Workshop on film appreciation: How to ‘see’ a movie

Avid Learning, a cultural initiative of the Essar Group, organised a film appreciation workshop at the Essar House in Mumbai. It was conducted by award-winning film critic and independent film curator Meenakshi Shedde. Shedde began her session with a group of enthusiastic participants by delving into her time as a film critic at the Times of India and then spoke about how she ventured out on her own, and had started getting invited as jury member at a number of film festivals around the world including Cannes, Berlin, and Venice.

Shedde spoke passionately about India’s linguistic diversity, and by extension India’s linguistic diversity in filmmaking. She questioned audiences about how many regional language films they had seen, given that India produces films in almost 42 languages and dialects. She spoke about the paucity of a viewer’s reach and the lack of diverse influences on a viewer’s mind, if or she was someone who stuck primarily to Hindi and English movies, missing out on the many regional language films out there. “We suffer from spectacular ignorance of our own richness,” said Shedde.

Later Shedde dived into what film criticism involved. During her career she had learnt “how to read a film”, how technical aspects influenced a film’s message, and how camera angles give movies depth and finesse, completely changing with every angle how a viewer experiences a movie. “One connects more intimately with a movie, thanks to how a camera is used, and how a movie is picturised. No one sees the effort that has gone into the picturisation, or what the cameraman had to do to film a risky shot,” she explained.

Part of Shedde’s presentation was showing viewers a film she had made herself, called ‘Looking for Amitabh'. Shedde narrated how at the Kala Ghoda Festival, Dev Benegal had commissioned her to make a film on none other than Amitabh Bachchan. She went about doing so innovatively and creatively, trying to think as unusually as possible. She interviewed a group of blind people on their experience of watching a Bachchan film – how they felt he must be like, how they imagined him to be.

Most divulged their many unique experiences while watching a Bachchan movie. Some said they knew just by the sound of his heels it was him entering a room, others spoke about what they thought he might look like. Shedde’s attempt was hence to reveal to audiences how the senses experience movies, and how when one’s attention is focussed on a few of them, as opposed to all of them being in use, how one experiences a film differently, more succinctly and nonconformably.

After trying to decipher how sense perceptions alter our experiences of movies, Shedde spoke to participants about the salient features, which according to her, were important when one has the task of reviewing a film in front of them. Shedde spoke about the ‘vertical axis’ and ‘horizontal axis’ when one is trying to evaluate a movie, as a critic.

The ‘vertical axis’ she said was one where a reviewer analyses a movie “in the context of a filmmaker’s own movies” and the ‘horizontal axis’ was one where a critic looks at other movies within the same genre of movies. Other constituents of film critique included examining the subject and the story line, and judging a film through a study of the many departments that contribute to the filmmaking process – from cinematography to costume design to editing and sound, music and background score.

Shedde expressed her disdain for judging a film’s worth by the 100 crore mark – whether the film reached that figure or not. She spoke about how in doing so filmmakers were running down a film’s genuine worth, which cannot be assessed purely monetarily but by the many intricate aspects that make a film special. “These are all money figures, and shouldn’t matter to you unless you are a producer.”

Shedde had also arranged to show participants a short film that has been showcased at nearly 120 film festivals around the world – Reema Sengupta’s Counterfeit Kunkoo. The movie showed viewers the life of a woman who aims to escape her marriage – an inherently unhappy one where her husband feels a sense of entitlement in the marriage – to escape verbal and sexual abuse by him. Marital rape has not been outlawed in India still and Sengupta’s Counterfeit Kunkoo showed participants how the protagonist tries to flee her marriage by seeking to rent a house all by herself.

The film hence deals with a number of subjects and realities in its subplots – domestic violence, the uneasy questions single women face as they try and rent apartments, marital rape and patriarchy. Its many themes overlap giving us a terse, moving film about how even in the 21st century, the environment is not conducive to a woman making it on her own.

Shedde asked the audience about how they had interpreted the film, and received some ingenious observations from the audience – which included people from a variety of professions – filmmaking, architecture, advertising and the diplomatic services.

Sengupta advised, “Make movies that are close to your heart. On subjects that matter to you, because no one will be able to tell that story the way you will.”