Reviewing a film is a tricky matter.
All art is subjective. And cinema encompasses all art. And the final product is advertised a few weeks in advance and then sold to the general public at 100 rupees per person. How does one discount the huge amounts of subjectivity in the consumption and appreciation of cinema?
I have been reviewing films for 101India in the last few months, and on my blog and other magazines for more than a decade now. One of the side-effects of the job is to develop a thick skin. I have been accused of being a ‘hypocrite’, a ‘pseudo-intellectual’, ‘trying too hard to be different’, and the worst curse of them all – ‘of being a Salman Khan fan’.
Bollywood fans are so stupid in their understanding of cinema, that they cannot fathom any other reason for a negative review, than a conspiracy that was brewed on the sets of Koffee With Karan. My review of Sanju was accused of being partial to Salman Khan’s Race, which was running at the Box Office at the same time.
This hasn’t been the first time, either. I have earlier been accused of being an Aamir Khan hater, a Saif Ali Khan hater, a Farhan Akhtar hater. Believe it or not, I have also gotten hate-mail from a gentleman who was offended by my article on Uday Chopra. Fucking Uday Chopra, for god’s sake! Even Uday Chopra doesn’t give a fuck about Uday Chopra!!
While the accusations are hilarious, it is also sad that educated, urban youngsters of the country carry such devotional love and adoration for film stars – one that goes beyond logic and decency.
But anyway, you can find the review here – https://www.101india.com/arts-culture/sanju-sells-its-soul-baptise-its-hero-and-ends-lame-effort
I wasn’t among those who were terribly excited to watch the film in the first place. Why?
Because we Indians suck at making biopics. Our idea of a biopic is a masturbatory eulogy – full of hype and glory. Our biopics come across like Thanksgiving speeches – never probing beyond the surface, never exploring beyond the superficial.
I did some research and found the three most filmed personalities in India. It’s an eclectic mix – BR Ambedkar (8 films), Bhagat Singh (5 films), and Kalidas (5 films). Kalidas!!
I have had the misfortune of watching many such movies over the last decade. There was Azhar – one of the worst films I’ve seen in my life. A film so idiotic, so dull – it could have been the biopic of Venkatpathy Raju. Then there was the MS Dhoni biopic – while the person was still actively playing in the team. It would inconceivable in any other country. Or Mary Kom – that masturbatory exercise in fuelling Priyanka Chopra’s career – a film that didn’t have the decency to cast someone from the region. This is the case with most Indian biopics. Our biopics are lingaabhishekams to the rich and famous.
The review evoked a extreme responses, as expected. I had to endure a number of conversations about the film, its intent, the creative freedom of a filmmaker in choosing what he depicts. With much annoyance, I decided to give the film a second chance. Well, guess what!
The second time left me even more pissed off.
I have never understood why Sanjay Dutt is revered so much.
His body of work is ridiculous. He has spent an entire lifetime playing gangster, bhai, dada – or a combination of Gangster Dadabhai. A glance through his filmography will give you an idea of just how many films have been recycled tripe, where he sleepwalks through the film from the first scene to the last.
But even that is subjective, I guess. As the years have rolled by, I have reconciled to the fact that I might be a cinema snob. Of course, I can understand the intent of the film – it is a fascinating story. A life constantly under lights, adoration and scrutiny. What I did not understand was the motive of the film.
Sanjay Dutt is depicted as a misunderstood hero – almost a patriot, a martyr to the Indian judicial system. Like the hero of a Greek tragedy directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Hirani’s school-play style (exaggerated mannerisms, jarring background score, emotionally manipulative writing) – they all feel phony and motivated at the same time. But art is subjective, and a matter of personal taste.
What pissed me off was the positioning of Dutt – as this innocent bystander to circumstances around him. The fake shroud of honesty by depicting drugs and womanising (which are hardly frowned upon today), but escaping into clichés during the portions dealing with guns and terrorism.
It is treated like an act of mischief. Like it is Natkhat Nandalal who stole some butter from nubile gopikas. I understand one cannot be completely unbiased, but how about one fucking shred of objectivity. The film keeps you from asking questions, by shamelessly hiding key facts about the case.
Like the sheer amount of ammunition, for example. Three assault weapons (we are shown that two of them were returned – Hallelujah! What nobility!) and 20 grenades. 20 grenades. While there were already three licensed weapons in the Dutt household. Why does one need assault weapons and grenades to protect one’s family? Who are you protecting them from? Taliban? An alien invasion??
Or the fact that the information Dutt had could have averted the riots, saved hundreds of lives. One call to the police could have helped the city avert its greatest tragedy to that date. All because our hero was too much of a scared moron to own up to his faults.
Or the sheer impunity with which we are shown the jail scenes – like it is a favour to the Indian judicial system. When there are documented reports of youth who are tortured for alleged connections to terrorism. Some of them spend years in interrogation – beaten, given electric shocks, their fingers ripped off – on mere suspicions.
And here is a guy who was in touch with terrorists, procured assault weapons in the middle of riots, and then continued to remain in touch with them even after prosecution. A guy who was allowed to go home on numerous occasions – even to ‘ring in the new years’, which others accused in the same case are still rotting in jail after 25 years.
Hirani’s films have been successful to drawing attention to the villains in Indian society – blind faith in religion, autocratic education system, the wrath of the powerful. Sadly, Sanju makes the media the villain.
Not only is this extremely lazy and unimaginative, it is a low hanging fruit. Like the media nudged him to stock up on guns. Like newspapers wrote editorials asking him to call Chhota Shakeel.
If anything, the media is the reason Sanjay Dutt is relevant today. The incessant coverage, the gossip, the ongoing interest in his life – that is the reason Sanjay Dutt has not been relegated to the zombieland of action stars – a desolate park where Suneil Shetty and Sunny Deol hang out.
This is not mere whitewashing – this is an utter disservice to the truth.
Is it too much to expect some objectivity from one of the country’s most prolific filmmakers? Why even go through the trouble of making this movie, then? Why not just put giant cut-outs of Sanjay Dutt across the country and ask people to jack off while offering coconuts and flowers? Why fucking bother to write a script and go through the farce of being honest and truthful?
It is hardly shocking that the film is a hit. Of course, it is. Like its politicians, a nation gets the films it deserves. And these are the kind of films we love to watch – masturbatory eulogies. We invented the Kamasutra, no doubt. But our favourite position is to bend over and lick the asses of the rich and the powerful.
It’s sad because I had immense respect for Rajkumar Hirani. He has a keen understanding of the pulse of the people. He has a wonderful knack of storytelling, he has a way with humour.
What he doesn’t have, sadly, is a set of balls.