Saturday, July 27, 2013

Response to a column (and more thoughts on Ship of Theseus)

Mihir Sharma wrote this piece about Ship of Theseus – and by extension, about Hindi cinema – in today’s Business Standard. To say everything I want to say in response would take up several thousand words (and it would entail regurgitating many things I have written about popular cinema in the past), but here are some condensed – and, apologies for this, hurriedly put together – thoughts.

First, as will immediately be obvious to most readers (including many readers who aren’t particularly fond of Hindi films), Mihir makes a few sweeping assertions. Any piece that begins with the sentence “As is widely known but rarely articulated, most Indian films are terrible” is either 1) a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek attempt at being an agent provocateur, or 2) reflective of a sensibility that has a basic contempt for – or an inability to relate to – the language of regular Hindi cinema.

Now of course no one is under any obligation to understand or relate to this language (I’d feel a bit hypocritical making such a suggestion, given that I spent 10-12 vital years of my own movie education at a remove from Hindi films). And there is no denying that there IS a large amount of crud in our cinema, and that many filmmakers approach their work with the assumption that viewers have single-digit IQs. But I would tentatively say that if you’re writing professionally about film, you might at some point want to recognize that Good Cinema is not required to follow a specific, restricted model (say, the model of psychological realism as established by the European avant-garde or the American indie movement).

In this context, the question that ends the piece – “if it's a movie that comes out of the Mumbai film industry, but every part in it is different, is it really a Mumbai movie at all?” – is similarly reductive. The term “Mumbai movie” is a very wide one, encompassing not just the many (often misleading) categories that were once used to differentiate cinema types – “commercial”, “art” and “middle” – but also very different directorial sensibilities within each of those categories. Though this is not something you will grasp if you look at all Hindi cinema (especially popular Hindi cinema) though a lens indicating that here is a single, amorphous blob made up of “escapist” or “silly” things like songs and dances, plot simplifications and hyper-exaggerated emotions.

Possibly I’m now making assumptions about what Mihir considers good cinema, and putting words in his mouth. But this paragraph is revealing:

I definitely felt, while watching it, that it was very, very different from - and better than - anything else that has come out of Mumbai so far. It was subtle and restrained; it did not flatten its characters; it addressed big ethical issues, but avoided easy clichés...

“Better than anything else that has come out of Mumbai so far”? Really? Off the top of my head I can name dozens of works from Bombay film history (and I’m not talking only about the obviously respectable, “socially conscious” ones made by directors like Benegal) that are every bit as good even as they operate within well-established mainstream tropes.


At which point, I suppose I should say something about my own benchmarks for a good film. Being necessarily “subtle or restrained” is not one of them. This is a vast subject and should be explored at greater length than I can manage just now, but to address a very basic aspect of it: many people reflexively use “melodrama” as a pejorative, the same way they use “realistic” as a blanket endorsement. But melodrama is a mode of artistic expression that is as valid as any other, and fulfills a purpose very different from that served by spare realism. In assessing a film, the far more relevant question is whether it has succeeded in realizing an integrated, internally consistent world – irrespective of whether that world is founded on hyper-drama or kitchen-sink realism or one of the many, many things in between.

Which brings me to my own feelings about Ship of Theseus. I thought very highly of it: my column about the film is here. And I agree with most of the specific points Mihir makes about it (the 4th, 5th and 6th paragraphs of his column are excellent – he is much better at examining the minutiae of a single film than at making macro-statements about cinema), such as how it gives the Marwari stockbroker a credible inner life. (This sort of thing is not “revolutionary” by any means, it has been effectively done in other recent Indian films ranging from Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! to Vicky Donor – but it certainly is one of Ship of Theseus’s biggest strengths.) Thinking about it again, I find that my appreciation for the film was tied mostly to how well it did small things, and accumulated them to the service of the whole. More than once while watching it, I had this odd, difficult-to-articulate sense that here was a really good termite-art film (to use Manny Farber’s famous formulation) that had dressed itself up as an elephant-art film.

It worked for me at the level of worm's-eye storytelling, at the level where a movie can achieve great things through attention to detail, by being a near-perfect synthesis of its many parts. (One might say the planks that made up this film were of a uniformly high quality.) But then again, in my view a superbly put together popular/fantasist film like Amar Akbar Anthony (to take one example) meets that criterion just as well. (Better, actually, if I stick with this particular example. But now we’re steering too close to the realm of subjective response, where discussion becomes pointless after a while.)

