Mediocrity thrives in conventionality

I got a mail from one of my podcast listeners, Mr.Sridhar, I'll share the discussion to provide some clarity on some of what I've said in the podcast . My reply to his mail also dragged me in to topics that were quite unrelated to the actual podcast, but quite relevant to any discussion in general.

Mr.Sridhar wrote:

I happened to listen to your roast of VV just today – interesting! I see it as how a friend of mine would feel if we were to talk about the movie over coffee. I don’t agree with several of your opinions on VV but then, as you say, we are both entitled to our opinions J
I don’t want to get into an advisory mode but humour me because of my age and the fact that I went through a lot of your experiences before. One thing that I am trying to get over (and I can’t claim to have accomplished this) is the act of generalization (Americans are like this, Muslims are like that…). Not that I get riled over it, but I tend to disagree whenever people generalize. I think it is a simplification by us because we have conditioned ourselves to slot people and their behaviours – because our own predilections… This pontification is my reaction to your points about Gautham, Harris Jayaraj, et. al It seemed to me an attempt to show aggressively that you don’t agree with the conventional wisdom… J

More reaction on your making fun of the pronunciation of Kamal and the doctor: I used to often make fun of how people pronounced certain English words until I found out that some American pronunciation has made its own variations for certain English words.
My reply:

It's not a surprise that you disagree with a lot of what I had said (contrarily, I would be surprised if even a few people agree with me; apart from my friends that is). I and another friend of mine were talking about it and she pretty much said the same thing. A movie with bad actors and bad acting isn't worth watching unless it has a presentation that supersedes the former. What's interesting is that she's such a hardcore Ilayaraja fan that she at times goes to the extent of bashing ARR; Harris Jeyaraj will be dusted. Unlike me, she knows music, she listen to all kinds of music. Some of the music she introduced me to, gave me little familiarity that instinctively deconstructs bad music. Yes, HJ, if you have the exposure to certain kind of music, will sound like garbage. Actually I never liked him after his first movie (the first movie had loops lifted from Rahman, and then he started recycling his own stuff with ARR, hip-hop, Latino music and Euro-grunge). I respect him only as much as I do Deva, but because Deva isn't praised so much I don't bash him either.

As you know, I have criticized Cheran, GM et al because these people's products, in my opinion, haven't been deconstructed adequately. Not that I do it so well, I feel it's necessary, nevertheless. Some how these people have slipped through the minds of most film critics, who have been treated to overwrought banalities for a long time. But, since I avoid watching 'bad movies', my reference point remains with the good movies of old times (and a few recent ones). I refuse to get down to the contemporary condition of movies and critique Autograph, TT, VV et al, with respect to that.

{{It seemed to me an attempt to show aggressively that you don’t agree with the conventional wisdom}} - Yes, you're right, while I've been relatively calm in other podcasts, I was a little irritated when I expressed what has now become usual in my podcasts - I don't agree with conventional thinking. If you agree with the clichéd phrase that "it's an evil world out there", I think "conventional thinking" is what has gotten us there. So I think we should deconstruct many, if not most, conventional thoughts and approaches employed in the conventional system; especially in arts. Mediocrity thrives in conventionality; conventionality and “common sense” maintain the status-quo. My irritation is due to the blogosphere's verdict that it's a "fantastic..brilliant movie" -- nothing short of a conventional reactionary response.

The conventional thinking or the popular opinion--to see HJ and GM as people who are highly talented--has been a result of fast paced "corporate socialization". I don't want to call it wisdom -- wisdom is the crystallization of thought processes that go through rigorous criticisms and analysis. If there is any wisdom involved in this at all, it can only be comparable to what guided millions of people in India to "feed lord Ganesh" with spoonfuls of milk. Of course people realized their stupidity after a few days, some after a few weeks and some probably never will. The same goes to HJ and GM, though their music/movies have been accepted without much thought (or thought that is basically superficial), their actual worth will be understood by these same people after 5, 10 years from now. Out of all the movies we have seen in the past 20 odd years, only few come to us when we want to recollect and discuss. Only true quality stands the test of time (like IR's music).

About generalizations - I think I have expressed my opinion on this in my other podcasts and particularly in 'Shallow views and senseless pride' (under Engum Arasiyal). As a self proclaimed critical thinker, I have the comfort of shifting positions just for arguments' sake. Now, I’ll argue for generalizations. Though we cannot generalize people based on their country, ethnicity etc, there's a fair amount knowledge and factual basis associated with it. When you say Indians like spicy food, the generalization does have some validity. It might be stupid to cook extremely spicy food for an Indian guest assuming that he won't complain, but the statement is still relatively valid. I'm in a field where we have to base our theories on data collected from a sample. The technique of generalizability has over the years been perfected close to those in natural sciences. Demographic indicators such as fertility, mortality, migration etc., are all based on some kind of generalization. Do you know that several insurance companies charge male drivers more than female drivers because males have higher probability of getting in to an accident?

