr. Cimino’s approach to his subject is so predictable that watching the film is like a forced, four-hour walking tour of one’s own living room.
Utkal, it’s well-known that initially on its release the Cimino film was reviled by both audiences and (most) critics, but atleast in it’s longer cut, it’s often hailed as a masterpiece.
Here is Rosenbaum on the film; notice how he recognises the film’s many strengths even while accepting some of the issues with the film-
“Michael Cimino’s 1980 epic, about immigrant settlers clashing with native capitalists in 19th-century Wyoming, suffered a disastrous opening and was subsequently cut by 70 minutes; it became a legendary flop in the U.S., though the original 219-minute cut was widely applauded as a masterpiece in Europe. The longer version is impressive as long as the characters and settings remain in long shot; only when the camera gets closer do the problems start. The story is both slow moving and hard to follow, but the locations and period details offer plenty to ponder. Cimino’s handling of class issues is ambitious and unusually blunt, though it’s debatable whether this adds up to any sort of Marxist statement, except perhaps as a belated response to the (Oscar-winning) racism and xenophobia of his previous feature, The Deer Hunter. There’s no question that the same homoerotic—and arguably sexist—vision runs through both movies.”
Brought back to its full three-and-a-half-hour-plus running time, it is colossally ambitious and mysteriously moving, with an unhurried, unforced pace, beautifully photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond. The subject is the Johnson county war in 1890s Wyoming: small homesteaders found themselves harassed into abandoning their plots of land to the big ranchers. Cimino’s movie sees this as nothing other than an American agribusiness pogrom: these small farmers are migrant incomers from eastern and central Europe attacked by cattle barons and their Wasp Washington associates who have drawn up a “death list” of victims. Kris Kristofferson plays Jim Averell, a well-born lawyer, idealist and Harvard man who takes the farmsteaders’ side; Christopher Walken is Nathan Champion, the ranchers’ cynical hired gun. Both men are in love with Ella (Isabelle Huppert), the bordello keeper who is on the target list. As with Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate is partly about the terrible pathos in contrasting war with remembered happiness on the homefront. As a graduating Harvard man, young Averill takes part in a high-jinks game with a maypole-type ring of dancers, which eerily echoes the grim encirclement of warriors in the Johnson county war’s last stand. It is a demanding film, without a doubt – but a passionate one.
Here is Dana Stevens’ very insightful piece in the Slate highlighting both the film’s remarkable triumphs while keeping the narrative issues into account-
“Well, almost that movie. Treating Heaven’s Gate more like a work in progress than a historic artifact, Cimino has substantially changed the original look of the film, using a digital color process to scrub the original of its yellowish-brown sepia tones. Frame for frame, the restored Heaven’s Gate rivals any motion picture ever made for sheer pictorial beauty. Or rather, cinematic beauty: Though virtually every frame could stand alone as a painting, Cimino’s camera is in perpetual motion, twirling around dancers and (in the film’s most magical scene) roller skaters, craning up and over the edges of buildings, barreling through battlegrounds. (It was in part the director’s love of complex moving shots, along with his obsessive perfectionism about planning and setting them up with the great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, that led to the film’s gargantuan delays and cost overruns.)
On a purely sensory level, Heaven’s Gate is overpowering. Everything it gives you, it gives you in excess, beginning with the pageantry of the nearly 20-minute prologue, which imagines the lavish graduation ceremonies of the Harvard Class of 1870 (though the scenes were filmed on the even posher grounds of Oxford University). This extended sequence accomplishes virtually nothing to further the movie’s story—all we really learn is that two of the young graduates, James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) and Billy Irvine (John Hurt), are friends who like to get drunk and dance with pretty girls. But the unhurried, magisterial opening scenes show us everything we need to know about the world of complacent privilege Billy and Averill are set to inherit. The outdoor dance scene that ends this chapter, with waltzing couples circling around a grassy lawn to the music of Strauss as the camera loops and swirls around them, is a masterpiece of camerawork and choreography, a Renoir painting come to exuberant life. It’s one of the scenes that was cut from the second, shortened version of the film—and reason enough in itself to see the new one.”
