by Sam Juliano
Note: This is the tenth feature in an ongoing series devoted to creative bloggers who have made their mark online.
The movie blogsite Cinemascope was launched on May of 2008 by an Indian university student named Shubhajit Lahiri. The site’s prolific output is remarkably diverse, as Laheri’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema is matched by his expertise in Bengali and Hindi cinema and a noted focus on the work of some of the form’s most renowned artists. Laheri manages his home base with the agility of a veteran juggler, alternating genre and countries, while simultaneously negotiating a rich and demanding personal life that for the last year has had him living at school to complete a two-year graduate course in business management, one the tireless operator hopes to assist him in a career dedicated to professional service. Lahiri is from a family that includes a bevy of post-graduates and holders of PhDs.
Laheri is a master of what is known in the trade as the ‘capsule’ review. This exact science of feature writing features brief sketches of the film in question, a style that leaves not a single wasted word, and engages the reader with engaging prose and an uncommonly fine talent of pointing to the elements that both define the work and delineate it’s artistry. A visit to Cinemascope invariably rewards the reader with a no-nonsence review, free of stifling ostentation and an acute focus on the varying historical, sociological, thematic and artistic components that are part of the cinematic landscape. Lahiri’s prose is often poetic, and his attention to detail through striking descriptive makes his writing a joy for movie fans looking for something deeper than just a sketch summary. Lahiri’s art is one of compression, and it’s an eternal challenge not to concede important insights because of a pre-determined length. Modestly, Lahiri asserts that the initial intent for adopting this approach was a practical one, and one that was ultimately preferred over the alternative of penning longer critiques. Writing concise reviews has allowed Lahiri to compose a far greater number of reviews, and amazingly the Calcutta born and raised writer has penned a staggering 580 reviews, all of which are stored in the site’s vast archives.
In one of the series’ most remarkable interviews, Lahiri offers up thesis-like responses to a series of questions examining his personal life, education, wide array of interests and the passionate management of Cinemascope, his love of film and the highlights of the blog’s three-and-a-half year run; his pride in his upbringing in Calcutta, his father’s love of movies that eventually led to a home collection of VHS movies that the young Shubhajit gleefully immersed himself in; the high regard he has for a post he offerred on the ‘100 Best Movies of the 2000’s’, his appreciation and expertise on Satyajit Ray and Bollywood cinema, his naming of ‘film noir’ as his favorite genre of them all, a documentation of his impressive education, and his far-ranging plans. Lahiri’s responses, like his capsule reviews are straightforward, erudite and ever-cognizant of the value of an answer that hedges. Lahiri is firm, but non-confrontational, and he’s surely one of the blogosphere’s most amenable hosts.
Because of the length of the interview, and the comprehensive nature of Lahiri’s responses, I have decided to shorten my own lead-in, so not to detract from the breath of the writer’s spectacular responses to prepared questions. In many ways this is the most remarkable interview I’ve ever conducted, and Shubhajit Lahiri is a truly astounding subject.
1.) What inspired you to launch CINEMASCOPE and how long has the site been running?
At the outset, I’d like to thank the indefatigable Sam Juliano, and Wonders in the Dark, one of my favourite movie sites, for wanting to take my interview. It sure is an honour!
The blog of mine, which goes by the name Cinemascope now, essentially started its journey a few months before “Cinemascope” was officially born. I’ve had a love for writing articles and stuff right since my school days. The habit, however, started taking a back-seat with each passing year, so much so that by the time my college-life ended, I was almost always too lazy to write even when I had a good idea or an interesting topic in my mind. So, in January 2008, around 6 months after I had joined my job, I started a blog (the name which I’d given it then is escaping my mind right now) with the hope of getting back to my writing mode of old. Unfortunately, after posting a couple of articles or so, the blog became dormant.
While trying to conjure ways for ensuring that the blog remains active, I somehow got the spark of converting it into a movie blog. I’d been in love with the medium for a long time, and had also, from time to time, thought of writing down my views on the movies I’d been watching. So, no sooner than this idea popped in my head, I changed the name of the blog to Cinemascope and started penning down reviews of the movies I’d been watching since then – or at least most of them. Cinemascope was officially born on 28th May 2008 when I posted an introductory note, and my first movie review for the blog, which I posted on the following day, was that of the Billy Wilder classic Ace in the Hole. Suffice it to say, since then, keeping the blog active didn’t need to be there at the top of my head anymore, because as soon as I watch a movie, I feel the irresistible bug of writing down my views and thoughts on it and posting it at my blog. As can be understood, over the years Cinemascope has become an integral part of my life.
2.) You are one of the blogosphere’s most talented writers of what is known in the trade as the “capsule” review. How did you come to embrace this particular style of writing, and how has it served your mission at the site?
