Gunda, an unexpected journey: Tracking Cinephilia Undead


This is the second research note by Vibhushan Subba, one of the researchers who received the Social Media Research grant for 2016.

The search for a trashy film can turn into a steeplechase of staggering emotions, a cinematic odyssey ranging from blasts of stunt and fantasy, through a landscape of the dismembered and the splattered, the violated and the avenged, oozing with sleaze and smut and insatiable appetites, intended seriousness, unintended ham handedness and such. Yet, at the end of it all it still opens out into a rather variegated terrain of discourses and counter discourses of cult, trash, the bad object and cultural detritus that even seemingly elastic reading protocols as ‘paracinema’ that brings under its wings such wildly distant subgenres as “’badfilm’, splatterpunk, ‘mondo’ films, sword and sandal epics, Elvis flicks, government hygiene films, Japanese monster movies, beach-party musicals, and just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency documentaries to soft-core pornography” (Sconce 1995, 372) [1] falls short of bringing it under one category. In his collection Sleaze Artists, [2] Sconce argues that sleaze is a quality that one can ascribe to a film, a feeling or a nagging sense that “something is “improper” or “untoward” about a given text” which engenders a feeling of sleaze in the viewer. Something like pornography would not qualify as sleaze because it is straightforwardly that and has nothing to hide unlike the sleazy films that try and peddle soft core pornography hiding behind unintelligible narratives. In the same way one can argue that ‘trashy’ is a quality, a feeling one has about a film that is reinforced by the way that it has been executed. So, the ham-handed improvisations and the ineptitude become a criteria for judging an object as trashy but these are not the only qualifiers. Just as cult can bring under its banner such diverse films as The Sound of Music (Wise, 1965) and Beyond The Valley of The Dolls (Meyer, 1970) which have been received as cult in different contexts, the trashiness that one attaches to an object or a text rides a similarly unstable zone which is open to interpretation. Shome Sengupta in the Facebook page I love trashy hindi movies seems to have a found a natural way of locating trash. He says that a trashy film wrenches out the beauty of a moment to turn it into something base and ugly. He forwards the example of the five elements (water, earth, air, fire and wind) that regular mainstream films use to evoke love and beauty and how those same elements are twisted into their deviant forms in a trashy counterpart to evoke a sense of lust. Hence, the gurgling serenity of a brook is replaced by the lusty vibrations of a swimming pool, the purity of the conjugal fire turns into the sensuous cigarette lighter, the tranquility of the infinite blue skies is invaded by furious lightning flashes, the warmth of the earth is replaced by a cold watery grave and the breeze of love by a lustful tornado. In his closing statements he says that “Trashy movies have their defining moments in ‘vaasna ki toofan’” (in the lascivious tornado) which is not unlike the sleazy feeling that Sconce talks about. It is beyond the scope of this post to look into all those discourses on cult, its various contexts, B- grade and categories but I have included the term B-movie in the title of my previous post for the lack of a definition but also because that is how people are locating it on the internet.

No matter how diverse the universe of trash, B and cult may be, one thing remains uncontested and that is the amount of traffic that it invites and has invited in the last decade or so. A quick look at Google Trends shows that there is rising interest in the term B grade and B movies and that is partly because of the cinephiliac desire that is being circulated on the internet via different social media platforms. This moment of cinephiliac desire which I call cinephilia undead is quite unlike the earlier cinephilia around which earlier cult films of the West have been organzied. For the cult film appreciation of say a film like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sharman, 1975) involves among other things repeated viewing of the film in a theatre where audience members dress up for their parts and perform along with the film, props are brought and secondary scripts are recited. This activity organized around repeated film viewings and audience participation produced a group identity. Born completely on the internet this new cinephilia Undead is a celebration of all the inconsistencies, the ineptness and the flaws that a bad movie has to offer but quite unlike the ealier reception mode.

