Rohan takes his readers through the ups and downs of the rollercoaster of being a coord. Read on for a well-written piece that vividly narrates his bittersweet experience.
Disclaimer: This piece represents the viewpoint of the author and his experience, and does not necessarily reflect the position of T5E.
I reckon it would be better to tell this one as a story. The disclosure that this is indeed a work of non-fiction would take away the rather strange quality that I attach to my experience (not that there is anything Lynchian about it). In retrospect, I figure there was nothing out of the ordinary about it, but that is the last thing a writer must acknowledge (that and the evanescence of the written word). In case I have not been clear enough, this is meant to be a piece on my stint as a coordinator in IITM’s Film Appreciation Club (FAC).
Although I am very well aware that my name will appear in the byline, it would suit our present purposes to assign Yours Truly an algebraic name, say X. “Why?” one might ask. Well, so that this particular piece of writing can assume the form of a metanarrative. “But why?” Well, because the position of an omniscient outsider is a very convenient one, especially so that one’s own failings can be assessed to a certain degree without crying a bucketload of tears. Here we go.
First of all, let me tell you that I did not know what I was getting into. My application for the post was to do with the assumption that the FAC had unbridled control over what would play every Saturday at OAT. Of course, being deeply passionate about movies had something to do with me applying, besides the dim awareness that everyone else was piling up PoR on top of PoR. Plus, I had greatly overestimated the powers of a coordinator.
For a brief instant, a sudden fascist ripple had convulsed me. I would wield the reins of the Insti propaganda machine! I shall choose, and they must watch! Hahaha!
My Doofenschmirtzian fantasies came crashing down when I was informed that the FAC was less of a Big Brother thing, and more of a Fight Club thing, and I DO NOT mean this in a cool, cult-like way. Oh no. The FAC was the new kid on the block (and still is). If you have watched Fight Club, you know what the first rule of Fight Club is. No one talks about Fight Club. In a similar fashion, the first rule of FAC is that no one knows about FAC, and it’s not for lack of trying (or so I imagine).
I’ve asked myself once too often: what is this thing that I am a part of? My first non-answer to this question arrived one rain-drenched Friday evening, when a new WhatsApp group showed up on my phone and Mr. Y asked us to congregate at CCD. W, Y and Z were already gathered around a table by the time I walked in. That first day was quite alright. Perhaps X was being too much of a pessimist, as he was wont to be. Oh yes, he is a pessimist of the highest order, but this did not feel like a club. Maybe that’s a good thing, he thought. They talked about movies that day, and X could not help wondering where they were going with this. And they parted. Later that night, back in Jamuna, it was X’s turn to add to the conversation and of course, X told his little circle of friends of his new role as FAC coordinator. That’s when it became apparent to him that no one knew about FAC, and that it was a Sangam club like, say, Informals. Well, not exactly like Informals. What do you guys do? We play good movies. You mean OAT? Not OAT, no. You know good is a subjective term, nooo? His harangues were lost on their postmodern sensibilities. Trying to reason these things out with a bunch of Humanities students leaves you with sores all over, no kidding. Still later than night, when X lay in bed, licking his battle wounds, he contented himself with the thought that he was at least doing something he liked. And yet, he was condemned to being a ‘scammer’ and being ‘coordinator of a non-club’, attempts to fend off poison barbs notwithstanding.
The next time we met – Mr. Y and his minions – once again at CCD, we did some real brainstorming. ‘Twas time for the first big event of the year: the Club Weekender. It’s basically that time of the year when you set up a stall inside SAC to lure little kids in with candy (it sounds wrong, but it isn’t). Mr. Y could not make it that day but his instructions rang in our ears. Make those freshies sign up. The number to beat was forty. That was last year. So make the target fifty.
Z set to work painting banners, X and W printed out movie posters to tack onto a makeshift wall. Someone ushered in a projector, and ta da!
They had about twenty movie quotes and an equal number of minimalist posters ready on the laptops. Whoever managed to venture a guess as to name the movies they belonged to, and in doing so, hit the nail on the head, could take home a measly Cadbury Eclairs. A cheap gimmick in the truest sense. A necessary one too. X never would have thought that so many people would queue up for Eclairs.
It was thus that the newly revamped FAC, with its new minions, literally lured children in with candy. Eighty muggles. The joy, the joy! X was also taken aback by the number of people who seemed to be conversant in obscure movie goss. That he was not the only person in all of India to like Tarkovsky and Paul Thomas Anderson. That he was a condescending brat to have thought so in the first place!
The stall at SAC, where the children were lured in
His faith in humanity was restored momentarily, but just then, the world went blue for X, the poor guy, for that was also the day he became aware of the full extent of his minionhood. Apparently, they weren’t just minions; they were sub-minions, damn it. Turns out that when it came to the hierarchy of things, the FAC was just an offshoot of the Media Club. A black sheep, if one may go that far. The Media Club was definitely no Illuminati, but X was paranoid, as he often was. Who are we doing this for? Who’s the go-to guy? Moreover, in the temporary absence of Y, the elation of having secured eighty aficionados for the worthy cause of ‘good cinema’ was tempered by the feeling of being unled (for the time being), and yet, having the Media Club’s panoptic gaze sear into them. Where do we go from here? Is there a somewhere that we can go to? If there is, how do we get there? If we do get there, what then? We heard from Y a week later.