By the way,

“This movie has such faith in its viewers that the classical paradox that gives the movie its title isn't explained till the very end.”

Nope. The film explicitly spells out the paradox at the very beginning, in the form of a sentence that appears on the screen for a few seconds, then gradually fades away, leaving only the words “Ship of Theseus” (which becomes the opening title) behind. And if we are really discussing whether this film has faith in its viewers, one might point out that the meaning of the title has been carefully explained in every major press release (including the informal one I received inviting me to a preview screening) and on promotional websites. I’m happy to give the filmmakers and publicists the benefit of doubt (perhaps they wanted to ensure that viewers weren’t misled into thinking it was an adventure film set on the high seas, or something such), but I think it’s at least equally probable that they were trying, from the start, to promote Ship of Theseus as a film of Big Ideas (hence presumably more “important” than your “average” movie) and to spoonfeed the central “philosophical enquiry” to viewers. 


And if that was the case, it seems to have worked: as I have mentioned elsewhere, before the film’s general release I was puzzled by how many people were gushing about it on Facebook and Twitter feeds, and then disclosing shortly afterwards that they hadn’t yet seen it. (On Twitter, I remember someone congratulating Anand Gandhi for having made such a beautiful, relevant film. Quite reasonably, Gandhi asked where and when the tweeter had seen it, only to be told “Haven’t seen it yet, but saw the trailer”.)

Something that makes me uncomfortable about many of the responses I’ve seen (including the ones by people who “admire” a film without having watched it – much like Hartosh Singh Bal once dismissed a cartload of Indian novels without feeling the need to read any of them) is that those responses are to the elephant-art shell of the movie. It has become increasingly common to hear Ship of Theseus being described in terms like “It is not just a film, it is an experience / it is like reading a great book.” Maybe I’m nitpicking here (it’s an old character flaw) but as someone who has been a movie nut for years – and is constantly making new discoveries about how many different kinds of great films there can be, both “popular” and “arty” – I can’t help wondering what the phrase “just a film” might indicate; it sets off alarm bells in my head. Could it be applied to the many dozens of high-quality Hindi films made over the decades, which operate within a very different artistic idiom than Ship of Theseus? Are we dealing here with a modified version of the snobbery that pronounces non-fiction books to be inherently superior to – or more “real” than – fiction (or fantasy/science-fiction novels to be inherently less relevant than novels set in the real world)?

To sum up (and I know this has been a rambling post): I have limited patience with the way Ship of Theseus is being held up as a shining, single-dose cure for everything that is wrong with Hindi cinema. I can understand being fed up with just one idiom of filmmaking (i.e. the dominant, mainstream one) and looking forward to alternate storytelling modes that get the right backing from influential producers such as Kiran Rao: that trend certainly is to be encouraged (and it HAS been underway for a long time now - even producers like Ekta Kapoor, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, who are soft targets for snobbery, have been backing such "new" cinema). But it’s another matter altogether to dismiss any film built on commercial tropes such as the song and dance or the theatrical expression of emotions. In themselves, such things certainly don't make a film inferior to Ship of Theseus.

42 comments:

  1. Wow thanks a lot for writing this! You may feel it is rambling but it makes all the points it needs to make. Mihir Sharma made similar blanket statements in an article on Raanjhanaa (http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/no-stars-113070501041_1.html) I am ok with things he's said about the film and even agree with some of them but they again bring out those assertions about the industry as a whole.

    Not saying anything about Ship of Theseus because I haven't watched it yet :)

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  2. The one Mihir Sharma piece that I though you would have disagreed with is the one quoted by Gradwolf above (on Raanjhnaa). Regarding this piece, I wouldn't say Mihir is "spot on", but if you do take a look at the kind of films that have released lately (Policegiri et all), one can't fault him for saying that most Indian films are terrible. Linguistically too, there is nothing wrong with the statement: most Indian films are terrible (most, not all. Even the third rate Bombay film industry is able to come up with some good movies once in a while-OLLO, Vicky Donor).

    And since you did bring up Hartosh (who, BTW, is my favorite journo at the moment), Hartosh did say that the novels he did not read were characteristic of the malaise that Indian fiction suffers with--for him to read those very novels wasn't necessary, because he wasn't making a point about those novels. He was making a point about Indian fiction(of which he has read plenty).

