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Single serving: Great films you’ll watch only once

October 02, 2012

There are two types of films that you see as a viewer. There are ones that you love and would repeatedly watch every now and then. These are films that, much like life’s singular events, reveal new things on every revisit. And then there is the other kind that rarely commands a revisit. But nestled in between is a third kind of cinema – the one that you are glad for watching but know that you’ll never visit it again.

What is it about certain good or even great films that never command a repeated viewing? The biggest reason that a viewer shies away revisiting a good film is the toll it exhorted the first time around. One such film is Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Many of us remember the day they saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest clearly and would never forget the profound effect it had. Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) prefers prison time by pleading insanity over the trials of life thinking that a few months later he’d be out and everything would be shinny. But once inside the asylum it becomes clear that he might never come out. The beauty, or the tragedy, of the film is that much like McMurphy’s misplaced belief that he can waltz away from the asylum anytime he feels like, the viewer, too, erroneously ends up thinking that they can distance themselves from the film. There is nothing that can prepares you for the pain that unfolds on the screen and you just can’t help but end up emotionally identifying with McMurphy’s heartbreak.

When it comes to Bollywood it’s usually the stupidity of most films that stops us from watching them the second time around. The 1990s might have been the decade that saved Hindi films from the all-pervasive rubbish of the 1980s but one would probably choose death over revisiting many films from this era. Think of films like Phool Aur Kaantein (1991), Saajan (1991), Baazigar (1993), Darr (1993), or even Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and imagine the bad make-up, the obnoxious costumes, the studded belts, jeans comfortably perched north of the waist … you’d watch a few minutes of these while surfing channels and that’s that.

For me there is one particular film that I just can’t get to watch again in spite of not disliking it the first time around. Hailed as highly modern and forward looking in every aspect, Dil Chahta Hai (2001) is a film that I shrink from more as the years go by. With the passage of time DCH comes across as highly pretentious with its view of the honest goodness in rich people. Somehow I can’t help but feel that Farhan Akhtar’s writing is like a well-rehearsed answer to anyone who, he believes, thought that he got everything on a platter because of being Javed Akhtar’s son. The three men seem to be the different facets of his being and the women, well…they all look the same – diminutive, undecided lost souls who are incapable of taking any decision. There isn’t anything wrong in being overtly personal about your craft but like Javed Akhtar mused that sitting in a five star hotel in Bombay couldn’t help him imagine Kaala Patthar’s (1979) coal miner in Dhanbad beyond a point, Farhan’s imagined insight of a regular guy’s perception of Javed Akhtar’s son and how to make them think otherwise is too obvious to be ignored.

One Hindi film that you’ll be blown by but perhaps would never see again would be Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010). It is LSD’s use of the medium along with the tools to go beyond shocking us without titillating us what makes it one of the most important films in the annals of Hindi cinema. Given the nature of the film Banerjee could’ve justifiably gone overboard but its understated manner ends up making it more effective. LSD’s perverted honesty scares you in its immediacy. You can’t look away from it much like a horrible car crash unfolding in front of your eyes. What’s worse is that you are so busy thanking fate that you weren’t a part of the crash that you walk away without bothering about the crash victims.

Revisiting any film gives it an opportunity to be interpreted differently. The obvious question then is shouldn’t the bad ones deserve a second glance in case we missed something? Well, if the attached emotions could be undone then Kill Bill: Vol.2 (2004) would be something more than just a hugely anticipated sequel that bored you to death or Titanic (1997) wouldn’t be a cinematic event where the damned ship took too long to sink, or 3 Idiots (2009) wouldn’t come across as too packaged, Ghajini (2008) could be less asinine, or Avatar (2009) would be viewed beyond a fantastic 3D experience, or Monster (2003) and Shame (2011) could be less demanding or Bandit Queen (1994) wouldn’t be too morbid. Either that or just be like Pauline Kael, the legendary film critic, who never saw a film twice because she got it the first time around.

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Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.