Directed by Tanmay Singh
Starring Preeti Jhangiani
Short Film Review by Kirsty Asher
The Masterpiece is a very interesting film. It employs the concept of the fading starlet, much like a Desi version of Sunset Boulevard, except Preeti Jhangiani is very much playing a version of herself. There is such a meta quality to this film, with a hardened line of criticism towards Hindi/Bollywood cinema and its attitude towards its female stars running all the way through it.
The premise is that the director/cameraman is a long-time ultimate fan of Jhangiani, and she has agreed to let him film her in her own home, a day-in-the-life-of premise which works incredibly well in the face of the Bollywood stereotype.
This is illustrated in the opening scene: Jhangiani walks slowly and dramatically towards an unnamed male actor. She grasps his face in her hand and kisses him deeply and passionately. Her facial expressions are pained and very over-dramatised. And then, brilliantly, the camera zooms out and pans away from a TV screen to Jhangiani’s sitting room where she stands looking sceptical, hands on hips, and demands whether the cameraman is admiring her kissing skills. We aren’t to be drawn into this melodramatic world of Bollywood cinema. Instead, we are to meet the real deal. And the real Preeti Jhangiani doesn’t have blue eyes as the soupy Bollywood intro would have you believe.
Jhangiani is the archetypal successful starlet. Throughout the 30 minutes of screen time she shows herself as someone who oozes confidence. She knows how to play this cameraman, this superfan, because it is what she’s learnt to do to remain successful. She envelops him in her dramatic monologues, engaging him only to break the tension with a giggle and a flick of her hair.
And yet beneath this, the conversation always goes back to how attractive she is, how desirable, how jealous he is of her teddy bear that it gets to sleep in her bed. And therein lies the weakness in the armour she has perfected over the course of her career: that despite her self-confidence and her ability to charm men, she still relies on their compliments and attention. It isn’t a new story, the one of the sex-symbol starlet who wants to be taken seriously. Marilyn Monroe is probably the most famous example of this tragic situation. It is this element which leads to the startling exit from a Realism mockumentary and leaves us with a sudden slasher-flick ending – Preeti has had enough of fans who tell her they would do anything for her. She wants the cameraman to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The Masterpiece ends nicely with a final scene that is obviously supposed to be the moment when Jhangiani agrees to take part in the film we just saw, which gives a sinister edge, and which reminds us why this film occurred in the first place: the voyeuristic attitude towards Celebrity in our global culture is dangerously unhealthy. Not only do we still cling to paparazzi photography, we now have access to the lives of the most famous people in the world via Instagram and Snapchat. Our favourite celebrities at our fingertips. Clearly, judging from this film, it is not just a Western phenomenon. And with the knowledge of the violent sexual assaults that have occurred in India in recent years there is obviously a seriously skewered and sinister view of women and feminine sexuality both in Indian society and in its screen media. What we can take from this is the positive step forward made by director Tanmay Singh in creating this short film. He has presented a complex study of fame and femininity and should be applauded for doing so.