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  3. Hartosh did say that the novels he did not read were characteristic of the malaise that Indian fiction suffers with--for him to read those very novels wasn't necessary, because he wasn't making a point about those novels

    Anon: if he is saying that those novels are characteristic of a malaise, then he very much IS making a point about those novels too. Without reading them. As a reviewer who is scrupulous about forming judgements only after reading books end to end (often to my detriment, since book-reviewing is not a well-paid job), I have very little time for "critics" who form impressions about how good or bad or relevant a book is based on a perusal of the back-cover text. The whole point about termite art is that you do not judge it based on its subject matter, or what it seems like from a distance - you immerse yourself in it (and then, if you feel it was unsatisfactory, of course you must say so).

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  4. Such a cringe-worthy piece by Mr.Sharma.

    It was subtle and restrained; it did not flatten its characters; it addressed big ethical issues, but avoided easy cliches; it accepted rather than vilified moral compromises; and it made Mumbai look striking without first-worldifying or poverty-pornographying it.

    It is not the moviemaker's job to address "ethical issues", present "multifaceted" characters, avoid "cliches" and "stereotypes". It is upto the audience to think hard about the film and wring meaning out of something where none exists on the surface!

    I sense here a very typical left-wing snobbery which condescends towards anything that the "junta" likes. Be it romance, religion, comic exaggeration and

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  5. But melodrama is a mode of artistic expression that is as valid as any other, and fulfills a purpose very different from that served by spare realism

    Exactly.
    Melodrama is a form of "modeling" where you leave out the inconvenient details and build a model with relatively simplified situations and characters to make a point.

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  6. Shrikanth: much as I'd love to agree with everything you write, this bit is as simplistic as anything in Mihir's piece:

    It is not the moviemaker's job to address "ethical issues", present "multifaceted" characters, avoid "cliches" and "stereotypes". It is upto the audience to think hard about the film and wring meaning out of something where none exists on the surface!

    Let's not discount all those films where no meaning (or no well-expressed meaning) exists either on the surface or beneath the surface. In some cases you can do all the subtextual thinking in the world and still come up with nothing worth holding on to. Also, depending on context (e.g. a society with a large base of relatively unsophisticated viewers, where it makes sense for cinema to occasionally spell things out while dealing with "issues"), it can be valid for a filmmaker to operate in what you and I might personally think of as an unsubtle or ham-fisted mode.

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  7. Love the phrase "an integrated, internally consistent world"

    That's why I loved the Dabbanngg films. They do present such a world

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  8. I sense here a very typical left-wing snobbery which condescends towards anything that the "junta" likes. Be it romance, religion, comic exaggeration...

    As far as I know, Mihir has very eclectic reading tastes, including an interest in fantasy and (I think) popular fiction. So let's not make too many assumptions.

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  9. Anon: I saw the first one and liked some things about it, but I didn't think it was a well-integrated world, actually. Felt there was a clear divide between a dark, grounded vision (which may have owed to Abhinav Kashyap's screenplay as it was originally written) and what the screenplay morphed into once it turned into a "Salman Khan film" with a cartoon superhero. I wrote something about that here, by the way.

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  10. This piece is a joke. The problem, Jai, which I feel is very common in India, is that some people will occupy themselves with 'big issues' and 'big debates' of the political and social and economic kind and automatically assume that they are qualified to say whatever they want about 'lesser' matters, like cinema and fiction.

    From his piece...

    1. As is widely known but rarely articulated, most Indian films are terrible. The ones that try to do better frequently wind up being worst of all.

    2. But I definitely felt, while watching it, that it was very, very different from - and better than - anything else that has come out of Mumbai so far. It was subtle and restrained; it did not flatten its characters; it addressed big ethical issues, but avoided easy cliches; it accepted rather than vilified moral compromises; and it made Mumbai look striking without first-worldifying or poverty-pornographying it.

    3. The reason why Ship of Theseus is an extraordinary departure from anything else Mumbai has made is fairly simple: it doesn't pander to its audiences.

    4. The question worth asking is: if it's a movie that comes out of the Mumbai film industry, but every part in it is different - is it really a Mumbai movie at all?

    Another grouse that's a tad petty is that you don't put Kool Aid dispensers at Indian theatres - that's part of the overall problem with the writer's ideas about Indian, or Mumbai, cinema.

