I love movies, specifically Indian films. I’ve grown up watching them and despite how much I’m exposed to world cinema, it’s still the emotional heft and vibrancy of our cinema that resonates with me the most. But I won’t say I watch a lot of it – growing up, it depended on affordability, now it’s more of a personal preference – but I still love the experience of watching it, hooting at a hero’s entrance scene in the theatre or humming the tune when I’m watching at home. And that’s why, in this age of influencers and YouTube stars, it’s no surprise that there’s an abundance of American channels who react and review Indian films, and I happen to love and follow one of them. Ironically, it is while watching one of the videos of “Our Stupid Reactions” that I came to know about this book, and immediately went looking for it. Imagine my delight when I found it on Kindle Unlimited of all places. I had been on a kind of a slump and didn’t feel like reading any of the books on my tbr, so this one came at the perfect time and I couldn’t have asked for a better book to act a bit like a palate cleanser which made me nostalgic and all kinds of happy.
Baradwaj Rangan is obviously a National Award winning famous critic, but I’ve only been following him since a couple of year when he started reviewing on YouTube. I have always been amazed by the unique way he analyses a film, and I particularly enjoy how he answers in length questions asked by the twitterverse about one movie every week. So, I was very excited to read this book, which is essentially a compilation of his articles about cinema, music, the artists as well as many of his reviews. The first surprise was reading Karan Johar’s foreward, the most unlikeliest of choices but he is cheeky and self deprecating as always. The second surprise was finding out that me and BR are the alumni of the same university, albeit a few decades apart. It changes the way you approach a book when you realize that this is a person who studied engineering but his love of cinema compelled him into becoming such a prolific critic.
BR’s command over the language is masterful, he is such an excellent writer that I want to keep reading whatever he has to say, even if I vehemently disagree with his viewpoint. He can also be very scathing in his criticism, but he coats his sarcasm in such a flourishing manner that you don’t feel the blow so much. In every sentence, his absolute adoration for the cinematic medium is reflected, so when he is disappointed by a movie or an artist, you really feel for him. His various interviews were a delight to read, especially his observations about his interviewees and how we was sometimes feeling about getting to talk to his cine idols. I couldn’t help but be intensely fascinated by his interaction with RGV, especially his reaction about the eccentric director. Even his obits about some of the greats of cinema are like a showreel, where we get to remember them but not exactly with rose tinted glasses. While I really loved his general musings about directors or particular movies, and what they meant for the cinematic movement of the country or Tamil Nadu, I ended up reading only his Hindi film reviews in the second half of the book. My exposure to Tamil cinema is very limited and reading about some familiar artists who also made significant contributions to the Telugu industry was fascinating, but I didn’t feel much interested in the Tamil movie reviews. The Hindi film reviews were hilarious though, especially because most of them were negative but ones which I had actually enjoyed a lot. But despite these opposite opinions, I never could find fault in his analysis – just a realization his standards are a lot more higher than mine.
The biggest surprise for me was his section on music. I enjoy listening to Indian movie songs, and my level of liking depends on if it’s entertaining or has a beautiful tune and lyrics. But the way in which BR analysed the composition, the use of instruments, the differences between a live music orchestra vs a more technological production etc was a revelation, because I didn’t know that movie critics could give such in-depth insights about music. His commentary about why a song works, what makes it memorable, the affect of choosing the right singer for the right song, the importance of the song-dance in Indian cinema and how it has evolved over the decades – it’s all like reading a masterclass and I was amazed at his knowledge about music, both Indian and international.
To conclude, I have to say this felt like an enriching experience. Either reading it in bits and pieces or at a stretch, this book is steeped in memories and nostalgia and deep love of Indian cinema and it gave me immense joy, as well as respite from my usual dangerous fantasy worlds or even more horrifying real world. And the only way to sign off this wonderful reading experience is by going to a movie theatre to hopefully watch the next blockbuster of Indian cinema.