09 September, 2013

100 Films To See Before You Die (Book Review)

Anupama Chopra remains the only professional critic in India whose reviews I read. Over the years I might not have agreed with her on a number of occasions but nevertheless her presentation style and knowledge of films has always made me watch her TV show/read her books/reviews. Unfortunately, why she has written this book beats me.

100 Film To See Before You Die is a brilliant book, only if you have been asleep all these years and have just woken up to realize that there is something called Cinema. It’s a list, but very amateurish in nature, no different from the various “Must Watch” lists that are floating around the internet by different bloggers from around the world.

The problem starts with the foreword from Zoya Akhtar. She claims that “In my experience people want to watch good films but don’t know where to start”. Considering people pay to watch films, it’s obvious that they would want the right amount of BANG for their money. Just like any other commodity, the paying public also have the right to comment on the films. Furthermore, watching bad films are equally as important as watching good ones for it is here that one truly realizes why a good film is exceptional. She suggests that films “are the most bastardized form of art” comparing it with music or art. Once again I disagree, for if we were to pay for art and music (which we should be doing), we would not doubt have an opinion about it. It might not be to the same level as one might dissect a film, but it is certainly more than simply liking or not liking it; nevertheless everyone has an opinion about everything nowadays.

Anupama Chopra does warn us, the reader, in the book blurb that “This book isn’t a list of greatest films ever made because films are a subjective passion. This is a list of films that I have loved... films that have inspired me to keep watching films.” I get that, but what this comes across as is that she has a list of movies she would recommend to people, but because she has the means to have it printed in a book form, rather than simply posting it on the net, she will do that. As a businessman I am obviously jealous, and were I in the same situation, I too might do that... or maybe not.    

The biggest predicament with the book is that the list is very confusing. I could not gather whether it was a list by a film fan or a professional critic or whether the list featuring primarily Indian and Hollywood films was meant just for the Indian audience with some world cinema thrown in for good measure or should the list have been more researched and have a worldwide appeal to it? In continuance, although the list features very few films from the last decade, we have mentions like Borat, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and Kung Fu Hustle; all good entertainers no doubt, but should they be considered in the same league as Roshomon, Lagaan, City of God, or Citizen Cane? Remember, these are the 100 films we need to watch before we die, and now tell me if there aren’t a 100 more films you would suggest to someone who was about to die over say The 40 Year Old Virgin?

The mess doesn’t end there. Having been an ardent fan of Anupama Chopra I would have hoped that a little more importance was given to World Cinema. She does throw in a film or two from each major film producing nation, but doesn’t challenge the reader or rather the cinema goer. Take for instance Oldboy, which undoubtedly is a film that everyone should watch, but why not step aside from the convention and mention Memories of Murder or The Chaser instead, both excellent Korean films that could easily give the cult status of Oldboy a run for its money, were they as popular.

There is a very minor saving grace, and that is the inclusion of titles like In Which Anne Gives It Those Ones, This Is Spinal Tap, or even Shakespeare in Love. Now, these are films that are what we would call “Zara hatke” (slightly different). But such titles are few and far between, and are lost amongst the more popular mentions like The Godfather, Chinatown, and North by Northwest etc.  

If the list was the only hitch, I would have overlooked it by stating that everyone has the right to their opinion, but the book falters even more in its format. Each film gets roughly a page of information, so you get just the tip of the iceberg with regards to the films mentioned. There is a trivia each per film, which is very trivial and although I haven’t checked, but the same would easily be available on the internet on IMDB.

So who is the book meant for? I have no clue whatsoever. Majority of the films mentioned in the list would be known to any film goer who follows international and national cinema no matter his/her intensity for liking films. The list might work for someone who wants to explore Indian cinema and doesn’t have a place to start. It might also work for ... Sorry can’t possibly think of anyone unless like I mentioned above someone has just come to realise that Films exist.

100 Films To See Before You Die was literally and literarily a waste of money. What I did wish at the end of my very small affair with the book, that lasted the two days it took to reach me and ended within five minutes of me opening it, was that the book was about the 100 Bad Films To See Before You Die, ‘cause that would have made for a killer list. 

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