My tutor, when I was still young enough and bright enough to merit one, often railed against what he called ‘ tautological bunkum’. He was smart and could pick out any student who had attempted to cover a lack of understanding or lack of proper study of a text when their inbred laziness (a curse of all students) meant they had reached an assignment’s deadline without reading, let alone writing a word.
On these occasions he would slap the sheaves of paper around and sink into addressing us in his favourite language, Latin. He even used our Latin names, which he found amusing but, of course, we didn’t.
“ What is this tautological bunkum, Hermyntruda?” with a sneer as he waved the papers around. “ Haven’t I emphasised more times than I can remember that you don’t need a plethora of adjectives swallowing up the nouns and, another thing, what’s all this changing verbs into modifiers- verbs are for action or have you forgotten everything they taught you in school?”
Those of us who were studying modern American fiction would of course try and protest, but to no avail.
One often wondered whether it was the oddity of the English language to assign secondary and even tertiary meanings to its nouns that has led to ‘criticism’ being taken to mean something that is attacking rather than appraising; and some critics do love to attack.
It is this same oddity no doubt, that leads authors and film directors and so forth to feel offended by default at pieces of criticism aimed at their works. A good piece of criticism will truly help creators to improve their skills. A good critic can pick up the little glitches the creator doesn’t notice and may even suggest how they can be removed. A good critic does not lean back on some personal grudge he/she may have with the author/director and go out of his/her way to cast doubts on its fitness for reading/viewing. Yet, Over the past 7 days I’ve read reviews of Amir Khan’s ‘Dangal’: the latest one seems to be straining every bit of tautology to do just that. Let’s just look at this piece in ‘The Kathmandu Post’. The issue of Saturday 31st of December has a barb or two that are worth a little scrutiny. The main barbs are as follow.
1. Efforts to promote the film’s pro-women stance were hypocritical because he demanded strict obedience from his daughters [as any coach would from his trainees whether male or female]. ‘There’s no gain without pain’ is a truism originating with the world of physical activity.
2. He wasn’t liberating his daughters but realising his own dreams through his children.
3. When she apologises to her father for deviating from his instructions she’s actually being punished for trying to decide something for herself.
I don’t think it useful to stretch my critique of the art of criticism much further. As far as criticism 1 is concerned, nuff sed. Criticism 2 is criticising Khan’s depiction of a villager’s aspirations for being all too true. I think a majority of parents often attempt to realise their unfulfilled dreams through their children. As far as 3 is concerned, if a child away at college started sniffing cocaine would a parent let it slide, even if the teacher did?
The one criticism that seems somewhat offensive is that there is a reversion to cheap nationalism. This by the way tells us more about the author of this piece than it does about the film.
To my mind,’ cheap nationalism’ would be used to forge a wedge of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ variety. Indian journalists do this par excellence. How would I know?
Well frankly, I know by observation and experience what cheap nationalism is all about. Over 45 years, even the most highly educated colleagues from India have not wasted opportunities to play’ cheap nationalism’ cards against me. I once was literally physically attacked by the mother of a colleague who, over a lunch that I was hosting for her by request, didn’t waste a minute before she informed me how much she disliked the English. Having been [or being, I’m not quite sure now] a Gandhian she hated the atrocities ‘my people’ had inflicted on hers. All the guests that day were subjected to a diatribe against the English and the pain this lady had suffered on salt marches and fasts until death and the like.
“What have you say in response to your people’s horrid acts of oppression?” She asked.
Well I wasn’t the only ‘angreji’ there, in fact my imagination and creativity I believe comes from the Welsh branch of my ancestry who’ve had plenty of axes of their own to grind with the ‘angreji.’
“Are you absolutely sure, it was my people who did all that?” I retaliated.
“we e ll “ she attempted.
“Because” I said, “Gandhi himself came to our county to offer his condolences to the women who had lost their husbands at the hands of the same people you accuse of oppressing your people.”
I proceeded then to enlighten her about the hidden history of the English who fought just as hard to rid themselves of the shackles imposed by the landed aristocrats who owned just about everything until the self-made industrialists began to support the Chartist Movement. A silence then fell on my dinner table until someone started to clap.
“ I didn’t realise you were offended,” she stammered, looking around at the gathering.
“ Not offended Ma’am, simply astounded that a lady of your standing wouldn’t check the facts first before making accusations,” a young engineer said.
And that is really my response to the criticism and detractors of this film. Don’t be angry because its prime mover refused to put his family in danger by accepting, as a Muslim, to represent the ‘make in India’ promotion.It may have been politically correct for you to do so at one time;but that time is over. Better by far to assess the man by his acting ; and about that and the film as a whole, the word of choice is the one used to congratulate the eldest daughter when she won the gold medal:”Shabash!”