Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Chetan Bhagat and unlimited parking in our brain

There’s a scene in Wake Up Sid where the editor of a magazine (Rahul Khanna) smiles mockingly, almost in disbelief when his colleague (Konkona) tells him that she does not enjoy jazz music.

Mujhe purane Hindi filmon ke gaane pasand hain,” she says. “Unko gaa toh sakte hain.” (I like Hindi film songs...the classics. Atleast one can hum them.)

For me, this scene was one of the high points of the film. The argument was spot on and I wanted to congratulate the film’s scriptwriter for penning this scene. Here's why.

For long, I’ve been amazed at how journalists, especially senior editors, editors, literary critics or Sunday edition reporters have consistently mocked popular choices in entertainment.

If you like jazz, you’re cool. If you like Singh is King, you’re uncool. If you’re a fan of Coetzee, you’ve arrived. If you’re reading Chetan Bhagat, you don’t have any taste in literature. And your sense of humor is down in the dumps if you’ve laughed your ass off in 3 Idiots.

Generalisations like these have often baffled me. Are you trying to suggest that your tastes are superior to mine? I've seen 3 Idiots in two cities - Mumbai and Kolkata - and I've never seen housefull auditoriums laugh their ass off like they did while watching this film. And then I've met some - all in the journalist/media fraternity, who can't seem to make out what's so great about a film. I think I'll send them a DVD of The Blairwitch Project.

In November, I remember, Indian Twitterati, friends in the media drummed up hot air (mostly negative) about how Chetan Bhagat’s books do not deserve to be read, what a terrible author he is, etc. I was hysterical when I heard about this, since I've seen from close quarters how students, first time novel readers have pored over Chetan Bhagat novels in the most crowded trains. I travelled to Kolkata recently by train and in my compartment, out of the roughly 7-8 people reading book during the journey, 5 of them were absorbed in Chetan Bhagat novels. That’s quite an achievement. And then they say that the bugger can’t write.

I was at a day-long conference recently where Bhagat was part of a panel discussion and despite his Delhi-ised English accent, he made absolute sense in every word he said. But to many in the audience, most of whom seemed to be the 'discerning snob' types, he remained the butt of all jokes. Even during the networking lunch, very few walked up to him to greet him. The best-selling Indian author was not hounded, like he is when is amongst his fans.

I’ve come to recognise these people as the ‘new age snobs’. They’ll consume Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai, Truffaut films and appear like they’ve seen the world and they’ll conveniently skip the biggest blockbusters from the country – Ghajini, 3 Idiots, Om Shanti Om, Singh is King – dismissing them as utter crap / entertainment for the masses. They won’t travel by train – they might as well describe it as cattle class. My best friend is a film critic and I admire him not because he bowled me over with his understanding of world cinema, but also because of his maturity at accepting popular cinema targeted at the masses.

What worries me is that most media houses are run by the 'snobs'. And they always have been. When you’re running a newspaper for an audience that comprises the masses, how can you have such different tastes than them? This is why typically film critics’reviews and audience reactions vary to a great degree.

Does that mean that we must encourage people like Taran Adarsh (who are trade experts and not film-critics per se) to review films for us? I’m not so sure. It’s a very debatable topic, particularly because of his trade background. But I think over time we need art and literature critics who are good at recommending the most deserving choices to their audiences. Rather than those, who aiming to send their CVs to The New Yorker.

I think the ideal consumption of literature is one that includes the good, bad and the ugly. So read all you can gather on a platter. Read the masterpieces, the classics, read the chick lits, read the thrillers. Also read the Mills & Boon and Nicholas Sparks. A Titan commercial quotes Aamir Khan saying, “Be born everyday. Aaj rockstar, kal pilot. Kabhi kisi anjaan station pe utar ke dekho. Kabhi kisi gumnaam sheher ka ticket katao...Be more.”

Ratatouille, the delightful animation movie about the adventures of a rat who wants to cook, also elucidates the same point wherein the food critic, Ego, admits as to how literary critics often forget to appreciate the simple things. Like a plate of ratatouille.

Absolutely true.

If you’re going to confine yourself to only certain kind of authors, certain kinds of films, then you’re a one-way street, with no parking.

Our mind is best conditioned as a two-way street, with unlimited parking.