Friday, October 3, 2014

Haider and the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism

This is not about Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj's new Kashmir-based adaptation of Hamlet, so everyone may lower their hackles, thank you very much. This is about some Indian film critics and the disturbing trends one finds in their work.

I keep coming across reviews of Haider that employ the phrase "mainstream conventions" intended as some sort of slur - as in "Haider has succumbed to/not managed to escape some mainstream cinematic conventions." Few things in the world inspire me to enough of a frenzy of loathing to make me dash off a few lines about them. It so happens that the ill-informed arrogance that it takes to dismiss "mainstream conventions" is near the top of this list.

Those of us who actually like Indian cinema and have watched films made in decades gone by -- long before India's urban middle classes decided cinema belonged to them and them alone -- will be able to tell you that mainstream conventions have never got in the way of telling a good story. Conventions in and of themselves are the act of storytelling, if you want to crib, please have the sense to crib about the execution.

Other nonsensical criticism I've run into states that Haider has SONGS <gasp!!!> and DANCES <double gasp!!!> even COMEDY <NO WAY!!!> because apparently Indian cinema featuring song and dance is somehow absurd (while no one using a loo in all 24 hours of the series 24 is, you know, artistic license). The idea is that doing this to Shakespeare somehow desecrates His work. Let us just put aside for the moment the fact that Indian film music has been one of Prometheus's greatest gifts to mankind and try this instead - you know whose work featured songs, innuendo-laden jokes and a merry jig or two? I'll give you a few clues - playwright, lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, first name William...yes, that's bloody right!!

And in case you were under the impression that Shakespeare's plays were written for the audience that goes to watch them now at the Globe in Southwark at forty quid a head for a bad seat at a matinee, could we just flash back to Elizabethan England here for a slight reality check? Indian cinema at its very best does what Shakespeare did at his very best - entertainment for all first and foremost - because there's really no point writing a fine play if you can't keep bums on seats - with its genius permeating at every turn the story/dialogue/song for those who care to see it - satisfaction all round. Whether you like or dislike Haider is entirely your call - but if you're looking down at what you perceive as "mainstream convention", you've missed the point by a mile and a half. So really, could the Shakespeare scholars here expressing their shock at light moments in what was promised to be a Shakespearean tragedy please take their bare bodkins to their jugulars and spare the rest of us?

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