This week we kick things off with a direct quote, from the occasionally great Aamir Khan:
“Mujhe yeh dar lagta hai ki Dhobi Ghaat shaayad audiences ko — matlab jo masses hai — unko pasand nahin aayegi. Kyonki yeh bahut hi fine film hai. Matlab jin logon ko cinema ki samajh hai, jo log sensitive hai, dil se jo jazbaati log hain, unke liye ye film hai.”
“I fear that maybe audiences — the masses — won’t like Dhobi Ghaat. Because it’s a very fine film. I mean people who have knowledge of cinema, who are sensitive, who think from the heart and are emotional, this film is for them.”
Really, Mr Khan?
Do please put a sock in it, sir.
Suddenly your new film is too good for your audience? And your audience, the reason you are who you are, perceived as cerebral even while hawking low-fat snacks, is suddenly not sensitive enough, not emotional enough — and not well enough versed in film theory — for you? Bah, humbug.
The sheer level of condescension in that quote is alarming. For one, calling the Indian audience short of sensitivity or emotion is a stretch in any book. We’ve always been suckers for high drama, even in comic scenes. You know, the kind of films where vacuum cleaners birth infants just so caricatured fathers can have changes of heart? Yeah, those wouldn’t work if the audience didn’t react with its heart and forgive all the farce.
Said at the Peepli Live DVD launch last week, the lines are also particularly jarring coming from Aamir, an actor whose biggest hits — Raja Hindustani, Fanaa, Ghajini — are widely considered the weakest of his films. Does it then imply that the perfectionist knows his audience so well that he confidently feeds them tripe? And in that vein, is it an admission, an inadvertently candid confession of mediocrity, saying that while the other films are ‘simple’ enough for masses to get, this one — produced by Aamir and directed by wife Kiran Rao, currently nabbing killer reviews on the festival circuit — is the sole exception? That Khan himself is frighteningly aware that everything else he serves up is not, um, ‘fine’?
And since when did you need to be cine-literate to appreciate a good film? A masterpiece is a masterpiece is a masterpiece, and hits you right between the eyes — and shoves you in the heart with the force of a roundhouse right — no matter what you know about the craft of cinema. A good film is a visceral experience, and you do not need to be aware of technique or predecessors to be overwhelmed by it. Sure, film theorists and critics and their mothers all have different ways of consuming a film, but a solid film — which could be personally smashing for any single one of us — doesn’t need cinematic education to show off its chops. At all.
Then again, as a friend suggests, perhaps this too is strategy on the part of the masterful marketing maestro. Berate the masses, and dare them to come see a film in defiance of the claim that they won’t get it. For all you and I know — and Aamir’s track record suggests he knows better than anyone else — it’ll work, and Dhobi Ghaat will be an unquestioned success. Maybe just because of those reactionary words.
Yet that isn’t the point. As a member of your audience, Mr Khan, that quote just hurts. It is thoughtless, callous, dismissive and most uncalled for. Suggesting that you are smarter than the people who make you a star betrays a hint of smugness that, when heightened, invariably culminates in increasingly sloppy, manipulative cinema. Coming from you, one we have tremendous expectations from, a barb like that stings and disappoints in equal measure.
And a plea for sensitivity from the audience could certainly have used some of its own.
Originally published Mumbai Mirror, November 17, 2010