Thanks a lot for the appreciation. Well, to be honest, my initial intent for adopting the “capsule review” approach was more to do with pragmatism than anything else. Given the constraints pertaining to the time required for writing reviews, I felt that I could adopt one of two approaches when I started Cinemascope – write detailed critiques of only a few of the movies I’d be watching, or compose concise reviews of most of them. I decided to go for the latter approach in order to have Cinemascope as more of a movie-viewing journal. On hindsight I think I made a good choice as had I gone for the former, I’m not sure if I’d have found enough time and energy to keep going at a reasonably good pace in terms of keeping my blog up and running. And, in these three and a half years of being involved with movie blogging, I somehow have fallen in love with the “capsule review” approach.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have any grand mission as such when I’d started this blog of mine. The intent was simple, to keep posting concise reviews of the movies that I’d be watching, reflecting my views on them and how they affected me intellectually and/or impacted me emotionally. And, three years down the line, the intent exists more or less unaltered – to keep watching the kind of movies from all around the globe that I love watching, and to keep populating my blog with my reactions on the same. As for the basic mission of getting back to my writing mode of the old, which I’d spoken about earlier, well, that has been reasonably taken care of as I’ve fallen in love with this particular activity.
3.) Can you tell us about the vast archives at CINEMASCOPE?
I have reviewed close to 580 movies so far, and I expect to reach the 600-mark by the year end if things go according to plan. However, given that my blog has been acting for around 3 ½ years now, I don’t think the average number of reviews posted per year comes to anything that can be qualified as spectacular. I like watching movies from around the globe, and so my blog archive, too, would reflect that. But, that said, there are countries which I have not explored much as yet. Though I’ve covered a number of movies made in the erstwhile Czechoslovakia and belonging to the legendary Czech New Wave movement as well as quite a few of those belonging to the on-going Romanian New Wave movement, as also a bit of Polish cinema (courtesy my love for Kieslowski’s works), I feel I haven’t covered as much of East European cinema as I’d love to. There are a few other countries and regions too which are lagging when put in perspective. For instance, though I’ve covered quite a bit of Hong Kong and Korean cinema, Japanese cinema (but for Kurosawa’s works), mainland Chinese cinema and Iranian cinema are lagging in comparison. I’d say the same about Latin American cinema too, though I’ve seen quite a few Mexican films. And of course, when it comes to cinema per se, it seems I’ve managed to watch only a very small percentage of all the wonderful movies out there. So the archive of Cinemascope, irrespective of whether it can be qualified as vast as of today, will surely continue to grow. Maybe 5 or 10 years hence I hope to be able to nod in complete agreement at the use of that adjective. Until then, well, all I would say is I’ve watched a few good movies, belonging to various countries, eras, genres, and film movements, and have penned down my humble views and opinions on them – that’s it and no more.
4.) You have demonstrated a marked ability to express your views and analysis of films made in your home country as well as films from abroad. Can you shed some light on the approach you take in this unique double perspective?
I know that people often judge different films differently – especially when it comes to “mainstream” movies vis-à-vis “arthouse” movies. I however prefer to have a common set of yardsticks while judging movies, irrespective of the nature of the movies or their country of origin. So, it doesn’t really matter whether I’m watching a movie in the Bengali language or a non-Bengali Indian movie or a non-Indian movie – I try and form my opinions based on the movie’s quality and how it affects me. Agreed, it is difficult to be completely bereft of one’s cultural baggage. Further, given the inherent subjective nature of this medium, as it is for any form of art, I might be susceptible to some ingrained leanings from time to time. I try to consciously filter out those biases, and instead reap upon the positivity of being aware of certain cultural nuances more than others. For instance, objective appraisal of the cinematic language or idiom apart, I might be able to grasp and appreciate certain aspects and nuances (socio-political and cultural references, humour, etc.) of a Bengali movie more than a non-Bengali would, or for that matter for an Indian movie than a non-Indian would, so on and so forth. Thankfully, having watched quite a few movies from around the globe, as well as courtesy my habit of reading novels, I have come to appreciate aspects and facets of other countries and cultures as well – which in more ways than one have helped me in better appreciating movies of various kinds and from different places. But, just to reiterate what I mentioned above, I do my best to remain as unbiased as possible while forming my opinions about movies. The important thing is how intellectually stimulating and/or emotionally affecting I find a particular movie, irrespective of where or in which language the movie has been made.
5.) What are the major differences you see between American and Indian cinema? What are the major differences between Hindi and Bengali cinema?
United States of America and India are as distinctly different from each other as chalk and cheese (not necessarily in that order) – culturally, sociologically, politically, historically, industrially, etc. And these differences get captured through the cinema of the two countries. Perhaps the major difference between the movies of the two countries is in terms of the spoken languages – while American cinema gets made in English, Indian movies get made in over a dozen different languages depending on which part of the country they’re made in. So even for Indians subtitles or dubbed versions would be required for watching most Indian movies.
A second, and perhaps the most referred to, distinction between not just Indian and American, but Indian and non-Indian cinema is the preponderance of song-and-dance sequences in the regular, mainstream movies. Musical as a genre has been tried in numerous countries, most notably in the US, but I really don’t know how it became such a predominant force in India. In India, if a director wants his movie to have mass appeal, he should be willing to seamlessly incorporate a plethora of generic tropes in his movie – a bit of comedy, a bit of romance, a bit of melodrama, and a good number of nice song-and-dance sequences. Of course, this goes without saying, that such conventionalism is mostly absent when it comes to non-mainstream/offbeat/arthouse movies which, I’d say, tend to have a more global appeal. Popular American cinema, on the other hand, has a higher preference for massive blockbusters, comic book adaptations, sequels, etc. Differences exist when it comes to non-mainstream movies as well, in terms of themes chosen, tonality, narrative pacing, choice of subjects, among others – but these are comparatively more subtle.
