SHOULD I WATCH THIS FILM?
Should I watch this film? Who cares about your review? …And other questions most frequently asked to critics by readers and viewers.
By Anna MM Vetticad
Should I watch this film? Not only is this the question most frequently asked of critics, it’s also the toughest to answer. Because people expect to hear a “yes” or “no”, whereas the logical reply is this: “That depends on your taste in cinema. If your interests and tastes match mine, the answer is X. If not, the answer is Y. I would suggest though that you read my review because so many things that matter to me may not bother you and vice versa.”
You see, it’s not the job of critics to tell potential viewers whether or not to watch a film, though an individual critic may choose to do so if she or he wishes. The critic’s primary job, however, is to give people a considered, well-informed assessment of a film and put it in perspective keeping in mind the socio-political and cultural context in which it has been made (Is it misogynistic? Is it sucking up to the government? Does it do justice to the book on which it’s based?), that particular team’s body of work and other factors.
When I explain this to those who have the patience to listen, the next question invariably is this: with so many contradictory reviews, how do I decide which films to watch?
That’s easy. There are some stars and directors to whom we are so committed that the harshest review in the world couldn’t dissuade us from watching their work. For the general mass of films though, a discerning consumer of reviews could perhaps follow a number of critics over a length of time, find one or two whose views tend to match theirs and then heed those critiques.
Over the years, I’ve gathered a list of other FAQs directed at critics. Here they are:
Can I take my kids for it?
I love parents who are responsible enough to make this inquiry. My friend Ravi says I should introduce a parental guide on my blog for concerned dads like him. The only reason why I have not yet done so is that like the previous question, there is no simple answer to this one. It depends on what you are willing to expose your children to. Some people don’t want their children to see even a brief kiss, others are anxious about long smooches, yet others draw the line at explicit sex. Me? I worry about violence and prejudice.
Will it be a hit?
I don’t know. A film may get a great response from everyone who sees it, but they could be small in number because it was released at exam time when families were staying away from theatres. Box-office success is a combination of so many factors beyond our personal opinions about a film’s quality.
Who cares about your review?
This one comes only from angry fans if you’ve dissed their favourite star’s film.
Is this your review or your personal opinion?
I do not understand this one. Of course it is my personal opinion. A fellow critic once told me he watches films with the public rather than at press previews so that he can decide his review based on audience reactions. This approach completely misses the point that our reactions to films are governed by our backgrounds, the exposure we’ve had to the arts and so on. Besides, one person who adores a film may hoot, whistle and dance in a hall, another may smile quietly to herself. Responses may differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It’s hard to tell what purpose a review serves if you cannot even stand by it, since it’s not your own viewpoint.
Do reviews make a difference to collections?
Yes. Most people agree that small films get a boost from positive reviews. Big mainstream films with major stars and massive marketing are less likely to be affected, and yet reviews obviously contribute to the buzz surrounding a film. If negative reviews combine with poor audience feedback, even a huge film’s collections could possibly suffer after the first day or weekend, as producers may tell you in their more honest moments. Likewise, if a team that traditionally gets negative reviews were to suddenly earn positive comments, this too could generate curiosity. Without doubt, Salman Khan was catapulted to a different league altogether — from having his own committed fan following to attracting the interest of those who weren’t traditionally his fans — when Wanted and Dabangg unexpectedly received good reviews from at least some critics who had not previously shown a fondness for his work.
Anyway, don’t take my word for this. Ask Rohit Shetty, director of blockbusters such as Chennai Express and Singham. When I interviewed him for my book, The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic, Shetty spent a considerable part of the conversation cursing critics and telling me how little we know about what the audience wants. He also insisted that critics should publish reviews on Monday, instead of on the Friday of a film’s release. If you think there is a major disconnect between what critics say and what audiences like, then it should not make a difference to you, I said. He replied: “I’m saying, ho sakta hai ek crore ka business aap log kha jaate ho. Ho sakta hai na? (It’s possible that you jeopardise a crore worth of business. Isn’t it possible?)”
Yes it is.
(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)
(This column by Anna MM Vetticad was first published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on December 27, 2014)
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingaa
Note: This photograph did not appear in The Hindu Businessline