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The curious case of movie elitism

The movies we love and the movies we say we love

A still from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
A still from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

I deeply dislike Slumdog Millionaire.

I love the exuberance of the first one-third of the movie, which is in Hindi, but cannot get past the different linguistic registers and accents of the three actors cast to play the lead. It disturbs me that the Bambaiyya-speaking urchin who starts off the film jumping into a pile of shit develops a south Bombay twang in his early teens and then speaks with a British accent as the young adult played by Dev Patel. I cannot put these thoughts away and “just go on the ride", as I’m advised to do by the film’s many champions.

I married a film critic, who, several years before I met him, had reviewed this movie glowingly, specifically saying: “The tiniest details clearly don’t matter. All that does matter is that everybody—repeat, everybody—gets up and dances."

Slumdog remains in my everyday life. Disagreements that hinge on taste, from the idea of chicken on pizza to silky evening shirts (for men), frequently manage to end with—“But you liked Slumdog."

Books and music foster disputes, but movies spawn highly-strung debates. At a dull party, just look in the direction of a group of people who self-identify as cinephiles and say the words: Ram Gopal Varma, Terrence Malick, American Beauty, La Grande Bellezza. Enjoy the entertainment with your martini.

But what I find far more interesting than the matter of taste in movies is projected taste. So common is this duplicity that in a Friends episode where Ross officiates at a quiz to see how well those in the group know each other, one of the questions is: Rachel claims this is her favourite movie…. Her actual favourite movie is… (The answers are Dangerous Liaisons and Weekend At Bernie’s).

I asked the Lounge team, a somewhat culturally snobbish bunch, for their favourite movies. The question was, very simply, what is your all-time favourite movie. I asked for a public and a private answer. The public picks ranged from established masterpieces such as Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and The Shawshank Redemption to the arthouse favourite Govind Nihalani’s Party and the populist Life Is Beautiful. There were a few that were way out left-field, such as Wadjda (a 2012 Saudi Arabian film about an 11-year-old girl who is on a mission to buy her first bicycle).

How does a team like this decide on a three-page tribute to the Ramsays? As Shantanu Chaudhuri, executive editor, HarperCollins India, puts it, the story of the Ramsay brothers and their legacy of horror movies is interesting because of a combination of factors: a renewed, vicarious interest in its pulpy, so-bad-it’s-good content and the astonishing narrative of its commercial success. “Horror in Hollywood is 90 minutes. To sustain the interest of the audience and keep them scared over 2 hours and 30 minutes with the caveats they had to work with—songs and comic interludes—was a feat," Chaudhuri, who has commissioned a new book on the Ramsays, points out.

The Ramsays are on our cover this week because the attempt to distinguish between highbrow and lowbrow is as silly as blindly pairing red wine with red meat, if you’re still doing that. A sommelier will tell you to let the flavour profiles guide you instead.

The Ramsays are also on our cover this week because the Lounge team’s private picks, which I didn’t mention earlier, can largely be categorized as rom-coms and Ryan Gosling.

The writer tweets as @aninditaghose

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