The blogger from Seattle, Washington, talks about his blog ‘Dichotomy of Irony’ on hidden details and finding patterns and themes of Hindi filmmakers and their films.
Blogger Pankaj Sachdeva: Hindi movies are much deeper than people assume them to be
Mumbai - 04 Feb 2018 15:00 IST
Updated : 20:07 IST
Indian writer Pankaj Sachdeva, who blogs at ‘Dichotomy of Irony’, calls himself a ‘reader of the movies’. That seems a fairly accurate assessment of what he writes about on his blog and on Twitter.
Sachdeva notices little details and links together things about Hindi films that you and I wouldn’t think about. Say, for instance, how many films feature Vincent van Gogh’s paintings in the background (a lot, apparently). Or how many Hindi film characters use a Rubik’s cube (again, quite a few).
Cinestaan.com spoke to Sachdeva in a refreshing telephonic conversation to discuss these hidden details, his favourite films of the year past — we both agreed that the lovely Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017) was overlooked — and patterns that certain filmmakers display in their films (Mani Ratnam always has his mirror shots while Sanjay Leela Bhansali has peacocks and chandeliers).
The observant writer insists that when these are consistent patterns from filmmakers, he believes that if a filmmaker has put in something, he has given it a thought [as to why]. Films have meaning, he says, and cites the example of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare fascination showing up in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (2013) where Anushka Sharma’s character Bijlee is seen reading Othello. Excerpts:
Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got into blogging about movies?
I work as a financial analyst in a retail firm. After my graduation, I did my MBA [but] I have always been interested in writing about films, more than watching films. My belief is that in the last seven-eight years since I have been blogging, Hindi movies are much deeper than people assume them to be. There is a certain mockery or ridicule associated with Hindi films. I always feel that Hindi films are much better, even mainstream cinema, if we just try to look in a deeper way.
I love to write and one of the things I like doing is to find the hidden details in movies or symbols, patterns, and motifs. This is what I try to bring about in my blog.
You have been blogging for about 10 years now, since 2007. How did you come to name your blog ‘Dichotomy of Irony’?
I started this blog in 2007. It was more of a personal diary. It had a different name earlier, called ‘Inheritance of Loss’, after Kiran Desai’s book. Then around 2009, I thought I should change it and thought I should choose a name randomly, so I thought [of] ‘Dichotomy of Irony’. Irony is something that shows two sides of something, you expect something and it comes out to be something different. It just came up and I stuck with it.
Over the last few years, I thought I should change it again, but I have developed a certain audience and I don’t want to risk losing that. So I have stuck with it and I think I like it. Sometimes people ask me, what does this really mean?
The earlier posts, I cringe when I see them, but I haven’t deleted them because I think it has shown my growth as an individual as well. Initially, I used to write about few films and very superficial reviews like people write in the media, like this was good, this was good. But around 2012-13, I seriously took to just writing on films and writing much more elaborate posts on deeper meaning [of films].
Besides blogging, on Twitter you note and share things that most others wouldn’t pick up, like film sets that have Van Gogh paintings and which character uses a Rubik’s cube. How many times do you have to watch a movie to note these kinds of things?
I prefer watching on the big screen, but of late, over the last few years, I enjoy watching movies on my laptop a lot, where I have the ability to pause something. I don’t necessarily watch movies again and again, but while watching on my laptop, if I see something, I just pause it and re-watch that scene. Okay, what did I miss? Because I have this habit of looking everywhere on the screen, not just what is happening there, but what is happening at the back, what book is that person reading?
When did it first occur to you to start sharing this, that there may be an audience out there that might like this?
Around 2012. I love to collect trivia about movies as well and Twitter is kind of a medium where you find people like yourself. So I thought let me start putting something, I had hardly 20 followers. But slowly and slowly, you follow [others] and get to know other people who share similar interests as yours, so I just used to share [trivia] and then one day, [author] Diptakirti Chaudhari saw something on my Twitter account.
On my blog, I had written something about books and movies and I thought I should do some trivia. He noticed it and he put those pictures in his article in Outlook. So that became a little bit more famous. There is an audience that collects trivia, if you see on IMDb, there is always a trivia section. I thought I should just start compiling something, like books in movies, then I started doing art in movies and began sharing interesting anecdotes about films.
Do you take notes when you watch a movie? How would you remember certain details?
When I go to watch a movie in the theatre, I definitely take a notebook with me. I somehow manage to write something. But otherwise, I think a little bit of memory helps. And whenever I am watching a movie I do take screenshots. I have a collection of screenshots. Sometimes, I keep browsing through my screenshots and then some idea comes, ‘Oh, this guy is doing that. Let me look at it.’
The other thing that helps is that I try to read a lot about movies. I try to read everything when a movie gets released. Sometimes it happens that somebody mentions something, and then you get reminded, oh, okay, in that film something was happening. Reading is very essential. Taking notes, watching movies, pausing, taking screenshots and reading a lot helps.
Do you get to see all the Hindi films that come out in the US? Are they released where you live?
They do release but it’s a little far from where I stay. Any big movies that are released, like any Shah Rukh, Salman film, they would be released at a place nearby, so I try to watch them here. But I generally watch when the movie is released on Netflix or Amazon Prime now. It comes within two months. I recently caught up with all the movies of 2017. Yes, I do get to watch movies, but as I said, now I enjoy watching movies on my laptop. I am okay with waiting for some time and enjoy getting the experience that I want to get from a movie — trying to find patterns, etc.
