Saturday, October 17, 2015

Reviews and responses 1: a "tough" and "discomfiting" book

Here’s a nice review - by Mayank Shekhar - of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee book. I appreciate this bit:

“This is a tougher book to write [than the Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro monograph], and for the same reasons, more difficult to read. For one, we’re looking at a filmography comprising 41 movies, being critiqued almost simultaneously, rather than chaptered film-wise [...] Your eyes naturally light up during portions in the book when your favourite films are being discussed. You want to speed-read passages referencing movies that you either haven’t watched or never cared much for […] This is the trouble with a comprehensive analysis of anyone’s works.”

Yup. I always knew that the interconnectedness of the analyses was going to be a stumbling block for many readers, and it’s something I have discussed with friends in recent weeks. Also, I spent more time closeted with/thinking about Hrishi-da’s less-known films than most readers of this book are likely to have - and that gulf between two sets of experiences/levels of engagement can create its own difficulties.

Which is a good pretext to share part of a pleasing email from my friend Yasir Abbasi: pleasing not because it showers praise on the book (it doesn’t) but because it comes from someone whom I know to be an intelligent reader and who has made a clear effort to engage with the book rather than just flip through it. 

Yasir writes:

Got the book a few days back and the physical copy looks so much better than the digital image of it! I quite like the overall feel of it.

What I don't like is - when I began reading it - how illiterate it makes me feel about the HM oeuvre, and I suspect a lot of other self-confessed fans of the man will share the sentiment. It's startling and also a bit discomfiting because we unfailingly count him amongst our favourite filmmakers, and yet there's so much from the man that we haven't seen.

Coming back to the book, I realized that not having seen some of his less-visible work is a hindrance as a reader because there are a lot of references to those films and at regular intervals in the narrative. It's not that the writing is not interesting, but the thing is that one gets a constant feeling of missing out on the nuances. I thought about flipping over to first read about the films that I do remember well enough, but that doesn't work at two levels - there's a flow in the writing and one can't hop in mid-way, and then again there are comparisons and references about the other films that one hasn't watched. So, it's just a personal inadequacy that has been preventing me from engaging with the book. Which actually is a brilliant excuse to visit/re-visit a lot of films - am especially curious about Biwi aur Makaan after reading the high praise. On another note, quite a bit of the stuff that I did manage to comprehend has been gratifying to read, for instance the Vrindavan-Kurukshetra-saarthi analogy drawn for Bawarchi - it's right there but one hadn't noticed it earlier.

So the plan is to first watch at least a few of the missing films before delving further into the book...
And returning to the Mayank Shekhar piece, one quibble: Shekhar’s definition of “termite art” is inadequate - it means a lot more than “for frothy entertainment alone”.

Also, the JBDY book wasn’t edited at all, it was just written - so I’ll take Shekhar’s “tightly edited" remark as a big compliment. Finally: I assume he was being as tongue-in-cheek in the last two sentences of the review as I was being when I wrote about “Shaitani Anand”!

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