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  11. Great reasoning Jai! Yes, I too get a bit annoyed with blanket and sweeping assertions.
    Ya, it is a good film. Some shots and some of its editing really do things without spelling it out. But a loud, colourful, song and dance Hindi movie (at least some) are equally fulfilling. By the way, have you seen Ek Chaadar maili Si?

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  12. Also, depending on context (e.g. a society with a large base of relatively unsophisticated viewers, where it makes sense for cinema to occasionally spell things out while dealing with "issues"),

    That's again an assumption we make. Most viewers aren't as unsophisticated as we think. In fact this is a maxim I follow in my life - "The most clever people one meets aren't as clever as you think, the most stupid people one encounters aren't as stupid as you think"

    I watched a very fine melodrama lately - Chhoti si Mulaqat starring the great Bengali actor Uttam Kumar (recommended). Now this is a film that is replete with stereotypes and simplifications that Mr Sharma would abhor. No critic would want to talk up this film. On the surface it seems like an apology for child marriage. But I found it very disturbing and emotionally rich. Hardly "regressive" as most critics would have it.

    Most mainstream critics tend to be impervious to the merits of this kind of film because they bring with them a certain idealized world view. Anything that conflicts with that world view is dismissed as "retrogressive" and "sentimental".

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  13. Radhika Oltikar5:22 PM, July 27, 2013

    Not only are they invariably enjoyable, your posts always, but always, teach me something new. It could be a new word, or as in the case of this post, a new concept(termite-art and elephant-art films). Thanks! :)

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  14. Radhika: ha! Now I know you weren't paying attention at my film-criticism workshop in Kala Ghoda last year.

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  15. Radhika Oltikar5:27 PM, July 27, 2013

    hahaha! Chalo, der aaye, durust aaye!

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  16. As is widely known but rarely articulated, most Indian films are terrible. The ones that try to do better frequently wind up being worst of all.

    Aren't most Hollywood films terrible? Why talk up the incredible "bad"ness of Indian films? I am currently watching Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards on television as I write this. A very high profile film but pretty terrible. Kiddish, immature, verbose, pretentious.

    And this is supposed to be one of the better Hollywood films released lately.

    Give me a Karan Johar tear jerker anyday! It makes one think harder than this Tarantino film!

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  17. Shrikanth, 1) Mihir would quite likely agree with you that "most Hollywood films" are terrible, 2) I liked Inglourious Basterds a lot, 3) You've misspelt the title. In two places.

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  18. “if it's a movie that comes out of the Mumbai film industry, but every part in it is different, is it really a Mumbai movie at all?”

    Perhaps Sharma was playfully referencing Plutarch's Theseus Paradox with his closing statement (quoted above)?

    Intrigued by these reviews, I await the movie's release in my area.

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  19. Larger problems aside, can I just nitpick and point out that Hindi films != Indian cinema; I wouldn't characterize "most of" Bengali and Malayalam cinema as terrible.

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  20. 2) I liked Inglourious Basterds a lot

    To each his own. Tarantino to my mind represents the style of Howard Hawks without the sensibility of the great man.

    3) You've misspelt the title. In two places.

    My bad.

    The larger point ofcourse was that Hollywood and commercial cinema the world over has been in decline since the late 70s. Indian mainstream cinema no worse than "commercial" cinema elsewhere.

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  21. Perhaps Sharma was playfully referencing Plutarch's Theseus Paradox with his closing statement

    Anon: of course he was - that's understood. The whole post is about a film named after that paradox.

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  22. I'm surprised that you liked Amar, Akbar Anthony to such a degree. I watched it and enjoyed it as a child, but as an adult, I found it plain boring. In fact, most of the hindi movies I loved as a child fail to engage me as an adult. The main reason I keep re-visiting some like Waqt, is to revisit childhood memories. To each his own, I guess.

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  23. I remember you expressed similar views about Love, Sex aur Dhokha that it was definitely not the first film of its kind in Hindi films.

    I think few years down the line audience will realise that film-makers like Anurag, Dibakar, who have been getting praise for making so called realistic films were realistic only to an extent and the way most of us perceived their films when they were released was more a function of us being totally tired of what was being shown to us by other film-makers and not what Anurag and Dibakar really showed. In my view, such praise for showing realism often comes from people, who do not read much. In books, for some reason, there is not so much premium for showing or writing reality.

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  24. Sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon's maxim is as true for Hindi pop-film as it is for Hindi art-film: "98% of everything is crap."

