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