Between Reviews: Century!

Posted on March 20, 2010


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Baradwaj Rangan wonders if he should, henceforth, be called a centurion (even if that sounds like someone begging for a bludgeoning by a small village of indomitable Gauls).

MAR 21, 2010 – THIS IS THE ONE-HUNDREDTH EDITION OF Between Reviews, and on this occasion, I’d like to thank my dad, my mom, my acting coach in high school who sighted the spark of raw talent… Sorry, wrong speech! This is what happens when your consciousness is still clouded by Oscar hangover. (Speaking of which, will there be a day when this column appears in 3-D and is beamed across to distant planets with tail-swishing, tree-worshipping natives? Uh, never mind.) What, then, are the components of the right speech – other than, of course, a profuse and public acknowledgement of the editor-in-chief of this publication, who is surely the greatest newspaperman who ever lived (either on earth or Pandora), a visionary, a humanitarian beyond compare, and whose timely intervention is going to solve the crisis in the Middle East? While you chew on that question, allow me a moment to unbrown my nose (or, if you will, unpolish the apple).

Seriously, though, this column sprouted as an excuse to riff about goings-on in the glamorous world of entertainment between my weekly reviews. (Hence, dear reader, the dazzlingly ingenious nomenclature of Between Reviews, whose acronym is the same as the author’s, which leads to the conundrum whether a film critic by the name of Indrajit Rangan would have preferred the header In-between Reviews, but that’s a different topic for a different day.) The very first installment appeared on January 6, 2008, and invoking the tradition of New Year resolutions, I wrote, “I’ve resolved to write this column once a week. As resolutions go, it’s a good one, I think. It doesn’t involve the endless amount of agonising that comes along with trying to kick assorted bad habits. Neither does it require me to become a better person, a more worthwhile human being – the stress resulting from which is likely to result in the acquisition of more bad habits… Besides, I get paid to do this. You can’t beat a resolution that results in revenue.”

The attempt was to emulate blogging within the confines of a weekend newspaper, with conversations of a more casual nature than in the reviews – in the voice of an eccentric guy who’s cheerfully batshit about movies and music, as opposed to the dour arbiter in the powder-white wig who bangs the gavel, week after week, on films that are paraded before him with their attendant catalogues of sin. In other words, this column is where I get to don my other Avatars (there, that word again), such as Unembarrassed and Unapologetic Spokesperson for Resuscitation of the Eighties in Public Memory, as in this piece about Thriller turning 25: “Speaking of great pop soundtracks of The Most Maligned Decade Ever – and closer home – do you realise Biddu’s Star has turned 25 too? Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s really been that long since Jaana, where Kumar Gaurav and Rati Agnihotri expressed undying love to one another by zipping themselves up in tinfoil spacesuits and performing somersaults in the vicinity of exploding nebulae.”

The times I’ve come closest to achieving this feel of “blogging” are when I’ve discussed generalities, straying from the specifics of new releases – and the columns I’ve enjoyed writing most are those in which I’ve bared my spotted soul about reviewing. There was the once I wrote, “When I leave the film, I want to get a sense of there’s-no-other-way-it-could-have-unfolded, and thus every element should have snapped neatly into place in the service of an overall vision, but at the same time, I still want to be surprised by how this inevitability comes across, and hence, I want the scenes to unfold in a way that’s surprising (that is, not inevitable).” And, “I never usually come down really hard on a film unless it’s completely useless. It’s easy to make me happy, as long as there’s a sense of some work having gone into a film.” And, “I believe in the theory that the more strongly opinionated a critic, the more finicky he is about what he likes and dislikes, the more valuable his writing becomes. Because, otherwise, you’ll never see the film from the inside of his head – and if that doesn’t happen, you’ll never get a differing perspective, even if it’s one you vehemently disagree with.”

The overly confessional, borderline-TMI nature of these columns makes me suspect, in retrospect, that I was quite concerned, at one time, about justifying my approach to those who subscribed to the canonical school of reviewing, who believe that certain standards have been put in place over the years (whether with reviewing books or art or music or movies), and that reviews should employ these standards to help build a consensus about whether or not a film should be placed in the canon. I don’t believe this is wrong – just that I’m incapable of that kind of reviewing, that sort of objective, stentorian, God’s-eye-view analysis of what’s “right” in a film and what’s “wrong.” I’m more interested in “what works for me (and why)” and “what doesn’t” – and I admit this is a bit frustrating (with regard to consensus-building) because the things that could work at one viewing need not do the trick during the second, or back-to-back viewings of contemporaneous releases could result in different analyses from what might have resulted had the films had been viewed a week (or a decade) apart. At the risk of repeating myself, I’m interested in opinions, not judgments – and that’s why, by now, you’ve decided to either read me or reject me. And as such addresses almost always close with swelling strings in the background and some sentimental twaddle about looking forward, I promise to put an end to global warming… Sorry! But at least, I hope to deliver less sporadic opinions about music, in between the mounting melee of the movies.

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