Social media despite the clampdowns is a relatively democratic space where one can express oneself about anything, right from what one had for breakfast in the morning to political opinions and views on art and culture. Almost all of us indulge in it. We share, we flaunt, we despair. Gone are the days from Wong Kar Wai’s, “In the Mood for Love” (2000), when its protagonist Chow Mo-wan had to travel to Angkor Wat in Cambodia to share his story and emotions in a hole at Angkor Wat temple there. We can almost vomit immediately. It’s more of a reflux, our regurgitation in the social media bin.
A bin is what it has been made into that does not even make compost.
In the seventies, Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977) had said while on a trip to Los Angeles, “In Beverly Hill… they don’t throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.” Almost fifty years later this is pretty much true of how we use social media, rather allow it to use us. It is a dumping ground that may put the famous dumping ground in Deonar, Mumbai to shame.
This brings me to two inconsequential films that are so badly made that they don’t even qualify as films. One is the listless, The Archies. Except for a few sparks here and there it is a badly made and written film made to showcase the tremendous ‘lack of talent’ in the progeny of the three most powerful families and the clout they have to peddle their gen next, who, if not from the families they belong to, may not even make it to the auditions leave alone getting the part. Not to forget what all must have gone into making them even this palatable. The manufactured euphoria was set in motion with a premiere attended by the crème de la crème.
Fine no complaints, a film has been made, it will be publicized but now that some of have not liked it, while some have enjoyed it, why can it not be left at that?
The other one, apparently a bigger disaster, labelled a dangerous film made by a deranged sociopath is a blockbuster, resulting in traffic jams outside theatres at two in the night! Apparently, a four-hour display of mindless violence and unabashed misogyny, starring one of our finest actors unfortunately.
Ranbir Kapoor in Animal is a vehicle of all that is wrong with the world and glorified much like our fascist supremos. Again, if we claim to be sensitive, serious about good films and intelligent, should we not just ignore the film? Just see it and forget it like a bad dream?
Whether it is Animal or The Archies we tend to go over these films again and again. Views and counterviews are expressed, followed by reviews from every possible critic from every possible source that are quoted to support one’s own take on the film. The point is if these films are so bad then why continue to validate them by discussing them ad nauseum? They will not find a place even in the footnotes of Hindi film history.
Instead, our obsession to discuss them and compete with one and other on social media in a very, “my argument is different and better than yours” mode has made these films and many like them masquerade as significant cultural landmarks if not cinematic. Those very people who are critical of Animal valorizing misogyny and violence have valorized the film the most. Animal has now been converted into a study material for gender, patriarchy, and violence!!! This is nothing but counter-legitimizing. When a counter argument meant to critically rubbish a film inadvertently, before we realize, turns into a propaganda vehicle of the very same instrument that it was so critical of.
All the agony and ecstasy expressed over Animal has only multiplied its box-office fortune. But there is a deeper layer/ agenda to it. Give these very same lieutenants pure cinema and their response will either be absent or lukewarm at best. Films that deserve reems of cultural, sociological, and cinematic discussions don’t impact these Animal-The Archies warriors at all. So, what can one infer from this?
Their agenda is neither cinematic nor cultural, all they are missing in these films is a “good” Bollywood entertainer that does not offend them and yet rakes in the mullah, which is anyway the primary purpose of a Bollywood film. For neither patriarchy, nor misogyny nor violence is new to B-town films. Even Raj Kumar Hirani’s fantastic Munna bhai series is misogynistic, for in both the films Munna decides to marry the heroine, irrespective of what she feels. But Those films are not aesthetically vulgar and violent as The Archies or Animal, so we don’t protest, we leave it to the film studies theorists to do that if they wish to.
This takes me to the furor in the country over selling of public sector left, right and center that we have witnessed in the last decade or so. Now it bothers us because the regime has turned out to be animalistic hurting our bourgeoise comfort and interests. The same selling was okay thirty years ago, when the compromising of the public sector had started. We needed our airlines, our burgers, our colas, mall, and multiplexes. The Udipis and local puri-bhaji dhabas were passe and coffee shops became the in thing. That did not hurt us. We went with the flow, celebrated, and consumed a whole new lifestyle with no thought on what are the primary responsibilities of the State or the Government. The caterpillar of privatization with time, matured from its nascency and is now a monster that is out to devour us. Now we run for cover. Much like “acceptable” misogynist, violent heroes of the yore who have now graduated into a full-blown animal and hurting us.
I do understand that all concepts and trends have an acceptable threshold. But they are a part of the historical process as well, not outside of it. With changing times their manifestation changes. We know the times we are living it and getting the “products” that are commensurate with it, as films are referred to by the Hindi film industry. Amitabh Bachchan once compared a film to Cinthol soap! What is the essential purpose of making a product? Consumption. So, both Animal and The Archies are being consumed and your hue and cry is only adding to it.
Now look at The Archies. It has been a part of growing up years of our generation that is now in its fifties and forties. Well, to expect the film will be same as the comics is not valid because it is just not possible. It could have been possible, had it been a web-series. In my view, it can make for a good show. As mentioned earlier apart from a few moments here and there and an attempt to make these highly protected, privileged kids socially aware there is nothing more to the film, neither cinematically nor do they seem to be a bundle of talent waiting to rule the marquee. This is more of a workshop film and The Archies is essentially a bunch of children from the families of B-town biggies in an ‘acting workshop film’. Nothing more. Riverdale and its world are not relatable to us. Maybe those from fancy international board schools where these children acting in the film have studied can perhaps relate to it. It cannot get as incestuous as The Archies. Children of family friends who are none other than Khans, Bachchans, Kapoors and Akhtars get together on a project about a closed world they are aware of. The fact that a Suhana, Khushi and Agstaya’s film got released on an OTT platform and not theatrically only supports the argument that is was just a showreel with no potential to sell tickets.
And what are we doing? Making discussions on a forgettable film that does not even qualify as cinema, our favorite pastime, much as what we are doing with Animal. For and against arguments, critics of all points of view quoted, so on and so forth. While, a film that really dealt with school issues, Farrey is royally ignored. Why? Because there is NO Bachchan, Kapoor and Khan in it. The only Khan is also a Agnihotri, daughter of an actor who did not do very well in his days. Once again, our interest is not in cinema or a good mainstream film but star kids, with negligible talent, made larger than life by the PR machinery. And our social media posts are adding to it. A film that at best should have been watched, a simple good or bad opinion shared, and people should have ideally moved on. But like 24x7 television social media doesn’t allow us that with Instagram posts, online publications and Reels ensuring these very forgettable, mediocre works are not forgotten soon.
We have fallen in the great social media trap. It has used the power of algorithms and internet and fooled us in believing that we are serious cinema viewers, makers, critics participating in a very important cultural, aesthetic, and creative debate. While all that we are doing is allowing ourselves to be used by a powerful billion-dollar publicity industry to peddle bad filmmaking. We may crib that as writers and makers we( the ‘no-Khan-Bachchans ’) ourselves are not as privileged to get to make these films, but what we are actually missing is to be in the boots of Zoya Akhtar, Suhana Khan and Agstaya Nanda. Had “we”( as in people outpouring themselves on Social Media) created The Archies it would have been a masterpiece!!! That is where our passion, interest and understanding of cinema seems to end!
Sharad Raj is a Mumbai based independent filmmaker, Senior Faculty at Whistling Woods International & Editor of Just Cinema.