Glossary of Useless Terms

Regular readers of this blog, such as there are, will testify that I have this unfortunate tendency to coin terms on the fly and refer to them occasionally in later posts. Therefore, I have decided to maintain a page that explains these terms for those who wander into this blog and wonder what the heck I am talking about.

The aforementioned regular readers are likely to cough discreetly to catch my attention, and then politely inform me that this is how they feel all the time anyway. Since I believe that sticking out one’s tongue is a habit generally to be avoided if (a) one is in possession of a Y chromosome, or (b) one has reached the age of reason, I shall simply grin sheepishly and move along.

Now that I have wasted the appropriate amount of time on preliminaries, let us move on:

Locomotive 38 movie: A movie that is so bad that the only logical conclusion is that it is intentionally so. To quote William Saroyan from his short story Locomotive 38, The Ojibway: “That’s the only way I could figure it out without accepting the general theory that he was crazy.” Notable examples include Dharmesh Darshan’s Mela.

The Slim Pickens Effect: A brilliant comic performance delivered by an otherwise unremarkable actor, explained away by the theory that the actor didn’t know his/her role was being played for laughs. Named after the character actor Slim Pickens who played Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove without knowing that it was to be taken as satire. Notable example: Ameesha Patel in Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic.

Schrodinger’s Maa: Two movies, both alike in premise and plot development, until a significant choice takes them in different directions. Named for Erwin Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment involving a reluctant cat and for Sanjay Gupta’s Aatish, which seems to go by the Deewar playbook until you get to the scene where the honest cop says “Mere paas Maa hai!” and the Maa in question (Tanuja in Aatish) clears her throat and says, “Umm, about that…” Another notable couple would be Don — the old and new versions. In more than one way, interestingly enough.

Aamir Khan’s Nothing: A viable benchmark for conveying everything while seeming to do nothing. Named for the scene in Deepa Mehta’s Earth when Dilnawaz (Aamir) deceives Lenny into betraying Shanta and then sits quietly in a corner smoking as she is dragged out. The principle is that, if the actor does nothing in a crucial scene, the viewer will supply the emotion for himself. However, there exists a pooling equilibrium wherein a bad actor would also do nothing in a scene but get nothing out of it.

RotKM: Expands to Revenge of the Killer Mutant <X>. A formula for renaming movies on the basis of some unlikely character playing an important part in a big fight. In Return of the Jedi, X = Teddy Bears. In Maine Pyaar Kiya, X = Pigeon. More examples of this formula are welcome.

Sigma Field: Not really a term I coined, or even one I thought to use in this context (the credit for that goes to Rajendran, my ex-colleague and friend). The simplest and probably-not-entirely-accurate explanation it is that it is a mathematical term for self-contained universes. Used in this context to refer to movies, especially those set in the criminal underworld, which function in the same way. The Godfather is the best known example of this concept — we cheer when Michael commissions the murder of a whole bunch of people in the end, because the movie is set in a universe where everyone is a gangster and the concept of right and wrong is defined relative to the others in that universe.

Shut Up and Watch: A rare category of movies where the makers have the sense to get out of the way and simply observe the happenings on screen. Memorably done in Le Cercle Rouge decades ago, more recently in the central section of Cast Away, the heist sequence in The Score and much of The Hurt Locker.

The Vadivelu Principle: Any movie can be improved by the presence of Vadivelu in it. Examples include Body Soda as the heir of Bodhidharma.

6 thoughts on “Glossary of Useless Terms

  1. Mohamed Mire says:

    Locomotive 38 makes a lot of sense to me as i have studied in India and had that short story in my grade 7. ICSE schooling in pune…that story reminds me of my friends and i for a while had fallen into nostalgia by reading your blogg and review of a film you have used boredom for locomotive 38.. We had used that term to tease someone as boring person ehehe
    Indeed you are a talented man a good writer i think

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