Sometime back, I was invited by an acquaintance — an upcoming director — for a ‘story discussion’. He had found a producer, but had no idea what his film should be about. He didn’t have even a one-liner, let alone a bound script. He was sure about one aspect though, and made a proud declaration to ignite the discussion that had some budding directors and scriptwriters: “I’d like the film to reform villages.” This was met with appreciative nods, even if nobody knew why he wanted his story to do that. After a couple of hours, when the food trays had gone empty, the meeting ended with little headway being achieved, with the exception that the story needed to be something about ‘a village and education’. It was then that I realised, to my dismay, that some people begin writing stories — or to extrapolate, become artists — only due to an overwhelming desire to preach. We, of course, have a long tryst with films that aren’t just content with making subtle social messages, but instead choose to have its heroes, looking into the camera, and providing life advice.
And why not, considering that we live in a society that’s rather cautious of ruffling feathers, when it comes to being critical of such work? You always find reviewers wary of taking on a ‘film with a message’. Even that most brutal of all spaces for an artist — social media — suddenly turns mellow when reacting negatively to well-intentioned mediocre work. Tweets often go, “XYZ film has good intentions, but…”, as though by the sheer virtue of wishing to create social change, a film somehow automatically deserves immunity against criticism.
I have a more contemporary version of the adage, ‘Tell me about your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are’: ‘Tell me about your reality shows, and I’ll tell you about your society’. This tendency to preach, and gain instant respect for it, can almost always be observed in our reality shows, both singing and dancing.
How many times have we seen contestants, for instance, waving the Indian flag about?
“Now, let’s see you criticise my bad performance!” Celebrity chief guests cannot, of course, be seen on television being thought of as anti-national, and so, no prizes for guessing who usually wins such contests.
Good art makes subliminal points without artists forcefully imbuing it with a moral lesson. Mediocre art, with a message, still remains mediocre, without people feeling obliged to tip-toe around it. So, when your friend doesn’t want to be overly critical of Pasanga-2 only because it makes useful points about the educational system, you have to remind him that it’s a feature film; not a documentary. It’s perhaps because of the instinctive reverence bestowed on such work that there are filmmakers out there adding ‘dedications’ on demand.
Like the end card of Vasanthabalan’s Aravaan , that makes a sudden, baffling point against capital punishment. Added on hindsight to make critics kinder?