On a fine winter evening, heralded by a gentle twilight sky, GurgaonMoms held yet another delightful event: listening and interacting with Shubhra Gupta, an award-winning journalist & cinema critic with the Indian Express Group. What’s not to love about Indian cinema, and if we have someone with the kind of knowledge of Bollywood that Ms. Gupta does, it’s got to be a fun event, with wit and laughter dominating the mood of the evening.

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, Executive Editor of Harper Collins spoke to Shubhra about a variety of things, among others, her choice of the fifty films she chose to cover in her book, as big game changers.

Shubhra is an institution of sorts herself, given that she has been a critic for as long as one can remember watching Hindi films, and that’s like forever, isn’t it! She delved into her own childhood, and how the world shifted with the advent of the VCR, dragging movies into our homes. She was fascinated, and inspired by one movie called, The Marriage of Maria Braun, a 1979 movie, that propelled her choice of cinema critiquing as her ‘thing’. She took it up in full earnest over twenty years ago. It all started with her becoming a member of a cine-club DU, called Celluloid. Passion for cinema ignited, her journey commenced.

Writing a book like Fifty Films that changed Bollywood, was the outcome of her twenty-odd years as a critic, its natural outcome. It’s a must-read for lovers of Hindi cinema, reiterated Shantanu. Why?

She has chosen movies that bespeak the era they belong to, and the manner in which they stood out, and what they did for Hindi cinema, as opposed to choosing the best of the best. She has put together a fairly exhaustive list that transformed something in that period, within its genre. She did well.

The Book:

In The Fifty Films….she makes us read her review from back then, and then goes on to cull out the salient features of the movie in the chapter dedicated to a said movie. Johnny Gaddar is one such, a gangster movie, but one that refuses to fall into any one category. Do read up, she has cleverly captured the essence of this movie in the book. It does make you sit up and relook at definitions and lines that are now blurry.

Why did she choose Hero No. 1 for example, a question that plagued many of us :

Well because the David Dhawan and Govinda combine defined comedy in that era, and there was none other like it. Thereafter Rohit Shetty followed suit, with his Golmaal series, redefining comedy, just after Priyadarshan was pushed out of his slot, and his brand of comedy.

Rangeela introduced the tapori language, followed up adeptly by Munnabhai.

Why Dhoom? Well, the Yash Chopra banner, was the first to establish the franchise; let’s cough up a series, shall we- so we have Dhoom, Dhoom 2 and Dhoom 3. The rest followed suit, and we had Don 1 and Don 2, there’s Race 1, 2 and 3, Murder 1 & 2, with 3 next in line, and we have the entire Golmaal series, for whatever it’s worth, with the recent Golmaal Returns, doing huge business. Who’s complaining?

The starry affair

The fact that movies are rated on how many stars they garner, doesn’t sit well with her. How can a two and a half star rating really tell you how good, or bad a movie is, she said with unconcealed ire. She would gladly just as well have people read the review and decide for themselves to go watch a movie or not. I agree. But I am equally guilty, as a fan of Shubhra’s reviews (rarely has she been wrong for me) of awaiting her review to make a decision – to watch a movie, or not to. If she awards a movie with a two-point-five, I’m good to go, and that’s generous on her part. She’s sharp, and she’s relentlessly mean if she disapproves of a plot, or the path the movie promises, and then fails to deliver. I appreciate her candour, and her bite.

Alternate cinema

The passion with which she spoke of alternate cinema, the wave that had begun in the early eighties, bespeaks her search for cinema with meaning- the fact that it transports you to places otherwise left unseen, or lies inexperienced, does move you, does it not? she asks.

Striking the right chord

Something she said, which struck a chord with me: a movie that speaks to you, at its core, to your very core, is one that stays with you, as also does it stand the test of time. For example, there are two periods- one before Sholay, one after Sholay. This movie defined cinema then. Did DDLJ do likewise? Probably not. The values it showcased seem jaded today, whereas the freshness and chemistry shared between the lead pair, Shahrukh, and Kajol- now that hasn’t waned!

Her book talks about the Golmaal series. How did Shetty make it work so well, one might ask. Well, because it is escapist cinema; you go in with low expectations, leaving behind your rational brain, at the hall entrance, and you emerge after a hearty 2.5 hours of complete fun, minus the logic. It works, it always has, and Rohit Shetty, among others, rounded off the formula rather expertly.

In the same vein, she evinced that one enters a cinema theatre with a certain mindset, an undeniable mood, and you watch the movie in that frame of mind. The movie’s quality and viewing are affected by that day’s persona of yours. On another day, in another mood, you may watch the same movie, and carry away a distinctly different impression of it. So not only do you watch a movie, do remember, you also watch a movie as a certain person, at a certain time. I have experienced this phenomenon myself. No two viewings of the same movie, feel the same unless it’s perhaps an out and out comedy, and you know when and where to laugh, expecting familiar capers. Perhaps not even these. Who knows, it is all so subjective. Worthwhile thought even so.

Cinema, cinema, cinema

Movies are the most-loved outing, be it solitary or with family and friends. Shubhra Gupta has mastered the pulse of the moviegoer in her book. In her own life, she must sit in every Thursday, to watch any and every quality of movie being churned out by the Mumbai Bollywood industry, as it is popularly known, because that’s who she is professionally, the Indian Express movie critic. A new movie release in town, and she’s headed to the theatres to view it; duty calls. Her office awaits the written word with bated breath as do many of us. If it’s Friday, we’ve got to check out that scathing or generous review, as the case may be, before we make up our minds about the new film. We have to count the stars, don’t we!

Event Venue: Nowhere Terrace Brewpub Café, Cross Point Mall, DLF -IV

Event Photographer: Sriparna Banerjee Chakraborty