In the same way that arguably the most definitive differentiation for Indian cinema is the sheer diversity of movies made here, especially in terms of language, for American cinema it would be (at least to me) in its pioneering role as a progenitor of such fascinating genres as film noirs, Westerns, and gangster movies – all of which I love. On the whole I’d say, both the countries have produced, over the years, numerous movies which I’ve loved, but when it comes to viewership and acceptance of offbeat movies with non-conventional themes and storylines, I’d say the American audience would be significantly ahead of their Indian counterparts. When it comes to similarity, I’d say the biggest of them all would be both the countries’ love for hero-worship and larger-than-life stars.
As for the second part of the question, though there do run certain common threads between them, being such a culturally diverse country, movies made in each of the regions and languages in India are distinctive. The same holds true between Hindi and Bengali movies. The Bombay film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, is far bigger commercially and output-wise as compared to the Bengali film industry which is based primarily out of Calcutta. However, contrary to popular perception, Hindi movies are not just about Bollywood, as a number of very fine directors have worked out of the system, as well as some who, despite embracing the system at a broader level, have managed not to follow its every footstep and conventions. However, in my opinion and as per my experience, when it comes to artistry, Bengali cinema has historically been ahead of movies made in the other regions of the country, including Hindi cinema. The number of internationally acclaimed Bengali filmmakers vis-à-vis the other regions is an easy pointer towards that. Further, again in my opinion, the filmgoers of Calcutta (the educated middle and upper-middle class Bengalis) have a greater affinity towards embracing good, non-mainstream movies vis-à-vis their counterparts in other cities. The reason for that might be, Bengalis have had a long tradition of great art and culture movements. The number of personalities who have done exceptional works in not just cinema, but also various other fields of art like literature, music, painting, theatre, etc., too, consequently, outweigh the other regions of the country. Hence, when it comes to assessing in terms of commerce and mass appeal, Hindi cinema would be ahead (because, unlike Bengali, Hindi is known to a far greater proportion of the Indian population), but when it comes to quality output, it has been the other way round. However, that said, I watch movies of both the languages as good movies get made in both the languages.
6.) Can you relate your own experience with Bollywood films?
As I mentioned in my response to the last question, Bollywood (a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood) has come to stand, for most people, as representative of Hindi movies in general. It’s a huge and an exceptionally fecund industry – more so given that the city of Bombay (which was renamed as Mumbai a few years back) is arguably the commercial capital of India. The kind of movies made in Bollywood have gone numerous transitions since its inception, but its love for “commercial cinema” (or what is known in India as “Masala movies” – “masala” being a reference to spicy Indian curries) has been highly enduring. Most importantly, there has been a huge emphasis all along on melodious songs – consequently, one would often find movies that have become popular on the sheer quality of their songs. Another aspect that has endured has of course been the star-system – which in fact has also been immensely in favour of by the viewers of movies made in the southern states of India, and most particular Tamil cinema (movies made in the Tamil language, principally out of the city of Madras, or Chennai as it is known today). But, Hindi cinema is not just about the kind of perception popularly promulgated, especially outside India. Though not many Hindi filmmakers have won international following, there have been and continues to be a lot of good work – especially by those who prefer to work outside the studio-system or those who try to do things differently despite being part of it. But yes, when it comes to sheer popularity, Bollywood films have few equals, if any.
Just as an aside, interestingly the first such Hollywood-inspired portmanteau in India was Tollywood (a combination of Tollygunje – the area in Calcutta where most Bengali film studios are located, and Hollywood). The name dates back to a 1932 article written in American Cinematographer – as Tollygunje was the epicentre of the Indian film industry at that time. And this has been in vogue ever since when it came to the naming of the various film industries located at various regions of the country, including Bollywood.
7.) Can you speak about your regard for the great Satyajit Ray? What are your favourites among his films, and how has he influenced the whole range of Indian cinema?
To say that I am a huge admirer of Satyajit Ray’s body of work would be an understatement such has been my admiration for this towering personality. A couple of years back I’d even written a three-part article on Ray in order to pay my humble tributes to the great master.
Ray was a giant in world cinema, and rightfully so. He remains arguably the finest filmmaker India has ever had, and the person who really took Indian cinema to the world forum. The amount of diversity in his movies in terms of subjects dealt with, genres traversed, stylistic aspects vis-à-vis mood, tone and themes, is staggering to say the least. Though he’s most renowned for his debut feature Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), in particular, and the Apu Trilogy (of which Pather Panchali was the first chapter), in general, he made well over half-a-dozen masterpieces. For the uninitiated, Apu Trilogy also comprises of Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) – both were incredible movies. Some of his movies, like Jalsaghar (The Music Room), Charulata (The Lonely Wife) and Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) have attained their due places among film aficionados. Unfortunately quite a few others, like Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Songs of Goopy and Bagha), Nayak (The Hero), Agantuk (The Stranger), etc. are still to receive a wider recognition, especially outside Bengal and Ray-fans. Apart from the ones I’ve mentioned, I also hold quite a few other movies of his in the highest regard, like Abhijaan (The Expedition), Kapurush (The Coward), Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God), Hirak Rajar Deshe (The Kingdom of Diamonds) and the entire Calcutta Trilogy, viz. Seemabaddha (Company Limited), Pratidwandi (The Adversary) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman), among others.
