The Optimal Age of Movie Appreciation

My wife tells me that it’s a “family tradition” in her family to watch Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G) whenever it is playing on TV. I’ve always found it (both the movie and that it’s her family tradition to watch it so many times) absurd. However, a conversation from earlier this morning makes me appreciate why her family appreciates the movie so much. It has to do with the “optimal age of movie appreciation”.

This morning, I was talking to “Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley” (RSJ). “Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley” is a pseudonym. The author told me that he had named himself in honour of two influential movie characters from his youth (both played by Aamir Khan) – Raghu Jaitley from Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, and Sanjay Lal from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.

While I have watched both movies (at home, on VHS tapes, soon after they were ┬áreleased), I don’t remember much of either movie, at least not enough to know the full names of the lead characters. My defence is that I was way too young when I first watched these movies, and too old when I rewatched them, to find them influential.

This brings us to the “optimal age of movie appreciation”, which I define as between 13 and 16 (give or take a year or two either side). At this age range, you are old enough to fully appreciate the movie and get involved in the story, and also young enough that you can get interested or obsessed about just about anything.

You don’t remember much of movies that you’ve watched before you were 12-13. And once you are past 16, and headed to college, you start making fun of the absurd bits in movies. Actually the optimal age of movie appreciation ends when you start watching movies with groups of people your own age -in such an environment, there is positive feedback to any fun you make of the movie, and you are encouraged on the margin to not buy into the movies.

So, in that sense, my golden age of movie appreciation lasted from Rangeela (1995) to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (late 1998). That was the period in life when I both understood and got totally involved in the movies I was watching. And I could watch just about anything.

KKHH was the end of this, as I clearly remember us talking in school (I was in class 11) making fun of the concept of the movie. And then movie watching was never the same again (it didn’t help that a lot of my movie watching during undergrad years was at the Open Air Theatre in IIT Madras, where movies were accompanied by constant chatter of people making fun of them. We only made an exception for Life Is Beautiful). Now I’ve gone to the other extreme where I hardly watch movies.

Not everyone swings the other way as much as I do (for example, both my wife and RSJ remain movie fanatics), but once you are past 16, you can never get influenced by movies in the way that you did before.

RSJ is a few years older than me, so he was in this “golden age” when Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar came out. My wife is a few years younger than me, so she was in this golden age when K3G came out (her sister was 11 at the time, but I guess that is borderline for this purpose). She doesn’t, for example, get what the big fuss about Rangeela is (as an aside, I think it helped immensely that I watched Rangeela at the massive Urvashi Theatre which had then newly gotten a Dolby Sound System).

What do you think your most influential movies were, and at what age did you watch them? Do you think this 13-16 age band makes sense?

Understanding different kinds of art

There are some kinds of art that I intuitively understand – like an elegant mathematical proof, or a beautiful combination in a game of chess; a Sachin Tendulkar straight drive, or a long-distance beautifully threaded pass by Xabi Alonso. I can easily appreciate a well-done-up home when I see it. Some music makes me go delirious, and there have been times when I’ve actually started rolling on the floor in ecstasy after listening to certain songs.

But there is art that I simply don’t get. Poetry – for example – I’ve never got what is the big deal with that. To me it just looks like a bunch of sentences broken up in random ways, which is supposed to make it sound nice. In fact, I’ve argued earlier that poetry is a vestige of the pre-writing era.

It is the same with “literature”. Some people read books or articles because they are just “written beautifully”. ┬áI absolutely fail to appreciate that phrase. As long as something is explained simply and intuitively, it is enough for me. In fact, when a writer tries to get too cute and makes a conscious effort to “write beautifully” it puts me off, for it makes the reading less intuitive. As a consequence, there’s hardly any fiction I’ve read in the last 5-6 years.

I was thinking of this last evening when I went to watch this dance show called “Prayog 4” here in Bangalore. I think it was good – the three performances looked extremely well choreographed and well-coordinated, and the dancers seemed to have put in considerable effort into the production. They were all supremely fit and were literally doing gymnastics during the course of the performance. But my appreciation of the performance ended there.

After one of the performances, the wife exclaimed “you know, this dance so represents your and my lives!”. I just couldn’t understand what she was hinting at. All I could see was this one guy dancing round and round in circles, and doing gymnastics on a rope! As I mentioned earlier, his movements were extremely graceful and aesthetically pleasing but I just couldn’t get anything more out of it.

Later last night, my wife asked me what I understood from the first performance (yesterday’s show essentially had three separate performances). “A bunch of chicks doing extremely graceful gymnastics on a bunch of parallel bars”, I replied. “Didn’t you notice how beautifully they represented different emotions during the course of the dance”, she asked. I admitted to recognizing nothing of the sort. Instead, I was sitting there, wondering what the big deal was, and trying to construct this blog post in my head.

“Art” is not unidimensional, and “appreciating art” is too broad a statement. After my experience yesterday I don’t know if there are people who can appreciate all kinds of art. For a moment I thought I was a philistine for I couldn’t appreciate yesterday’s performance, but then I remembered the pieces of art I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post that I truly appreciate. So, no – I’m not a philistine. It’s just that there are certain art forms I get and ones I don’t.

Have you felt similarly sometimes? Are there some art forms you “get” easily, and others that you absolutely fail to get? Or do you consider yourself to be the types that gets all kinds of art, and you argue that the ones you don’t get is simply not art? Or do you fail to get any art at all? Do leave a comment.