Saturday, August 15, 2009

My best friend's girlfriend is no film critic

She believes film reviews must be "short and to-the-point", because a reader "does not have so much time to read, ya!".

She's hasn't seen the works of Kurosawa, Ray, Majidi, Truffaut, Coppola, Ghatak, Benegal, Tarantino. Rattle these names in front of her, and she'll probably think you're talking about compounds in a chemistry lab.

She has never been to a film-festival.

She's 24, my best friend's girlfriend and a film critic with a website run by one of India's largest media houses.

Recently, when she reviewed the latest Johnny Depp starrer Public Enemies and described the movie with terms like "a below average film", "direction requires polishing", it seemed like a bullet had pierced through my heart.
A day later, Public Enemies received four stars out of five in atleast two national dailies.

My worst fears were confirmed. This girl was better off doing other things and had absolutely no right to be talking a a commentator about the highs and lows in films. I'm certain that the website she writes for has not gained much following yet. Or else, reader feedback would have fired her already.

I'm also certain that her immediate boss has no sense of film appreciation either, as he/she hasn't yet taken the pains to verify this girl's credentials, knowledge of film-makers, passion about cinema and views about film-making.

Recently I happened to watch Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros and 13 Tzameti with her. First up, she didn't know there existed films by these names. Secondly, I found herself fidgety and restless, busy texting on her phone while watching the film. Anyone who has seen Amores Perros, and is even remotely close to having a sane opinion about films, will tell you that the film has enough to mesmerize and keep you hooked, blisfully unaware of the world around you.

But seeing her distracted seemed like seeing a callous examiner checking my answer sheet.

What's more, she'd reviewed Imran Khan starrer Luck recently. She seemed totally turned off just when 13 Tzameti was hotting up and gave up as soon as she realised similarities between the two films.

I'm certain she's watched zilch world cinema. And her passion for watching movies is arguable. I've known film critics who've gone all out to acquire DVDs of films they've got recommendations about, film-makers they've read about, only to be enchanted, impressed and sometimes even disappointed by the charms of cinema.

The lady in question here, certainly has very little or none of those traits.

Let me make a confession here. I wanted to be a film-critic once. But soon I realised that it takes a lot of experience of watching not just films, but knowledge about them and the art of making them, to actually make an opinion about them. Since then, I've made a consistent effort to watch as many movies as I can, of as many different kinds - the good, bad, ugly. Not just English, but Hindi, regional and world cinema.

At 21, I'd even applied to the FTII film appreciation course, but was turned down since I was told I'm too young to take the course. How much of Ray or Truffaut would a 21-yr old understand in a 4-week long course?

But its the appointment of amateur film-critics like these which completely pisses me off. My jaws almost dropped the day I learnt that the lady in question here, would be reviewing films.

I don't know how many of you catch a movie at the multiplex going by the reviews they receive in the media. Considering that these days hype about movies is enough to get netizens googling for film reviews by Friday afternoon itself.

Trouble is, Google News throws up the most 'optimised results', or links to film-reviews, not necessarily the most credible reviews. Wonder why Eric Schmidt could never get some sense of literature and opinion into the world's best search engine.

Because going by the results Google will throw up, chances are you may be reading the tripe my best friend's girlfriend is dishing out. Her reviews can best be described as the English version of how film-trade analysts like Komal Nahta and Taran Adarsh talk about movies - "First half was good, aggressive screenplay, but momentum cannot be maintained in the second half, ending was a disappointment, camera work was nice, and songs were situational."

The mere fact that websites like Bollywoodhungama have placed the coveted crown of film-critics on trade analysts like Taran Adarsh is an example of how clueless and shoddy web journalism in India today is. Its proof of the fact that one of the highest online traffic generating entertainment websites in India has completely taken its audience for granted.

Sorry sir! Taran Adarsh can tell me lots about box-office collections, but I do not believe he can talk to me about what was right and what was wrong in a film. That mandate has to rest with, and only with an experienced film critic. (Give me Mayank Shekhar, Rajeev Masand, Udita Jhunjhunwala anyday.)

Which makes me want to ask - what does a reader expect from a film review?

Some may argue that he/she expects only to be told whether he should go watch the movie or no. That'll make film reviews a one-paragraph issue.

But consider this: Time and again, anecdotal and systemic research has shown that film-reviews are the most religiously read portions of a newspaper/website.

When a reader is reading a film review, he's perhaps making a background check similar to what he does before buying a product. So without going to the extent of being boring, a reviewer must supply all possible details - background, relevance - before going on to make an opinion on the film. If its a must watch, why so. And if its not, why not. (An example of an extremely well-written review is here.)

In my view, reviewers (like the person in question here), who simply have no experience of watching films of the masters, are doing a great injustice to film appreciation, by talking to readers as just one amongst them.

Let us be clear. Audience verdict is best given by audience, only when they're in a large mass, and that's best given by a polling agency.

The film critic, in my view, must look at film-appreciation as an art, that it so wonderfully is.

It does not mean that every reviewer today must have seen the works of Kurosawa or Tarantino. Its a simple case of giving readers the right to listen to the voice of experience, someone who's seen enough in life and on-screen, to know the intricacies of cinema to titillate, mesmerize and stir audiences, thus making a balanced opinion about a film.

Let us not forget that a film-maker toils hard to produce a film, and let us not allow their hard work be ridiculed at the hands of inexperienced and highly opinionated 20-somethings posing as film critics.