He was one of the true auteurs of world cinema – he didn’t just direct his movies, but also wrote their screenplays (at times even based on stories written by him), composed the background score (except for the first few movies), wrote and composed all the songs of the two musicals he made, designed the movies’ posters, and actively participated in the photography and editing processes too – making him truly deserving of the epithet ‘versatile genius’ on the lines of his idol Charlie Chaplin. Interestingly, not known to many non-Bengalis, he was also a very popular writer of fiction (two of his character creations continue to be immensely popular even today), a terrific artist – specifically in the domain of pen-sketches, a photography enthusiast, and an avid cinephile (he founded India’s first cine club for feature films).
Apart from a few filmmakers here and there, I’m not sure how influential Ray has been on other Indian filmmakers outside Bengal. However, when it comes to makers of Bengali cinema, suffice it to say that Ray’s influence has been immense. A lot of filmmakers imbibed the kind of universalist nature that made it relatively easy even for non-Bengalis to appreciate Ray’s movies, despite they being seeped in Bengali culture. The same cannot be said about Ritwik Ghatak, who wasn’t just Ray’s greatest contemporary, but is also considered by some as an equal to him. And yes, when it comes to taking Indian cinema beyond the geographic confines of the country, Ray’s cinema has played an immense role to say the least. Two other great contemporaries of Ray were Mrinal Sen, famous as well as notorious for making a number of angry and iconoclastic movies, and Tapan Sinha, who attained significant popularity courtesy the fact that his movies were not, as some say, as “intellectual” or cerebral as Ray’s.
8.) In a general sense, who would you identify as your favourite film directors? Do you have a favourite “national” cinema?
There are quite a few who I include in my list of favourite movie directors. The list includes (in no particular order), Ingmar Bergman, Charlie Chaplin, Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Jiri Menzel, the Coen Brothers, Jean-Luc Godard (with specific reference to his earlier movie), Jacques Tati, David Cronenberg, Mrinal Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, John Ford, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Billy Wilder, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Milos Forman, Sidney Lumet, Park Chan-Wook, and of course, Satyajit Ray, among so many others. There are a few renowned filmmakers whose movies I haven’t watched as much as I ought to, and so this list will only grow with time. As for national or international cinema, it would neither be fair nor reasonable to name one movie that I love more than others as I have innumerable favourites. But yes, if you were to ask me to name my so-called “Deserted Island Movie”, i.e. the one movie that I would like to have with me if I were to be stranded on a deserted island, it would probably either be Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne or Chaplin’s Gold Rush.
9.) What would you say is your absolute favourite movie genre and why?
Well, there are quite a few genres that I really love – urban dramas/comedies, social/political satires, crime dramas, black comedies, gangster movies, psychological dramas/thrillers, Westerns, etc. But if I were to name one genre that has perhaps most fascinated me, it might very well be film noirs – and by film noirs I’m referring to its classical definition (black/white movies, made predominantly in America, during the 40’s and 50’s). I know a lot of people might disagree to the usage of the word ‘genre’ with regards to film noirs. In fact, I too am rather more inclined towards calling it a style rather than a genre; however, for the sake of convenience I’ve decided to consider it as one for this question. If you were to ask me to list down my favourite films, you would find a reasonably varied distribution, yet also an overabundance of noirs. In fact, unlike most other genres, there are very few noirs that I haven’t liked. And there are so many noirs that I find incredibly powerful works, and not to mention, technically brilliant. A cynical and chain-smoking anti-hero, a sultry femme fatale, moody photography (through terrific usages of canted camera angles and chiaroscuro, and most importantly stark B/W imagery), an atmosphere laden with fatalism and nihilism, a mostly urban setting – these are some of the tropes that have come to distinctly identify noirs, yet there are so many works that regularly transcended such definitions. And most amazingly, despite being so short lived, there are so many stupendous works belonging to it, which really is a testament to the fervour with which so many renowned directors during the post-WW II era became part of this school of filmmaking, as if through an inner calling. And the sheer staggering number of different genres and sub-genres that noirs imbibed along with the dark and complex themes explored, point to the level of creativity that the makers of noirs worked at during that small window of time. In fact, my love for noirs has broadened to literature as well, as I’ve managed to read and be fascinated by the marvellous works of such brilliant roman noir and so-called pulp fiction writers as Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Micky Spillane, etc. Having said all these, I do tend to be a tad fickle when it comes to naming favourites, including those pertaining to genres. So, on some other day, I might very well have gone for psychological dramas or political satires, etc.
10) How many movies do you normally watch each week?
The number of movies I watch in a week tends to vary across a wide range. When I was in college, my movie viewing had increased with each passing semester, so much so that nearly every day I would watch a movie or two during my final semester (our final semester during graduation was pretty light as there weren’t any normal classes; we just had to do a thesis work during the semester). After I joined my job, I used to watch 6-7 movies on an average week, with around 4 of those coming during the weekends. Though I didn’t prefer overstaying at the office, but at times, depending on the work pressure, I had to; consequently, watching movies during weekdays after returning from work was oftentimes not possible. When I left work to pursue post-graduation, I had a trepidation that my movie-viewing would badly suffer on account of heavy academia-related workload. Though it did get slowed down during the first couple of trimesters, I somehow managed to bring it up to a healthy level once I got fully adjusted to the new environs. I joined the institute which I’m part of right on in July, 2010. Since then (and including a couple of small vacations that we’ve managed to have, and our summer internships), I’ve reviewed close to 200 movies. So all things considered, I guess I’ve not done too badly in terms of pursuing with this passion of mine.
