Readers Write In #199: Mysskin and Kamal Haasan walk into a bar…

Posted on June 4, 2020

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(by Marsant Gerephio)

After running out of topics to discuss (trying everything from becoming Dalgona connoisseurs to Experts on Quantum Mechanics) we finally decided to hit on cinema and committed the blasphemy of recommending movies to one another! It’s endlessly perplexing to me how people project their likings, tastes, preferences onto others and think they’ll enjoy to the same extent. If asking someone to watch a movie isn’t bad enough, worse is explaining why it’s good (that it won an Academy Award is no good excuse), it’s almost like converting someone. And I know that because I recommended everything under the lens, from Nayakan to Nayagan, from Seinfeld to Friends, from Saraswati Sabadam to Naveena Saraswati Sabadam and nobody bothered. Don’t be a recommender, unless you are asked for it (in which case you never give your favourite film lest it be torn apart by the recomendee) or a certified film critic to justify your preferences. In any case, as the bastion of intellect and as a “Diehard Mysskin fan” (is that an oxymoron in cinematic sense?) a sapiosexual recommended to me the films, The Man from Earth and Pi.

And I committed the cardinal sin of heeding to the recommendation by watching those movies but then, I hit upon a realization about the perception of intelligent films. What is an intelligent film? I believe, it’s a film that makes you think “wait? How did…OHHHH, it’s because , THIS IS AWESOME!” Not a film that screams “LOOK! I’m INTELLIGENT”.

How is that? Well, for one, there’s a difference between making intelligent cinema and making a cinema about intelligent people. Like there’s a difference between intelligent writing and writing about intelligent things, which is probably one of the reasons I, like the rest Reddit, faithfully condemn BBT, which is dumb show about smart people which the s(h)itcom and the writing itself is bereft of any. You can write about geniuses that can sound dumb. Just because you are raving about concepts like existentialism, quantum mechanics, extra-terrestrial species (looking at you Super Deluxe and Mysskin who talks like Tolstoy but writes like Chetan Bhagat) doesn’t make you smart. It’s your insights on those that count.

In order to try something different from the masalaiac formula, recent films try too hard to sound intelligent and resort to using a lot of high concepts like meaning of life while spewing opinions about every headline on a daily but explain them in a spectacularly underwhelming fashion almost juxtaposing the concept and the conceived in a dramatic irony.

Take for instance, the above-recommended The Man from Earth, it’s about a film where they discuss about the possibility of a guy living for more than 14,000 years (Spoiler: he turns out to be Jesus for Christ’s sake). All through the movie, the characters have an uppity, holier-than-thou attitude suited to our Tier II engineering college Profs and talk about biological cell replenishment, psychology, history and squatting in the backyard. It was an endless array of information supply masquerading as intelligent writing followed by a bizarre twist, the twist being the writing actually falling to trash in the twist itself. Information is not intelligence.Similarly the movie Pi, talked about Pi, machine learning, cracking the stock market pattern and Torah but the plot itself was poorly constructed and felt unsatisfying. I’m not saying everyone should be experts about what they write but if you don’t have anything interesting or new to offer on that, don’t use it. Few examples of cleverly-written movies I can think of are, The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction where the genre, though being very common, is elevated to a whole new level by brilliant writing. This otoh, is an example of a brilliant sketch about really interesting things.

Similarly in Tamil Cinema, there has been a very recent trend (so recent that it cannot even be called one) is that “writers” are trying too hard to sound intelligent and use concepts like Uncertainty Principle, Schrodinger’s Cat and existentialism, nihilism etc. without actually developing any need in the story itself to justify their inclusion. Take for example the Ulysses of Tamil Cinema, Super Deluxe, which has puns, references, Easter eggs, allegories, metaphors, foreshadowing, symbolism, metamers (wait?), progressiveness and did I miss anything? yes, loads of intelligence that beats us blue and red all over the film. Take the actors’ rant in the bedroom, he suddenly talks about country, language and caste, which was a good concept, but very bad writing because it came out of nowhere. As there’s an infidel corpse, had he ranted about Section 497, acceptable, but in this case it was just that the writer had this opinion and forced it into the writing (like their marriage).

In contrast, take Mahanadi where Kamal cries about Kaveri, and questions everything from religion to Gandhi but here we are agreeing to everything the grief-stricken dad says because we just saw what an utterly devastating experience he (and the daughter) had been through. It’s that Kamal had his opinions on these things and wove them masterfully into the script.

Some of the brilliant screenplays I can think of, in Tamil Cinema recently are, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kanom, Thani Oruvan and D-16 & even Managaram where an interesting story was told in an intelligent way rather than an insipid story blithering intelligence while reeking of indulgence. Even Kamal Haasan, though gave some brilliant works like MMKR and Hey Ram (though a bit indulgent), resorted to gimmicky intelligence like Dasavatharam which though having Ebola-Marburg, Cheedaambram and CIA had an underwhelming execution throughout.

One way to resolve this is to provide information beforehand, ‘Never underestimate the intelligence of the reader, but never overestimate his information.’ Says CP Scott. This way you don’t sound very much detached from the audience where they begin to wonder what you are talking about by giving the context and necessary info for the joke/dialogue to hit home.

Or the another solution is to inform your powers in a funny way like the PG Wodehouse’s hilarious bracket line about Carthage Ruins, (the allusion is a classical one, and the fruit of an expensive education) where the writer wanted a classical allusion but knew that not many would understand it and made fun of his education.

It’s not enough to embellish your vehicle with literary devices, if it’s intrinsically average, the intellectual embellishments fall off as thoroughly unworthy. You don’t get your ticket’s worth if you go to a Super Deluxe looking at the sign and still get the crappy experience of an inter-city whiteboard.

OR, if you start off with a title with an interesting mix of intelligent things and tangentially disappoint through the rest of the article…is exactly how I felt.