Viewfinder: India's jewels
The writer muses about the rather amusing trend of labelling films as the first of their kind in the country
Our films are well-known for many things, but genre loyalty isn’t one. We mix humour into horror. We mix sappy sentiment into thrillers. We mix romance into action. To be honest, we mix romance into everything, but that’s a topic for another day. That's why whenever we, film writers, speak about upcoming films, we are constantly referring to genres like ‘comedy thriller’, ‘romantic horror’, ‘action drama’… In fact, so starved are we of films that are loyal to one genre that when we do eventually get one -- like Aval, which stuck to being a horror film -- it’s reason for much rejoicing. Unfortunately, just genre-loyalty isn't enough to market a film, or separate the sheep from the goats. And thus, we have arrived at a time when grand labels are the norm, and when all sorts of records are being broken apparently.
I have no qualms with, say, the upcoming Jayam Ravi film Tik Tik Tik, being promoted as India’s first space film. It’s a legitimate claim, and a big enough genre to warrant it. However, what about, say, last week’s Antony, which called itself ‘India’s first claustrophobic suspense thriller’? I dare say that the ‘suspense’ qualifier was added because there's already a shining example of a ‘claustrophobic thriller’ in Rajkummar Rao's Trapped.
This trend of labelling films as the first of their kind in the country has turned into a contagious phenomenon. So crucial has it become that makers seem willing to go to any lengths to legitimise the claim. There’s an upcoming film called Punyakoti, which is being dubbed as ‘India’s first Sanskrit animation film’. We’ve, of course, got Sanskrit films before, and got animation films too. Somewhere, someone figured that by the simple math of marrying these categories, you could arrive at a 'India's first' claim that instantly sounds grand. This isn't just to elevate little-known films. They’re already talking about Deepika Padukone playing a superhero in an upcoming film, and as you can imagine, it will be promoted as ‘India’s first female superhero film’. Last week’s Veere Di Wedding, I noticed, was written about by some publications as being ‘India’s first girl gang entertainer’. To borrow a modern expression, lol wut?
Even going by the low standards set by some of these absurd 'honours', you have to say that an upcoming Tamil film called Lissa has got quite an interesting claim. It’s being promoted as ‘India’s first-ever stereoscopic 3D horror film shot in Helium 8K resolution’. Yes, take a deep breath and read it again. Now that you have read that elaborate description again, be informed that every word there is crucial for the legitimacy of the claim. You see, the title of India’s first stereoscopic 3D horror film is already given to Vikram Bhatt’s 2011 film, Haunted – 3D. Meanwhile, ‘India’s first film to be shot in 8K resolution’ is thought to be Mohanlal’s 2017 film, Villain. And so, to qualify for a coveted 'India's first' title, Lissa gets called ‘India’s first-ever stereoscopic 3D horror film shot in Helium 8K resolution’. We, writers, shouldn’t be complaining. A couple of mentions of the title, and a substantial part of the word count gets taken care of.
While on long qualifiers, here’s one more -- about Aashaa The Street Dog, an upcoming film that has found the backing of UK-based Newscope Films. It’s being touted as ‘India’s first live-action all-animal family feature’. I also read somewhere that an upcoming short feature film called Cakewake that features Esha Deol as a chef, is ‘India’s first short film that will have an official poster launch in London’. Just imagine the wide range of possibilities, if our filmmakers decided to go this way. Kaala becomes India's first film to star Rajini and be set in Dharavi. 2.0 becomes India's first sequel to Enthiran.
Sometimes though, it isn't enough to merely arrive at a unique category; you have to narrow the region down as well. Like Miruthan, which was called South India's first zombie film. Or last week's Panjumittai, which was written about as Tamil Nadu's first magical realism film. The idea is clear. Add as many qualifiers as possible to arrive at a first-ever claim. If a thriller isn't good enough, you call it a 'philanthropical thriller' as the makers of Sadhuram 2 did. If an adult comedy isn't good enough, you call it an 'adult horror comedy', as the Iruttu Arayil Murattu Kuthu team did.
By the way, you should know that this column is quite special. This is India's first column on this subject written by a person with my name.