Thought Box



by Sharad Raj January 8 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 26 secs

We have fallen in the great social media trap. It has used the power of algorithms and the internet and fooled us into believing that we are serious cinema viewers, makers and critics participating in a very important cultural, aesthetic, and creative debate, writes Sharad Raj.

Social media, despite the clampdowns, is a relatively democratic space where one can express right what one had for breakfast in the morning and political views on art and culture. Almost all of us indulge in it. We share, we flaunt, we despair. Gone are the days from Wong Kar Wai’s, “In the Mood for Love” (2000), when its protagonist Chow Mo-wan had to travel to Angkor Wat in Cambodia to share his story and emotions in a hole at the temple there. It’s more of a reflux, our regurgitation in the social media bin.

In the seventies, Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977) had said, while on a trip to Los Angeles, “In Beverly Hill…they don’t throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.”  Almost fifty years later this is pretty much true of how we use social media, rather allow it to use us.

This brings me to two inconsequential films that don’t even qualify as cinema. One is the listless The Archies. Except for a few sparks here and there, it is a badly written film showcasing the progeny of three powerful Bollywood families and the clout they carry to launch their next generation. A manufactured euphoria was set in motion with the premiere attended by the who’s who of the entertainment industry.

The other one, apparently a bigger disaster and labelled a dangerous film by none other than Javed Akhtar, is directed by a sociopath, and it is a blockbuster – even resulting in traffic jams outside theatres at 2am! A four-hour layout of mindless violence and misogyny, starring one of the finest actors of Bollywood, unfortunately.

Ranbir Kapoor in Animal is the vehicle for all that is wrong with the world, and it’s been glorified much like only fascists would do. Again, if we claim to be serious about good cinema, should we not just ignore the film? Just see it and forget it like a bad dream? But no.

Whether it is Animal or The Archies we cannot stop talking about them. Views and counterviews have been expressed, followed by reviews from every critic under the sun. The point is, if these films are so bad then why validate them by discussing them ad nauseum? They will not find a place even in the footnotes of Hindi film history, right! Then why are you not ignoring them?

Our obsession and competition with one another, on social media, over these films in a very, “my argument is better than yours” mode has already made them masquerade as significant cultural landmarks. People who are critical of Animal, valorising misogyny and violence, have valorised the film the most. The film has now become study material for gender, patriarchy, and violence! This is counter-legitimizing - a counter argument meant to critically rubbish a film, inadvertently turns into a propaganda vehicle for the same instrument that it is so condemning of.

All the agony and ecstasy expressed over Animal has only multiplied its box-office fortune, but there is a deeper layer, an agenda to it. Give these self-appointed lieutenants pure cinema and their response will either be absent or lukewarm at best. Films that deserve cultural, sociological, and cinematic discussions don’t impact these warriors at all. So, what can one infer?

All that they are missing in these two films is a “good” Bollywood entertainer that rakes in the mullah without offending them, which ironically is anyway the primary purpose of a potboiler. For patriarchy, misogyny and violence are not new to B-town. Even Raj Kumar Hirani’s fantastic Munna Bhai series is misogynistic - in both the films Munna decides to marry the heroine irrespective of whether she wants to or not. Because the Munna Bhai films are not as unaesthetic, vulgar and violent as Animal is, we don’t protest and leave it to film studies theorists to object.

This takes me to the furore in the country over sale of the public sector that we have witnessed in the last decade or so. It bothers us now because the present regime is animalistic, hurting our bourgeois comfort and interests. The same was fine thirty years ago, when the compromising of the public sector actually began. We need our airlines, our burgers, our colas, malls, and multiplexes. The Udipis and dhabas are passe, and coffee shops are the thing. We went with the flow then, celebrated, and consumed a new lifestyle with zero thought towards the responsibility of the State. The caterpillar of privatization, with time, matured from its nascency and is now a monster that is out to devour us, so we run for cover? Wow! Much like “acceptable” misogynist, violent heroes of yore who have now graduated into full-blown animals and are hurting us.

I do understand that all concepts and trends have an acceptable threshold, but they are also part of the historical process. With changing times they manifest differently. We know the times we are living in, and therefore getting “products” commensurate with it. Amitabh Bachchan once compared a feature film to Cinthol soap! What is the essential purpose of making a product? Consumption. So, both Animal and The Archies are being consumed like the Cinthol soap, and the hue and cry is only adding to it the sales.

The Archies was a part of the growing up years of a generation now in its fifties and more. Apart from a few moments and an attempt to make some privileged kids socially aware, there is nothing to the film. It is not more than a workshop. The fact this film was released on a streaming platform and not in theatres only supports the argument that it is just a showreel.

We have fallen in the great social media trap, which has used the power of algorithms and internet and fooled us into believing that we are serious cinema viewers, makers and critics participating in an important cultural, aesthetic, and creative debate, whereas all that we are doing is letting ourselves be used by a powerful billion-dollar PR industry to peddle poorly made films.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.