…”Above all, watching Heaven’s Gate in what may be presumed to be its final form (unless the inveterate tinkerer Cimino has more tricks up his sleeve), I was struck by how inseparable the film’s beauty now seems from what we know of its disaster. Swooning over a wide shot of an old-time train steaming through a Wyoming valley, you can’t help but remember the story of how Cimino insisted on having an authentic steam engine shipped across the country on a flatbed truck. Delighting in Huppert’s quicksilver performance—the moment when, naked but for a quilt around her waist, she lets out a shout of pure animal joy—you also immediately understand why the studio executives thought she was so wrong for the part, and why audiences of the time were confused by this wispy, heavily accented French actress in the role of a steely frontier whorehouse-runner. And even as you marvel at the film’s breadth of vision and exquisite attention to historical detail, a part of you identifies with the studio heads slapping their foreheads at Cimino’s perfectionism and grandiosity—this is not the work of an artist who knows what it is to kill his darlings. Seen through the scrim of three decades, the movie’s excess of visual and sensory pleasure can’t help but recall the excesses of its production. And our knowledge that no movie like Heaven’s Gate will ever be made again—in part because of shifts in the industry wrought by Cimino’s own folly, in part simply because of changes in technology and taste—adds an extra pang of melancholy to the film’s final image: a man standing on the deck of a boat that’s gradually receding out of sight.”
Let’s see what these two pieces say. Dana Stevens in Slate says ‘On a purely sensory level, Heaven’s Gate is overpowering. Everything it gives you, it gives you in excess,..’ ‘And even as you marvel at the film’s breadth of vision and exquisite attention to historical detail, a part of you identifies with the studio heads slapping their foreheads at Cimino’s perfectionism and grandiosity—this is not the work of an artist who knows what it is to kill his darlings.’
The Chicagoreader says, ‘The longer version is impressive as long as the characters and settings remain in long shot; only when the camera gets closer do the problems start. The story is both slow moving and hard to follow, but the locations and period details offer plenty to ponder.’
As one of the comments to Bradshaw’s piece says, ‘As for the film looking good, well it damn well should do with all the money spent on it.’
In sum, whatever was perceived as weaknesses of the film still remain its weaknesses even in today’s readings. With a director like Cimino and all that money the film obviously will have some thing good. But even if it was released today it would still be a failure. Maybe not to the extent it was in its original release…but a failure nevertheless. It would still be viewed as a flawed film at many fundamental levels. I feel that is the same case with films like Mera Naam Joker or Kagaz Ke Phool. The positives were perceived as positives then and the negatives come to us as negatives even today. Not having to bear the burden of wider acceptance and commercial success today, the positives can certainly be highlighted more by certain critics, there can be more generous appreciation of certain aspects of the film today than when released, and some critics may embrace it wholeheartedly ( as I am surea few did, even during its first release.) but I don’t think anything about the basic perception about film has changed.
“Had “Heaven’s Gate” opened in the Internet age, they wouldn’t have gotten away with it: younger, more curious critics would have had their say on-line—and their words and views would have echoed out quickly. It might not have sufficed to make the movie a commercial success, but it would have turned it into a succès d’estime, not after thirty-two years but from the start. This would have been good for the film, good for Cimino, good for United Artists—and good for criticism, which they would, in the process, have honored.”
Brody is making precisely the point that ought to be obvious to anyone and certainly one that some of us have made here. His sense of the critical reception being better ‘had’ some of the technologies of today been around says as much. Of course it’s a ahistorical point because had these technologies been around then the world would also have been different then. It’s not as if everything else would have been the same. the world we occupy informs everything we do and think. But one must go further…
It is a necessary condition of all artistic evaluation (by critics or audiences) that many works will as a matter of fact fall through the cracks. Those that will be negatively evaluated and/or completely rejected (critically, commercially, or both). The reverse also holds. Many works will be valued in ways that will seem mysterious and certainly unacceptable to future ages. All of this is a necessary condition. one can find films (or other works of art) in every age that were rejected by audiences or critics, others that were loved by the same, only to greet very different fates over time. This is the ‘nature’ of the enterprise if you will. I’ll say it once again — it is a necessary condition. Why?