11.) Do you have any specific favourite volumes of film criticism or movie related books that you cherish exceedingly?
I’m not much into reading books on film theories and/or film criticism. I rather prefer going through the vast repositories on cinema (and keep increasing with each day) that exist on the web. There really isn’t any dearth of scholarly sites on the net. However, that said, I do have in my personal collection quite a few volumes on cinema – most of them are encyclopaedic in nature covering everything from the history and the evolution of motion pictures, to discussions on the various major movie-making countries, to essays covering all the great movies that have been made around the world over the last century. However, if I were asked to name one book on film criticism that I cherish more than others, it would have to be a not-so-thick volume called Our Films Their Films, which essentially is a collection of essays written by Satyajit Ray. The “Our Films” section comprises of essays on his own experiences with filmmaking as well as his views on Indian cinema in general, while the “Their Films” section comprises of writings on movies from around the globe, with special focus on some of the iconic film movements like Nouvelle Vague and Italian Neorealism, and some of the directors who he greatly admired, like Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, etc.
Two things stood out for me when I’d read this book (and I’ve read it multiple times) – Ray’s depth in critiquing and deconstructing cinema with the brilliant precision of a professional film writer and critic, as also his deep love for the medium. However, I most cherish this book for another reason. I’d read this book when I was in school, and cinema for me till then was mostly limited to popular Indian and Hollywood movies, but for a few exceptions here and there. However, this book opened a whole world to me (both literally and figuratively) – a world that I’d never thought of exploring before, and thus provided me with a whole new vista. Thus, if I were to look back on my association as an ardent enthusiast with this medium, the journey most probably began when I’d first stumbled upon this priceless book. And it is especially for this reason, more than anything else, that this book is very close to my heart.
12.) At what age did you get bitten by the movie bug, and who would you say are the artists that made the deepest impression on you in your formative years? Was there a specific film that made a lasting impression on you through your life?
My father loves watching movies, and this got rubbed on to me at a very young age. Those were the days of VHS tapes, and my dad used to buy video cassettes of famous movies from time to time. As a result, we had quite a big collection of movies (mostly Hollywood classics) which I’d watched multiple times over on our VCR. Some of the movies belonging to our collection that I remember having enjoyed as a kid included both classics like William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Howard Hawk’s Hatari, Sounds of Music, Chaplin’s shorts, etc., along with comparatively contemporary films like Terminator I & II, etc. Also when it came to English-language movies, the British Council and the American Council (attached to the British and the American Consulates at Calcutta, respectively), as my father was a member of both, and I used to make use of both through his membership (later of course I too became a member). I’ve also been watching American movies in cinema halls from a young age. Television and movie theatre were mostly my sources for Indian films, and movies which I remember having really loved even as a kid include Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, the classic Indianized Western Sholay, etc. Quite interestingly, the films that had made impressions on me then, continue to be among those that I admire even today.
13.) What single review or series of reviews published at CINEMASCOPE are you most proud of?
There are a few posts published at Cinemascope that I’ve been quite satisfied with, especially the reviews of some of the movies I’m most fond of. But, the one post that I’m most proud of would perhaps be my post on what constituted, according to me when I’d made the list, the 100 best movies made in the 2000s (2000-2009). There were a few acclaimed movies that I hadn’t managed to watch till then; further, some movies that I’ve watched post making that list would probably feature in it if I were to make it now; perhaps the order in which some of the movies were ranked then could also get modified if I were to make it all over again. But for all the acts of omissions and commissions, I had a great time watching as many good movies as possible made in that decade that I hadn’t watched till then, making a long-list of all the wonderful movies that came to my mind, crossing out some names (with considerable difficulty) in order to bring the number to 100, and finally (through hours of brainstorming), finalising the ranked list of 100 movies. It was time-consuming, but it was also great fun. And finally I’d posted my final list along with collages of posters for every 10 movies that I’d made for that purpose. In fact, even though it’s been well over a year since I’d made that post, I do still go back to it from time to time and conjecture on the pros and cons of it. Oftentimes friends and colleagues of mine ask me to provide suggestions as regards to good movies made in the last few years, and in those situations I find that list most useful as it has the propensity to act, in my opinion, as a quick ready-reckoner of sorts for those who aren’t as initiated to the world of cinema as some of us are. The fact that the 2000s has been a particularly important decade in my life for all sorts of reason made this post that much close to me.
14.) How much time do you generally spend a week reading the reviews of others, and what would you say are some of your favourite blogs?
