Sunday, December 27, 2015

52 films to light up your life

The most fun thing I did during my recent Mumbai trip was an informal little group conversation for Outlook magazine. Satish Padmanabhan got a few of us to participate in a list-making exercise that was utterly whimsical, self-indulgent, even random (I can’t emphasise this enough). Each of us - Anupama Chopra, Sriram Raghavan and Srinivas Bhashyam were the others - picked 20 films we were passionate about (while agreeing that our lists would be very different if we made them an hour or even 10 minutes later), and then got together and came up with “52 Films to Light up Your Life”. Here is a part-transcript of our conversation.

Did I say this was self-indulgent and random? Yes - to give you an idea how random, our choice of the 52nd film came down to Kanti Shah’s Gunda and... a little old movie called Citizen Kane. Also, we were short on time - the Gossip hall, where we had the talk, needed to be made available for a 12.15 show - and had to rush through some of our choices. So please take all this with a vat of salt; enjoy the journey, forget about the destination, etc. READ!

P.S. there are a few small errors in the transcript, and some condensing of things that were said, so we all sound demented at times.

P.P.S. Given that this wasn’t mean to be a canonical list, I felt we ended up with too many obvious/canonical choices among the Indian films - Sholay, Deewaar, Nayakan, Satya etc. Can’t be helped.

Also: when I submitted my initial list of 20, I included a couple of “alternates” for nearly all my choices - e.g. while listing Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne as my Ray choice, I had Devi and Jana Aranya in parentheses. Neat way of expanding a Top 20 list into a Top 50/60...


  1. So is "film historian" your official title now? :-)
    Nice to see you with Sriram Raghvan-I have really enjoyed most of his films and his personality that comes across through his work.

  2. Nice read, btw. I skimmed through most of the article (and some sentences are, as you had mentioned earlier, odd and somewhat incomplete due to the slipshod editing) but the people whose remarks I read most diligently were Sriram's and yours. I can't help it but both your and Raghvan's work (that I have been exposed to) and way of thinking it reflects has appealed to me to a point that I am always curious to know more about your film-related thoughts and ideas even if I don't really like or agree entirely (case in point: your assessment of Sanjeev Kumar's dramatic heft, and Sriram's decision to cast casti Saif and Kareena in Agent Vinod, and Agent Vinod itself). I just wished Baradwaj Rangan was there too (the snide person in me was hoping I could zap AC out of the picture and replace her with Rangan. I know-I am loathsome! It is nothing personal against AC but I don't really enjoy her writing or the thinking that comes across through her work. It just doesn't engage me at any level whatsoever. I wish it did, but I guess I do have my limitations as a reader :P).

  3. Se V: ha, no idea - they chose the title, I had no say in it.

    And yes, had also met Sriram briefly at the Chandigarh lit-fest last month, where I was the "festival director" (another title that I had little to do with!) and he was in conversation with Baradwaj Rangan about Badlapur. We all went to the Rock Garden together, which was at least as much fun as the festival.

  4. BTW it would have been useful had they actually published each person's choices as a list to accompany the article (and maybe with a sentence about why it had been selected). As it currently stands, one has to read through the entire piece to find the movie's name making it cumbersome for me as a reader. Thanks!

  5. Our comments crossed! And we both mentioned Baradwaj, in different contexts.
    The full list of 52 films is here. They did tell us they would publish each of our lists of 20 movies (which included some titles that were never brought up in the conversation at all), but they don't seem to have put those up.

  6. Critics mistaking All About Eve for a Billy Wilder film :P

    Here's my 3PM list of 20 quirky, must see films -

    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
    Manzil (1979)
    The Lady Vanishes
    Bheja Fry
    Heaven can Wait
    Advise and Consent
    Artists and Models
    Some came Running
    The Man from Laramie
    Christmas in July
    That Hamilton Woman
    The Palm Beach Story
    Short Cuts
    Crimes and Misdemeanors
    Carrie (1952)

  7. "Yeah, I have seen all the Billy Wilder movies. But my thing with Stalag 17’s a little obscure film. It’s a black and white film, set in a prisoner of war camp and it is a satire on how war doesn’t really bring us together but actually brings out the worst in us"

    I don't think Stalag 17 is an obscure film at all. I think it was a major commercial success. And Holden won an Oscar for it that year.

    Also while very enjoyable, it is not particularly original. It is a somewhat inferior rehash of the original POW film - Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion. Both Stalag 17 and Great Escape owe a lot to that seminal 1937 movie.

  8. Regarding MMKR - My love for it has dimmed a bit lately. It is a great film. But I guess it's no longer an obscure cult favourite. It has had its place in the sun. It's time now to dig out new favourites.

    I'd recommend some of the work of the Tamil director Visu who made some very overwrought talky family dramas in the 80s which give a great deal of insight into middle class life in the 80s. A couple of films that readily come to mind are "Samsaram adu Mimsaram" and "Kudumbam oru Kadambam"

    In Hindi, while Mukherjee is great, I think we have reached a point when films like Golmal and Chupke Chupke have become rather cliched choices seen by everyone. I'd recommend his relatively more underrated contemporary - Basu Chatterjee. A master I'd say.

    His best film, I think, is "Piya ka Ghar". An extraordinary movie of great tenderness and insight. Chhoti si Baat and Rajnigandha are not bad but they are better known than Piya ka Ghar which lies in relative obscurity.

  9. And am glad you chose "A Canterbury tale". What a film! It's a shame that barely a fraction of people who watch say a movie like "The Seventh Seal" get around to seeing "A Canterbury Tale".

    The best of British cinema is terribly underrated. Another quirky British masterpiece is "The Queen of Spades" - a brilliant other-worldly period film starring the great Anton Walbrook.

  10. "I think it is pure cinema, visual storytelling."

    Sorry for the spate of comments. But regarding this remark by Srinivas Raghavan, I'd say Psycho is not pure cinema at all. I think the dialogue is a very integral part of it. Yes it is visual like most Hitchcock films. But if I have to pick one film that is Hitchcock's most "visual" film, I'd probably go with Rear Window than Psycho. I'd go so far as to say that even Notorious is more "visual" than Psycho.

    Watched Notorious here at MoMa, New York this summer for perhaps the 10th or 11th time. I was probably the youngest bloke in the audience. Many of whom were old enough to have seen the movie back in 1946 I guess.

    Talking of 1946, how about picking Gilda? Another extraordinary film. Arguably the most sexualised film to come out of pre 1960s Hollywood. It's all about sex really.

  11. Shrikanth: great to see you back here after all this while, though if you start nitpicking about this Outlook conversation, you could easily write a book-length collection of comments. (So could I.)

    Will try to reply at length soon - very caught up these days with hospital stuff. Yet again.

  12. Such a boring and predictable list. Especially yours, Mr. Singh. I am sure you picked them from "Roger Ebert's 100 favourite movies" (which you would have borrowed from Anupama Chopra).

    I doubt if these films will "light up our lives".