Film critic Raja Sen on how controversy counts for nothing in an increasingly cynical age
It’s bloody hard to create controversy, you know? Yes, I know it’s all done for release-dates and ratings and eyeballs, and you’re right, naturally, but the very act of it — of summoning up scandal or sparking off a storm — is damn near impossible in this day and age. Just think, if you will, of the last time something genuinely shocked you. A piece of news that made you sit up and take notice; made you call up a friend to discuss it; got you gobsmacked enough to keep you from tweeting sarcastically about it for five dumbfounded minutes. It doesn’t happen anymore, it just doesn’t.
We’ve all heard the weirdest rumours — about everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan — and read about the saddest exposés — involving everyone from Cary Grant to Bill Cosby — and I don’t think anything can significantly raise our eyebrows anymore. In a world, where everyone is constantly out to “break the Internet,” all we have left are a few cracks.
Can controversy sell a film? No. The public today is too cynical to really care if X slept with Y — unless they like how X and Y look on screen together, in which case, of course, they’ll queue up for their movies anyway. According to the old-school publicity pundits, what controversy does, is keep a film’s name in the headlines, but my point is that when a blockbuster is coming up, we’re bombarded with its name regardless of gossip. It doesn’t matter how little we may care, we know when the next Rohit Shetty (director) film will release. And smaller independent films have budgets too measly — and are too star-less — to manufacture any effective buzz through the grapevine. Who would care if two actors the public doesn’t know about are brawling? (The few hundred people who already revere these actors too good to be super-famous could care less about a blind-item column).
The truth is that visibility does not equal success. We go to the movies for different reasons — we like the actors/film-makers/posters, we’ve heard good things about what’s playing, or, in some cases involving certain superstars, we go because we are comforted by the fact that we know exactly what we’re going to get — but I don’t think any of us think someone else’s scandal is worth spending our own money on. People tallying up ‘trending topics’ should remember that retweets don’t cost a rupee. The loudest of the noise comes from preaching to the choirs. If success could be determined by the amount of newsprint one can swallow, Bombay Velvet would be a historic hit. And Gajendra Chauhan (actor) would be our megastar.
— Raja Sen is a Mumbai-based film critic.