Mayank Shekhar: Crackling race towards cult
No, seriously, what good is a film buff, who only enjoys 'good' films!
Flop film dekhne jaa rahein hain [We're gonna watch a flop film],"the boy behind me in the elevator tells his friend, as we go up to the multiplex. "Kya pata, humein hi pasand aa jaye [Who knows, we might love it],"says the friend.
Both laugh, excitedly entering the theatre, having obviously bunked school for a Friday noon show, even while they're aware that the movie, Salman Khan's Race 3 (also starring Bobby Deol, Anil Kapoor, etc), that they plan to devote the next three hours of their life to, has already been panned by everyone since its release the weekend before.
When was the last time you did this? Depends on how old you are, of course. I still remember my first time in a real sense - similarly during middle/high school. And I was dying with every moment of that frickin' flick, Jeet (also a Salman starrer, with Sunny Deol in a more prominent role). From scene one, I began to vocally respond to the supposed rubbish on screen, disturbing my buddy, the most hardened Bollywood-buff, sitting next to me.
He finally turned around, like an able shrink, and explained how I must watch the film for what it is: step back, go with the flow; see what happens. I calmly did. Soon, I could sense sheer genius in Sunny Deol stamping his two left feet on a rock, Bhai-cep battling the wind in the song Yaara O Yaara. That 1996 song-sequence, if you search online, you'll figure, has attained genuine cult-status since.
What did I discover that day? A line of thought that applies rather well for films as for people, as in friends/family. I call it the 'consistency theory'. The point of which is, if movies, like men/women, displayed a predictable consistency in their character - whatever that trait may be; in the case of a person, say someone who's always, without fail, unpunctual, scatter-brained, over-sensitive; or a movie that's uniformly stupid, sexist, pointless, or intellectually stimulating in earth-changing ways - it's far easier to accept them for exactly what they are. And perhaps even love them for what they aren't.
It's the ones that promise one thing, and deliver another, that seriously disappoint. Which is probably why it's inevitably more fun to sit through a film that's astoundingly great (Gandhi), or delectably trashy (Gunda). The middle ones leave you deeply unsatisfied.
Is that how one defines cult? Nope, cult's impossible to craft/measure. Intellect in such matters often appears like a lame defence mechanism against unpretentious, basic emotions anyway. For so much of what eventually survives collective discourse is related to a strange personal connect. This is why journalistic reviews of movies, at best, guide some on what to catch that weekend/year. Sometimes they appear worthless, to begin with; but wholly pointless soon after, regardless.
If put a gun against my head to reveal my most favourite film ever, I might just say, Wayne's World (and that makes sense). Likewise one of the world's most watched movies right now - totally panned by reviewers, incessantly loved by viewers, and that you may not have even heard of - is the viscerally super-fun, teeny-bopper rom-com The Kissing Booth (streaming on Netlfix), that reminds you of simple pics you craved for as a kid growing up. It's a little like Karan Johar's Student Of The Year, or maybe Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (or at least the same genre), which also survives millennial memory.
So yeah, there's that unbeatable nostalgia part to cult. How did Internet bring new dimension to the phenomenon? By breaking down (well-known or lesser known) films into awe striking vignettes/videos to build lifelong devotees around them. You only have to visit 'I Love Trashy Hindi Movies', the happiest page on Facebook, and other equally active spaces, to get a sense of a community developing cults on a daily basis.
The line from Race 3, for instance, "Our business is our business. None of your business,"was cult even before the film's release. Would the self-aware Salman's entry in the film - in a cape, diving from a skyscraper, and then showing up in a three-piece suit with guns in both hands pointed at the screen, assuming the audience clapping to his move - or his climax scene - fighting half-nude with Bobby, also half-nude, who whacks the hero's torso in slo-mo, after Salman has already launched mini-rockets from his biceps-make the grade?
Does the extended cat-fight on the dance-floor between the heroines demand a relook - any more than a bunch of Indian politicians rounded up to negotiate a deal, so they can have their sex tapes back? Anil Kapoor, as the Bhojpuri speaking villain, in return, wants netas to hand him over Special Economic Zones or SEZs (pronounced, Says) in their states, so he can deal in both arms and drugs freely. Or, how about Bhai's love story? Or… Okay, can go on forever.
To repeat myself from a foreword I recently wrote for Amborish Roychoudhury's lovely book, In A Cult Of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box-office, "Movies is also how we collectively laugh at ourselves."Race 3, guys, I can promise, after extensive research, is the most welcome addition to the timeless canon.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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