As one does, I spent a recent Sunday evening trying to convince a friend—from New Zealand, OCI, unschooled in Hindi cinema—to watch Devdas, the Sanjay Leela Bhansali opus and my personal origin story of love for cinema and excess—for cinema as excess. As the frames rolled past, the unsubtitled dialogues like an unbrooked river, babbling at breakneck speed, this way and that, the rhythms and rattling of it all at a heightened tenor, I watched it anew from my friend’s perspective. And I was reminded that what is excess for one eye might be excessive for another, that it can tip over from the realm of “goodness” to “badness”, and that these choices lean heavily on our cultural diet. The film crashed in his head just as it soared in mine.
What is good acting? By asking this question, what you are actually investigating is the cultural diet and vocabulary and cultural expectations that have arisen from it, like filmic vapour. There is something very slanted about the question because it is not actually asking what you think it is. It is instead asking what according to you are acceptable ways of being on screen, your acceptability being both the strength of your convictions and the weakness of your biases.
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