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Figure 1: Google Trends Graph

 

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Figure 2: Google Trends Regional Graph

Cinephilia undead is a recent phenomenon triggered possibly by one event the ‘universalization of these movies through Kanti Shah’s Gunda’ as Aseem Chandaver [3] puts it. Although it might be restrictive to narrow down the entire phenomenon to an event it is quite possible that Gunda (Shah, 1998) may have been the trigger that helped to unleash this cinephilia which was dormant and had not been realized despite its spectral presence. In the 1990s traces of this presence could be found on television shows like Sajid Khan’s (television anchor and director) Kehne May Kya Harz Hai?/ What’s the harm in saying it? which aired on Sony and channel V’s Colossal Chaos Countdown. Sajid’s show was a countdown with reviews of mainstream and B-movies and a particular Ham segment which focused on the ham scenes from both mainstream and B-movies. Channel V’s Colossal Chaos Countdown conducted interviews of B-movie directors and actors that had, hitherto, never been attempted on any show. These were the formative years of cinephilia undead and though there were sparks it had not been able to elicit the kind of response that say, an event like Gunda’s popularity generated in the years to come. In this post I trace a brief biography of Gunda which is increasingly being called a cult classic across platforms in order to trace the beginnings of cinephilia undead itself.

A revenge film that nuzzles the familiar territory of the Bombay underworld with dialogues delivered in verse and an eccentric mix of villains what with their pigtails and philosophies of personal hygiene Gunda opened to a mild reception with a total gross of 3.1 crores whereas the blockbuster of that year Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Karan Johar, 1998) grossed 74.1 crores. Soon after its release it ran into trouble and was pulled out from the theatres. When it was released in celluloid as an A rated film it suffered more than 40 cuts and when it was released in video in 2009 as U/A, it had 45 cuts. Trawling through the CBFC archives for a cut list one comes up with an uncanny list of orders that vary outrageously in their subject matter. Most of these cuts have deleted the highly charged couplets that Shah uses recurringly- “Delete the dialogue ‘Kafan Chor Neta’ [‘Shroud Stealing Politician’] [4], remove “Nikal Diya Hasina Ka Pasina” [“I’ve squeezed the sweat out of this beautiful woman”] [5], leave out the word “Randi” [“Prostitute”] [6] (CBFC). The Board ordered the deletion of “all the bust jerks” [7] from the song Nasha, asked for the removal of visuals showing “Geeta’s undergarments,” [8] and some strange requests like asking for the removal of ‘baby being thrown into the air’ [9], ‘machine gun firing by Gunda’ [10], ‘retaining only one shot of the Gunda in black vest, with blood on his body’ [11], reducing to a flash ‘torture of Ganga by Gunda’[12]. What the Board is responding to and why they are unable to articulate it is a different debate and beyond the scope of this post.

An uncensored version of the film was doing the rounds in Mumbai theatres a few days after its release when a group of college girls shocked by the language, violence and sex wrote to the Censor Board in protest and it was hastily removed. In my interview with Kanti Shah when I asked him how was it possible that after all these years of the censor’s examination that I could get my hands on a copy that remains intact, featuring not a single cut ordered by the Censor Board, he laughed. “We cheated the censors,” [13] he retorted almost nonchalantly. Since Shah had only a few days to produce a safe cut he found a way to circumvent the censors. “We duped the shots,” [14] he claims. Apparently he submitted a safe cut but retained a print from which the cuts had not been deleted thus using it as a master to cull out a DVD print wholly intact. And, this uncensored version was the one that was pulled off the theatres days after it was released in Mumbai.

At best an average film in terms of the collections Gunda disappeared to the rural circuits and was quickly forgotten. It reappeared on IMDB in the early years of the new millennium and when it returned it came back as the highest rated film on IMDB with a rating than films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather. This was largely due to a boosting campaign undertaken by students across IIT’s (Indian Institute of Technology) in India. “One cannot pinpoint its origins but the voting started spontaneously,” says Anant Singh who was in IIT Kharagpur when students started voting for Gunda in 2003. [15] “During those days if you liked films like Gunda you would be ridiculed,” recalls Anant. Those were also the days when very few Indian films were on IMDB. When asked why Gunda had such an appeal he notes, “the film is surreal, its a masterpiece.” [16]

In 2007 Arnab Ray [17], reviewed Gunda in his blog Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind in the form of an imaginary interview with Kanti Shah where he is both Kanti and the interviewer. He weaved in satire, symbolism and philosophy in his review of Gunda and the readers loved it gauging it from the comments.

ad libber says:

I can’t believe I haven’t watched this movie yet…why hasn’t it been listed on the IMDB top 250? A life changing experience awaits me…greatbong…thanks to you I will probably suffer a mental metamorphosis soon…thank you for introducing me to such unparalleled genius.

