What makes a movie too long, asks Anupama Chopra
Death by duration. I thought of this particular cinematic phenomenon while watching 777 Charlie, a Kannada film released last week (also released in Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu dubbed versions). The film stars acclaimed actor and filmmaker Rakshit Shetty as an angry young man named Dharma who thaws out after a stray dog gets attached to him. Charlie, a Labrador with expressive, intelligent eyes and the ability to “hug” at the right time, teaches Dharma how to laugh, live and love again.
The trailer, which ends with Charlie kissing Dharma with his front paws, brought viewers to tears. The movie should have been the equivalent of having your heart beaten by a bulldozer, but still walking out of the theater with a tearful smile.
But that doesn’t happen. Because 777 Charlie arrives in 165 minutes. It’s 2 hours and 45 minutes. In the end, the crackling chemistry between Dharma and Charlie fizzled out. Your tears (yes, you will cry) are dry. And writer-director Kiranraj K’s blatant emotional manipulation is starting to feel more boring than cathartic.
777 Charlie is a very good idea, stretched till it breaks. Which begs the question, what is the ideal length for a film?
When I started my career as an entertainment reporter, three hours was the norm. Trade pundits espoused the wisdom that viewers who paid the ticket price expected to be entertained, air-conditioned, for that long. When Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) entered its second decade at the Maratha Mandir theatre, one of the reasons given was that it offered long hours of coolness and comfort. Mainstream Hindi cinema has also traditionally moved closer to a multi-genre format; most films included romance, drama, emotion, action, and comedy. It naturally took longer to weave the different threads. Our classics require commitment. Sholay (1975) is 3 hours and 15 minutes long, Mughal-e-Azam (1960) is 3 hours and 17 minutes long and Lagaan (2001) is 3 hours and 43 minutes long.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (also the body that hands out the Oscars) defines a feature film as anything longer than 40 minutes (anything less qualified as a short). Over the past two decades, Hindi films have become lighter in both story and length. Even a sprawling historical saga such as the recent Samrat Prithviraj clocks in at 2 hours 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Hollywood seems to be flirting with longer durations. Avengers: Endgame (2019) clocked in at 3 hours 2 minutes; The Irishman (2019) at 3 hours 29 minutes; and The Batman (2022) at 2 hours and 56 minutes.
Alfred Hitchcock remarked that the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder. But clearly, there is no exact science to filming duration. The editors emphasize that this is not about the length of a movie, but about how long it is. So despite a nearly three-hour runtime, Sairat (2016) never feels like a slog, and it certainly delivers its climactic blow. Just like Hridayam, this year’s Malayalam heartbreaker. But when the story doesn’t hold up, even 90 minutes can become a test of endurance.
My submission to the filmmakers would be to err on the side of caution. Less, more often is more.
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