FRIEND OR CRITIC?
If you want a critic to be kind to your film because of a personal connection, you might want to consider not grumbling about corrupt netas, police and journalists
“Almost all the so called elite critics rubbished Desi Kattey which I really don’t care but the way you have done it I am beyond shocked. You may criticize the movie but you are on and on humiliating it by posting re-posting it I cannot believe. We might not be big friends just ex-colleagues but at least we know each other. Good luck to you, you are doing your job earnestly but thanks I cannot allow it on my timeline. Good bye. What you critics cannot appreciate is that how somebody singlehandedly tried and penetrated the industry amidst biggies of the trade. All you can do it pull a hardworking person down with all your might. Doesn’t a small scale movie maker have any right to earn his living but no you critics love to dissect everything intellectually. All I want to say is even a small filmmaker has all right to co-exist, you don’t have right to instigate public by imposing your opinions.” (sic)
With this message, she unfollowed me on Twitter this week. Her name does not matter. Her reason does. She was not a friend, but a former colleague of whom I have fond memories. Her grievance? That I had given a negative review to a film directed by her brother, and then — as is my weekly practice with every single film I review — I posted the link on the social media more than once.
Since I began reviewing films for a prominent TV channel some years ago and later on my personal blog, this is my first experience of someone verbally expressing an expectation that because “we know each other” I should treat a film differently. It brought back to mind a question I repeatedly ask myself: can critics and film personalities be friends?
The answer for me, so far, has been ‘no’. Friendly? Sure. Friends? No. After all, in our personal lives, most of us don’t air our views about a friend’s work on public platforms unless we have positive things to say. It follows then that if I publish a no-holds-barred critique of her work for the world to see, I’m not being much of a friend. However, if my review of a film by a ‘friend’ is less than honest or is inconsistent with my usual approach to reviews, I’m not being much of a critic. To my mind, I can either be sensitive to a friend or fair to my readers. I cannot be both.
There are important issues of journalistic ethics involved here. The explosion in the media in the past 15 years has coincided with a decline in the reputation of journalism as a profession. If politicians must contend with the ‘all netas are corrupt’ accusation, then for the media it is ‘all journalists are for sale’. The charge has arisen partly because, as in every field, this one too has its bad eggs; partly because some media houses have set up departments that official ly sell space for coverage in certain sections of their newspapers and magazines, thus leading to question marks over the entire publication; and partly because blanket statements are so much easier to make than balanced assessments.
And so, through private conversations, public statements and online fan clubs, many film personalities covertly or overtly encourage a view that tars every critic with the same brush. This makes it simpler for them to be openly dismissive on occasions when they get unfavourable reviews. More important, the film industry tries to discredit all film critics while tacitly wooing those critics who are open to undue favours, such as solo previews, exclusive screenings for the family and so on.
Ethical critics (who form the majority, I insist) can do little about these games beyond being doggedly, irritatingly, exasperatingly honest. Not everyone who makes different choices is dishonest, but each one of us must draw our own Lakshman rekha and refuse to cross it.
In time, the unjust accusations fade into insignificance. In time, you see the humour in a fan who otherwise describes you as “fiercely fearless, funny and fair”, but changes that to “mean, nasty and biased” if you slam her favourite actor. In time, you laugh off stars who tweet web links to positive reviews, but cast aspersions on the very same critics when they have not-so-nice things to say.
Years back, the great American film critic Roger Ebert gave a scathing review to Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo starring Rob Schneider. “Mr Schneider,” he wrote, “your movie sucks.” Yet when Ebert passed away last year, Schneider said in an interview to rogerebert.com: “...it (the review) made me reassess what pictures I really wanted to make and how I got to make a movie in the first place that even I wasn’t happy with.”
Bollywood producer-director Karan Johar once told me that in the week of a film’s release, he is too close to the project to be objective, and is wont to be angry with and dismissive of harsh reviews; but as he achieves distance from the film, he is able to separate constructive, informed criticism from the chaff and appreciate it.
Beyond a point, even such heartening reactions should not matter. For critics, there is just one thing to do: be fair to the film and honest to the reader. Even if it means being accused of humiliating an ex-colleague’s brother who made a bad film.
(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)
(This column by Anna M.M. Vetticad was first published in The Hindu Businessline newspaper on October 4, 2014)
Photograph courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/DesiKattey