There are a number of movie blogs that I feel are nothing short of excellent. Had internet or blogs not been invented, one wouldn’t have ever known that there are so many cinephiles and amateur film critics out there whose deconstructions, articles and critiques on cinema don’t just rival but are often even better than those dished out by professional film critics. I therefore love going through quite a few of these blogs in order to get acquainted to new movies as well as to read about ones that I’ve watched. I’ve quite a few favourites actually, and include, in no particular order, Wonders in the Dark (Sam Juliano, Alan Fish, Maurizio Roca, Jamie Grijalba, Troy & Kevin J. Olson, Tony d’Ambra, Bob Clark, Joel Bocko, Jamie Uhler, Stephen Russell-Gebbett & so many more extraordinary writers), Anatagony & Ecstasy, Only the Cinema (Ed Howard), Films Worth Watching (Jon), The One-Line Review & 1000 Nights in the Dark (Iain Stott), Mondo 70 (Samuel Wilson), The Seventh Art (Srikkanth aka Just Another Film Buff), Twenty Four Frames (John Greco), The Dancing Image (Joel Bocko), Ellipsis (Omar Ahmed), The Flick Chick (Stephanie Lundahl), Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies (Kevin J. Olson), Elusive as Robert Danby (Troy Olson), Korovo Theatre Presents (Alex DeLarge), Film Noir (Tony D’Ambra), Tativille, Sunset Gun, Filmicability with Dean Treadway, Film Noir of the Week, The Blue Vial, Checking on my Sausages (Stephen Russell-Gebbett), Film Forager (Alex), Quickie Reviews Without Spoiler, Defiant Success aka Life of a Cinephile & Bibliophile, Deep Focus, Decisions at Sundown, The Library of Babel (Tristan), and so many more.
15.) How would you size up the major differences seeing films at home on DVD, or in movie theatres? With all the technological advances is there really an advantage?
For certain kinds of movies which boast of a grand scale or great special effects (the kind of movies belonging to such genres as War, Sfi-Fi, Epics, Action, etc.), the overall sensory experience provided by movie theatres, with their big screens and Dolby surround sounds, clearly outweigh home-viewing. Further, when it comes to watching popular blockbusters with friends, and over popcorn and cola, watching at theatres is certainly much more fun. And finally when it comes to newly released movies that I’d like to watch, theatres are the obvious choice as opposed to waiting for their DVD releases.
However, having watched my share of movies both at theatres as well as at home, I’ve come to realise that appreciating a good work of art becomes easier if you’re watching a movie at home, and preferably alone. I feel it’s easier to get completely absorbed (and even lost) into a movie, especially if you’re watching it for the first time, if you’re not surrounded by people since watching alone ensures zero distraction, and consequently undivided attention can be directed towards the movie. Hence I watch a majority of movies at home and alone, and the remaining few with friends or family at theatre (or at times even at home).
16.) Has the current blu-ray phenomenon in your view altered the general parameters for the home viewer, and does the high definition greatly enhance the experience?
The kind of picture clarity and depth that blu-ray offers is something never been experienced before by home viewers. Agreed, this continuous journey towards improvement in quality and viewer satisfaction has been on for a long time – VCDs replaced tapes, and then DCDs replaced VCDs. But the quantum jump from DVDs to blu-ray has been nothing short of dramatic (though certainly not as radical as when tapes were replaced). Yes, it has the propensity towards significantly altering the general parameters for home viewers, but, in my opinion, it has not been revolutionary at a mass scale yet, at least not in India. Given the fact that a lot of people find it prohibitively expensive to build a library out of blu-ray prints vis-à-vis DVDs, and that they need to make a switchover in terms of the player as well, has meant that the transition has been anything but rapid. But then, to think of it, the transition from VCDs to DVDs, too, didn’t happen overnight. But, the commerce-aspect apart, there’s no doubting the fact that the kind of viewing experience blu-ray discs offer is truly splendid.
17.) Can you tell us a bit about where you live in India, and if the town was your birthplace?
Right now I’m staying at a quaint little hill-station called Shillong, which is located at the north-eastern part of India. However, since I’m here for my post-graduation (a two course), my stay is will conclude within the next couple of months of so. Another place where I’ve spent some time (four years to be precise) is a town called Vellore, as I did my graduation at a university located there.
However, the place where I was born and brought up, and where I truly belong to, is Calcutta (the name of the city was officially changed to Kolkata to bring it closer to the way it is pronounced in Bengali). Calcutta was at the forefront of the nationalist movement during India’s struggle for independence from British colonialism. It was also once the national capital as well as the commercial hub for the country, though it was eventually replaced by Delhi and Mumbai, respectively. It has always been acknowledged as the cultural nerve-centre of the country as well, on account of the city’s prolific and enormously significant contributions in literature, science, painting, music, humanities, cinema, etc. – and this is one privilege that it still retains. Some of the biggest giants and great geniuses in these fields that India has ever had have been Calcuttans.
The metropolis is a fascinating concoction of the old and the new, and is renowned for the socio-political beliefs that still resonate among the Bengali middle-class intelligentsia – a facet that distinguishes it from most other cities. The city is also famous for its rich epicurean delights and immense love for gastronomy. Yes, the city is changing, for good or for worse – a lot of old traditions and heritages are slowly getting lost, and instead new thought-processes and lifestyles are cropping up. But I like to believe that at its core it still remains and will continue to do so as the city that I’ve been deeply in love with for a long time now. I could write pages on Calcutta to be honest, but I’ll spare you all the boredom for now.
18.) Are there any upcoming films that have you excited, and what contemporary artists capture your special attention at this time, again in India and abroad?
Though there a few upcoming films I’m looking forward, but I do always look forward to in general for upcoming releases of the movies of some of the contemporary filmmakers whose body of work I’ve been following and whose oeuvre have captivated me over the years. So, when it comes to movies by the likes of Coen Brothers, Park Chan-Wook, Rituparno Ghosh, Bong Joon-Ho, Kim Jee-Woon, Lars von Triar, Quentin Tarantino, Corneliu Poromboiu, Cristian Mungiu, Wong Kar-Wai, Guilermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Michael Haneke, Gotz Spielman, Christopher Nolan, Sriram Raghavan, Fatih Akin, Kim Ki-Duk, Suman Mukhopadhyay, David Cronenberg, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Lynne Ramsay, Dardenne Brothers, and so many more, I’m always looking forward to watching them sooner or later.
