WHAT IF everything in a film is just happily inadvertent and none of the metaphors is intended by the filmmaker? Does that make the film any less interesting?

“The entire notion of art is — how does it relate to you, sometimes irrespective of the maker’s intention,” as a fellow critic and friend often says.

Funnily enough, I found myself in his shoes this week after dissecting Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam where I got into reading maybe a little too much than intended.

Last weekend, I happened to meet Rahul Bose, who played Omar Qureshi, the one-eyed villain of the film, and told him how I liked the metaphor in the shot where he, the jihadi leader, fed a pigeon filth from his mouth. And I was quite surprised when he said: “That’s not even in the script. Mr. Haasan said, ‘I just want you sitting here’. He didn’t tell me what to do. It was not even something we decided at the last (moment)... I just did something. I didn’t even think about it.”

Of course, it can be argued that even the actor probably didn’t get the entirety of the filmmaker’s vision but for the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s right. What if everything in the film was just a happy accident and none of the metaphors was intended by the filmmaker! Does that make the film any less interesting?

As someone once pointed out on my blog that if you played Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon over Wizard Of Oz made in 1939, it would serve as a pretty cool soundtrack — a phenomenon explored in detail in dark-side-of-the-rainbow.com. So, it’s probably what Carl Jung called synchronicity. Or serendipitous art.

If a pigeon dropping hit an empty canvas by pure serendipity and formed a rather intriguing pattern, would we still evaluate it as art? If the splash of a muddy puddle then hit that same canvas and added more meaning, texture and design to it, does that make the subject matter worthy of appreciation or criticism?

What about the filmmakers who spend months planning this design then? Especially, since films aren’t always impulsive or instinctive as other forms of art. Films are also elaborate constructions of a premeditated story told through characters fleshed out after weeks or months of revision, in locations or sets that bring alive a slice of the world described in the pages of a script. A painting isn’t born out of a script. It’s pure art. A film, on the other hand, is about a bunch of people with a script playing God, trying to bring that detail alive.

And sometimes, not always, this story is constructed in a way to make you think or interpret different meanings.

Orson Welles still keeps us guessing over what the hell Rosebud was. As Cameron Crowe described his vision for Vanilla Sky: “We constructed the movie, visually and story-wise, to reveal more and more the closer you look at it. As deep as you want to go with it, my desire was for the movie to meet you there.” Christopher Nolan refused to explain the ending of Memento.

Hence, understanding the author’s mind sometimes helps a critic understand his work better and that makes the analysis or criticism richer.

Being a filmmaker myself, I have seen art happen as accident too. The climax of Good Night Good Morning turned out to be a scene I was not keen to use because the snow we created looked fake on screen. So we spent hours looking at what we had as footage to arrive at another ending that would justify the story we had set out to tell. It was by pure luck that we realised we could stop the film even before the climax we had shot and arrive at a perfect circle-of-life kind of an ending that almost seemed like design. A film that begins with a phone call, ends with another.

“There are no accidents,” a friend said, quoting a line from Kung Fu Panda when I admitted how we arrived at the ending.

Maybe Oogway is right. Maybe everything was predestined to happen. Maybe it was scripted. Maybe not. The truth lies somewhere in between. Which is why while it is okay for reviewers to pick a side and tell you whether to watch a film or not, a critic’s duty goes beyond reductionist labellings of “good film” or “bad film”. It goes into understanding what was caused by accident and what was truly the triumph of an artist’s mind. And celebrating that detail.

Because that’s where God lives.


Found in translationMarch 8, 2013