Monday, June 18, 2012

Dibakar Banerjee's Saturday moment

Haven't yet watched Shanghai and not sure I ever will, unless it turns up on TV and I accidentally land up on a channel that happens to be showing it. This is mostly because of a friend who sends out trenchant film criticism via (three or four) smses and his remarks on Shanghai were both funny and unrepeatable on a public forum.

Instead, let me point to a post and an interview with Banerjee.

The post (via Supriya):

Development projects, have a very political purpose, not only to hand over prime real estate land to private parties, but to remove every possible centre of dissent and political activity that is always incipient in the slums and working class neighbourhoods. The film, by portraying only the hypocrisies and the futilities of a middle and upper class characters, whose so-called good intentions and attempts for justice are constantly thwarted by ‘the system’, betray the one place where inspiration is found: the protest in the people’s movement, when the hungry go on hunger strike.
Thus, all of those who once stood before bulldozers, would not send anyone to go watch the film. A sentiment repeated by all of them – from Annabhau Sathe Nagar to Sion Koliwada.

‘They showed in the film, that the public is not agitating, that they’re only a few angry people who’re fighting for rights and dying,’ Says Santosh Thorat of Annabhau Sathe Nagar, who has been fighting for the right to a home, and against Slum Rehabilitation scams, since his home was demolished in 2005, ‘And this film is about how the state deals with the few of them, so you better keep your mouth shut.’

‘People who don’t have any knowledge of what’s happening in the street and in the morchas, in the andolans, especially the youth, whose homes have never been demolished, they’d be very badly influenced by this film.’ Said Jameela Begum of Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar. Four young boys from Sion Koliwada who experienced demolitions and violence, would add how a young woman leader from their slum is in jail for protesting against demolition, but their awareness was born by the realities of what they face. The lack of the realities of what they faced in the past week – one boy who was beaten up by the police after trying to protect his father from the police, simply replied, ‘the film was boring.’
And from the interview in the DNA:
Another criticism was that the daily trials and vulnerabilities of the working class and casual labourers weren’t really represented.

Anant Jogue’s character, who mows down Dr Ahemadi, is representing the working class. So is his wife, and the character of Bhaggu (played by Pitobash). I didn’t see the need to have more than one or two characters to represent that strata of society. The film, in the end, has been made for intellectual pleasure; it’s a story. It’s not to push the agenda of any particular set of people, but to ask some pertinent questions instead.
Oh nice. So Banerjee "didn’t see the need to have more than one or two characters to represent that strata of society" but of the few who do represent one of that strata of society one of them happens to have killed what appears to be 'the good guy'.

Plus, this idea that intellectual pleasure cannot exist in stories about people who are not the middle class is so incredibly hilarious. But the get-out clause that is the It's just a story plea doesn't cut much ice, I'm afraid. Especially not from someone who wants to provide intellectual pleasure.

And Banerjee seems to think that by making this a "story of middle-class people, caught up in an alien slum environment, and struggling to come to terms with various things" [from early in the interview], he isn't pushing any agendas.

How sweet.


Banno said...


JP said...

Sounds like another stew of smug elitist entitlement and messianic self-regard.

Did you follow this:

What do you make of it?

Space Bar said...

Banno: That's as succint a review of the film as I ever saw! :D

JP: I did. It reminded me too much of the comments on my FB page back when I was still on it and linked to something similar on Kafila earlier. (Which is to say, I skimmed the comment, knowing it would infuriate me).

Anonymous said...

hey space bar, i don't know what your friend's sms review said, but shanghai is the best movie made on mob mentality that have seen so far.

you might agree or disagree with the director's perspective, but you won't deny that the movie achieves impact.

after his first 'story' movie, khosla ka ghosla, db has steered away from 'entertainment' and is doing a kind of social commentary using cinematic tools. i think he deserves credit for even attempting to do that.

being so closely connected to cinema, one ought to know that the subject matter of a movie is not so obvious as the visible story line. and i am not referring to layers in a story here.

contrary to shanghai being thought of an intellectual narrative, which no cinema can ever be, it is sensory. an assault for some and boring for some others. what is cannot be, because cinema is never that, is considered in the realms of right and wrong.

i would love to know what you think of it after you watch it. seriously!

km said...

contrary to shanghai being thought of an intellectual narrative, which no cinema can ever be, it is sensory.

