Deepa Gahlot: Critiquing the critics

10 Sep,2012

By Deepa Gahlot


It happened over a casual visit to the MxM office, where the conversation eventually veered to one of my peeves – the stupidity of so many of today’s film reviews. Even at a time of instant tweet reviews by any viewer who had spent money on a film and considered it a birthright to vent online, for many, newspaper reviews were still sacrosanct.


I had grown up reading informed criticism by writers who were not just cine-literate but also incorruptible. They judged the films they saw purely on merit, and did not care about which Bollywood badshah they offended.


Then times changed, commercial cinema entered the media mainstream, major producers and stars started wielding umimaginable power and wanted to control every aspect of their films – including the critical responses. This was complicated, because they held the disdainful view that reviews didn’t matter, only box-office did, yet they craved the approval of the ‘intellectuals’ too.


Reviewing The Reviews gave me a chance to examine a cross-section of critical responses to a film and see if there was any consensus.

By the time the rise of Bollywood started, most of the old school critics had retired; besides new media took over and in exchange for favours – kind more than cash-the newer critics, who were not all that clued in into cinema history, were pronouncing half-baked verdicts and labelling as masterpieces the most derivative or pedestrian films. It suited everyone to keep the major stars happy- when was the last time an A-list star got panned?


The reader was confused, however, when the same film got 4 stars in one publication and 1 in another. Soon, even lay readers with no inside tracks into the media started saying “All critics are paid”.


It was in this context that the idea for Reviewing The Reviews came about. And it gave me a chance to examine a cross-section of critical responses to a film and see if there was any consensus.


Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the time when all critics agree and go at their work with relish is when a film like Joker comes along … and in their derision they forget all differences of opinion and stand united. But there is also a certain pleasure in discovering films from which not much was expected and help in their success. Paan Singh Tomar and Vicky Donor come to mind. Then a Housefull 3 comes along to make critics feel collectively redundant.


Deepa Gahlot is an award-winning film critic and is one of India’s seniormost journalists tracking the arts – especially theatre and cinema. She writes ‘Reviewing the Reviews’ every week, except when there are no releases or the movies aren’t worthy enough J


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