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Opinion || The Celebration of Mediocrity

A still from ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’

“It’s a disease. Nobody thinks or feels or craves anymore; nobody gets excited or believes in anything except their own comfortable little God damn  mediocrity’  

– Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

Celebration of mediocrity is no sin; it is, as expounded by Mr. Yates, but a disease that has the potential to cripple multiple generations by robbing them of the concept and the insight to identify ‘greatness’.

Works of art are already difficult to categorize owing to the varied reactions that they tend to invoke in differing individuals. What is art for one is mere discard for another. It is perhaps apt to say that the age of the fair critic and constructive criticism is a thing of the past too. As knowledgeable as they come, the majority find it hard to transcend personal likes and dislikes, values and dogmas and more importantly, the preferences of the professional variety, which drive many to praise particularly bad specimens of ‘art’ while the handful of good ones are simply ignored.

The brunt of mediocrity, however, is not for the critics to bear alone, for we have been brought up in an environment where icons are celebrated with much more reverence than the art that has put them into the limelight in the first place. Thus a ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ is forever destined to be remembered as a ‘Salman Khan film’ and prosceniums will sell out tickets by billing a familiar face from TV or films than put an ‘actor’ on stage instead. It is the very same mob mentality that has turned the strangely christened ‘Yo Yo Honey Singh’ into a veritable musical genius, or why a Nawazuddin Siddiqui is unanimously appreciated by the public in a ‘Kick’ or a ‘Bajrangi’ while his better works go frustratingly unnoticed.

The fictional wedge between ‘art’ and ‘commercial’ has bankrupted true art and has enabled a rank of mediocre ‘artistes’ to take centrestage. They manufacture products according to singularly sinister guidelines which are consumed by the audiences who simply do not care to know any better. The artistes who still strive to do good work must realise that these businessmen are ultimately bad for the business of their craft. The late 80s and the 90s in Bollywood is just fine in terms of figures, but the decades will certainly be remembered as the darkest in terms of the film language and the contexts they peddled.

The most alarming facet of this phenomenon, however, is the fact that mediocrity in any culture is celebrated at the sheer expense of merit. The fear of the exceptional is often palpable in the creators of the popular content and the opinion is more often than not reflected in the attitude of the collective conscious, driven invariably by the gesture of their idols.

Thus an ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’ requires laurel leaves on its posters and immense coaxing to get a respectable screening; a ‘Bakita Byaktigoto’ fails to lure crowds even after National Awards and a re-release. A ‘Herbert’ is bombarded with unsavoury ‘reviews’; the flamboyant Srijit Mukherji needs to wait out years to attempt a ‘Nirbaak’ and the clearly talented Raj Chakraborty keeps churning out remakes, indefinitely postponing a ‘Tong Ling’.

It is certainly not the case that superior art is not being practiced or appreciated in our society. But the ground must be set so a truly delectable piece does not have to make the rounds at distant festival circuits and win prestigious award bouquets to be appreciated at home.

Greatness must be appreciated for its own sake. To seek solace in mediocrity cannot be the comfort zone of any true artiste or connoisseur of art. It is but a degenerative disorder and must be addressed to preserve what is left of our fraying minds. []

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015