@Anonymous: what is "an intellectual narrative" and why can't cinema "ever" be that?

Anonymous said...

@km: i may have put my foot in the wrong place here  but, let me not cower out and instead offer an explanation to my statement.

despite the intensive deliberation, content analysis and production detail (all subsets of an intelligent narrative) filmmakers put into their films, when it comes to an audience receiving a film, it becomes something else. a sort of harmony (or cacophony, depending on how well the elements are chosen and put together), that surrounds the senses of the viewer all at once. that something else need not always be something ‘higher’ in abstraction. but for sure, it becomes something very different from each of the subsets it is comprised of. i contend that no filmmaker can ever control or predict what the final outcome, which is a film, can be. at the receiver’s end, all intelligent inputs cease to exist. (except of course, in the analytical minds of cinema critics – who are a different breed of audiences, learned in the art of watching a movie and to that extent deprived of the sensory delights the movie can offer.) in the expectation that a film will educate audiences about the ill effects of smoking, a film can end up making people feel sick and no more. in the expectation that a film will expose the world to the dirty linen of politics, it may merely end up entertaining them. and of course, most of the time, films that intend to entertain people, end up boring them. or in some cases, upset a section of the society.

intellectual narratives or even interactions are those where both the sender / creator and the receiver have agreed on the context and intent of the narrative / interaction. it follows a linear progression and reaches a conclusion at the end of a mutually agreed stage. (like this interaction). the context, for cinema, if it exists, is not defined. why does a person go to watch a movie? the reasons, and hence the contexts for each individual, are as varied as the number of people watching. what are the odds that any of these contexts coincides with those of the filmmaker?

if you look at the most commonly used media for interaction, or thought articulation and sharing, between human beings, text is the most logical and hence closest to being intellectual. as we move to pictures, audio and video, progressively, logic and its building of intelligence diminishes quickly. the reason is that as more of audience’s senses come into play in receiving something, the less they are capable of receiving intelligently. till date, cinema is the grandest, in terms of sensory stimuli, we have come to articulating and sharing our thoughts with others. then, does it make any sense for anyone to evaluate a movie or respond to it on its verbal or textual or contextual message?

Space Bar said...

Anon: I hadn't responded to your first comment but I feel I should at least briefly respond to your second one.

I have to admit that the only matter in which I agree with you is the idea that for an audience watching a film, it might be harmony or cacophany, depending. And also, perhaps, that once a film is out of the filmmaking apparatus's hands, what it becomes is something else entirely.

I want to say: precisely.

So if the people Shanghai is supposedly depicting go and watch it, and their response (at what you might call a completely non-intellectual level) is BO-RING....well, there you go. As valid a criticism as any.

For the rest of what you say, I confess I can't really understand a lot of it. I don't get how no cinema can ever be intellectual just because it is sensory; I don't see a dichotomy. Neither do I see how someone who can critique a film is automatically disqualified from being able to appreciate it on a sensory level.

And I don't even know how to respond to this statement: intellectual narratives or even interactions are those where both the sender / creator and the receiver have agreed on the context and intent of the narrative / interaction.

But it seems to me that the substance of your defence of Shanghai is, that it (and possibly every film ever made) should not be analysed because it must be experienced as sensory stimuli because, in turn, that is what cinema does better than any other art form.

Because I don't agree with your idea that the one cannot go with the other, I have to disagree with what you've said.

But I'm sure the 3D filmmakers will love you!

Anonymous said...

i am glad you responded. i re-read my comment and agree that some of it does read like gibberish :-). it is not. but that is not important right now. the dichotomy does exist for me. it is heisenbergish. and i must say you have buddha nature to do both. no sarcasm. i mean it. regarding 3d, what i have seen of it so far in film, i don’t like it. it is yet to arrive.

aandthirtyeights said...

Let me just say that Dibakar Bannerjee's film is much better than his defence of it.