    For every nine clunkers from the Salman Khan/Akshay Kumar school there is going to be some Ranbir Kapoor-starrer that has heart, one or two unexpected plot twists, and suberb songs and dances. For every "Ship of Theseus" (and I hope it's as good as they say) there are dozens of ham-handed attempts to make "classy" films full of high social purpose and characters who only exist to make a thematic point.

    There is a perception abroad in the world that Indian films (from anywhere except Bengal) are pieces of fluff, sentimental song-and-dance extravaganzas only accessible to literate audiences as colorful jokes. In this view serious film from India stopped with Satyajit Ray. I absolutely do not question the mastery of Bengali cinema, but I also can't find anything to hate in "Om Shanti Om." Witness the fact that in New York City an "Asian Film Festival" includes nothing - not a single Indian selection - year after year.

    I thought this debate ended with Andy Warhol et al., those who found the art in pop and put the fun back into high art.

    I was close to fifty when I saw "Amar Akhbar Anthony" for the first time, so for me at least there were no childhood associations. And I think it is a wonderful movie for all sorts of reasons. This in no way devalues my appreciation for Mehboob, Guru Dutt, and Bimal Roy.

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  25. Mike: actually there are indications that 98 percent of Bengali cinema has been "crap" too. I don't know if you've been following my friend Beth Watkins's blog about old Bengali cinema (the link is here), but through conversations and emails with her I have had a lot of my perceptions about the uniform high-mindedness of Bengali cinema corrected. She has been unearthing and sharing films that make much of commercial Hindi cinema seem sophisticated and restrained.

    And really, I shouldn't have been surprised. Those of us who know film history know (to take just one instance) that Japanese cinema in the 50s and 60s wasn't just Ozu and Mizoguchi and Kurosawa and Ichikawa - it included plenty of terrible, carelessly made movies that never made it anywhere near the festival circuit and therefore never registered on the radars of film critics/audiences in the US and UK. Kael and a few other perceptive critics would regularly caution their readers and fellow writers against assuming that foreign cinemas were "superior" in some overriding sense, just because they were regularly exposed to the very best films from those countries.

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  26. And yes, it's a pity that non-Indian viewers (and many Indian viewers for that matter) should think of Satyajit Ray as the final word in "serious" filmmaking, and in the process neglect/deride so many of the great things that have been done within the mainstream.

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  27. And off-topic but related to your comment: just a few days ago, I read Theodore Sturgeon's short story "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" in Ellison's Dangerous Visions. Nice coincidence.

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  28. It has become increasingly common to hear Ship of Theseus being described in terms like “It is not just a film, it is an experience / it is like reading a great book.” .... I can’t help wondering what the phrase “just a film” might indicate; it sets off alarm bells in my head.

    I thought this was a very pertinent observation from you.

    It reveals that even after 120 years the motion picture remains an art form that makes us ashamed of ourselves. We know it can be "high art" but at a very base level the movies remain a prurient, emotional and sensation-inducing form of expression. This holds for even the so-called "great" movies.

    As Godard once said, the history of the motion picture is in fact the history of naughty boys photographing naughty girls (or something to that effect). And that's true to a great extent.

    People are very uncomfortable with that. Hence the condescension towards film. And the use of phrases like "just a film". And I can relate to this discomfort.

    Movies by their very nature leave out the messy realities of life, play down reason and instead idealize purely "emotional" feelings like romance, sex, revenge, sympathy etc. In some respect movie watching makes us loose in our thinking and turns us into emotional fools. Ofcourse this needn't hold for every person. But that's the general effect on the masses.

    I think most people still view movies as a guilty pleasure (because it requires so little effort unlike reading a book or playing sport, and it so readily caters to base passions). Hence the snobbery and the enthusiasm for stilted, constipated, serious movies that are "un-movie like". Eg: Stanley Kramer films, Merchant Ivory films.

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  29. Speaking of blanket statements by Mihir Sharma, you say:
    --
    I can understand being fed up with just one idiom of filmmaking (i.e. the dominant, mainstream one) and looking forward to alternate storytelling modes that get the right backing...
    --
    It seems to me that your principal criticism of Mihir's piece just boils down to the argument that he should have used "most" or "average" when he said "all". (In particular, I think that if we disregard this imprecision of language on his part, and expunge your criticism of it from this piece, the rest of the piece dissolves into thin air like one of my numerous farts.)

