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What makes a cult film, anyway?

Directors don’t decide; the box-office certainly can’t. But several factors, including you, contribute, says the maker of Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha

brunch Updated: Jun 07, 2015 18:32 IST
Dibakar Banerjee
Dibakar Banerjee
Hindustan Times don’t decide; the box-office certainly can’t. But several factors, including you, contribute, says the maker of Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha

As a Blade Runner (1982) culter, I could surprise Ridley Scott about the number of extras in the chase scene, a film he made decades before automated cash dispensers like Exodus (2014).

And Mr Scott could surprise me with graphic details about how, upon release, the film sank and tread box-office bilge water till worshippers all over the world brought up the idol from the depths and built a temple of cultdom around it. By now, more filmmakers have copied the look, the premise, the music, and everything else in it than people who saw it upon release.

So are cult films like upper-class cheese that no one likes till told to do so by cooler, richer, better-looking or famous people?

Then what about Twilight (2008)? Or Frozen (2013)? Cults the moment they were unleashed at unsuspecting parents of teenagers and toddlers. Imagine screening parties with strawberry cake where five-year-olds go zombie-like even when seeing it for the thirtieth time? Parents can clock in a fight, married sex, a nap or a Skype chat with the client, dead sure they finish what they started.

And what about so many different cults worshipping so many different films? Can’t we have one cult flick for all? Like the Prime Minister is for all bankers? And what defines that one cult film? Or any cult film?

Upon reflection, I have found wisdom. Here it is, number wise.

1. The great cult film rule is: my cult is the best and I spit on yours. What the 17-year-old Twilighthead will think of the greying Blue Velvet (1986) junkie is best not put in print. What the Jaane Bhi do Yaaro (1983) loving dad will say about Frozen will be called very bad parenting. For a cult film to be so, it should unite enough adherents that dismiss another cult film. It’s a bit like organised religion. Intolerance helps.

2.All cult films should have only enough adherents. More than that and the film becomes popular. That’s for the critics.

3.The film must not have been seen by a large number of people so the culter can a) feel superior, b) convert an innocent after a reverential screening and then feel superior, and c) tweet, blog, FB, write an article and feel very superior. (I’ve been trying to convert the world to Massey Sahib (1985), and In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones (1989) for decades. Now I sound permanently superior.)

4.A true cult film should stand up to 40 viewings per culter in the first three years of cultdom. (My count on Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, 1980).

5. It should contain secretly revisited and rediscussed scenes like Kitu Gidwani’s seduction in Ketan Mehta’s Holi (1985) (very cult and innocent) or the grenade launcher and underpants scene in Gomorrah (2008) (electric).

6. A cult film can never be made so. Culters should discover them later. The films I made thinking they would bust the block on Friday, did not. They were seen much later in smelly hostel rooms, as illegal downloads and TV reruns enough times for me to be recognised at airports - (by very few culters). Orson Welles thought he had a home run with Citizen Kane (1941) till the film was shut down, and him ostracised enough to never recover fully for the rest of his long career. While a director wanting to make a cult film will make a pretentious one, beware.

7. All cult films have one thing culters can spot miles away: The director wants to connect with you and nobody else, and usually pays a price for it. Ask Cronenberg, Shekhar Kapur, Noe, Sam Fuller, Ghatak, Kashyap, Garrone, Pradip Kishen et al. Actually don’t. They either would have changed professions or will be dead or busy hustling money for their next blockbuster.

Also read: The Brunch masterlist of #CultMovies

From HT Brunch, June 7

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