"BEST SELLING" WHAT IS "GOOD"

MY APOLOGIES IF THE TITLE TO THIS BLOG appears tautological.  My son who is a student of cinema wanted me to have a look at the work of Wes Anderson, who, in his opinion, is in the forefront of stylized filmmaking.  And so, on a week day, I go and watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. I found the film hugely entertaining besides being one of a kind.  My happiness is however somewhat diminished when I think of the fact that there were only 4 persons who watched the film with me in a cinema hall that had a seating capacity of a little over 100.   Even allowing for the fact that it was a weekday, the near empty cinema  for something that was truly spectacular was worrisome.  But isn’t the loss really ours if a good work of art – be it a film, book, or a painting – receives inadequate attention ?

WHO INDEED ARE THE FINAL ARBITERS of what is good in the arts ? Critics, publishers, art galleries, collectors, curators ?  Are the best selling lists rigged or manipulated ?  Regardless of whether my judgment regarding a given work of art is acceptable to others or not, if I like something, I have, what my wife terms, a disagreeably incorrigible habit of recommending it to friends and colleagues. Right now, for example, I am tempted to draw the attention of my  friends to the delightfully original phrase that William Darylymple recently coined for dynastic politics in India –  “sexually transmitted democracy” !  And I have already sent a few  messages urging people to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Even though I am conscious of the fact, as the adage goes, that one man’s meat is another’s poison, I have a great deal of joy when I share my experience vis a vis a work of art with persons who matter to me.  I consider this as real best-selling.  On the flip side, I convey with equal vigor my disappointment to others if I have disliked something. Lest this be construed as a one way traffic, I am equally open to savor the recommendations made by others.

WHEN ONE IS NOT TRAINED IN THE ARTS, one relies heavily on the judgment of the more well-informed – say, critics or connoisseurs.  They owe it to the world at large a moral responsibility to direct the attention of the general public to what is essential viewing/reading and alert to anything that is plain nonsense or a waste of time.  At times of course, we need to trust our own judgment.  Even if these pieces have sold for millions of dollars, no one can persuade me to appreciate that  Francis Bacon’s triptych (sold recently for GBP 148 mn) or Damien Hirst’s stuffed animals suspended from the ceiling is great art.  And  I think that Anish Kapoor’s  creation for the London Olympics is quite simply hideous. So was M.F. Hussain’s installation Shwetambara. Could one say the same thing about Subodh Gupta ?  The arbiters of art need to call a spade a spade and not be overawed by a name.  As with the LIBOR scandal that plagued financial services, it is high time someone gets behind the facade of spurious opinion making in art by vested interests that is making a mockery of civilization itself.

ALTHOUGH WE DO NOT HAVE A Chidananda Dasgupta  or an Iqbal Masud in our midst today who fearlessly expressed what they felt on works of art, we are fortunate that we also have persons like  Alex Ross, James Wood, Nilanjana Roy and Charulata Mani who have given their very best to their readership. Otherwise, I would not have, for example,  laid my hands on the works of say Kiran Nagarkar or W.G. Seabald.  But we need more of them as an effective shield against hypocrisy and doublespeak in art.

I MUST RETURN NOW TO THE BASIC QUESTION. Why doesn’t a film like Paan Singh Tomar enjoy the same degree of success such as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag ? If Kolaveri” and Gangnam Stylereceive several million hits on You Tube, why isn’t Bela Shende receiving the same recognition for Marathi Breathless ?  I am not convinced that language is an issue.  How many have understood the lyrics of Gangnam Style for example ?  Is it poor  marketing ?

THE ANSWER TO REAL BEST SELLING is to share with others the experience of what we have enjoyed vis a vis a film, book,  or a painting. A conspiracy of silence in this regard is not merely an indication of acute selfishness but also a disservice towards creative artists worldwide regardless of the discipline they are in.  Not many are fortunate like say the late G Aravindan or Shyam Benegal who had  Ravi and the Bijlani-Variava teams, respectively, backing them so that they could pursue their creative efforts unmindful of financial worry.

YESTERDAY, THE METROPLUS section of The Hindu recommended Look Up by Gary Turk,a 4 minute video on You Tube. I was delighted beyond measure to see that it had already logged over 38 million hits ! This however did not prevent me from passing on the link to my friends just in case they may not have seen it. I thought I did a service (in addition to the newspaper) in drawing attention to something that was truly thoughtful.  Isn’t this real best selling or is it an unwelcome imposition on others ?
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