Autobiography of a Failed Film Critic in Two Parts

I’m a flunked film critic and this is my story.

My dad’s list of favourite movies began with Nagin, Anarkali, Bees Saal Baad, Chaudvin ka Chand, Aah, Shri 420, Dilli ka Thug, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam, Funtoosh, China Town, Aawara, Anari, CID, Jewel Thief, Gumnaam, Kashmir ki Kali, Love in Tokyo, An Evening in Paris, Janwar, Junglee, Teesri Manzil, Yaadon ki Baraat, and ended with Kaala Pathar. That’s the only anger-charged Amitabh film he ever saw. It finished his film-watching life.

A maternal uncle who spent most of his bachelorhood at our home fed on Zanjeer, Anand, Namak Haraam, Aradhana, Kati Patang, Deewar, Sholay, Parvarish, Trishul, Namak Halaal, Seeta aur Geeta, Abhimaan, Majboor, Chupke Chupke, Amar Akbar Anthony, Don, Muqaddar ka Sikandar, Shaan, Naseeb, Laawaris, Coolie, Shaan, Andhaa Kanoon, Inquilaab, Sharaabi, Souten, and quietly renounced this diet after Akhri Raasta. His avid filmgoing helped my atrocious Hindi, an unexpected aftermath. We used to spar with each other in patented Bollywood style with interlocutory clothes sewn finely with strands of kuttes, kamines, saales, haraamis…studded with gems like bete, kal subah ki suraj tujhe naseeb nahi hogi, tum hamare baayen haath ki is ungli ki khel ho, chod diya jaao, murde ko hum nahi maarte, tujh jaise keedon ko masalne ke liye mere sirf nakhoon kaafi hai, and an all-time favourite: tum jis school mein padte ho hum us ke headmaster hai.

My dad held his favourites sacrosanct–they were strictly above criticism. Disagreement automatically ensured your confirmed registration to an impromptu, hour-long lecture on the depravity of current Hindi films. When the “tape recorder” finally graced middleclass India–and our home–he bought a pile of audio cassettes at dirt cheap prices. I owe my amazing repertoire of Hindi old film music to Gulshan Kumar of the Palika Bazaar Days. His record of raising the status of industrial-scale audio piracy is timeless.

A product of the Socialist Seventies, my uncle naturally hired Amitabh to beat up the leery Lala at the neighbourhood provision store. This phase lasted as long as Amitabh was relevant and sensible–the flood of Gangas and Mards and Saraswathis and Shahenshahs killed his own career and slaughtered my uncle’s apetite for films. Additionally, the Confused Eighties have their own share of blame. Recall the supremely minimal choices–few watchable movies buried beneath the excesses of Jeetendra-Sridevies or Mithuns or a string of senseless multi-starrers spiced up with Shatrughan Sinha as an afterthought.

That is the pathetic background of a child prodigy’s subconscious aspirations at film-critiquing.

Evidently, the roots of my film-critic career were watered with poison: my father was my biggest adversary: he corporally reinforced the stricture that movies corrupt kids… but that’s not entirely correct. He just said that. The underlying message: you watch movies (to your doom) after you get yourself a “decent” job. The chip of genius, scarred early. It worked. I hated movies.

Around adolscence, I met this amazing cousin of a close friend, a Bachchan-Subhash Ghai buff. He taught me the thrills of watching a film, first day, first show. My Friday mornings were suddenly meaningful. Besides, I had to make up for all those lost, film-hating years. I declared a Bunking Binge on my classes. I watched every film that released. I watched oldies on DD, re-runs of oldies in theatres, and rented video cassettes of films I just had to watch. In no time, I had digested all Subash Ghai movies up to Saudagar. I watched Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar, and Karma in what was the seediest cinema hall in Bangalore. I watched the same movie more than twice. I returned to the theatre if my memory didn’t summon a dialogue I wanted to remember and mimic. I was hopelessly doped. Emerson famously called every excess a defect. I realized a different dimension of Emerson’s wisdom when I found on a Saturday afternoon, that there was no theatre that played a movie I hadn’t watched. I consoled myself by watching one of Mahesh Bhatt’s lesser-known masterpieces, Satwaan Aasmaan for the secondtime.

My education was complete.

(Concluded in the next part)

Crossposted on Desicritics

3 comments for “Autobiography of a Failed Film Critic in Two Parts

  1. Anonymous
    May 29, 2007 at 9:29 PM

    I think the mid-late-70s was bollywood’s golden period. also , so called art movies were actually quite cool during that period. i have actually enjoyed benegal’s kalyug and ray’s masterpiece shatranj-key-khiladi.
    not to mention sai paranjpe’s chashme baddoor and shekhar kapoor’s masoom.

    The amitabh era was surely the greatest as far as i know. i have watched deewar so many times that i have lost count.
    the chocolate khans of today don’t stand anywhere near the intensity of bachchan or the versatility of mr. sanjeev kumar. in fact the only khan i ever considered a great actor was amjad khan.
    today’s movie resemble MTV videos more. i already feel like i have a disconnect with today’s generation, although i am just entering my 30s.
    no wonder my wife often calls me the oldie-goldie !!!

  2. May 29, 2007 at 7:19 PM

    Nice post :)

  3. May 25, 2007 at 4:46 PM

    Loved it,offbeat but true and reminded me some of my own memories.Just replace youre Mama with my Chacha.
    BTW,Sandeep,if you haven’t already do watch Amitabh and Jaya starer ‘Abhimaan’.Every body including Bindu( the famous vamp of those years) and Asarani (a forgotten actor,sadly) played superb.I have reasons to believe that u r married.If u are then pl watch this movie with her if not then with your beloved or even alone,I bet you,you would not have seen any other classic better than this.
    Sachin Da is at his best and Hrishkesh Da superb.He knew how to use THE KISHORE,each and every song still stirs the strings some where.MUST see man. Looking forward to part 2.
    PI

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