Thamizh Talkies: Rise up to greet greatness
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
Make no mistake, cinema is the best form of commercial art. I’ve always opposed the division of cinema as art and commercial. Don't masala movies need good acting, a solid story, or great music? What is the barometer for a good art film, as opposed to a good masala film? Aren’t they the same? The story perhaps can be the differentiating factor. The template of masala movie begins and ends with the do-gooder hero, whereas in an art film, the story is the hero.
MGR can be called the first 'messiah hero' of not just Tamil but Indian cinema. The Dravidian movement, knowingly or unknowingly, influenced the cinema of the 50s and 60s and gave rise to a box-office phenomenon called MGR whose film success rubbed off into politics, leading him never to see failure in any election. His stint, both as a leading matinee idol and as a Chief Minister, is peppered with few setbacks which didn’t majorly affect his career or his government office at all. With MGR being the actor to do similar things in different settings in each film, there was Sivaji Ganesan to choose different films and roles. Both were catering to their core competencies. And when one does that well, one sees unparalleled success. From the MGR-Sivaji era, this divide of masala cinema vs story-driven cinema has been prevalent. Despite the fact that we have had great directors and actors show the way for a cinema that can be both, we still divide the movie market as A, B, and C. Let’s take the example of Super Deluxe, which is the latest talk of the town.
A disclaimer: I’m sending this column at a time when I haven't seen the film yet. I’m reading the glorious reviews, the minimal criticism, and maximum adulation for the director and actors. Some murmurs of the film not collecting well also reached my ears. But then, a film which is not thought of as being B and C-centric is always panned thus by 'industry insiders'. Who they are and how they do this is still a bit of a mystery to me but moving on to the film, the trailer of Super Deluxe was all B and C, according to me. It simply had the aesthetics of what is called the 'A centre'. I’m not an advocate of dividing a movie market with such letters, but even if one were to divide it thus, the commercial hooks in the film seem aplenty.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja has perhaps employed the best standards in narrating his story: The best soundtrack, lighting, costumes, actors etc... and hence, his film gets termed as art cinema, and thought to be understood by very few? I read a tweet by an online critic saying that families and women don’t understand the film? Meaning? What is this further sub-division of a film audience into 'family audience'? We are all part of some family unit only, right? If a film has good artistic elements in it, then women and children won’t understand it? It took a Spielberg to make an ET; so let’s not even get there. Coming back to Super Deluxe, it is an 'A'-certified film, so why should children even watch it? It’s not for them. The director decides what he wants and doesn’t want to show in a film, and if his decisions match with what the larger audience thinks as best, then magic happens at the box office.
Sometimes, even if this match doesn’t happen, a movie can be magical. There are many such films to cite as examples. So it's not enough if we just have great creators; we, as an audience must also update and develop our standards to match that creator’s vision. And that’s where good film reviews come in. They help us understand what we may have missed. In cinema and in public life, we will have those few luminaries who will shine differently, who will walk on a road not taken. We must recognise them. We must treasure them. Because they do show us the way. We must enhance our taste, knowledge and standards to match them. Only then will the level of the whole industry or society, rise.