A funny thing happened the other night as I watched Besharam.
I had the bizarre notion that despite what the critics had to say and its dismal box office performance, not only was I enjoying it hugely, but that I was in fact watching a very good movie — a clever, affectionate tribute to the Bollywood films of yore, made by an intelligent director and supported by an excellent cast.
Now I do not know what state you’re in, or what has hurt more, the reviews or the film’s box office performance, but I write to you to tell you to take courage from the fact that there is a long and glorious tradition of movies that have started out as turkeys and then gone on to become cult classics or money spinners. Or both.
The Salman-Aamir starrer Andaz Apna Apna is one such. It opened to lukewarm response in 1994, but acquired a strong cult following over the years.
In America, The Rocky Horror Show bombed in eight cities and didn’t take off until the next year when it began screening at midnight in NYC. Films like Sholay, which opened poorly to lukewarm reception, went on to become great commercial successes as well as cult classics.
So what went wrong with Besharam? Here’s my reading: the message that the film was a spoof/tribute had not been properly communicated or understood by opinion makers. If it had been, I doubt if reviewers would have said what they did. Because, when I watched the responses of the first day first show audiences as they trickled out of cinemas, they were delighted. It took a few hours before the fierce words of the critics rained on their parade and people became embarrassed to admit they enjoyed Besharam.
Because, like Om Shanti Om had been a tribute to the Bollywood films of the ‘70s, and Main Hoon Na to the ‘80s; like Kill Bill had been a homage to Hong Kong martial arts and Italian spaghetti westerns and
The Artist doffed its cap to the magic of the silent era, Besharam is a carefully constructed paean to Bollywood of the past.
It holds up a mirror to Bollywood before movies like Dil Chahta Hain, Udaan, Lagaan and Swades put paid to the bad old films we watched — with their implausible plots, their corny story lines and their abysmal character development.
If the reviewers had kept this in mind, I doubt, for instance, that one of my favorite reviewers, Rajeev Masand, would have described the film’s plot as ‘scribbled on toilet paper during an inspired moment on the pot.’ After all, an intelligent plot would defeat (Abhinav) Kashyap’s idea of a spoof.
(For God’s sake, the climax of the 1977 Amar Akbar Anthony, one of Bollywood’s biggest money spinners, had a mother receiving simultaneous blood transfusion from three sons!)
But by far one of the loudest criticisms of Besharam has been that it’s a waste of the collective Kapoor talent of Rishi, Neetu and yourself.
I beg to differ: knowing what skilled professionals your parents are, I think their coming on board the project was a huge validation of the film’s integrity, imagination and promise.
Look, I’m not saying that Besharam’s a masterpiece, just that I seem to be one of the few who ‘got’ it.
And now that I’ve been besharam and said this, going against both popular opinion and box office wisdom, I’m going to be put in the corner with you, Abhinav Singh Kashyap, your parents and the entire Besharam team.
Will someone pass the popcorn please?
Yours sincerely, etc
The writer believes in the art of letter writing.