Once in the mid-1970s, when mainstream Bollywood films and parallel cinema were booming, I asked the late Manmohan Desai [Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Coolie, Mard] his opinions on the matter. The definitive response from the successful masala filmmakers was as transparent, unapologetic, and entertaining as its gems.
“Jab bhi reviews aur pundits mera film ko tareef karta hai, ghabrahat hota hai. Mutlab, pucca flop! Jab bhi kass ke gaali deta high english mein, english akbaar aur magazine mein, main solid khush hota hoon … mutlab, pucca super hit !!
(Whenever critics and pundits praise my movie, I’m scared because it’s a sure sign that the movie is going at the box office. But when they pan my movies into their newspaper articles and English magazines I feel thrilled because that means the film will do very well in theaters)
Actor-director Rahul Bose’s point of view was diametrically opposed [English August, Mr. & Mrs Iyer, 15 Park Avenue, The Japanese Wife, Jhankar Beats, Pyar Ka Side Effects].
For me, critical appreciation is much more important than ra-ra on the part of the masses and this is reflected in the films I participate in. Appreciation certainly has its place, but the hosannas in the evolved and thoughtful section make my day. It allows me to explore new frontiers of opportunity, he said.
Cut to a reality check. In mad Bollywood India, not even the most [rare?] the analytical and perceptive critics of film critics seem to make the slightest break with the janata.
Why? Simply because conditioning is the key and contrary to critics’ eyes, these films do not represent their path to Xanadu; nor do they symbolize a space where massive changes have taken place and all bets are off and certainly not the moment when everything has hit the ceiling and all the old rules of the game have undergone a cataclysmic transformation furiously, quickly and for always.
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The masses have a clear idea of what they are looking for and what role a Bollywood film plays in their lives. Also, contrary to popular belief, the endorsement of big bills, testimonials or praise from the most respected or famous names whether Scorsese, Tarantino, Ray, Sen, Aparna, Benegal or Shabana & Adoor does not matter. .
Brand loyalty is high and movies slow, gloomy, and celebrating realism [art house?] are totally off their radar. They have little knowledge or interest in these products, secure and happy as they are in their familiar world of glamorous and sexy heroines, machos, dashing heroes and the hi-octane that comes with it. dramabaazi that goes with it.
In this scheme of things, does a reviewer have any hope in hell to break through and make a difference? Why not tackle the basics and return to an iconic film critic who defined his calling with rare honesty, passion and purpose? Who better than the Big Mamma of film critics, sung and celebrated as the most beautiful voice of her generation, the late Pauline Kael
The role of a critic is to help people see what’s in the work, what’s in it that shouldn’t be, what’s not in it that could be. He’s a good reviewer if he helps people understand the work better than they might see on their own. He is a great critic if by his understanding and his sense of work, by his passion, he can excite people to want to discover more of the art that is waiting to be grasped. He is not necessarily a bad reviewer if he makes errors in judgment. It’s a bad review if it doesn’t arouse curiosity, broaden the interest and understanding of its audience. The art of the critic is therefore to pass on his knowledge and his enthusiasm for cinema to others.
Certainly in a country like ours where entertainment is Bollywood and Bollywood means stars, that’s a huge challenge BUT if we actually had a reviewer who was between being an arrogant and daring guy and a frivolous artist to get you across. a good time would be perfect.
Someone like Kael who combined a dazzling style that mesmerized readers, with deep knowledge, intelligence, and a genuine desire and concern to connect with readers in a way that engages, entertains, enriches, enlightens, even empowers, it is a well known fact that Kaels influence, reputation and status were so huge and his reviews were so hard-hitting that box office reports often interchanged with his opinions.
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Do we have a single review from this class? On the day that will come (and that will require engagement with a rare blend of marketing and purse acumen) the fate of little gems like Masaan, Waiting, Aligarh, No Fathers in Kashmir, Manto, Omerta, Newton, City Lights. .. will change forever.
Like the recent OTT phenomenon, there will be a healthy coexistence and a level playing field and level playing field. After all Cinema, the youngest of the arts, lives on discussion, experimentation, curiosity, variety, exchange of views and confrontation of points of view.
If these critics discussed less art and more substance, more sociology less aesthetics, all in an interesting and friendly way, they would make an immense contribution to breaking down the closed community, furthering the cause of cinema and generally improve the content that needs to be exposed.
What better way to move this critical issue forward than by revisiting the memorable words of another iconic film critic, the late James Agee, when he took over as the critic of The Nation, describing to readers his condition as a potential reviewer with rare humility and clarity that he wrote, I suspect I am much more than not, in your own situation: deeply interested in moving images, greatly experienced from childhood watching them, watching them there thinking and talking about them and totally without experience or even a lot of second hand knowing how they are made.
If I am largely right in this hypothesis, we are going on the same ground with the same handicaps and I am qualified to be here, if at all, by two means. It is my business to lead one end of the conversation as an amateur reviewer among amateur reviewers and I will only be useful and interesting to the extent that my amateur judgment is sound, thought-provoking and enlightening.
Contrary to popular belief, a true reviewer can decode and demystify both arthouse and mainstream advertising in a way that hits the AIDA Attention, Interest, Desire, Action button! The best examples (Roger Ebert, Peter Travers, Kenneth Turan, Andrew Savis, John Simon, Chris Stuckman, Philip French, Scott Tobais) have demonstrated this with class. In the Indian cinematographic scene, unfortunately, we mainly have the critics, the serious critics [of the zzzzzzz variety] or the exhibitionist who gives you less insight and more entertainment.
The day we have open, inclusive, pluralistic critics with a vision and a mission to break boundaries and build bridges by intelligently describing, analyzing and interpreting films, without any baggage … then the breath of life and the kiss of death will merge to present the ultimate surround sound of tumultuous joy!
(Disclaimer: The opinions of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also do not endorse the views of the writer.)
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