I already put up my SPOILER review, which was supposed to be the no spoilers review but then I veered in another way. So now I am finally doing the No Spoilers!
We all know what “high concept” is, right? It’s when you come up with a very original easily communicated idea to build off of. Like, “It’s an action TV show but it all takes place within 24 hours and each episode is one hour of the day”. Whereas “low concept” is when you stay with a really simple idea that will require multiple subtle variations and character work to make it stand out, like “a murder mystery writer investigates a murder every week”.
The thing is, the “high concept” and “low concept” ultimately meet in the middle. The story is the story, the characters are the characters. The “concept” is just a writing tool to get you started. Some writers work better under constraints, the “high concept” is a challenge to get them started. And sometimes a crutch to lean on when they don’t have any ideas besides the concept.
(“Ranbir and Katrina go to Africa and ride an ostrich” is very high concept. “Ranbir and Katrina sit down and have a conversation” is low concept)
To put it in upcoming movie terms, A Gentleman looks very high concept. Incredibly complicated plot but, based on the trailers, the director wants it that way and is excited to experiment and play around with the possibilities of the idea of two identical guys, one a super spy and one a boring office worker, being mistaken for each other. On the other hand, Jab Harry Met Sejal looks very low concept. Mostly just about two people hanging out, not plot elaborations. Which is also good, the bits we have seen really sell their chemistry, we wouldn’t want to be distracted from watching them by plot complications.
The key with a low concept film is to manage to build minor events up into a natural flow until a plot emerges from the low stakes common situation. Dear Zindagi, for instance, is a classic low concept film. Woman goes to therapy, events occur. That’s it.
The key with a high concept film, whether the concept is setting or style, is to move past the concept into something deeper. Paheli, for instance, starts out with this idea of a ghost falling in love with a human woman. But from there, it just turns into a woman falling in love with a man she isn’t supposed to love. And we come to care about the characters for themselves.
Which brings me to this film! The concept is original-ish. A teen detective story framed by a book release with a child chorus. Oh, and lots and lots of sung/spoken dialogue. And a kind of bright comic book style look to it.
But, see, anyone can come up with a high concept. Here, I’ll give you 3 right now: a world where all the women are purple and all the men are green; an entire movie that takes place in a movie theater with the big screen behind the characters reflecting their emotions; a movie set entirely in heaven.
(no, see, this was in heaven’s waiting room. I mean actual heaven)
The idea is easy, the execution and turning it into more than just an idea, that’s the hard part. Here’s one that worked really really well, Pleasantville. Starts out with the idea of a modern brother and sister being pulled into a black and white idyllic sitcom. And then expands to question what it means to be awake, why change has to come to the world, all kinds of incredibly big ideas that really truly required this concept to work.
To put it in Indian terms, what about Paa? I’m not saying it’s the perfect movie, but the “gimmick” of Amitabh playing Abhishek’s son was a little more than a gimmick, it was the best possible casting, it allowed the director to explore the idea of father-son relationships in a new way, and overall it was still in service of the story, not the other way around.
The thing with high concepts, especially in your face style ones like Basu likes to use, is that they can kind of blind you to the emptiness inside. Think a really really pretty actress that it takes people a long time to realize is actually not talented. And think how you, a person who maybe is not susceptible to female beauty, get SO FRUSTRATED by how blind everyone else is. That’s how I feel about this movie.
Basu took a so-so grab bag of ideas from Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Adventures of Tintin, and a handful of other films. And then he found an a few gullible producers to throw money at them, enough money to make them all look really really pretty. And now there are a bunch of gullible reviewers looking at it going “Look! It’s different! And expensive! It must be good!” Emperor’s new film syndrome. And I kind of feel like the small child going “Yes, but the film is empty on the inside! There’s no there-there!”
(Except Pritam. Pritam manages to put a there-there whenever one of his songs is playing for real, instead of some stupid chopped up sung/talked thing)