Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Agent Vinod

Armond White is an American film critic. He calls himself a “pedigreed film scholar,” which he is. But, that’s not the reason we are discussing him. We are discussing him because, White has almost infallible tendency to criticise every mainstream cultural artefact, mostly Hollywood movies. He’d tear apart movies which even the regular critics would like (‘HP7’, ‘The Avengers’). In short, he is famous for his negative criticism of films.

In common parlance, this tendency is called being a “hater”. The Urban dictionary explains a hater as: “A person that simply cannot be happy for another person's success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person. Hating, the result of being a hater, is not exactly jealousy. The hater doesn’t really want to be the person he or she hates, rather the hater wants to knock someone else down a notch.”

The more sensitive term would be a “contrarian”. Wikipedia explains contrarian as “a person who takes up a position opposed to that of the majority, no matter how unpopular. Contrarian styles of argument and disagreement have historically been associated with radicalism and dissent.”

Being a hater or a contrarian is not essentially a bad thing. In fact, in a democratic society, we actually need a voice of dissent. What we need however, for a contrarian to flourish, is an ability to form our own judgement, and not trust anyone blindly, either the contrarian, or the mainstream.

In India, we have our own contrarians, or haters. In film criticism, it would be Raja Sen, the movie critic of I love going through the comments section of a Raja Sen review in Rediff, more than the review itself where the reading public, the mainstream viewers criticise Sen for criticising their favourite film. It’s a nice blame game going on out there. And, it’s fun.

It’s not that Raja Sen cannot praise a film, he can (recently, he was all praise for ‘Shanghai’, and no criticism), and that he isn’t right in his criticism (say, for example, his review of ‘Agent Vinod’), but this is not always true. There are times Mr Sen criticises a film for the sake of doing so. And, I believe it serves a purpose too.

I remember after seeing ‘3 Idiots’, which I said I liked, when I was dissecting the finer points, a friend had complained, why to criticised the film if you liked it? It was a strange question and I did not have an answer for it. But, the truth is, a film needs to be criticised, more so the good one, even if to highlight why it’s good.

In short, what I am trying to say is that all criticisms have values, even the bad ones (badly-written criticism is however different from an well-argued negative criticism.)

This brings us to the Saif Ali Khan magnum opus ‘Agent Vinod’, which, if you believe in the buzz, was held prisoner in the box office, meaning, the much-talked about Shriram Raghavan film where the real-life couple of Saif and Kareena play a pair of spies, is a flop.

I saw the film in DVD, just recently, and I liked it. My argument is ‘Agent Vinod’ isn’t James Bond or Bourne Identity, but within the context of a Bollywood masala film, it’s well-made, the locations are stunning (they shot the film in Latvia, among other places), and not consciously over-the-top, like most Bollywood film. It’s over-the-top nonetheless, being a Bollywood film. And, I liked the film for Adil Hussain’s terrific performance. Another villain is born. He deserves more work, more meaty roles.

But, why did I mention Raja Sen? After seeing the film, though I had enjoyed it at the visceral level, I had problems from the intellectual point of view. So, I was interested to know what Raja Sen thinks. He is mostly right. Even I agree that the one-liners the Saif Ali Khan character uses (like, “I don’t want to spoil your yaadon ki baarat’...) is pathetic. But, I couldn’t agree when Sen likens the film to a video game. The film has more heart than that.

Then I asked around. A friend, who saw the film in theatre like the “look”. It was a good timepass. And, here is what a high society female friend had to say about Kareena Kapoor’s turn: “I think Kareena Kapoor has decided that from now on, she won’t act, only pout.” But, this is not true. I found her superior than her beau. And she can carry a strapless gown (in the opera). Another friend, who doesn’t know English (for those, the film itself was very helpful, explaining the nature of the nuclear bomb), found the film confusing. It spend a long time outside India, he complained. This is true.

And I found the film long, inordinately so.

More about Armond White Here.
Agent Vinod isn’t clever enough. The Raja Sen review here.

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