{{I think it is a simplification by us because we have conditioned ourselves to slot people and their behaviours – because our own predilections}} - It need not just be our predilections, it may also be based on historical data - information and theoretically established knowledge. Logical deduction of informational pointers can be mistaken for simplification, but there's a huge difference between the two in terms of reliability.

About the pronunciation - I agree, there are words that have varied pronunciations (generally just two), American and Brit, like either (eether-aither), staff (staaf, staff) and some that sound different because of the accent. But semen is neither of the two; semen is “seemen” in all parts of the world. It may seem like a small thing, but it's not, because a DCP and a doctor are using the word. I have heard doctors and police use it before, they say it as “seemen”. The characters look completely idiotic when they cannot even pronounce a very commonly used word (in their fields that is).

Anyway, I wasn't complaining about their English because it was bad, but because it was deliberately shoved in to all characters. As I had said, why do you want to make them speak English if you cannot make them do it right? It's a Tamil movie after all. I hate his judgment that he can add sophistication and finesse to his characters simply by making them utter English words here and there. I think the very attempt is offensive. I’m not a purist or a perfectionist, but I get enraged when people attribute either to something that is less tha.

GM's scenes carry with them a kind of condescension: as if he is far better than other directors when the scenes are flawed at so many levels (apart from the condescension itself).

Among other things, the movie is overtly and overly sexist right from the beginning. Women are targeted and victimized as if none of them could have escaped the villains' "wrath". Especially, when 'Amudhan' walks in to a house with 3 women and "kidnaps" one of them without much effort. What the heck is that? like they are all helpless paraplegics. Besides, they were living in an apartment for heaven's sake, are all the neighbor's deaf? Never mind...if I have to question the logic behind the scenes, then there is no end to it. All of this insults my intelligence, especially because he tries to mask it like it's meant for "smart" viewers.

As arrogant as it may sound, I don't think I'm one of the average movie-goers who are stripped off the tools required for dissecting one. Like an elitist connoisseur, I think I've got exposed to very good products, that I can no longer digest silly half-baked material like VV.

It's not just this movie; GM's previous one was no better. Each and every scene is a blooper for a critical viewer. Still, he has led himself to believing that he's one of the best directors in India. Like I've said, my contempt for GM et al doesn't come just from their movies, but from their interviews too.

***end of conversation***


thilak said...

Confessions of a Neutral mind!

But I believe most of them live with preconceived notion that Kamal films are always great.As u said in ur podcasts,We must have a huge disclaimer saying "From a true Kamal fanatic" for one dont like Gautam much but he is now responsible for giving kamal sir a box office hit.Even though the movie faulters at different levels,people will argue in vain..I hope DASA10 will be better.ALthough KSR is shadow directing it,It will have Aandavar's flavour.

Suresh said...

Yeah I think I'll like Dasavadharam better than VV (whether it's going to be a better movie or not). It will at least be a lot more funny, KSR+Kamal will always give some enjoyable moments.

Escape.... Great Escape said...

ok... if you read the reviews carefully.. you can see shades of sycophancy in them. I have compiled a list of 'admirable' things from VV. from a few reviews.

Well as you know the average Stern hater listens to more Stern than teh Stern lover. So..

Thats my second review ont eh subject. Enjoy.

Known Stranger said...

oh my good nesss.. you are a reply freak. justification for everything - a typical trait of a water sign. hmm interesting you let yourself more vulnerable than what you want to defence is my view. if you dont accept my view - fine - stated my view - you may have your own view. i will respect yours

Suresh said...


Yeah I tend to reply quite persistently just to have my stance established clearly.

I don't necessarily justify everything I say but rather explain how I came to that conclusion - just point to the process. The fundamental difference lies in that each one takes a different process and apart from opinion it's also dependent on exposure. Condescending as it may sound, once you're used to good stuff you cannot stand nonsense like VV. If people fail to see that, good for them at least they enjoyed the movie. But don't present a half-baked analysis for it and expect me to respect it (no, I'm not talking about you). It's almost like saying "hey I know what you're saying is stupid, but I respect your stupidity", doesn't make sense does it? So my process might look just as "half-baked", but deep down we know what's what.

Of course, when you try to analyze something/someone you expose yourself. But I wouldn't necessarily call that vulnerability, if you know you can handle counter criticisms say whatever you want to say. I'll defend my ideas but I won't defend me.

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