Because any work always already operates within a canonical framework. It is not that we somehow access the artwork (or entertainment work) in a vacuum. Here I’ll quote Zizek with respect to the Parthenon. To be able to appreciate its ruins one must already know a great deal about its history, its contexts and so forth. Otherwise it’s meaningless. Even for the most impressive structures (say the Pyramids) one must know that these are ancient, what world they were constructed in and so on. One is impressed that so much was possible 5000 years or whatever. The same structures today with the aid of modern technology would mean something altogether different. We never access anything in life (artwork or otherwise) without already being placed in the contexts of a world we are already familiar with. Wherever a work is evaluated it is done so keeping in mind a critical framework or a received body of opinion about what constitutes the worthwhile work. For the ancient Greeks Shakespeare would have made no sense. Because he mixed genres in ways that would have been completely unacceptable to them but also his characters would also have seemed unrecognizable to them. Why? Because their conception of the human and therefore what constituted character and therefore how it could be represented was very different. The same goes for all their canonical judgments on other art forms and so forth. Then the world changes, other definitions of these same things emerge. But the Greek achievements are retained even if other than scholars or deeply informed readers no one accessing those works today (say Homer) can really read them the way one can read say Dickens. Because accessing those Greek contexts is much harder than accessing the British contexts of the latter. There is no work anywhere that appears in a vacuum. The celebrated ones then are those that conform to those canons. Then there are radical works celebrated as such because they adopt a certain distance with respect to the canon but in ways where they are still recognizably connected to the canon (say Godard in Breathless). Then there are those even more experimental ‘undecidable’ works that mystify their original audiences or critics and that might eventually enjoy afterlives. As long as there is a canon of opinion (and there is always one) these problems remain. And the artwork because it is precisely never about being wedded to an age always runs this risk. This happens even with the very same author by the same at different points in his or her life. Whether it’s late Henry James or late Ratnam it takes time for the later works to either be recognized as important (or more) in the same way as the earlier stuff or at all.
When we glibly talk about films exploring human emotions or touching us or having great narratives or doing so many things right or whatever in each case we might think we’re responding impressionistically to these works but we are always conditioned in certain ways. It’s not just the work that is part of a history, the viewer is too. We also grow up in a world where we expect stories to be told in certain ways, we accept certain histories, so on and so forth. Every age therefore celebrates much and rejects much that later ages find to be embarrassing judgments. It cannot be otherwise.
But one can live in a state less imprisoning. This is why to my mind the ‘interestingly’ (vaguely defined) is always a better way of approaching a work than categories of completion and so on. A work can be better realized relative to a director’s ends or ambitions but that’s not the same as it being a completely and fully accomplished work in some naive, objective sense. This entire notion is a bit dispiriting or even frightening for many who are invested in the objectivity of works or the idea that the strength of a work must come through irrespective of contexts. But that’s a dream. Even when we watch Japanese films or whatever and where we’re not otherwise aware of many contexts there is still a larger structure of reception that prepares us for the work. How do we hear about it? Who tells us it’s a worthwhile film? What does the economy of film festivals and so on mean? Etc etc. A whole host of questions might be raised. But even when we know ‘nothing’ we actually know ‘something’. More than we might think. Leaving aside the fact that when we access these foreign works they’re not always completely foreign. They might reveal certain Western influences and so on.
And so back to Heaven’s Gate. Within a certain kind of film reception the Deer Hunter is a perfect or at least a successful work but Heaven’s Gate is problematic. Within a different kind of reception the opposite is true. Even if enough vestiges of canonical thinking remain for one to keep judging the Deer Hunter as ‘better’ one still finds it easy to remain more interested in Heaven’s Gate and think about it more and so forth. But this is precisely how canons change. At some point people might even drop the idea that Deer Hunter is better in any sense.
