True, some films we critics dislike go on to become box office smashes. But our job is to be concerned with the quality of a film, not the collections
When Salman Khan’s new film Ready released last week, one of the first reviews to run was written by Taran Adarsh on the extremely popular website bollywoodhungama.com. It said that Ready was ‘NOT for the rigid detractors or counterfeit scholars of Hindi cinema who masquerade as messiahs of meaningful cinema’.
I guess that would be me.
I saw Ready at a private screening with close friends who aren’t in showbiz. They found it funny and highly entertaining. I laughed sporadically, but mostly squirmed in my seat as Salman performed his I-am-a-rockstar-one-man show. The craft was shoddy, the plot was incoherent and the jokes, cheerfully low-IQ. It was Hindi cinema at its laziest best. I gave the film a two-star rating and was soundly abused on Twitter by Salman fans. Meanwhile, the film reportedly made over Rs 13 crore in India on its first Friday—the biggest non-festive opening for a Bollywood film.
Which made me wonder: are we critics totally out of touch with popular taste? After years of watching movies, do we evolve into curmudgeons who are unable to enjoy anything? What is the function and relevance of our reviews? I’ve always thought of myself as a tastemaker. Or if you want to be more prosaic—a consumer guide. Each week, I see most of the movies releasing before their release and then report back on the experience. I try to give my viewers information, insight and a recommendation for the weekend. I rarely tell people outright not to see a film. I give them my view and a star-rating to help them gauge how engaging a film is. I’m not a fan of this simplistic report card system, but it’s quick and efficient. And honestly, I haven’t figured out a better way of doing it.
Obviously my opinion isn’t the sole or the most definitive one on any film. Every person who watches a film has an equally valid take on it. As the brilliant New Yorker critic Anthony Lane wrote: ‘A critic is just a regular viewer with a ballpoint pen, an overstocked memory and an underpowered social life.’ My job is to help you sift through the myriad options, look beyond the noise and hype, occasionally discover something new and when the occasion demands it, be unbiased and unafraid and say that the emperor has no clothes.
We don’t have to agree. In fact, often it seems that we don’t see the same film even when we do. So it didn’t really matter that most leading critics thought The Hangover 2 was a tired rehash of the first film—it grossed around $338 million globally. Or, that at least one leading critic—Peter Travers in Rolling Stone—described Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides as a ‘giant turd’. It grossed over $700 million worldwide. Or closer to home, most critics think that Anees Bazmee, the creator of Ready, No Problem and Thank You, is single-handedly lowering the bar in Bollywood, but that has never stopped audiences from flocking to theatres (refer to earlier grosses for Ready).
Every few months, a critically-slammed blockbuster comes along and underlines the disconnect between viewers and reviewers. Each time, we are abused. Currently, my Twitter feed is brimming with statements like: ‘Why can’t you digest the success of a film? You always dislike movies liked by the rest of the world, it has to be some kind of a joke!’ ‘What you want to say all those people who watch Ready are stupid? Just look at the collection.’ And my favourite: ‘U r fool. He is King Khan.’
That may well be the case. But box office and quality are not necessarily linked. My job is to be unconcerned with the former and consumed with the latter. The rest is dross.
By Anupama Chopra for The OPEN Magazine
The author tweets at @anupamachopra