RISHABH says:

Gunda!
The greatest movie of our times! It is indeed disappointing that its rating in IMDB has fallen below 9. The sole job of the community on orkut was to make sure that the rating never fell below 9.5. Everytime it’d be so, this legion of fanatic followers would barge on to the site and start voting mercilessly!

Ritesh Nadhani says:
(http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3923767355169636477&q=gunda&total=150&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0)

Video link for Gunda movie…damn….i just started watching it and never knew it was such a masterpiece.

 

Even if there was already a circuit of appreciation in place for the film the blog brought it out into the open and manufactured a desire around an otherwise discarded object which led to a burst of activity centered around the film. It was being shared and downloaded widely, other reviews started to appear, people started discussing the characters and the filmmaker. In other words it generated content and set the terms for wider appropriation and circulation that was to come. It is only true that before the mid nineties not many people barring film critics could write about films even if they wanted to. Now any cinephile can write about films that they like without any hesitation. The internet has connected the undead cinephiles in a way that was never seen before. Any little space, be it the comments section on a blog or a YouTube video to a Facebook page is a potential site of cultural production. Since there is little difference between a reader and a writer, a reader’s relationship to trash influences and is further influenced by circulation of the objects and texts lurking within these mediated spaces. After all, the valorization of trash and cultural detritus is as much about the love of producing an alternative value system and discourse, is as much about the production of trash as it is about the object itself. As illustrated in Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory [18] an object over time outlives its function, loses its value and becomes rubbish. However, this is not to say that it has a reached a point of no return because it is precisely at this moment that an object can fade and disappear or return reinvested with new values.

So, when Gunda returned it was a renewed object, one reinvested with new values. There are now many Gunda fan pages on the internet with most of them talking about the film or about the genius of Kanti Shah. The creator of the Facebook Gunda page (8338 likes) Manjit Saikia feels that there is an immense sense of community within the Page. “You will not find many casual fans here. If you like Gunda, it is for life. Demography wise most of the fans are people (90-95%) within the 18-30 age group and the majority hold a technical degree.” [19] This Facebook page is centered on the film and mostly contains film trivia, treasured clips from the film, references to other Kanti Shah films, film posters, memes, videos. When Rami Reddy who portrayed the feared assassin Kala Shetty in the film passed away in 2011 there were miniature obituaries on the page like, “Kala Shetty is no more. May he rest in peace and not cause too much trouble up there! You will be missed!” Countless reviews and blogs are floating around, some of them like Gunda What the FAQ boasts infinite trivia and questions. Others such as The Complete Gunda experience is almost a frame by frame review of the film. There are many forms in which people have appropriated the idea of Gunda, projecting their own creative energies and it is this appropriation that is being repeatedly shared and reproduced in social media. For instance, Minimal Bollywood posters has created a restrospective poster of the film and Rohan Chakravarty’s Gunda cartoon poster (which can be bought online for Rs.220) also available as Tshirts and hoodies, serves as the cover photo of the facebook page. There are several videos and recut trailers circulating on the web but I found a video where a group of fans have made a short remake of the film titled Gunda remake- A tribute to Kanti Shah particularly interesting in which they are seen performing some scenes from the film. Not quite unlike the fans of Rocky Horror (though ways of engaging with the text may be different) this performance is an attempt to have a dialogue with the film, an attempt to talk back to the film with props and costumes. The only difference is that the participation is mediated via social media and does not involve a visit to the theatre.

kala shetty knife meme

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3: A Gunda meme in the Facebook page Gunda  with Rami Reddy

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Figure 4: Minimal Bollywood Poster’s Gunda posters

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Figure 5: Rohan Chakravarty’s artwork at Cupick.com