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  30. A T: no, that isn't my only (or principal) criticism - but even if it were, saying "all" when you mean "most" or "average" is quite a big mistake when you're writing such a piece. In any case, I'm not convinced that it was simply "imprecision of language" on Mihir's part - he's a very good, careful writer.

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  31. Everybody loves Amar Akbar Anthony and so do I! But when I watch it now, as an adult, many things do jar.
    Amitabh Bachchan is as much of a cartoon superhero as Salman Khan in Dabbangg (which isn't something I mind at all)

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  32. Jai, what, in your opinion, are some elephant art films that are not good termite art films?

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  33. Rahul: there are dozens of films I can think of where the need to say big things or to be larger than life trumps the actual execution: one top-of-my-head example among high-profile films would be The Bridge on the River Kwai. Also, if Ship of Theseus had been mediocre at the level of the acting or the creation of atmosphere, it would have been a very good example of a bad elephant-art film.

    That said, I'm not trying to hold up the elephant art-termite art distinction as the final word in film criticism. It isn't, there can be plenty of overlapping between those categories, and there can self-evidently be great elephant-art films too (The Godfather Part II is a classic example).

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  34. Everybody loves Amar Akbar Anthony and so do I!

    Amar Akbar Anthony is symbolic of the decline of mainstream Indian cinema which began in the 70s.

    It is the sort of movie that makes frivolity an end in itself - a tradition that is still with us (as one observes in Akshay Kumar movies).

    It is fundamentally different from the old comic tradition where melodrama and frivolity is used as a means to convey psychological insight about characters. Even ordinary movies like Shri420 do that reasonably well.

    This transition in mainstream cinema towards frivolity is universal. You sense that even with western comedies. Contrast the emptiness of What's up Doc with the deeply felt melancholy of Bringing up Baby.

    Talking of great elephant art / termite art films -
    The Quintessential Elephant art film : Citizen Kane
    The Quintessential Termite art film: The Man from Laramie.

    When I hear the two words being bandied about these are the two titles I am instantly reminded of.

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  35. @ shrikanth - aren't Godard films in elephant art category? i have seen bits of that film on marriage which had fritz lang. it's beautiful but my god the amount of self-consciousness it has it in each and every camera pan and that background score, which reminds us yes it is made by a serious director.

    from this discussion, it would seem to be even many films made by Benegal like Mandi etc would be elephant art?

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  36. the amount of self-consciousness it has it in each and every camera pan and that background score, which reminds us yes it is made by a serious director

    Pessimist Fool: yes, Contempt is a good example of what Farber meant by elephant art (and it's also a film I love a great deal - another reminder not to get too carried away by this particular mode of classification).

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  37. Jai: And, which Benegal films will fall under this category? After I read this term, I felt there was a bit of elephant art in many of his films, which was not the case with Satyajit Ray's films...

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  38. Pessimist Fool: if you don't mind, let's not extend this particular discussion too far - it gives the impression that the elephant-termite classification is something close to a science, which it most certainly isn't. Nor does it play a major part in my own assessment of movies.

    Since you mention Benegal though, it's worth noting that the definitions of "elephant" and "termite" can change depending on context, perspective and the filmic culture in question. A film like Manthan, for instance, might be viewed as either a self-conscious piece of elephant art (with explicit social concerns, and even beginning with a title that says "500,000 farmers of Gujarat present...") or as a low-key narrative film that demands a relatively high degree of concentration from the viewer.

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  39. @ Jai - No problems. You are right, after a point any kind of categorisation gives a little more concrete form to likes and dislikes, which makes the whole thing look like science or maths...

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  40. I read half of Farber's essay - I could only find half of it online - but I have reserved his book in the library.The impression I get is that Farber is a great termite-like writer , but the white elephant like dichotomy that he creates, is on one hand very helpful in appreciating termite films, but on the other hand, is too specific to be of value in appreciation of white elephant films . I can't talk about Bridge on the river Kwai, as I saw it ages ago, but I wonder how a correlation is implied between the desire to say something profound and bad execution. If the latter is present then it is lazy film making and can be a feature of both non white elephant(I am not using termite) and white elephant films.I think its possible to read Farber and share his enthusiasm for termite but at the same time discard his derision,which anyhow may be too strong or inaccurate a word based on my incomplete reading, for white elephant.

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  41. Well done, Jai. Great post!!

    -- your occasional 'anon' critic

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