I know you have done a blog post about it, but which were your favourite films of 2017? What did you like about them?
My favourite movie, I think, was Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017). I just loved that movie. I think the film suffered because it was released at the time of Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017) and that impacted [Meri Pyaari Bindu’s] business. Even Rajeev Masand had said in an interview, ‘Nobody liked Meri Pyaari Bindu’ and I was like, ‘Why is he saying that?’ I guess people didn’t like Parineeti [Chopra’s] character a lot and they felt it was too much of nostalgia of somebody else. But I think that was the best part of it.
There is a certain old-world charm about that movie and it has its own unique mix about your favourite songs in your life. The best thing that I loved about that movie was its ending. Bindu (Chopra) and Bubla (Ayushmann Khurrana), they were not really meant for each other at that point and the film doesn’t give them an ending that most films would give them — make them be together. The scene that they have in the climax, where he gives his story to her and tells her, this is my story and happy endings do sell better, but he didn’t get a happy ending.
The other thing I liked about the movie, when Bubla feels heartbreak, he doesn’t become Ayan of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), devastated and hitting himself, or he doesn’t become a Devdas. He still acknowledges that was a special time in their life and they will just move on. That’s what generally happens in life as well. I always loved these writer characters who are suffering from unrequited love. I really liked Kapoor & Sons (2016) also.
I also really liked Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017). It was very funny. I didn’t imagine it to be funny, but I think some of the scenes were hilarious, especially the cast of the film was great. Everybody did their parts well. They tackled a slightly weird topic with humour.
I think it’s a very progressive film, not just in terms of the issue it is tackling, but in terms of the relationships it portrays. The two lead characters are a couple who are actually trying to solve their problems. They basically help each other. I had written in my blog that people especially like the climax, and I think the climax had a certain purpose to it. Ayushmann Khurrana’s character goes on to that wooden khatola and he is hanging from the air, Bhumi Pednekar’s character lifts him up. This is what he was struggling with the entire movie.
Jagga Jasoos was also [one of] my favourite movies of last year. I had the most fun while watching it. I watched it on the big screen and whenever a song used to come, I used to start enjoying whatever they were showing. In the second half, it went into too much surrealism, some things were really hard to believe, but I guess that was not his intention. [Director Anurag Basu] was just trying to portray something different. I really enjoyed it and I thought Katrina [Kaif] was decent enough, otherwise she generally ruins a film. The music was great, and it was a very different film.
And yes, Trapped was amazing. There is just one character in the film and still you feel the tension in the air, the music and then the scene when he finally gets out or is trying to get out, is so thrilling to watch. That was one of the best movies of the year.
These four were kind of my favourites and there were a lot more. Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) was also good. Newton was good, but I felt it was a little over-hyped. Maybe because everybody liked it so much, I was disappointed. It’s good, it’s not a bad film. It’s definitely one of the better films of the year, but somehow, I don’t agree with the best film of the year. Trapped was much better. With every award Newton [won], I wondered, why did I not feel that?
How do you decide which film to write about? Does it depend on mood or what you have noticed when you go through your screenshots?
I also struggle a lot in which topic to choose. I generally do a balance of some research-based posts. Some time ago, I did a trivia or research-based post on Fyodor Dostoevsky in Hindi films, or I did a post on court judgments that cited Hindi films in their order.
Generally, I write on films. I prefer to write on recently released films. Newton, I wanted to write about, but I couldn’t find enough material to have a full post. I struggle to write with films that are very obvious to write upon. Newton, I couldn’t find a lot of inner detail, but if I find something, even if it is a terrible film, I try to write on that.
I remember I wrote on Roy (2016). Nobody saw that film. I try to write wherever I see something or some pattern I can find. Like, generally, if you watch an Imtiaz Ali film, you can see that he is trying to say something. I like him a lot, so I find it very interesting to write about him. Either it’s the character that is interesting or there is something hidden that the movie is trying to say, or there is enough trivia-related material that I can find and I can connect to other movies. That’s what my post would be about — a mixture of a little bit of everything.
In certain posts, you have delved into detail about specific themes about filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap or Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Are those the kind of filmmakers you admire?
Yes, like my favourite filmmaker is Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I think he is one of the rare and last remaining filmmakers who understands the power of spectacle. His films have this larger-than-life [quality]; he uses the screen brilliantly. Others have now, as we have progressed, moved into more contemporary themes, more realism. [Bhansali’s] films have that larger-than-life screen presence, you love to watch them on screen. There is music, there is dance, he uses colours brilliantly and that's what I started liking.
I started watching films because of the colour and resplendence of Hindi films. Sanjay Leela Bhansali will always remain my favourite filmmaker and somebody that I really admire. Then I also like Imtiaz Ali a lot, Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, and, yes, Karan Johar. Zoya Akhtar, I really like, I loved Luck By Chance (2009). It’s one of my top five favourite movies. There is so much to watch in Luck By Chance.
What are you looking forward to watching in 2018?
Definitely Padmaavat. It has been tortured so terribly, but I just hope the film is in a decent spot and not too disjointed. Then there is Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, Anushka Sharma’s Sui Dhaaga and Rani Mukerji’s Hichki. I’m definitely looking forward to Rani Mukerji coming back. I love Rani. There’s also the Irrfan Khan-Deepika Padukone-starrer directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. I’m looking forward to that and yes, Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero.