Compulsory viewing

Paromita VohraI’m not sure how people decided what film to see before we lived in times of marketing blitzkrieg. Once upon a time, you just received whatever came on Doordarshan — magical discovery or hopeless tedium depended on your luck. Film trailers and new songs were not allowed on TV because a government channel wasn’t going to promote private commercial ventures. Whatever the mechanism for figuring it out, one thing was indubitable: Doordarshan was what was supposedly good for you, so it was compulsory and everything else was what felt real good, so it was choice.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Now supposedly it’s all choice. There is so much media to tell us what we should see and why. ‘Regular’ commercial marketing of big movies sends messages, persuasion, and explosions our way like cars speeding down the road against traffic. After some time, we really don’t know which car is ours and submit helplessly to the conviction that we must see a bad film because it’s the biggest, best and well… we must, for some mysterious reason.
This hypermarketing of supposedly mainstream films which surrounds us doesn’t seem so different from Doordarshan’s evening news, which told us in Hindi, English and the local language, how cool the ruling party was and how uplifting were various uplifting government initiatives that were only ever spotted on TV. Propaganda is propaganda na.

If normal marketing does not make you submit, there are other ways. Yani ki censorship. Most recently, we were exhorted to go see Vishwaroopam, not for any striking qualities of its own, but an ineffable quality it had acquired due to being banned in Tamil Nadu and the choking of free expression. Please do not ask how compulsory viewing in Bombay will create freedom of expression in Chennai. If it’s got censor troubles, it counts and it is compulsory viewing. If you don’t see, you don’t believe in the cause, you hypocrite. This too reminds me of having to cross the Sahara of Krishi Darshan, before I reached the oasis of Chitrahar. I resented Krishi Darshan, but I felt guilty because farmers are important too, and what sort of bad Indian resents Krishi Darshan? (Abbe don’t tell me now, when it’s too late, that I should have read books instead)

If your film neither costs Rs 100 crore nor faced censor trouble, then you are probably indie, you poor thing. Then it’s compulsory to see the film because the filmmaker spent their savings, their dad’s savings, their spouse’s savings, or someone’s savings anyway and now they need to be saved. In interviews, the directors will tell us how this is the first time anyone has ever made this kind of film, ratcheting up the compulsory quotient. Firstly, even if someone else did just that in 1967, how is the poor fellow supposed to know this when he’s just watched other things for compulsory reasons, no? Secondly, mothers — you could learn a lot about guilt trips from this stuff.

Really lazy folks just say the film is hard-hitting. I’m grateful to them because then at least I know I should avoid it. So between Rs 100 crore, censorship and a doughty tale, there’s a lot of compulsory viewing to be done. Only fools ask, par picture kaisi hai? Meanwhile the makers of these selfsame films are busy giving interviews saying there is no such thing as commercial and art cinema, only good and bad. Accha!

The only difference I can see between the government controlled days and the market controlled ones is that first there was passive compulsory and now there is active compulsory. I really should have cultivated that reading habit.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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