If you are in a Calcutta college and do not know your Truffaut, Derrida and Guevera, then you might as well stick your head in a commode and pull the flush.
If you are in a Calcutta college and watch Hollywood films newer than 1972 (the year of The Godfather), then you might as well stick your head in an used commode and pull the flush.
If you are in a Calcutta college and confess to watching films by directors with surnames like Dhawan, Dhanoa and Dhariwal, then you might as well as stick your head in an used commode.
And don't pull the flush.
This post lists my contradictions most accurately for the simple reason that the writer shared exactly the same contradictions. Having watched Aankhen without blinking, we felt our thrill after watching Battleship Potemkin would look staged. After all, how many people know that Khotey Sikkey and Seven Samurai have identical storylines - simply because not many people have watched both the movies?
So, in order to rise in society, we decided to follow in the footsteps of several Bengali luminaries and form a Film Society. The objective of this club (which is different from this club) was for the members to get acquainted with the gems of world cinema. Iconic films like Citizen Kane, Rashomon, 400 Blows would be watched with like-minded friends, meaningful discussions would be had and minds would be enriched.
Nilendu and I were a shoo-in for memberships of any society of non-academic persuasion. And cinema was our certified passion.
Dito, now a doting father, was the Original Bengali Intellectual and he considered it his moral obligation to uplift the two of us from the Bollywood quagmire we were hellbent on sinking into.
Anirban was naturally curious about life, universe and anything. On top of that, he had the added advantage of knowing more than all his professors put together making it very easy for him to bunk classes.
Manas was chosen on the basis of his good looks. It helped to stand next to him in colleges and video parlours because the girls always slowed down.
We drew up a list of the iconic films encompassing Wells, Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut and several other titans of world cinema. Nilendu's suggestion of Paul Verhoeven was firmly turned down by Dito, much to my dismay.
We also zeroed in on Gupta Video (a video parlour par excellence, certified by GreatBong, no less!) as the fount of such wonderful films. The homework behind this decision was conducted by Nilendu (who was a regular there) as he claimed to have grilled the owners extensively and they seemed to have passed muster.
All of us had video players and the venue was expected to rotated. The Rs 10 rental for the video cassettes was expected to be shared.
The first screening (drumroll starts) of the club (drumroll continues) was of (drumroll reaches crescendo) Citizen Kane.
Dito read up on Orson Wells. I already knew about his War of the Worlds radio play. Nilendu got the tape and thought his duty was done. Anirban and Manas were having fun watching the three of us. We met at my place, complete with its Optonica VCR and exclusive TV room. The beginning was a little inauspicious, with a minor altercation between me and Manas over the payment of the rental. Actually, I almost physically ejected him because he took 13 seconds longer to take out the money.
When the movie started, we realised that the tape was the grainiest we had ever seen but soldiered on nevertheless. Anirban asked if the film was deliberately shot in a grainy style by the director since it was about the mysterious last words of Kane and the picture would become clearer as the mystery became clearer.
All in all, it was a wonderfully enriching experience. The film was gripping and Dito was able to fill in with details about William Hearst, low-angle photography and the Oscar ban. Despite having no prior knowledge of the film, I felt informed enough get into a wager with Dito on who played the title role and lost Rs 100 (which I have not paid up till date).
At this point (which was quite early, since we had seen only one film), we ran into a hurdle. Gupta Video's initial claim of being a treasure trove of world cinema started sounding seriously hollow. They had never heard of Fellini or Truffaut and gave us The Magnificent Seven when we wanted Seven Samurai. Even the usually confident Nilendu confessed that he had not seen any of the tapes but only heard assurances from the owners ("Shob achhey, dada. Aar na thakley aniye debo.") Apparently, the aniye debo was only restricted to titles which were a little objectionable to display in their cramped shelves. Obviously, they were unable to comprehend that five normal, college-going males would have cinematic interests beyond Samantha Fox (or at best, Shakti Samanta).
Anyway, we made a compromise and agreed to conentrate on the best of Hollywood since their collection was decent on that front. For European and Asian classics, we would fall back on Nandan and the college Film Society.
The next film chosen was The Graduate, at Anirban's house. It was decidedly a comedown from Kane but Anne Bancroft was a cut above Orson Wells.
As preparation, I went to Anirban's place and listened to a Best of Simon & Garfunkel album, with the mandatory ode to the married woman. He also made me listen to some band called Dire Straits, which was a song called Sultans of Swing. I remember wondering that the title is an apt description of Kapil Dev. Several years later, some sports magazine profiled Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis with the same title.
Anyway, to get back to the original plot, the film was most entertaining - though how Anne Bancroft could fall for a definitely mousy Dustin Hoffman was quite inexplicable. I still remember a nice touch in the film in which Benjamin is seen lounging by the poolside and when he dives into the pool (unable to take the heat), the scene cuts to him diving into Mrs Robinson's bed.
After this one, Nilendu and Dito wanted to explore the American Musical as a genre and proposed a few films. I - already grappling with the American accent in dialogues - felt songs in American English would be quite impossible to comprehend. In any case, if we wanted to watch a musical, we always had Sooraj Barjatya! Nilendu, however, had his sights trained solely on Rodgers & Hammerstein.
After an argumentative session which ran the entire gamut from My Fair Lady (vetoed by me, for being traumatised by it when I was younger) to Gigi (vetoed by all, we did not know how to pronounce it), we zeroed in on (muted drum roll) The King and I. An Oscar winning performance by the leading man clinched the deal.
Yul Bryner preceded Aamir Khan by some three decades but still was psychic enough to get the idea of shaving his head to get into the role. Dito again dutifully filled in details about how there was a craze for shaven heads in the US after this film released. But all these trivia did nothing to lift my deep sense of foreboding.
My worst fears were confirmed the moment Deborah Kerr broke into a song even before reaching the Thai immigration desk. And they never stopped after that.
Anna, Anna's son, the King, people with names like Ding Dong, Dipthong, Orkut, Chalukyamurthy were all straining their vocal chords beyond belief to sing for every single, frigging thing that they passed. Even when Yul Bryner asked Anna for a dance, he sang "Shall We Dance?" We were stunned speechless as our eardrums rang with dismay every time one more song came up.
We watched the film till the very end and we agreed that if the Americans gave more prizes to The King and I than Citizen Kane, then we are better off watching Satyajit Ray and Yash Chopra (both of whom make better musicals than whoever made the god-awful King).
Unable to bear the burden of such a monster bore, our Film Club died a premature death and we embraced Philistinism with a vengeance.
Dito went back to his brand of anti-Communist, anti-Capitalist, pseudo-Anarchist politics.
Anirban attended a few classes for comic relief and spent long hours hearing Ali Akbar Khan.
Manas was happy that he was far more handsome than Orson Wells, Dustin Hoffman or Yul Bryner.
Nilendu and I kept on watching films made by people as diverse as Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Prakash Mehra.