Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Convenient Absence of Quality

Vinnaithandi Varuvaya, a film by Gautham Vasudev Menon, is being hailed as a work of "class" in The Hindu by an ostensibly reputed reviewer. Karan Johar's My Name is Khan received 5 out of 5 stars in the Times of India.

What stands out is that both are mediocre films but have been released in an ocean of trash, making the ordinary seem exaggeratedly noteworthy. Thankfully, some of us have reference points that are wider than the collection of movies infesting our A city theatres at this given time, we are exposed to better fare than the reviewers that reputed newspapers seem to be able to get these days, and we can continue to have our honest opinions about mediocrity that comes packed in glitz - from pictures to pizza, literature to music. We don't have to be fooled. But "we" are in the minority and getting smaller.

This is the age of the salesperson, the consummate professional who can lie through her teeth, in complete ignorance or in complete shamelessness, and make it sound like a million bucks. There is a whole generation of consumers out there who can't tell the difference, and even worse, don't want to make the effort to see the difference. All they know is trash. But they can tell glitzy trash from dull trash. The marketing machine is here to add glitz to anything we want to sell, so if you can afford the glitz, you can produce trash and absolutely hope to get away with it.

An extended vaccuum in quality can actually lower standards, push down expectations, and finally result in a worse quality of life. Reviewers can be bought by the dozen today, a few crores of money spent in bending opinions doesn't seem to be money badly spent. Every advantage is to be had commercially by dumbing us down, homogenizing our viewpoints, and reducing the average level of knowledge and questioning of what we see, hear and are willing to be sold. The number one sellable after sex is "Freedom"! As soon as we're ready to measure our freedom in what we can afford to buy, we are suckers by the million. And we're being had royally.

Look at the number of times AR Rahman has done something ostensibly "patriotic" and it is easy to see why some wise men have opined that patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels. Even a lousily rendered "Vande Mataram" cannot be questioned for quality, because it is about something that is supposedly above reproach - his patriotism! Holy cow, YOUR patriotism! It is just like our inability to tell a lousy singer in a temple to stop torturing our devotion with the snarling effort of religious hysteria. We don't have a smoking chance against the power of stupidity, noise, and overwhelming ignorance. Patriotism takes advantage of all of these. All reason can be drowned by anything patriotic, especially if it sounds like an iceberg humping a mountain full of tin boxes.

India is headed towards a quality oblivion, quite simply because we are becoming a culture of reducing effort. We want to strive less, ignore more and be blissfully happy. The traps are all here - we truly belong in our own illusion of a great country when we obey, and only when we obey the machine that tells us so. After all, when all of your friends tell you My Name is Khan is a great movie, isn't it just cool to go along? Maybe they are right! Of course, this line of thinking is easy when you know only as much as they do, and all of you collectively know very little anyway. Our mob mentality is geared perfectly for dumbing down. Win over a part of the mob, and the whole mob will be yours! This is how the British took over the whole country! In any case, we're proud to belong to the Indian mob waving the same flag that some other rather original people held aloft not that long ago.

Access to information has not translated to access to knowledge as far as India is concerned. Our youngsters live in a deluge of information, dished out by other youngsters working for mindless media outlets that man the stations sending out SMS messages, advertisements, promotions, and a whole host of hideous, tasteless, unchallenged overtures of nonsense, juvenile sexuality, and sheer lies. We are also sold this constant message that India is on the "march forward" and our young clowns need only hear that they are as good as any in the world! It is a turnout of gargantuan amounts of ignorance.

We have the USA to look up to, for any reference we need on the level of dumbing down we are happy to subscribe to. If something is good enough for the Americans, we're okay with reaching anywhere near that. Why else would Vinnaithandi Varuvaya have whites and blacks dancing together behind our hero? This is our director not wanting to be politically inferior to any American film maker, as if anybody would notice this fool's film in a world panorama! But still Gautham Menon wouldn't want to hurt Tarantino's feelings, would he?! This disease is so deep rooted, he wouldn't even know if it was pointed out to him.

Coming from the new age Indian upper middle class family is the bane of all originality - it is not encouraged at all. Parents who have "set up" their children for the future have no chance of producing any offspring that are capable of any truly original thought processes. Protection from all the insecurities of life can only lead to dead emotional intelligence. That is where most of our mediocre crap comes from. But then, that is where the reviewers of that crap come from as well - get a good school education, get a good college education, get a half decent hold of your English language presentation, and guess what!? YOU decide what everybody like you should be watching! The market is full of fools like you, so who can question your abject ignorance?! When we're adding forty million people to our middle class each year, and are being taken aim at as one of the most reliable "growth" markets, we are ripe for this sort of dumbing down.

We have enough arrogance to think this sheer game of numbers actually gives us a right to feel powerful in some way. We are, but we are not empowered. We're simply "available" to dumbing down and being sold stuff to. The easiest thing to sell to us is the absolute right to be lazy, in thought and action, or thought and inaction! Everything is justified since we have collectively registered some undeniable "progress" on some global scale. But how have we grown when we have managed to put agriculture out of whack as a self sustaining industry, but are happy that we can call Dominos Pizza any time of the week in any Indian city? Dominos isn't even the best pizza we can make for half the money we pay those monkeys, and the lunatics they hire to deliver their crap ride their bikes on the wrong side of the street! What investment would the franchise owner make in the quality of work they put in, as long as they can ring their numbers in. This is India for us. And we're proud of this?

It is HARD to build a quality country, so we're doing what we know very well - build a quantity country. It is all about quantity. From our population to the measure of accomplishment. 99% of the money we have made through software development for the computer industry is about slave labour - doing other people's grunge work. Our creative content industry is busy making copies of movies made by other film makers in other countries - and not high concept action films either, but family drama! This is supposed to be our strength, our family system and our values and what not., but we don't have one thing any more - sincerity! We don't have a quest for truth that is at the core of all art! We are liars and thieves and crooks in the world of art and we won't be coming out any time soon, especially in cinema.

The absence of quality is pronounced and upon us, but it is not going to go away anytime soon. No producer is going to bet his balls or his money on a film that asks us to be intelligent, sophisticated, or even remotely thoughtful. We all have no chance but to actively contribute to more dumbing down. After all, when stupidity is conveniently available to everyone and it can be sold and made money from, why shouldn't we celebrate the convenient absence of quality!?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the essence of this article becoming more popular. But tone sounds like a rant.