Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The travails of a reluctant filmi journalist

Sitting back and reminiscing on the life of sin that I have led for twenty whole years, quite a few incidents which have scarred me for life spring to what passes for my mind. But on closer introspection, I realize few experiences have been as tortuous as the day I reviewed Boys!

Reviewing Boys:

This was my first movie review assignment ever, and I was rather excited. After coaxing my forever cantankerous bike to start up, I rushed to the preview of the movie – hoping it would be something about the making of a neighbourhood rock band.

The preview theater was located in a corner of hell, more popularly known as Vadapalani. The very fact that they would preview a movie there points to the marked lack of respect the media receives in today’s world. As I entered, I realized that the theater was not without its redeeming features. The producer had been kind enough to supply us journalists (as I proudly noted then, with the ‘us’ very prominent in my mind) with lots of food.

As I rushed there, tongue lolling in anticipation, I realized that the food had been designed to cater to the dregs of journalism – who were the only kind who bothered to attend these previews anyway, as I later found out from mother,. There was no caviar, for god’s sake! And the Naans, sushi and Malai Kofta were also conspicuous in their absence. All I could espy was a swarthy man cooking dosa after dosa, lacing each with a little honest sweat from his brow. Another man was frying vadas, but at least he wasn’t adding his sweat to the mixture – probably because the oil, blacker than my principal’s heart, would suffice to leave most of the media with indigestion.

I hesitated at the threshold. Then, in a moment of decision, I stepped in with a confidence that became me well and strode right to the man making (and distributing) the dosas. I spurred myself on to eat here for I felt it was rather an honour to be treated to free food by someone like Shankar – after all that was recognition of journalists’ importance (and by extension, mine). Secondly, Shankar was making too much money anyway. But I was primarily driven by hunger, greed and a sharp awareness of the fact that I had exactly six rupees in my pocket with me.

I picked up my dosa and wandered off, expecting to see small groups of media men nibbling away at their dosas demurely while waxing eloquent on the situation in Upper Chechnya. What I saw instead was a scene right out of Dotheboys’ hall – if that’s the place I want. Men all around me were pushing dosas in their entirety right up their hatch, almost choking themselves. The situation in Upper Chechnya was immediately forgotten, the suffering masses there left alone in their sorrow, in the rush to get more dosas and vadas before the supply gave out. I watched with great amusement and slight disgust as a bearded man, sambar and masala smeared over the fungal growth, pushed aside three other men to get the biggest dosa among the three on the stove. The disgust however grew, and metamorphosed into terrible embarrassment when I realized that I had prided myself for being part of this elite group till a few minutes ago, and had spoken at length about my ‘exclusive’ preview invite to all and sundry.

I should have, by all rights, placed the plate aside after having the little I had placed on my plate and settled back to view the melee – the quintessential pucca sahib. But I didn’t. Setting aside such thoughts as elitist, I joined the rest of the proletariat in the mad rush to the dosa stand; pushing, heaving and generally making a nuisance of myself. I ate three of them – rightfully earned in the glory of battle. Satisfied, I let out a small, uncouth burp. But I realized I was a mere minnow as far as burps went. All around me was an army of experienced belchers, who could have out-belched me in their sleep.

Then, I walked into the theater, looking as suave as one had just fought tooth and nail for his food and belched later could. The theater décor, which I had hoped would put Mayajaal to shame, looked as if it would be put to shame by Ganpat Ram (which, for the uninitiated, provides cheap, risqué entertainment for Chennai’s masses for the nominal price of ten or so bucks.)

But I reassured myself that the movie would more than make up for it. After all, I had identified with the song Girlfriend, just like thousands of despos around India. I was sure the movie would appeal right to my heart.

I seated myself right next to a few dignified men and women who appeared to be the kind who were likely to carry on about the people of Upper Chechnya (about whom I am greviously worried, make no mistake). I had just about settled down when there seemed to be a tremendous explosion to my left, right where a particularly dignified woman was sitting. Turning around to ascertain the cause of the explosion, I realized that it was the woman’s vocal chords which were responsible for it. With a savage war cry, she stepped all over me and rushed towards a man (who I later found out was Shankar) and a curly-haired boy who looked suspiciously like a small time ruffian (Bharath, who proved himself to be one when he actually got CAUGHT copying in a university examination recently – I mean how stupid can you get!!?).

I had just about thought the stampede had ended when the rest of the dignified crowd – dumping the problem of Marxist Cuba by the wayside – rushed towards the man. Not one of them missed stepping on my toes.

After the man had given them their bites, quotes or whatever it is these journalistic ninnies call it, they walked back to where they were. Once again , they were meticulous enough to crush my toes better than Waqar Younis’ yorkers could ever have.

Nursing injured toes, a digestive system which had begun to show ominous signs of going on strike, and shattered illusions about the glamour of film journalism, it was a somber me that watched the credits at the beginning of the movie.

And the movie – the less said the better. Around forty minutes into the movie, I wished to get up from my seat and boo. As a prelude, I laughed out aloud when the hero was getting really mushy with his ‘fig’. I received three glares, five askance looks and two ‘shhhh’s. I sunk deeper into my seat and watched the rest of movie in disbelief, trying to deduce whether they had ever written a screenplay for the movie at all.

To see what I had to say about the movie at that time, please visit : (You may note upon reading the piece that I was considerably kinder to the movie than I would have been otherwise. I was stricken with diarrohea only after I’d sent the piece in. )

Epilogue: After all that had happened, I had the misfortune of having to watch Boys again (!!!) on a friend’s birthday – ostensibly her ‘treat’ - where I paid my way in and was treated with five bucks worth of popcorn. I consoled myself by deciding to boo and comment with gay abandon. I had just got started when my friend admonished me that I was with ‘girls and would have to behave appropriately’ (read ‘like one’). In fact, she was kind enough to point to another chump who seemed to have tears in his eyes – overwrought at Munna being arrested by the Yellow Brigade*, no doubt – and tell me that was the way I should behave.... Need I say more...

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