Most of you might not have even heard about the film Videokaaran. We also had no clue. A video link on someone’s FB wall and it quickly spread all over. Varun Grover saw the film, loved it and strongly recommends it. Read on…
“Nahin boloonga – Mera secret hai yaar yeh” – Videokaaran
Before the film: The trailer hit like a bolt. “A film about a slightly unusual film buff” it said, and gave me the biggest blood rush that week. It looked dark, candid, grungy, and very passionate. Aur Hindustan mein film lovers pe film kaun banaata hai? It looked like a story from our own backyard, an original story. The trailer was shared, RTed, discussed, and we all were very curious. A screening at Vikalp, Alliance Francaise Mumbai came up. Not on a weekend, hence only I from among the Mumbai group could make it. And mighty glad that I did. Baaki ki kahaani…cut to.
After the film: Starting with a question. How many of us remember the title song, with antara, of Amitabh Bachhan’s 1992 film ‘Khuda Gawah’ (probably his last good act as a ‘hero’ in Hindi cinema). Think a bit. I am sure some can come close to remembering ‘Ho koi ghulaam…ya ho baadshaah…ishq ke bagair, zindagi gunaah’ lines. (Or was it ‘zindagi tabaah’?) But how many will remember, AND relish, the casually thrown in repeat-phrase ‘wai-wai’ throughout the song? Videokaaran is about a group of film-lovers who not only remember this ‘wai-wai’ bit but also sing it (over a doped out night at one point in the film) with as much respect as the rest of the song. In fact, a lone voice keeps singing ‘wai-wai’ even after the rest of the group has faded off.
Now this may sounds like a frivolous start – especially when the claim is that Videokaaran is the most definitive work you will see on the very complex cinema-fan relationship in India. But the example, much like a zen puzzle, is an answer in itself. It’s about passion for something some of us may consider unpassionworthy. It’s about people, who while living on the edge in their day to day existence, find a bond with moving images, words, tunes, stories, and to use an Arundhati Roy-esque term ‘the collective hysteria of larger-than-life’.
And it’s not a ‘look, they are so unique/ weird/ curio-pieces’ narrative the director goes for at all (the easiest way out, taken by many including the ‘B-Movie-Club’ of Mumbai which shows 80’s films to a group ‘for laughs’, or Anuvab Pal’s latest book on ‘Disco Dancer’ which reads the film as campy fun at its best). The subjects, with Sagai Raj in focus mostly, have been treated with as much respect as a serious film lover/observer deserves.
And the best part – Videokaaran (Video-waalah), doesn’t just stop at cinema. It very incidentally, mostly through the conversations, paints a picture of a world within Mumbai which seems not only time-removed from us, but plane-removed too. The characters, their pains, days, uninhibited laughter seem to hang in a surreal space-time we never cared to check. (But don’t mistake it for an ‘activist’ take on ‘two Indias’ or such. It’s as much fun as you will ever have at the movies.) A real, brass-and-nails world where Rajnikanth is God, and with a very strong reason.
And it helps that the Rajnikanth fan Sagai Raj, the central character of Jagannathan Krishnan’s debut docu-feature, has a unique, intelligent opinion on almost everything to do with cinema. Sagai used to run a Tamil video parlor in Chembur, in the shanties by the railway tracks, and is the kind of Thalaivar fan we have come to smirk at. But the smirk fades off with every passing minute, replaced by friendly warmth.
Sagai talks non-stop, loves porn and slasher flicks, has a quirky tangential mind (“I can’t fool a mad dog by pretending that I am not afraid. Dog’s sixth sense will interact with my sixth sense to let out the truth”), a weirdly original thought process (“porn films are the best indicator of a girl’s mind”), lives in a shady locality where police-raids and death by local trains is a norm, and has a life-story straight out of City of God. But above all, and in the context of Videokaaran, he is the brand ambassador of a class of people who consume cinema differently. And a brand-ambassador who not only was a regular viewer, but somebody who sourced porn to be exhibited, edited out films according to audience tastes at his own machine, marked out escape routes and strategies in case of a police raid, and indulgently, heartbreakingly filmed (on his DV cam) the bulldozer destruction of the very video-parlor he helped grow.
Interspersed with film footage (‘Subramaniapuram’, primarily) and Hindi songs sung by the group of Sagai’s friends on a trippy night in Karjat, Videokaaran is as intimate a piece of documenting a vanishing history as it comes. The astonishing thing is, Jagan had not initially planned to make the film around Sagai. Sagai was just going to be the camera-person for the documentary, and the story was supposed to be about this bunch of Chembur guys who are the standard target audience of single-screen and/or video parlor cinema. And this bunch is equally interesting – comprising of a professional juggler and clown, whom Jagan calls ‘an evolved soul’, a DJ and painter who even designed a camera rig for the shoot on his own instinct, a sadhu baba they chanced upon who loves singing sappy songs from the 90’s hindi films (and whatay voice he has!), and a couple of other friends from the locality. (“We even thought up a sequence where the juggler-clown (name: Alisha) stands outside SRK’s bungalow, wearing an SRK mask, and does the juggling act.”)
But while filming, Jagan stumbled upon Sagai’s story and the camera changed hands. (The film still retains many portions shot by Sagai too.) From then on, it’s Sagai and his worldview – filled with anecdotes that shock, regale, and in a few surprise moments pierce through the hard skins of our snobbery to treat him as an equal, if not greater film lover.
The 70-minute film, culled from 40-hrs of footage, is edited (by Jagan’s life-partner Pallavi Singhal) unconventionally too. No voice-overs, no time-stamps or location-stamps (you won’t see many documentaries this confident about their content), and no fixation with linearity – Indian docus just took a huge leap ahead with Videokaaran.
Watch it wherever you can – jaise bhi. A film this passionate deserves some passion from each and every film lover out there. Options? At a film club or festival screening, by buying the DVD straight from Jagan, or waiting for someone to rip it off and put it up online.
As a final important word – Jagan hopes the film helps Sagai get more work as a photographer and photoshop artist. He is a brilliant, natural artist, as per Jagan. He can be contacted through his FB page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002362315963. And Jagan at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=781940706. So if any of you have any photoshop or photography gig in Chembur or around, try Sagai.