Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good Joke vs Bad Joke

There is a good joke and a bad joke and there is a marked difference between them. But what exactly is this difference? and is a bad joke bad for everyone or vice versa? At a particular instance during watching the recent mega hit Housefull 2, I found myself amidst a sea of people bursting out into continual bouts of laughter with uncaged intensity while I gaped at them. Clearly, I could not understand the joke or it was not a good joke for me. Housefull 2 went on to be pinned as the third highest-grossing film of the year having collected Rs 117 crores at domestic box office and Rs 47 crores at oversease box office. In this year itself 2012, Bollywood has churned out many 'comic capers' till now, out of which Rowdy Rathore is the highest grossing film of the year and Bol Bachchan is the fourth film of the year which crossed 100 crore club grossing Rs 100.26 crore in 20 days. There is no comedy, save for Vicky Donor, that has received accolades from the wide palette of critics in the country. Is it just me or is there a serious disconnect amongst the critics and the audience they write their reviews for? Why do they seem to have zero tolerance for bollywatchers or is it that the audience does not understand what is a good comedy? Have you ever wondered what makes for a good comedy film? 

I have always believed that the primary purpose of cinema is entertainment but clearly I wasnt half as entertained as much as my fellow audience in any of the above movies. From the over-the-top slam bang humor of Housefull 2 to the hammy parlance of Rowdy Rathore to the stereotypical caritcaturish comedy in Bol Bachchan and KSKHH, the audience has defied my opinions of them, along with the views of a bunch of other film reviewers to make these films sneering blockbusters. I have finally concluded that majority of Indian audience thoroughly relishes humor even if it is lame, as long as they can laugh at that moment. They completely enjoy over-the-top tomfoolery of well-known stars, reasonably flawed yet larger than life situations and a complete comic extension of their stereotypes. They dont want to be educated, or enlightened, or wanna have to apply their brains. Entertainment has been subtexted by escapism which has been subtexted by lame humor most of the times, in these films. Is this the real family entertainment that it is made out to be?

The question is, is a bad joke actually a good joke if it makes people laugh? Or do clumsy innuendos perpetuating the theories of atrociously grotesque and regressive Indian mindsets constitute family entertainment? India's potential movie going audience is a very small fraction of its population while the regular movie going audience is a smaller subset of this fraction. Not everyone watches every movie that is released until it comes out on a pirated DVD, but most people watch some movies by paying for a ticket. Also, every movie has its own audience and most of these bigger budget films are doused with stars and obnoxious marketing which builds their audience much before the release. They promise a 'no-brainer' brand of fun where in you can forget about your life's worries and have a good time. But there is a thin line between directing a brainless comedy filmmaking and a loud, cloyingly horrible filmmaking. Most of the times our directors have seem to go by the latter, a lethal combination of a large cast and obtuse jokes that have enraged critics, but scored big at the box office delivering the entertainment value of a donkey show. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is a classic example of how to do a brainless comedy. This brand of popular entertainment seemingly allows for all kinds of stupidity, vulgarity and distasteful stereotyping without being mulled by the perpetrators and protectors of the Indian culture who get a fit of rage if someone tries to mildly offend their culture. Why? Because this is family entertainment, provided by the stars they idolize and feed out of.

A bad joke is a dumb excuse of lack of innovation in comedic writing to pull off jokes for four-year olds in front of a housefull of adults. Surprisingly, these adults have specific allegiance to most of this heap of lazily written films with barely situational comedies and more contorted faces and farting animals. Animals exhaustively snapping at bums and crotches, cheesily overdone one-liners, shamelessly repetitive gags and convenient liberties to run down any differently abled or culturally distinct person - No, this is not what should make up the bawdy premise of a brainless comedy. Sadly, the writers seem to let go of a lot of other things in the pretext of losing logic. A good joke could leave in you splits, even if the movie itself defies logic in its escapism and thats when a film has successfully walked that thin line. Phas Gaya Re Obama was delicious little satire that went unnoticed because intended comedy is a no go for our masses. Khosla Ka Ghosla provided virtuous comic moments in its plotbut not a whole lot saw it in theaters. There are many other examples where films have been lynched for providing intelligent humor or daring to release itself without an effervescent starcast.

As for the critics, how open are we to a brainless comic caper? With a few and sparse exceptions like Delhi Belly, Vicky Donor, the audience seems to be content with whatever is savaged by the reviewers. But what was the last brainless comedy that was hauled by the critics? Hera Pheri? 10 years ago? Hypothetically, if it released today as a fresh film, I can challenge it would have festered only negative reviews from most critics. Real film buffs are a smallest section of the movie -going audience while amongst the masses, people who derisively look down upon the no-brainers are far and few and for every one of the above two kinds, there are scores of the other kinds. Ergo, the minorities seem to barely affect the run of these films, who prove us to be a democratic state, more than anything else. Recently, I entered a theater where Bol Bachchan was playing in its 5th week only to find it decently occupied, probably as much as a Khosla Ka Ghosla in its first week. The disconnect between critics and the masses is much more pronounced in case of comedies than others, mostly because no other genre seems to have achieved the similar kind of success in the Indian industry. We promote independent cinema but how many indies are actually comedies? Save for Love, Wrinkle Free in the past couple of months, I am struggling to find more. We all love the Hangover series, The Ugly Truth or 21 Jump Street. These are the films that walked the thin line and are still brainless fun. The big stars of Indian cinema barely ever dare to an intelligent comedy and hence we have no hope unless independent cinema takes this genre more seriously and transforms it. The good joke will always be a good joke, but the bad joke needs to stop being the good joke and being only cantankerous to the current crop of comedies is definitely not a solution.

If we only want intelligent humor, is there an audience acceptance for it in reality? If not, can we walk the thin line and build an audience? Yes, we can!

Originally published for the online journal Long Live Cin
ema here

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