Monday, June 2, 2008

Branded Items Only

Once on my way to school, a friend of mine , a year older than myself, asked a kid in 3rd standard from a rather affluent family what his favorite song in Alaipayuthey was. Pat came the answer " september maadham". Slightly taken aback my friend decided to ask just one more question, "have you seen the video?". The reply was not only an emphatic yes but also a naughty smile.

Give and take some exaggeration from the above story it still makes quite a .. story. No this is not a lecture on depreciating moral values in our society. This is about a term cinema critics use: the front benchers. Should a song with suggestive moves or shady lyrics appear in a movie these critics are ready to label it as an effort to please the front benchers. Do they mean to say that the people who sit in the 2nd row of the theatre have any different emotions and reactions to such a song from someone who has paid Rs. 150 and sits in cushioned chairs with his arms wrapped, protectively or otherwise, around his girlfriend. Isn't the baser emotions what the name suggests, something basic. Despite the rather negative connotation to it, its still the same for everyone, independent of the strata he/she belongs to.

To derogate the taste of those sitting in the front rows or to claim that the "back benchers" have a liking only for quality cinema reeks of arrogance and classist tendencies. One would like to ask those who pay in excess of 100 rupees for the movies they watch if they have seen movies from Iran, Korea or Mexico where some of the best and most wonderfully crafted movies are made. I haven't seen them but that doesn't mean I look down upon a Sandai or a Arasangam. If you don't like it, then no issues. But then to claim that one's taste is poor just because he/she finds the movie entertaining is to be judgmental without being practical. After all one man's liking can very well be the other person's dislike.

Another of the prejudices that these critics carry is to judge an "item number" by the director or the star cast. A Mani Ratnam movie item number will be described as tastefully done and providing refreshing change (remember the song in Bombay,? Any other director would have been lambasted while Mani Ratnam draws cheers). I have nothing against Mani Ratnam, in fact I would claim to be his ardent fan, but what irks me is the attitude of the critics and their elitist friends to item numbers. I am pretty sure that parents in posh Mumbai locals wouldn't mind their kids watching Mallika Sherawat belly dance in Guru but would have an issue with her item number, or any song rather, in another movie.

My understanding of the situation, and I would love to hear views, contradicting or otherwise, is that what you watch and appreciate depends on what the people around you would allow you to. In other words, while the tastes of individuals is independent of the strata of society, the appreciation, and I mean the open kind, is very much a reflection of the peer group. What decides whether you are impressed by something is whether it impresses the people you want to impress that you were impressed by that something. Too confusing? This is nothing compared to the tribulations of the guy sitting next to you in the theatre wondering whether he should clap and enjoy an item number or whether it'll reflect badly on him and therefore try and give the impression he's squirming in his seat. By the time he makes up his mind on either choice, the song would have been long over and all the time spent mulling over the options is a waste. Maybe now I understand why they say these songs are meant for the front benchers. They are the ones who derive maximum enjoyment from these songs. They are free of any inhibitions and all those considerations of what the person next to him/her feels. If only the critics would climb down from the false high pedestal they are sitting on and be more open minded in their evaluation of an item number.


yamini said...

nalla analysis kutty :-).. i have few more things to add.. you already conveyed.. it is not row one alone that enjoys 'item numbers ' its just that they are more vocal about it :-) and the shy (useless) A-row sits with its eyes wide open ;-).. thats a well known fact.. but atleast the front benchers are clear with what they want.. thirupachi or any vijay (non experimenting)movie is always a hit.. if a movie is made for them its always atleast a decent hit! whereas the a row is actually the confused one.. if a director tries to create a movie to cater to their intellectual needs the response is highly unpredictable and most often not profitable :-)..

2. I also strongly feel the song 'naatu saraku' was a peppy item number which never got its due recognition ;-). ppl dismissed it as a cheap video..
but hamma hamma had arr tag to it and a pretty sonali for it to become such a hit.. ppl choose to see beyond the video and admire the song for the music! its a cruel world! and for what it is worth.. I strongly object!

Srikanth said...

oooh... cool down Kutty!

I guess the term 'front benchers' is a term used to specify the different economic levels. People sitting in the front benches are USUALLY from a lower economic class than the ones behind. And ART-APPRECIATION is a commodity that comes way up in the pyramid of needs. Thus people who are in the lower strata of society look forward to obtaining staple shelter and food rather than to marvel a work of art.
In my opinion any item-number or an unwanted but selling sequence is there to please those "front benchers" who just need three hours of fun. So, IMHO it is not improper to call unwanted item numbers as "eye candy for front benchers".

My take on the differentiation between item numbers: Dharani wants to make money and so does Mani Ratnam. Dharani can sacrifice logic to bring in the item no. whereas Mani tries to compromise by creating situations that blend SOMEWHAT with the script progression. So you cannot call Mani's item numbers as "not for front benchers alone". I think even that should be labeled "for front benchers only". Extrapolating this, even songs and action should be called "For front benchers".

Thus the demarcation for the "front benches" depends on the viewers position on the pyramid of need and thus economic strength. So, Let's hope the front benches keep reducing!

P.S.: On a lighter note, visit
for some "front-bench thrills"

P.P.S: Send your blog link to Nittians website. Its better to keep in touch that way...

Hariharan Sriram said...


couldn agree with you more especially on the point of movies made for the taste of the so called front benchers being assured of doing well. Its pretty evident that at least they are clear about what they want. and its not like they do not provide patronage for movies like mozhi either.


whilst stating that the art appreciation may not exactly be the strength of the front benchers maybe true, it is not necessary that the forward classes are good at it either. My point is that there are very few people who actually appreciate good art, the rest are just imitators, maybe like our film makers themselves.

Satish Alagappan said...

We have an opening here at Deccan Chronicle "First Benchers" Section. I read your blog and I realise that you're quite the type we need .

Offers apart : Hell Yeah People at the back enjoy it. Just that if someone has his arms around his girlfriend, it might be a little weird ! Whats worse is he woudl tell her " That song was totally unnecessary .. What do they achieve by such...pah pah... abhishtoo "..etc

Btw..walk in anytime Mr.Hariharan .. lol :)

kaushik ram said...

enna pa.. economic levels?? the lowest prices in city theatres is 70 Rs i suppose ..

Surya, the Ayrus! said...

Hello Mr Shriram, i got into your blog through one of my friends. You write with a certain fluidity that makes reading fun.But heres my pennys worth of opinion on front benchers. Actually in early 1950s with the cinema hall movement startin in India,it were the easy gulible chaps then who went to the hall and got into the first easy chairs to catch a closer glimpse of their favourite stars. With time, the ones who understood the inconvenience/stupidity associated with the idea, started kicking for later a stereotypical dogma gotten attached to the front benchers as a naive, unassuming crowd of only entertainment consumers! so the situation...with the coming in of small sized multiplexes , the socio economic differences are fast bridging.. and ya about item numbers (which is very derogatory to be calling someone's compositions, more so, the term item girl), since most of them are meant to go down the groin, why waste grey stuff on it:) overall, a eight and a half outta ten for your writing!

Hariharan Sriram said...


wondering if there's any personal experience. ;)

@kaushik ram

its all relative da. and besides front benchers is a term more widely used to denote audience in the B abd C centres also.


thanks for explaining the history behind the term and the reason for its usage in the present context. guess that pretty much is in the same spirit of my argument in the sense they are looked upon in a derogatory manner which should not be.