Ah, Satyam this was a pleasure to read. A very concise (!) and lucid explanation of how we ALL approach art whether we’re aware of it or not. Indeed, everything you’ve said is why I treasure the true “critic”. They remind me of the contextual framework that I’ve lost consciousness of but that I’m nevertheless using to access and assess a work of art.
Satyam” ” It is a necessary condition of all artistic evaluation (by critics or audiences) that many works will as a matter of fact fall through the cracks. …..But this is precisely how canons change. At some point people might even drop the idea that Deer Hunter is better in any sense.’ Agree with you hundred percent. And the argument is very lucidly and sincerely made. Though I might differ with you on assessment of any particular work, say Ratnam’d Ravan, based on these criteria, I have no arguments whatsoever with these criteria that you have so well articulated.
piter Ascending, the latest film from Andy and Lana Wachowski, is a roaringly naff exercise in operatic space fantasy – yet its naffness has a kind of heroic folie de grandeur, as if every room in the Louvre had been re-hung with paintings of dogs playing snooker and unicorns grazing by moonlight.
Satyam: Just one caveat though. Just as the critical assessment of a film 20 years back is not written on stone and is not sacrosanct, so is the reassessment cropping up today. There is no reason to accept that as the last word. It can go through a revision again. So you have to go with your gut reaction right now , what you feel when you see the film, no doubt taking into consideration the various possible way of looking at the film as laid out by various commentators. Vertigo was considered nothing special on release and now it is considered he best film ever by Sight and Sound ‘s panel of critics, You don’t have to accept either as the gospel truth and have to go with your own feeling about the feeling, which in my case, is somewhere in between, closer to the original perception than Sight and Sound’s .
Yes every opinion can be revised but this is precisely why it cannot be about a ‘gut reaction’. Because there’s no such thing as a permanent opinion. Before the Romantics Shakespeare wasn’t as revered as he is now or did not become the kind of absolute god that he has been since. Even if it’s a figure that we’ve been celebrating for 2000 years it’s not clear that we’ll keep doing so for another 2000. But this doesn’t mean it can be a game of ‘anything goes’ where the critics or audiences of different ages say different things and it’s all the same. Because here the question of ‘what’ is being said to back up an opinion comes into play. I don’t agree with everything Rangan says, often I disagree with him quite profoundly but when one reads him one can follow a ‘thinking’. Even if one rejects the conclusions one can find that thinking valuable and be guided by it in other contexts. In fact I’d go so far as to say that the ultimate conclusions in these matters don’t matter at all. The only thing that survives is the thought process one brings to the table. And when it’s about criticism or other such discourses it’s again about ‘what’ one has thought and ‘how’ one has thought about it. And so whether someone likes Raavan or not is less important, what one says about it either way should be argued with. I’d lastly say and at a purely personal level I am always thrilled to revise my own opinions about films and/or discover something new in them or find them less interesting but in any case revise my views. In the same sense I am just not very interested in lists anymore (though I used to be and quite a bit) except in a very provisional sense. Whether it’s Sholay or Raavan, a thinking about these things ought not to be completely defined by the reception of either work. Finally thinking in/about these matters ought to be kept separate from easy questions of ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ a film or whatever. Of course one likes or dislikes something but when one is engaging in that sort of thinking these questions fall by the wayside. Hence I could rate ‘I’ in terms of how much I liked it or not on a scale of 1-10. But then I could also write that sort of piece. It’s not that such a piece can be written only if one loves a film. Similarly I might think highly of certain films and yet dislike them completely. Again there’s an illusion that people often subscribe to — one will never like everything that might otherwise be worthwhile. If someone doesn’t like Sholay that’s fine (though such people should be treated with kindness!).
Like the ‘feel’ of these posters and the era being created..
The look of anu and her ‘dresses’ and ‘makeup’ is inconsistent
And not sure if this represents the trends of that era…
But who cares about that beyond a point (as long as there r ten smooches to keep the utkal uncles happy!)
Underwhelming trailer…doesn’t look sharp like Kashyap movies…I am afraid commercial movies might not be Kashyap’s cup of tea..lets see though…he should have tried something like Scarface…Ranbir’s hair and barfi like character ain’t interesting…Anushka and Karan looks good though.