Covid, Cinema & Criterion

Published: Wednesday, 13th July 2022.

Covid, Cinema & Criterion by Prakhar Prabhakar

Covid:

In the last couple of weeks, I have endured my sophomore run with Covid-19, ostensibly thanks to an already debilitated immune system, and of course – my chronic asthma. Feeling your lung muscles straining as you’re struggling to breathe, or having your throat ceasing to have the capacity to let out sounds when you’re trying so hard to speak, often puts things in perspective.

During my last encounter with Covid back in 2020, I had penned down an article to help out any fellow asthmatics who have been suffering from Covid-19, which one can find by clicking here. This time though, my CT values had dropped, the viral load was higher, and my capacity to endure the symptoms with the same amount of patience as last time was much lower. 

I wish I could say I was in better shape from a health standpoint this time around, but sadly – that wasn’t the case either. It is often in times like these when one just wants to sit back, relax and reflect on the things he or she loves. That brings me to the next ‘C’ in this equation – ‘Cinema’.

Cinema:

I remember some particular multiplex chains in Mumbai hosting local Film Festivals and Classic feature presentations for a couple of weeks every single year. There is just something inherently magical about immersing yourself in a big screen theatrical experience whilst being a part of a community of cinema-lovers.

The grandeur of the enthralling audio-visual experience can perhaps be complemented only with the aroma of fresh popcorn in tubs. And yes – the saltiness of the popcorn had to be just right. The trailers preceding the feature film had to be just right. The seats selected keeping the screen in mind needed to be just right. The shouting and hooting from the crowd as the title credits roll, also – needed to be just right. All ingredients for a ‘perfect’ movie-going experience. 

In the last couple of years – especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, all of that changed. Now the only time I can expect an active crowd in a packed theatre is when an MCU, DCEU or a Star Wars feature is doing rounds. I myself, personally – have settled for a 200 inch wall screen in my house with a 4K projector and home theatre system. Now when I want to catch a screening of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957) or Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), I know that it’s going to be a more intimate, solitary experience. Perhaps that is where my comfort level also lies now.

Last week amidst my Covid spell, I actually revisited some brilliant films from the Hindi film industry from the last decade. Films like Udaan (2010), Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Shanghai (2012), Madras Cafe (2013), The Lunchbox (2013), Haider (2014), Dear Zindagi (2016), Andhadhun (2018) and October (2018) were all films that I had seen at some point, but revisiting them solely with the intention of admiring their cinematic brilliance and talent on display was a genuinely amazing experience. I probably will make a personally curated ‘Best of’ list for Hindi films too, in the coming weeks. But right now – my intention was to introduce my saviour during these tough times – the third ‘C’ of this post, namely ‘Criterion’.

Criterion:

For the uninitiated, here’s a small introduction – Criterion is a home for restoration of ‘the most important films of all time’, and is known for presenting the best package for any title. You will find the best version of the film, be it on 4K/Blu-ray/DVD alongside Special Features, Info-booklets, a stellar cover/case with some brilliant artwork – all part of the package. I know in this current day and age, Special features on Blu-ray/DVD or on Youtube might seem quite normal, but it was actually initiated by Criterion back in 1984 when they first introduced the Laser-Disc edition of Citizen Kane (1941). Cinephiles back in the day who wanted to know more about the films, enjoy commentaries, ‘Making of’ segments, Deleted scenes, Interviews with the Director and Actors barely had any source for these things at the time. Criterion changed all that, and it also led the way for a revolutionised ‘Home Video’ experience.

Imagine cinema classics from all across the world, such as the early works of Jean-Pierre Melville, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock and countless other great directors who have defined movie genres for cinephiles all across the world. There’s a high probability that without labels such as Criterion and Arrow, a lot of modest films with limited prints would have been completely lost over the years, since preservation and restoration of the lesser-known classics would be a major gamble for larger studios.

I should also mention that if, like me – you reside in India, then you don’t have a Barnes & Noble 50% off sale, and so – a single movie would probably cost you anywhere between 5,300 – 11,000 INR. For the purists who love building a collection of physical media, Criterion titles are a fascinating pathway to enter the realm of ‘cinema’.

Amidst a plethora of genres from some of the greatest filmmaking talents of the last century, I always manage to find comfort somewhere. There are always stories to be told, and there are always stories to be heard. Criterion listens, and that alone – is worth everything.

In the next post, I will try to recommend some of my personal favorite Criterion Collection titles.

Until then – have fun, stay safe and keep watching films.

– Prakhar Prabhakar

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