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My taste is better than yours

Vanita Kohli KhandekarRitesh Batra’s The Lunchbox (2013) is a nice film. But the end is very upsetting. Thanks to a misplaced dabba, a middle-aged widower and a neglected housewife exchange notes. The friendship that develops is touching because in those short notes, they share more of their soul than they do with the people around them. It builds up to attraction and just when it seems that they will meet, the film ends, rather ambivalently. What happens next is left to your imagination. ‘That is cheating,’ was my grumpy thought while leaving the theatre.

Most critics have loved The Lunchbox unabashedly. None of them thought that the lack of closure in the film short-changes the audience in anyway. Maybe it doesn’t but hear me out.¬†There is general disdain for closure or consummation -- in this case the knowledge of whether the two met or did not meet -- among most people critiquing the arts. It stems from an intellectual arrogance that finds the whole idea of a linear or a non-abstract narrative ‘plebeian.’


Perfect ending? Why is liking a non-linear narrative or a film without closure become such a badge of intellectualism?

A couple of weeks back Amy, a very intelligent scientist and a character on the American show, The Big Bang Theory, was taking the obsessive Sheldon through some neurological exercises designed to rid him of his need for closure. These included playing half finished games such as dominoes or a jigsaw puzzle. This drove Sheldon nuts. After days of this, he waits till Amy is out of the house before playing a full game of dominoes and collapses in almost orgasmic relief when the last domino falls. He is an annoying character but in that moment you feel for the guy.

There is no harm in people liking stories without closure. Similarly, there is no harm in them liking stories that have closure. It is when either side makes a virtue out of it that things get murkier. And across the board, film critics make a virtue of their love for a non-linear narrative, ideally without song and dance. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire are arguably the only exceptions.
Last month, I finally watched Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW, 1 and 2). What I like about Kashyap is his enthusiasm and the fact that he experiments and tries to push boundaries.

Though audiences and critics love him, except perhaps for Black Friday, I am not into his cinema. It is too self-indulgent for me. But I sat through GoW and enjoyed it too. It is a documentary about hatred and rivalry that spills across generations. It is extremely well-made, the casting is bang on. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Manoj Bajpai, Richa Chaddha and Tigmanshu Dhulia are outstanding. The film is worth watching simply to see their performances.

But when you switch off your TV screen reeling from the blood and gore, you realise that there really is really no story. When I mentioned this to a film critic friend, he did not agree. Nor do most critics who had given it a huge thumbs up. Some of them promised to educate me in cinema appreciation.

GoW did find an audience in India and overseas. This proves, once again, that there is a market for all kinds of films and creative thought. That is the whole point of being different people -- different things appeal to each one of us. But the attitude of ‘what appeals to me is in much better taste than what appeals to you’ creates an undemocratic discussion around creative fields. It becomes even more skewed if this opinion is held by a majority of the people critiquing the arts in mass media. It isolatesa whole lot of people who want to read or see a discussion on their favourite films from someone who is not sneering at them but is analysing them.

For instance, till the late nineties and the early part of this millennium, popular Indian cinema was looked down upon by most critics especially in the English media. It is when the English and French academics made a profession out of studying Indian cinema that it got respectability in the country of its origin. That is true for television programming too. Anything that was aired on popular channels was termed as regressive. But the fact is that those shows empowered an entire generation of rural and small-town India, which live in a milieu that is different from ours. It took two economists from outside of India to prove it.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik  

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