19.) Are you planning to continue posting at CINEMASCOPE for some time into the future, and if so, are you pleased with what you’ve put up to this point?
When I started Cinemascope I didn’t have any definitive target in my mind, and I don’t have one now either. My intent was to keep reviewing all the movies that I watch. That original intent still remains intact, but a few more have been added to the list. For instance, the increasing review bank or archive has played a strong role in continually upping my willingness for viewing more and more good movies, and so the longer the blog remains active the more would my interest towards exploring great works belonging to this medium keep rising – movies by directors who I admire as well as by those who I haven’t explored as much as I’d like to. As can be understood, I don’t have any number in mind. I’d therefore want to keep watching movies ad infinitum. Hence it goes without saying that I’ve no plans of wrapping this blog up anytime soon; on the contrary, I intend to keep posting my views and opinions about the movies that I watch (and there are really so many that I need to) for as long as my love for this medium sustains – which I expect will last for my lifetime. My only hope is that nothing unforeseen occurs anytime soon that ends up coming between me and this passion of mine. A few incentives that have cropped up in keeping this blog alive are, preserving the various acquaintances I’ve made with people who too love movies, making new acquaintances, becoming aware of so many great sites and blogs out there on the web, and much more.
20.) Can you tell us how you have successfully juggled your school responsibilities with blogging, a winning formula that has kept CINEMASCOPE up and thriving?
When I left my job in order to pursue higher education (a two-year post-graduation course in the field of business management), the trepidation that I might not succeed in keeping Cinemascope alive and kicking did ensconce my mind. In fact, I’d even made a post to that effect when I left for the institute. The sudden change in lifestyle that was brought about courtesy my foray back into the rigours of academia did initially affect me vis-à-vis my movie viewing and my blog. It took me a couple of trimesters to get fully adjusted to this new life, but thankfully the blog continued to function, albeit at a relatively slower pace. And once I’d got a hang of things, I did manage to get some semblance of prolificacy back into this parallel life of mine. Agreed, the number of movies that I manage to watch in an average week, and consequently the reviews I manage to publish at my blog, wouldn’t be considered high by most standards. But I’m really glad to have managed to keep movie viewing and Cinemascope up and running. I try and find time, as and when possible, for watching good cinema – at times by even cutting down on other activities. But, on the whole, I feel I’ve managed to strike some semblance of balance between “work and play”, as Mark Twain would have said. As I’ve mentioned in my response to an earlier question, I’ve reviewed close to 200 movies since joining this institute in July 2010 which, all things considered, isn’t too bad after all.
21.) Can you share what direction you are now taking in regards to your vocational plans and/or aspirations? What subject did you major in at University?
Though in the first year of MBA we had to study subjects belonging to every discipline of management studies in order to broaden our horizon and develop awareness to a wide variety of disciplines, my principal areas of focus from second year onwards have been in the fields of Operation, Consultancy, and Marketing. At the end of first year I did my internship in Renault-Nissan – which is a joint venture between the two global automakers. Post MBA, I intend to get back into the grind of professional service life in one of the fields that I have majored in here. So, as of now, all I can say is, let’s see where life takes me to next.
22.) Can you document your education from the earliest days?
I did my schooling in Calcutta, in a school called M.P. Birla Foundation Higher Secondary School. After completing schooling in 2003, I left for a small town in the southern state of Tamil Nadu called Vellore in order to do my graduation. I did my bachelors in technology (B.Tech.) in Mechanical Engineering, which is a 4-year course, from Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) university. Right through my school and graduation I’ve been a reasonably good student. I joined a multi-national company called Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) after that (in the year 2007), and worked for three years there. I worked in the niche and obscure field of Finite Element Analysis (FEA), popularly known as engineering simulation, which is a part of the domain of Engineering Design & Analysis. Given that the field had a direct relation to my graduation and that the work was challenging, it was an enriching three year stint in industry for me.
I’d been feeling the urge of going for higher studies for some time, and so finally, in the mid of 2010, I quit my job to study Business Management (MBA) from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong, where I’d received admission along with a few other good B-Schools. IIM Shillong is part of the so-called Ivy League of Indian B-Schools (the IIMs), and so it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to take, despite having a few other good offers in my bag. Right now I’m in the second (and final year), and will be done with my post-graduation in another 3 months or so. Though I don’t have any intention as of now to go for any further studies, but who knows, maybe a few years from now, I might very well find myself back into academia. The fact that nearly everyone in my family is either a post-graduate or a PhD has ensured that I can never discount the above possibility.
23.) Do you have other hobbies besides watching films?
