Does pretentiousness define a cinephile? Think again; in an ideal world, cinema should be for everyone

Ragini Daliya

Mar 14, 2020 17:28:07 IST

I first discovered Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha from my roommate, who found out about the filmmaker through a boy she met on an online dating site. The boy in question was a filmmaker himself, raised in South Bombay, hanging out with the who’s who of Bollywood. On their first date, they spoke about films, particularly Baumbach and Greta Gerwig-starrer Frances Ha. She fell in love with the film, Frances’ clumsy, borderline self-deprecating attitude, Baumbach and also the boy. On her insistence, I watched the film, re-watched it during a tough break-up, and then just could not stop marveling at how graciously true it stood every time. However, a few conversations later, the boy disappeared from our lives. My friend deeply misses his film recommendations.

These easy-to-talk-to cine lovers are a rarity in an otherwise ‘Martin-Scorsese-was-right-about-Marvel-films’ world. For true-blue film snobs are easy to identify. Even while enjoying a Blue Tokai coffee or waiting in line outside film festivals, their eyes and noses are always upturned, constantly on a lookout for mention of the word 'film,' so they can interject themselves in the so-not-called for conversations and share their unsolicited thoughts. Their Twitter is filled with poetic tweets around the 'best' Jim Jarmusch/Quentin Tarantino/Christopher Nolan films, contemplating extensional thoughts on the protagonist’s role, the right runtime, and/or the ‘crispness’ of the script.

 Does pretentiousness define a cinephile? Think again; in an ideal world, cinema should be for everyone

Try interacting with an admin of an Instagram account exclusively dedicated to cinema. They often post aesthetic shots, cropped out quotes from films that are carefully selected based on how few people know about them (but not too few), and close-up sequences blinded with bright hues and dark tones. Ask them to help you decode the title of a movie, they will promptly shush you away, and indulge in yet another monologue on the significance of black-and-white cinematography in contemporary cinema. And all you asked for was the name of that one film.

When I spoke about writing this piece to a friend, he was quick to sneak in a detail about his film snob college professor. My friend — let us call him Rajesh, no pun intended — is all about '70s cinema, and is known for his ability to furnish yesteryear tales about movies, interviews, and also long-forgotten DVDs. During his Master's course, he discovered one of his Mass Communication professors shared a similar adoration for '70s Bollywood. However, the professor would often trail away while teaching, and quote obscure examples. Rajesh tells me it was not only difficult to connect the dots, but also keep a track of her vague teaching method. The professor, a self-proclaimed cinema buff, could easily venture into a ‘let’s talk about the mind of Guru Dutt’ at any time of the day. "I don’t know if that was a bad thing, but Guru Dutt sahab won't be handing out my degree, right?" quipped my friend.

This year, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite arrived on a wave of wild excitement among cinegoers, so much so that even my ‘Let’s-watch-Dabangg’ friend insisted we see it. And so we did, and dare I say, it did not blow my mind away. However, later while discussing about its subtle class disparities with a friend, I was thoroughly mansplained on how it was not-so-subtle but painted all over the film, right from the design of house to the Ram-don noodle dish.

A still from Parasite

A still from Parasite

In college, I dated someone who claimed to enjoy watching epic war films. He would also jokingly mention Saving Private Ryan was the most "romantic" film he had ever seen. His varied choices in films somehow became a bone of contention for us as he never tried to shift to other genres.

After watching a film, we all like to ponder upon its meaning, the 'craft,' but it soon turns toxic when half of the party that saw the film rejects an opinion which is not their own. And it is always the one-sided argument, with most of the time, the louder, more argumentative person telling you the film was perfect, scoring a self-declared win.

Cinema, in all its is glory, has rapidly changed its discourse over the years. Bollywood was characterised into two divides with one pertaining to pure mass appeal, there was another block of indie or parallel cinema. However, with time, the industry has switched its gears, in which the distinguishing lines seemed to have blurred out. While films like Ankur, Hazaron Khwahishen Aise, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, and many more were conducive to put across a social message, we are today introduced to the novel ‘Ayushmann Khurrana brand of cinema.’

Khurrana, well known for his film choices, has been delivering mass entertainers laced with a social message. From erectile dysfunction (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan), premature balding among men (Bala) to tackling homophobia in Indian society (Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan), Khurrana has not left any taboo unaddressed.

Today, mainstream filmmakers are deconstructing the definition of commercial cinema. Bolder thoughts, well-structured storyline, and socially responsible content are churning out films that could be enjoyed by all, and not only by film snobs. A classic example of this awakening can be traced to director Anubhav Sinha, who began with out-and-out masala entertainers like Dus and Cash to National Award-winning film Article 15 and now Thappad. The trajectory is legendary but the concept of an indie film being meshed with a blockbuster formula is refreshing.

Sinha’s films were not only thoroughly analysed, dissected, and discussed among cinephiles but also left a much-needed uncomfortable silence among the common folk. Upon the release of Thappad, which is based on the searing subject of gender unequality, my not-so distant relative sent a WhatsApp message on the family group, asking everyone, especially men, to watch the film. This was quite a brave move in a rather conservative Marwari family group.

With the power of the internet, it is so much easier deconstruct a hive of film, artists, and makers, and unnervingly put across an opinion. This only makes me wonder about the 'qualification' of being a cinema lover. Being able to enjoy a film, that is not necessarily the Academy's cup of tea, is something that should be celebrated, not mocked. In an ideal world, at least.

In an interview with Film Companion, Srihti Behl, Director of Netflix originals, puts across the message of varied film preferences among viewers. According to her streaming platforms do not have any constraints and aren’t held back due to any limitations.

Hence, if someone's idea of cinema is a three-hour long mafia drama The Irishman, the platform will also provide you with a light-hearted rom-com like To All the Boys I Have Loved Before. Everyone has a choice and everyone is allowed to enjoy their kind of cinema, for *Cinema is for everyone.* 

Anyway, if any film snobs are reading this, can I borrow your Mubi subscription?

Updated Date: Mar 14, 2020 17:28:07 IST

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