Rating : 7/10
Reviewed by Ankur Sardana
To be a good critic, does one need to be critical ? Is criticism an exhibition of frustration of people sensitive to minutest observations ? Why do most critics find more webs of faults, conspiracies and very few find reasons to celebrate and forgive ? Is unhappiness, the cost of sensitivity and understanding? The choice might or might not be with the individual, it’s the way they are or choose to remain.
This article is mostly about a film critic and a collection of interviews by him. A man who was much more layered than the collection. I wish the book was on the man, Anil Saari Arora, written by himself. Or where he interviewed himself.
A film historian and film critic, journalist, sports writer, playwright, a man who disowned his surname and later took it back, a leftist, a poet, an observer and illustrator of life.
You are the God of the underdog, are you not?
A monkey god, A leader of the unseen tribals – India’s invisible men.
A messiah of the forgotten folk cast beneath the shroud of poverty like so much dust,
God of the losers – the multitudes of our land,
their faces battered in the jungle of deprivation, looking like a monkey-god!
Like you I want to wrap my tail with fire
and burn down the world that chokes me,
like you I want to have no family of despairs or greed,
like you I want to fly over the sea and breathe life into a new empire of emotions.
(A poem by Anil Saari – Reference : 1)
Although, Asia Major has done a great job of preserving some of his poems, not much on him or by him is available online. His book of poems Nomads and Other Moments is not available in India. Some initial search reveals an article in ‘Silhouette Magazine‘ (love their cover page, below). One can look at ASA’s intense (almost painful) and insightful approach to film criticism. He doesn’t spare anyone in his analysis of movies around Gandhi , though he is hardly vitriolic.
The book Indian Cinema : The faces behind the masks, is a compilation from Oxford University Press and not Anil Saari. One can feel the disconnect between the arrangement of articles and interviews. It flows from the most interesting interviews at the start, to the ones which feel meaninglessly stuffed at the end. OUP wants to really use popular Bollywood as the subject and not the nuances of Indian Cinema, a decision which ASA would have not have agreed to. Still to ASAs credit, he gets ‘Them’ to speak in these interviews. A small (non-literary) aspect I liked was, that there is no empty space, chapters continue from where the last one ended.
He extracts the best from the best. And they open upto him, maybe because he carried his socialist persona and a non sycophant attitude, which helped these artists articulate some real gems.
The one with Dilip Kumar, is memorable
ASA : Dilip saheb, what is the most important thing as an actor ? (Now this question has been asked to maybe the only one actor who transcends the popular as well the critical indices. A commonplace journalist would have got a stupid answer, but Dilip ‘saheb’ gives a cerebral answer to ASA)
Dilip Kumar : I think he has to have various attributes. He should, first of all, respond to a proposition, a suggestion not only through his mind but through his instincts. As a matter of fact, it is the instinct that is far more important… () … The mind is merely proposing certain fictional or hypothetical situation.. () and it negates it by saying there is not truth in this ..()
ASA : Can you give an example (Thanks ASA)
Dilip Kumar : Yes, for instance, you have the proposition that your beloved is parting forever and you have to play the scene very intensely. Now in this case, you know there is no parting and that this artiste is just another colleague of yours ..()..So your mind, while it reads the scene and wants to act, at the same time is hostile to the proposition..() The artist is caught between this duality. Now this may not be a conscious phenomenon, that both these factors keep on working and the inner struggle is that you have to get it through your instincts, which function on their own. The prerequisite of an artiste is that between the absorption and reproduction there should be as little loss as possible. I don’t think that anybody achieved that state of perfection, but you’ve got be as close to it as possible.
Even Rishi Kapoor sounds sensible with him !
RK : Each person has his awkwardness, but once there are accepted, his personality becomes stylised. It is all a question of a particular style being projected properly
And Shashi Kapoor’s thanks Raj Kapoor
ASA : What does he (Raj Kapoor) think of the films you have produced ?
SK: () ..Then with Kalyug, he said it was very slickly made film but the relationships in it were not clearly perceptible to the audience, because we had made a mistake in casting, and now I agree with him… () When you have two unknown actors standing side by side, the audience takes some time to tell who’s who and what is what and what the relationship is. Whereas through established stars, you can immediately project what you want to portray.
Some words of wisdom from Govinda
ASA : What are the differences between what you learnt at the acting school and what you do in films you are now acting in?
Govinda : ().. Despite all that an acting institute can teach, I dint know so many things. Such as not to move during a close-up shot or that they working for a mid-distance or a long angle shot.After all, film-acting is also determined by the distance and field of the camera…()
The book cover art is by the legendary Vrindavan Solanki, famous for his black and white pencil sketches of people with no (detail in) faces. Its sad to see that the cover image has not been digitised properly and its pixelated.
There are typos and wrong dates/mix ups in the book, again more in the later half. I hope OUP had researched more and brought in more of him than his interviews.
But maybe that’s what they have in another book that they have published (I wish they have a paperback available soon, as the current hardcover’s price is too steep).
A great review of this book is here.
“Given the episodic, fragmentary structure of our films, the sprawling patchwork of plots and sub plots are ultimately anchored and united thematically through songs which provide the philosophical world view that the film subscribes to and expostulates”- ASA on songs in Bollywood
As I said earlier, the man is more layered than the book and here I come back to him and his world.
“With a greying beard, an attire of kurta pyjamas, you could easily mistake him for an academic from Aligarh Muslim University. He also re-evaluated his fraught relationship with his deceased father and came to appreciate his ideology, his achievements, his passionate advocacy of the industrial workers as a Rajya Sabha M.P. in the first post-independence parliament.
He took back his family name once again, declaring an emotional completeness, a reconciliation and healing of a familial wound. Beneath this scholar aristocrat mask which sent confusing signals to others, Anil’s demons continued to seethe in the depths of his unquiet heart. His marriage had broken up resulting in two decades of separation. Anil however was a romantic lover in classical Urdu love poetry mould, unknowingly moving towards a search for love as the enduring language of poetry.” Reference : 1
Another layer of search threw up the work of her daughter, Kriti Arora, who is a sculptor. Again on her, one does not find much online content. The art is striking and creates a lasting dark impression.
“What is impressive about Arora’s effort is the fact that at a time when artists are too sentimental about the pre-economic reforms era of a failed socialist society of India, she takes up the image of a worker at his damnedest best — doing the hardest job of all in the harshest of conditions, and she presents it with great clarity…
Arora seems to have other, more personal, reasons for doing this series. It has to do with the death of her father, Anil Saari. He was a fiercely sincere socialist and a first rate film and social critic. In this show, the personal and the social roots of Arora combine to produce an impressive series of images and sculptures.” Reference 2
And through a magical warp of time, people and relationships I am drawn into presenting a similarity with another father – daughter duo. A father who maybe was more popular than ASA and a daughter who maybe was lesser of an artist than Kriti. I won’t know, but the parallel is striking. The quest of the two daughters haunting.
In her case, Shabnam created a documentary on her lifelong struggle to discover her father, the legendary documentary filmmaker, Sukhdev. The movie takes you on a draining emotional journey. It has footage to die for from Sukhdev’s films. Do buy and watch it. More on that.
But then ASA was no Sukhdev and wasn’t maybe worried too much about fame. He defined himself through a Kabir verse
साईं इतना कीजिए जे में कुटुंब संभाल मैं भूका न रहूँ साधु न भूका जाए
So if you are a saadhu, I hope you’ve burped by now.