Inspirations (11 of 25) – Balaji Balasubramaniam (BB)
An accessible expert
Two things that make modern film criticism a very unenviable task are 1. It is difficult to write a review that is accessible yet is professional enough to merit serious thought and 2. For those that don’t get paid to write film reviews, it requires tremendous commitment and time management skills to watching films and writing analytical pieces in addition to one’s day job and spending quality time with family. One person that has managed to do both of these successfully for close to 15 years is Balaji Balasubramaniam (aka) BB, a software engineer by profession and a film critic by choice (http://www.bbthots.com)
One of the things that I admire a lot about BB is how much he has evolved as a critic. Without any formal training in film criticism, he has, over the years, managed to combine his love for writing and love for the movies with an increasingly analytical approach to writing that goes beyond just calling a film good or bad and instead, makes interesting observations. The best part of it is that he has managed to always keep his writing accessible to the lay person who might be thrown off by fancy language or film jargon. His reviews of “Match Point” (http://bbthots.blogspot.com/2006/05/match-point.html) and “Iruvar” (http://bbthots.com/reviews/) are cases in point. In the former, you will see how he makes a very keen observation of Emily Mortimer’s character in his masterful review of Woody Allen’s masterpiece. And in the latter, note how he draws our attention to how Prakash Raj makes concerted efforts to make things happen while things just happen to the Mohan Lal character. This is a far cry from his early reviews where he made comments like, “a nice movie without a single boring moment.” I say this not to take a cheap shot but rather, as an attempt to express my admiration at how much he has grown as a writer just out of his own interest and passion.
Clarity of thought and economy of words are things that you will observe not only in his film essays but also his travel entries, book reviews and lovingly written pieces about his children. I think it is safe to say that my own writing has improved thanks to reading his reviews. When I met with him in person a couple of weeks back, I told him how, for instance, his “Hey! Ram” review introduced me to the term, tour de force!
An accessible inspiration
Over the past few months, I was absolutely certain that I wanted to include BB in my list of inspirations. But I took a while to form my thoughts as to why I considered him an inspiration as opposed to merely a very good writer whose blog I follow. The reasons are two-fold. The first reason is that I took not only reviewing films but also watching films seriously after reading his reviews. In the 90s, I used to be a huge fan of DS Ramanujam, the film critic who wrote many a memorable essay on Tamil films for “The Hindu.” But my moving to the US in the late 90s coincided with his retirement and as a result, there was hardly a film reviewer whose writing inspired me to watch films with a keen eye. But very quickly, I discovered BB’s site to be a must-read as I awaited video cassettes (yes, they were in existence just a decade ago!) of Tamil movies at our Indian store in Memphis, Tennessee. Even though I am not nearly as prolific as he is, his writings inspired me to watch movies with an analytical eye and approach film criticism with a level of maturity that would be expected of, say, a book reviewer.
The second, more practical reason why I consider him an inspiration is that he continues to inspire me to manage my time well and create time for writing, which is something that I am passionate about. When it comes to engaging in hobbies that demand creativity and focus, we invariably hide behind the convenient excuse, “Oh, I have no time for this in the midst of my busy schedule!” Over the years, the frequency of my writings has waxed and waned due to personal reasons. But last month, my wife and I bought a new laptop (since our old one was practically unusable!) and I told my wife that I will use this purchase as an incentive to start writing at least an article a week. All this might (rightfully) sound like mundane detail that might not deserve a place in an article about an “inspiration.” But a lot of times, it is a lack of awareness of simple, self-imposed barriers that hinder our creativity. Through a number of conversations that I’ve had with my wife in the recent past, I have realized that we both admire BB’s time management (we even asked him about it when we met with him recently) and commitment to engaging in a hobby that is not passive (like watching TV) but instead, is creatively stimulating. As a recent TIME article pointed out, some people tend to mistakenly think that work (that we are assigned) tends to expand to fit the time that we have and that we don’t find enough time for the things that we truly want to do. But the article made the crucial point that time will expand to fit the things that we truly want to focus on. Thank you, BB, for driving home that counterintuitive line of thought.
PS: I find it to be incredibly serendipitous that the first article that I write as part of my “one article a week” goal is about the person that inspired me to do so!