March 02, 2009

Excuse Me, Mr Critic...

As I was coming out of the exit door this Sunday, deeply moved by another brave attempt on the Hindi Cinema screen, I was reminded of something Oscar Wilde had said. He said, “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.” I know I might very well trigger an unhealthy debate through my words to come. But I would request the reader to go through this article in the most neutral way possible.
I believe most of us filmwallahs are mediocre people. Most of us do not know what we are here for. We do not know what we want to express. And those who know, hardly have the conviction to stick to their main motive. In this trade, convictions question themselves every Friday. Cinema, in our country is more than art, and being so it does not remain much of an art form anyway. Our cinema does not have much to educate the critic. But this is not what I intend to say. What I intend to will come as I talk about the first half of Wilde's quote.

The problem our cinema is facing is that of being caught in an unforunate viscious cycle. The public blames the makers for not making good quality films. The filmmakers accuse the public for being unintelligent and defend their work by shamelessly stating - "This is what they want!" In a country where most ordinary of Shah Rukh Khan films turn blockbusters, one genuine Swades fails miserably. I am sorry for taking the name, but I thought it was necessary to prove my point. And it is not just the problem I am talking about. I have a solution!
The solution is - the Critics. I do not have a problem with Trade Analysts calling themselves Film Critics or with Critics who have delivered bad films when they turned film makers themselves or even with Critics appearing to have more command over their language than their film sense. And I do not have much of a problem with Critics sounding pseudointellectual, self-obsessed, opinionated and egotistical. But yes, I do have a problem with them failing to do what they are also expected to do. The critic should take this responsibility to actually make way for art that is difficult to appreciate, but is impressive anyways. They should actually educate the public about expressions that are genuine, perhaps a bit abstract but honest and original. I do not expect yet that Critics in India actually defend No Smoking, and inform people about this genre of surreal films made so popular by Bergman and Lynch and Polanski et al. That would be demanding too much. But I actually expect that some among the lot comes up to encourage the most novel of attemps that filmmakers of today are daring to make. Instead of calling the new breed of filmmakers as arrogant, pseudointellectual portrayers of esoteric art, they should explain to people what good this film had, and why it is necessary to encourage and appreciate these attempts.
I believe, had the reviews for Swades carried four stars, the film would have made money. I very well remember the critics who did not find the film worthy enough. And I am sure, as with time that film has earned a unanimous appreciation, the same critics would find it difficult to defend their own views. We need critics who can foresee, who can predict that a certain film that has failed at the box-office will earn its due as the years roll.

We are soon going to witness a great revolution in the Indian Cinema scene. The beginning has already been made. Just keep counting the number of small-budget, independent but meaningful (or atleast 'different') films releasing this year. Many more are being scripted. Each year we are going to have more of those. They have arrived, filmmakers who have this 'go to hell' attitude in telling the stories they believe in. And although I am sure this new breed of filmmakers will eventually succeed in attaining what they want (they are such a ruthless force), a little help from others would make things easier and fast. Excuse me, Mr Critic, you just got some serious work to do!


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  2. Jaya Bachchan in Koffee With Karan (Season 2), unabashedly and strongly stated that there are no critics in the hindi film industry ("Are there any?" was her dismissive response to Karan Johar when asked to speak about our critics here). Reason? Well, for starters, it is not the job of a critic to tell the story of a film ;)
    (She made more validating arguments on the issue, but am not putting them up here coz can't remember exactly and don't want a misquote)

  3. Another interesting observation is that generally when we ask another person or friend about how a particular movie is he says oh I read it in the friday review, its this story and these events (describing the whole movie in 4-5 liners) and then concludes with that he is not going to watch such a story..

    Bottomline: Its not the story, darling, its the STORYTELLING!