I spent much of last night locked in a debate with one of Bollywood’s most successful directors. It was a personal chat so I will not name him in this column. Let’s just call him X. As it happens, X has helmed one of 2011’s biggest Hindi film hits so far and we were discussing the largely negative reviews his film received.
“Who are these critics anyway?” he said.
Now X is one of the most down-to-earth directors I’ve encountered in Bollywood, so I hate to be blunt, but the truth is that film-folk question the credibility and relevance of film critics only when they receive poor reviews. But give them a positive review and they’ll unabashedly quote you in their post-release promotional material.
Still, it’s important to address one question raised by X since I’ve heard it from several film personalities over the years.
The filmmaker’s eternal question: What purpose do reviews serve?
Answer: If you don’t know, then why do you bother to preview your film for the press? Frankly, no one is holding a gun to any producer’s head and forcing him/her to hold a press preview. Yashraj Films, for instance, has consistently desisted from previews and I don’t see any critic particularly ripping apart their films as an act of revenge.
But during my time as a critic for a national news channel and now as an independent blogger, I’ve realised that press previews are a matter of convenience for critics (not a bid to save money, as some filmmakers snidely insist). Watching a film early gives me time to chew on it, instead of rushing through a bunch of films on Friday and then hurriedly punching out my thoughts on my laptop.
From the filmmakers’ point of view… well, in their more honest moments, most producers acknowledge that good reviews contribute to the buzz surrounding a film. Personally, I believe reviews also add to the debate surrounding a film in a country where we seem to feel more strongly about cinema and cricket than even about religion and politics.
Many readers have also pointed out to me that since a trip to the movies has become an expensive proposition these days, some perspective from a good critic always helps. I guess then, the sensible thing for any viewer to do is to track a bunch of critics over a period of time and finally zero in on one whose tastes more or less match theirs. After all, for the most part there is no such thing as a right or a wrong review, just reviews we agree or disagree with. Right, Mr X?
(The writer is on Twitter as @annavetticad)