I have quite a few hobbies apart from watching films. In fact, to be honest, I became a cinephile long after I’d developed some of the other hobbies of mine. I love reading books, principally fiction – both classic and contemporary. I love reading both English (not just those originally written in English, but also those translated to it from other languages, like, say, the works of Camus, Sartre, Marquez, etc.) and Bengali books. Not just English, but the repertoire of even Bengali literature is vast and extremely rich, so I’m never short of options as regards to pursuing this hobby. I love listening to music. My listening preference is quite broad, and includes everything from heavy metal to folk-rock to Western classic to ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ (songs of Rabindranath Tagore), and much more. Given that I’m reasonably fluent in three languages, viz. Bengali, English and Hindi, I listen to music of all the three languages. There was a time when I’d formally learned art and painting, and used to love doing pen sketches, but that hobby has sort of gradually died. I love following a number of sports – so that’s another hobby of mine. I feel I’ve a reasonable flair for writing, and so, as I’ve spoken about earlier, I used to love writing a variety of articles, especially during my school days. Now of course that has got channelized into my reviews for my blog. And that brings me to Cinemascope, writing for which, too, has become a huge hobby for me. I also write book reviews, personality covers and other articles from time to time for another site called Culturazzi Cognoscente Club (these pieces are more detailed critiques as opposed to my capsule reviews for Cinemascope). Pursuance of knowledge belonging to various fields is also something I love, and hence could also be included as a hobby for me, if it can be classified as one. And finally, I love what is known in Bengali as ‘Adda’ – having long and enriching discussions (in the mode of a friendly chat) with friends, relatives and colleagues on everything under the sky and beyond, over steaming cups of tea or coffee.
24.) What are your favourite types of music? Favoured artists?
Music is something very close to my heart – doesn’t matter if I’m happy or am feeling the blues or simply experiencing a dose of ennui, music always seems to work for me. I have a reasonably wide range of tastes when it comes to the kind of music I prefer. Hence, as I’ve mentioned above, I like everything from heavy metal to folksy ballads. There are quite a few music composers whose works I love. When it comes to English music, I love the works of Bob Dylan, The Doors, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, the solo numbers of John Lennon, Billy Joel, U2, Santana, Eminem, John Reeves, Pat Boone, Frank Sinatra, The Who, and so many more. As for Hindi music, I love the songs composed by S.D. Burman and his son R.D. Burman, and Salil Choudhury, as well as those sung by Kishore Kumar, Mohd. Rafi, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay (better known as Hemant Kumar among the Hindi-speaking populace), and Asha Bhosle, among others. And when it comes to my mother tongue Bengali, I again have quite a few favourites, like the vast repertoire of songs written and composed by the great bard Rabindranath Tagore (popularly called ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ or Songs of Tagore), the works of the likes of Anjan Dutt, Mohiner Ghoraguli, Suman Chattopadhyay (aka Kabir Suman), Fossils, etc., as well as those of R.D. Burman, Salil Choudhury, Kishore Kumar, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Manna Dey, and many others. I also like listening to Western Classical Music from time to time, though I’m no connoisseur in it.
25.) Are you a sports fan? If so can you explain?
Yes, I do love following a few sports, and hence I most certainly am a sports fan. I absolutely love the games of football (called ‘soccer’ in the US) – arguably the king of all sports with the FIFA World Cup being the greatest sporting event on earth in my opinion, lawn tennis (with special emphasis on the Grand Slams and ATP Masters), and cricket (the single most popular game in India). I also like following Formula One and the Summer Olympics. Consequently there are a number of sportspersons, both past and present, I’ve been a huge fan of – Diego Maradona, Pete Sampras, Ronaldo (the one who played for Brazil, and not Cristiano Ronaldo), Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Brian Lara, Leonel Messi, Michael Schumacher, Boris Becker, Roger Federer, and many others. I also do keep abreast of happenings (though mostly at cursory levels) in other sports as well, like golf, basketball, boxing, track-and-field events, hockey, etc. I’ve also played a bit of cricket, football and table tennis at various stages of my life.
26.) What kinds of foods do you eat?
Bengalis tend to be very passionate when it comes to food. Hence, that epicurean spirit and the love to indulge in all things pertaining to gastronomy have seeped into me as well. I love Bengali cuisine, Punjabi foods, Tandoor items, Chinese preparations, Continental dishes, etc. Hence I love not just home-cooked food, but also frequenting various restaurants and eateries. I also have considerable fondness for street foods that Calcutta is famous for. I could go on and on about the various dishes and preparations that I like gorging on, but I’ll leave it at that here.
27.) Do you have any travel aspirations?
Right from my school days, I’ve had an inclination towards travelling to places I’d never been before, and this craving towards visiting new places still exists. Hence, with family and with friends I’ve been to various cities and locations of India. Once I again start working, I intend to take time off a couple of times a year in order to keep visiting various places – as I used to do in my last job. As far as travel goes, right now my biggest aspiration is to visit places beyond the borders of India – to various countries in Europe, North America and South America. Having read a few books and watched a few movies in my lifetime, I’ve had exposure to various cultures and places around the globe through them, which has further increased my desire to be as much of a globetrotter as possible.
28.) Finally, what would you say has been your mission these past several years, and has it in large measure been accomplished.
I’d created Cinemascope in order to cement my bonding with my passion for watching good cinema from around the globe. Since starting this blog, I personally feel my movie-viewing as also my appreciation for this medium and knowledge about it have all increased exponentially. Not that these weren’t there earlier, but the blog acted as a springboard of sorts, thus helping me in taking them to the next level – not in an absolute sense, but from a personal standpoint.
As a final note, it has been a great journey so far with Cinemascope, and I sincerely hope this enriching journey doesn’t end anytime soon for me.