 

Currently Gunda has a rating of 8.0 with legions of fans well versed in the ‘Gundaism’ that they have come to love so much. Meanwhile Kanti Shah, the director has been catapulted to superstardom in these circles and has recently received The Platinum award at the Golden Kela Awards, the Indian version of the Golden Raspberry Awards. The film itself has had an unexpected journey travelling at the edges of distribution popping up in video parlours, travelling tent cinemas, minor theatres in the city, single screens in the interiors, on the footpath, in the video stores and before being freely accessible on the vast spaces of the internet. In 2013, there was a reference to it in a travelogue If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai: A Conducted Tour of India by Srinath Perur.

“After dinner Homi, Ramesh and I discover that we are all fans of the Mithun Chakraborty cult-classic Gunda. It is the sort of filmthat’s impossible to watch only once, and then, when it has been watched a few times it is impossible to forget. The others are unaware of the film so the three of us try to set things right by providing a re-enactment. (Perur, 2013)”  [20]

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Figure 6: Snapshot of the Gunda dubstep

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Figure 7: Still from the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pRukFOLX2c

 

The film even has a dubstep and a recut trailer uploaded by uncommonboyzzz, Gunda-An Unexpected Journey that takes sequences from The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey (Jackson, 2012) with a Gunda  dub in the background that is lip synced to Gunda dialogues. When I asked Arnab Ray why Gunda  appealed to him he replied that, “all of us have within us an urge for the visceral where we are not always drawn to beauty but also to something supremely ugly and normally we are uncomfortable to acknowledge it but when it is wrapped in humour we tend to watch it.” 21

In this post I have laid out the beginnings of this rising cinephilia organized around the obscure and the trashy situating it within a context and debates. In the posts that will follow I hope to explore the various sites- YouTube channels, Facebook Pages, Blogs and websites that help in circulating this cinephiliac desire.

 

Notes:

[1] Sconce, Jeffrey. “‘Trashing’ the academy: taste, excess, and an emerging politics of cinematic style.” Screen, 36:4, (Winter 1995): 371-393.

[2] Sconce, Jeffrey. “Sleaze Artists: CINEMA AT THE MARGINS OF TASTE, STYLE AND POLITICS, Jeffrey Sconce ed. Duke University Press, 2007.

[3]  Aseem Chandaver is a B cinema enthusiast, collector, YouTube channel owner and content writer. Chandaver, Aseem. Personal Interview. 11 April 2014, Matunga Road, Mumbai.

[4] Serial No.9, Reel No.I, CBFC. http://cbfcindia.gov.in/html/uniquepage.aspx?va=gunda&Type=search

[5] Serial No.11, Reel No.IV, CBFC.

[6] Serial No.35, Reel No.IX, CBFC.

[7] Serial No.28, Reel No.III, CBFC.

[8] Serial No.31, Reel No. V, CBFC.

[9] Serial No.38, Reel No.XV, XVI, CBFC.

[10] Serial No.25, Reel No. Xvi, CBFC.

[11] Serial No.26, Reel No.I, CBFC.

[12] Serial 37. Reel No.XIV, CBFC.

[13] Shah, Kanti. Personal Interview. 8 April, 2014, Mhada Andheri, Mumbai.

[14] Shah, Kanti. Personal Interview. 8 April, 2014, Mhada Andheri, Mumbai.

[15] Anant Singh. Telephonic Interview. July 2014. Anant Singh, Creative Head at Twenty Onwards Media and Creative head and host of Golden Kela Awards.

[16] Anant Singh. Telephonic Interview. July 2014. Anant Singh, Creative Head at Twenty Onwards Media and Creative head and host of Golden Kela Awards.

[17] Ray, Arnab. Personal Telephonic Interview. June 2014.

[18] Thompson, M. (1979). Rubbish theory: The creation and destruction of value. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[19] Saikia, Manjit. Online Interview. June 2, 2014.

[20] Perur, Srinath. “If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai: A Conducted Tour of India ”Penguin India, 2013.

[21] Ray, Arnab. Personal Telephonic Interview. June 2014.

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Published on: May 25, 2016


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