CCD again. This was to be our first ‘real meeting’. It is hard to say how its reality stuck out, but it did, like a sore thumb. We all sat in our assigned places, and it felt as if we had arrived. What a noob X had been to think so! Our troubles began over creative differences, if it can be called that. It began with zeroing in on a movie to screen. Should have been a simple affair. Could have been a simple affair. It’s like that lightbulb joke, the one with the therapists. It goes somewhat like this: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? None. The light bulb has to want to change. Along the same lines, our little FAC joke (that I made up right now because I try to be funny, though it doesn’t work half the time) goes like this:
How many coords does it take to pick a movie? None, because they won’t pick one anyways.
It sounded funnier in my head.
Nevertheless, that’s how it was. When everyone in a group has a clear opinion on what is good, things become problematic, especially when these opinions refuse to align. Yours truly wanted to screen There Will Be Blood, but Y did not want to have something too artsy for a first flick. Z wanted Django Unchained, but that was too popular. W wanted a popcorn machine, so that folks would actually turn up, if only for snacks. The decision was deferred. Meanwhile, X could not help lamenting over FAC’s place in the world. Anyone could watch anything as long as the government doesn’t shut down the Internet. So why a film club? Why anything like this? But we screen good movies. We screen the classics. We screen the avant garde ones. FAC, the purveyor of fine cinema. But what is fine cinema? Is that not a subjective category? Why do people show up in hordes for Cannes then? How do you explain that?
Finally, at another one of those CCD gatherings, we picked a movie. I shoved aside any philosophical questions that would de/legitimize FAC’s existence. At least for the time being.
We decided that the first movie of the year would be The Master.
It was around that time that The Joker began receiving immense media coverage, so W, X, Y and Z thought that screening a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix (which also happens to be a gem of a movie) would be strategically wise. Y agreed to book a venue and that was that. Done and dusted. We moved on to bigger things. Screened a couple more movies and then moved onto the big leagues.
For some reason though, in the tumult, that first screening, the inaugural movie that eighty people may (or may not) have turned up for, was infinitely deferred.
The long and short of it is that the Film Appreciation Club was filmless. We were largely at fault. We were on a shoestring budget that Y never really disclosed. We were holding three-hour-long deliberations about plans that never materialized. Z sank into the depths of despair, so did X, so did Y. W did too, but he clung to his dreams of that distant day when his popcorn machine would start whirring. They were all waiting for Godot. And then, the last day of the sem, X was leaving for home when it became quite apparent that Y had thrown in the towel, that they were all non-coordinators of a non-club now, for real. But Saarang was close on the heels, and this was a passion project more than anything, so they could not just give up now. But being a coordinator generally means that you await orders. But being a non-coordinator is a totally different ball-game. And for all we knew, FAC was shelved, consigned to the ashes. The orders never came.
Until one day, with fifteen days to go for Saarang, they were all assigned tasks. X was left with taking care of the Film Fest, where they were ideally supposed to play a foreign movie, a retro movie, and an anime movie. Z and W were charged with taking care of a directing workshop. Given that we were all rookies with absolutely no knowledge of how to proceed, terms like directing workshop and Film Fest were merely words on a screen. Screening three movies, which is what X had to do, presupposed that these movies have the necessary rights that permit public exhibition. The process of acquisition is a tiring one, a back-and-forth that demands time; lots of it. So, getting screening rights was out of the question.
What eventually happened was this: We had to settle for two ancient movies, albeit two very good ones: Fritz Lang’s M and Buster Keaton’s The General. They are so old that WWII veterans wouldn’t remember them. Sigh. About twelve people turned up that day, but that was more than we could have expected.
Hold on a second. I fast-forwarded to the end there. Let us rewind for a bit.
X was back in IITM territory by the fifth of January. However, Z and W had vanished this time. Z had thrown in the towel too, for Saarang placed a variety of demands on her, of which the FAC was the least fruitful. No one knew what was up with the FAC, the coords least of all, and she could hardly be blamed. As for W, W was nowhere to be found. He did turn up on the day before Saarang (praise the Lord!) and we were saved by the bell from orphancy. As far as X is concerned, the details remain very hazy, but someone did arrange for the Directing Workshop, which did happen. A director by the name of Barath Neelakantan did come, a sizeable crowd did turn up, and all’s well that ends well. A whole new set of Ys moved in to fill the vacuum and X couldn’t help feeling unmoored.
If this essay feels terribly vague, that is because the whole experience of it was the phenomenological equivalent of a sandstorm.
A brand new beginning. The new semester has begun. X and W remain to tell the tale of their unheroic exploits. If you ask them, they’ll still say quite unabashedly that they did it for the love of cinema. I might as well stop calling myself X and quit confusing readers. It’s time for the bottom-line: for all its failings, the FAC must be given a chance. Just as the OAT serves to cater to what is considered popular taste, this little club can serve as a form of counter-culture. Why? Just because. I am sure a more intelligent person could come up with reasons, but it’s three in the morning and I am too sleepy to offer too many justifications. Something to note, though, is that the movie Arrival was screened more recently and thirty people turned up, so it looks like the FAC is slowly rising from its ashes.