Film journalist Anna MM Vetticad sets herself an unenviable task and manages to survive with her humour intact, says Jai Arjun Singh
IF YOU’RE a weekly film reviewer — working with limited word-space and tight deadlines — and if you spend any time thinking about your job, you’re likely to be assailed by questions and selfdoubts. In a media and Internet-saturated age, being one voice in a cacophony of opinions can be daunting; even as a confident believer in the worth of your own views, you might wonder if the world needs another talking head holding forth on such review-proof films as the latest Salman Khan-starrer. And what of the small films that your publication never has space for?
In January 2011, journalist Anna MM Vetticad undertook a mission that most reviewers would baulk at: to watch, and blog reviews of, every Hindi film released in the NCR that year, even the almost unheard-of ones showing in nondescript halls. The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic chronicles some of the high and low points of that journey. This is not a comprehensive study, or intended to be — it is a collection of vignettes about the little worlds that exist between the cracks of what we call “Bollywood”, the bizarre workings of the industry’s PR machinery and the struggles of outsiders. It opens a window to a place well beyond the purview of most multiplex-goers — a place where halls may refuse to screen a film because only one ticket has been sold, or where once-big stars like Jackie Shroff might do unfathom able walk-on parts in barely-directed movies as a sop to an acquaintance.
Vetticad encounters such characters as a Mozambique-based businessman, who financed a tacky film (with the tagline ‘For the first time on the Indian screen, an actor arises from Africa’) and better-known figures like director Rohit Shetty, who has a laughably unrefined view of criticism. She discovers wonderful child actors in an unheralded film, Kaccha Limboo, and has a revealing conversation with Onir, director of the sensitive I Am. There’s even an appendix with the text of the pseudo-scientific concept note for a film titled Impatient Vivek (“junk genes” is not a comment on the leading man, but it could have been).
The chatty, blog-like structure — with detours, ellipses and parentheses — is well-suited to this material, conveying a sense of the conflicting things going on in her head as she drifts from one empty theatre to another, and the few forays into overly casual writing — a cry of “Halleluiah”, a sentence beginning, “C’mon, doc, I mean…” — are leavened by a refined sensibility. As someone who thinks about the issues surrounding reviewing, I enjoyed Vetticad’s reflections on the nuts and bolts of her work, including her uncomplicated explanation for why she never discusses a film until she has finished her piece. One of the book’s pleasingly unobtrusive illustrations — a depiction of the author holding up a magnifying glass to the screen to scrutinise the pimples on Emraan Hashmi’s torso — seems to exemplify the bird-like attentiveness that lay behind this project.
“To my mind, this book is a celebration of the small film,” Vetticad says sanguinely, while acknowledging that there is little to celebrate about the existence of such films as the rape-joke-laden Be-Careful. Indeed, her book is most engaging when it throws up eye-popping — and sometimes poignant — tidbits about poseurs, no-hopers and people who deserve wider recognition (such as the hearing-impaired Sohail Lakhani, who trained Ranbir Kapoor for Barfi!). It is less engaging when it includes generic interviews with high-profile stars like Vidya Balan and Priyanka Chopra. But if you feel that some of these pages might’ve been better utilised, it’s a good idea to supplement this read with Vetticad’s blog, where you’ll find tantalising nuggets about films like Cycle Kick,Aashiqui.in and Happy Husbands. None of which, as far as I know, features Jackie Shroff in a tiny role.