Readers Write In #23: MANK’s love affair with the movies

Posted on October 2, 2017


For as long as i can remember, I have been in love with movies. My movie tastes may have evolved over a period of time , but I can’t remember  a period in my life when i wasn’t fascinated by them.  It has been one constant in my ever changing life . I don’t exactly remember the first film i saw, it must have  been a Hindi film on television which use to come on Sundays.  That was the only entertainment option available. i must have been five or six , so just as i was coming to my senses, i was already watching films . In short,  My love affair with films began almost  at the same  time  as my love affair with life itself. As Dharmendra says in Sholay “Hosh sambhalte hi apne pairon pe khade ho gaye”.

Soon enough we  started getting Malayalam films, and  it was Hindi films on Saturdays, Malayalam on Sundays and there was regional films that was shown on Sunday afternoons with subtitles. that became a weekly routine for many years and it was obvious to me that i have a  certain connect a special liking for this art form of moving pictures, watching them made me very, very happy. I was already having my favorites among the actors and actresses and the genre  of films that i favoured watching more.  Action and comedy films were my favorites and the more romantic and tragic where the ones i didn’t favour much. And my preference for actors also bordered on those lines. It was always exciting to check out the credit titles of the films at the beginning to see  whether there was a credit for fight master or my favourite comedy actors were there. and my interest in proceeding with watching the movie depended on that.

Even though i was very young and ignorant about cinematic techniques, i could feel that there were major differences between different language movies i was watching. The rhythm , the acting , the stories, the music, songs that was shown in Malayalam film  was very different from the ones shown in a Hindi film, which was again very different from the regional films –   which were mainly award winning art films – that i was getting to watch. Soon enough I realised that these films were actually made for and to be seen in a large theatre on a big screen and what i was seeing was  just a small version of it . Being a keen movie buff by now, i longed to have that big screen experience, which would come soon enough.

The wonderful thing about movie theatres in Kerala is that we get to watch movies from lot of languages. Almost every Tamil and Hindi film would have simultaneous release in Kerala in all the major A centres. then there was Tamil dubbed version of Telugu films that were also released. there were the  English movies that were released. perhaps between 6 months and a year of their actual release

The first film i saw in a theatre was Kilukkam, the Mohanlal starrer . i went with my father, who it turned out was a great movie buff  and a very serious and passionate one. Mohanlal was his favourite actor . he had tried to keep me away from the seductive power of cinema, knowing how it will be an adverse affect on my studies, but he had to give in in front of my determination.  After that i kept going out with him to theatres. and after coming back home or on our way back he and i would  discuss about the film and he would explain to me about a lot of things about it that i did not understand . That was really my first brush with movie analysis.

But the problem was that he would watch only Malayalam films and may be the odd Hindi film, he was not interested in watching any other language films. so for some time that’s the only movies i watched.  But as time passed, I fell in with a bunch of friends who were a little older than me and who were crazy about  Tamil and Telugu films. That’s how my tryst with those language films began. I immediately liked the large than life format that the films had, the heroes who danced and fought well and the song and dance sequences, which were mounted on a very big scale.

Now i was pretty well acquainted with the films from these 3 or 4 languages, But, i haven’t seen a single English language film. Because for one, none among my family and friends had even remote interest in watching English films and secondly there was this  misconception about  them that they were either boring art films or of the soft porn variety. But this conception would change drastically and through a very unexpected channel. My school education was in an Anglo Indian convent, the school Principal up until my upper primary was an old crotchety orthodox priest who ran it with an iron hand, but he passed away suddenly and was replaced by a more liberal and  a more affectionate person, who it turned out was a movie nut. The Reverend Father , whom i and very kid in the school at the time remember with great affection and who is the main person responsible for turning me in to the English film dude.

The school had a presentation room with TV screen and VCR where they use to show educational programmes and where visual presentations used to be conducted by training teachers. One fine Friday, Our new principal decided to start showing English films in the afternoon for about an hour, it will take 2 weeks minimum for a film to finish. This went on for about two or three years before pressure from his peers in the board forced him to stop.

The first film he showed us was The Good the bad and Ugly, i still remember that experience vividly as found it very, very exciting. i was stunned by how different the whole feeling of that film was from the Indian films i was watching. The colour, the camerawork, the music, the performance of the actors, it was on a completely different level, in spite of the fact that it was almost 30 year old film. And Clint Eastwood was nothing like i have seen before, so tall, blonde and macho cool, that gun flipping trick he did, before he put in his holster, i kept on doing that for days with pens and sticks. I watched about 10, 15 films during that period which would change my perception of American films. His main criterion for showing a film was that it was good action film. Like our Censors, he would avoid anything remotely sexual, and if a little bit of sexy stuff popped up in the films he was showing, he would have his fingers ready on the Fast forward button, We would marvel at his timing ,the way he was able to skip those moments perfectly ,as if they were never there.

Once i saw those movies,. It inspired me to go out and watch the new English films that were coming in theatres. It was with the time when they introduced the new Dolby sound system and it was a mind-blowing experience. After that there was no stopping, I continued to watch them as and when it was possible for me. The most interesting aspect of those films for me was how they managed to keep a consistent tone or emotion throughout, if it was an action film, it was an action film throughout, if it was a comedy, then the tone was comic throughout as opposed to Indian films that were a mixture of wide variety of emotions.

Now my film viewing had come to include such wide variety of languages and genres. But my intentions in watching them were very clearly defined. Malayalam films for me were the real deal, they were about story, characters , great acting, music and very close to life. The non Malayalam films, the Indian films were really guilty pleasures, you watch them to enjoy the masala, the fantasy, the superb stunts, the huge sets and song and dance numbers, the large than life heroes and the scantily clad heroines. The English films were for the pure genre pleasures, the technical brilliance of the hardcore action films which have become my favourite kind of films.

But by the end of 90’s this routine was to undergo a radical change as there would be a drastic drop  in the quality of  Malayalam movies .  It would become a cheap copy or parody of the Other language films with the great lead actors that I admired like Mammootty and Mohanlal started indulging in antics that were more cringe worthy than their Tamil and Telugu counterparts. The nadir as far as I was concerned was Narasimham which was released in 2000, a crude and disgusting movie and kind of cheap copy of Padayappa that went on to become the biggest hit up until that time. What followed was an avalanche of such similar films, all equally bad to the extent that I stopped watching Malayalam films altogether. I would rather watch the Tamil and Telugu films which were serving the same ingredients in much more style and conviction. I had also become disillusioned with the trends in Hindi cinema which had replaced the more masculine masala cinema that I loved the more effete brand of NRI romcoms to which i felt absolutely no connection. This tilted me even further towards English films.

I had also started reading up extensively on foreign films and getting to know more and more about them and became familiar with world classics even though i wasn’t seeing any of them. even when we got a VCR and then VCD player of our own, getting Cassettes for these films were almost impossible. I couldn’t even persuade my relatives abroad to get me cds or cassettes of these films as they had no interest in them. I managed with whatever I could lay my hands on, the reissues of Mackenna’s Gold or Lawrence of Arabia which I was able to catch up on 70 mm. I Remember there was this AFI poll that published the 100 greatest films of 100 years, I think it came out in 97 or 98 and I realized that there were very few films on that list that I have seen, All those great 60’s and 70’s classics.

But things changed for the better at the turn of the millennium. it coincided with that point in time of my life when i completed my school education and enrolled in college preparing for my graduation. I was unshackled from strict rigors of a convent education and an orthodox conservative family life. That was the time when  There was this huge explosion in Information technology: the internet boom, the home video market with the coming in of DVD and the cable channels. so all these new channels like HBO,TMC, star movies, they brought with them all those movies that were unattainable to me.  Now pretty much  my own man , and with the new found freedom. i completely indulged myself in my passion for movies.

Those four, five years at the beginning of the millennium were truly a renaissance period for me. I got opportunities of my own to go abroad and my main shopping itinerary consisted mainly of films of course. i saw all the classics: the godfathers, the Citizen Kanes , the European films that I have been hearing for a long time. Not just English films, I went back and saw all the Malayalam , Hindi and Tamil films of the earlier period that I had missed. It was  not just films but music, art, literature, My graduation and post graduation in academics coincided with my graduation in subject of films also. My Movie sensibilities or my movie conscious was fully formed during that period. It has stayed pretty much constant since then with very little alterations. the kind of movies that i like, that i don’t like, the kind of acting i like , i don’t like. there haven’t been any major changes.

And  more than a decade since, today when I survey the movie scene, , I am pretty disillusioned with the current scenario. Not just in India , but around the world. I am afraid that for a very young art form, the best of cinema may be already behind us. Hollywood movies have become completely restricted to just two types of films , either the tent pole of shared movie franchises and universes or the over earnest award bait stuff, both of which hardly impresses me. It’s very hard to be enthusiastic about the Marvel universe phase six or the tenth star wars movie that’s coming out along with a Han solo or Darth Vader spin off. The kind of movies I like the most, the R rated hardcore action picture and the mid budget adult dramas made by auteurs with a definite personal stamp  have completely disappeared. The only consolation is that they have started showing up as series on cable channels.

The seven seasons of Mad Men or Breaking bad were like a shot of adrenalin in the midst of these stale studio movie products that were inundating the big screen. I am happy that Malayalam films have gone back to their roots with a new generation of young actors and filmmakers. and that there is a burgeoning multiplex indie culture in both Tamil and Hindi . But I wish there is more good work done in the mainstream space. We need good masala films which is our indigenous film culture That  needs to be preserved.

The recent Bahubali films have given me hope. Hope to dream at least. Hope that SS Rajamouli becomes the new Manmohan Desai. Hope that Ranveer Singh becomes the new great masala hero – he certainly has great potential , who will end the hegemony of Shahrukh and Salman who are way past the prime and are hanging in there only because they don’t have any competition. Hope Aamir increases his volume of output as he is already nearing the end of his career as a star/actor. Hope that Mammootty, Mohanlal and Rajnikanth retire gracefully without sullying their reputation any further. Hope Kamal gives up on his harebrained scheme  of starting a political party and become a full-time filmmaker. And grandest of them all, hoping A.R. Murugadoss becomes the Salim Javed for our generation and Spyder is the beginning, the  Zanjeer of our times. That’s what being high on movies for such a long time does it to you. You always end up dreaming the impossible.

This post was written by Maneesh Krishnan A.K.A MANK