As a film critic, I have noticed that filmmakers – directors, producers, stars, actors – most of them, do not take kindly to any kind of negative comment in reviews of their films. There was an article in the edit page of SCREEN on this recently. My question is – why? We live in a democratic country and if the filmmaker has the freedom to express himself in any which way he chooses to, the critic has an equal right to be able to understand or not to understand his/her film.Even Satyajit Ray was no exception. His written communication with a renowned scholar on his departure from Tagore’s original story in Charulata went on for so long that it was later published as a book apart from bringing out special magazine editions by film society journals!
Another very long correspondence went on between Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen on the former’s critique of the latter’s Akash Kusum which again, were published in various magazines! This was one filmmaker critiquing the work of another. It led to a lot of muck-raking certainly not in keeping with the dignity these stalwarts had aquired over the years. Why? The whole debate was on the ‘topicality’ of Sen’s film though I no longer recall what this whole issue of ‘topicality’ was all about!
Ray once claimed that every critic needed to learn the technical skills of filmmaking seriously before he/she ventured into film criticism. But then, why would such a person venture into film criticism at all? Wouldn’t it be more logical for the person to become a filmmaker/film technician instead and earn a meagre sum for his/her reviews?There is a lot of pressure on salaried critics as a colleague of mine who works in a national daily says. “Sometimes, the editor compromises by asking some celebrity to do the review because he knows that the regular staffer will probably hack the film to pieces when the film deserves the hacking,” she says when she was asked not to do the review and someone else connected to a cinema celebrity through marriage did the review – a very positive one.A noted filmmaker wrote a very long counterpoint to a negative review of his film recently. The managing editor of the magazine forced the editor to publish the letter as an article in the same supplement! The review was excellent but it was largely negative which most other reviewers agreed upon in their reviews. What happens to the dignity of the critic when her own paper turns its back on her?
Sometimes, a critic is alleged to use his review to vent out his personal grievance in his review. But I still have my doubts about this allegation because objectivity is the first lesson we are either taught at school or teach ourselves when we become journalists.
However, one concedes that compromises are often made both directly and indirectly. For example, a film critic might in all innocence, accept a lunch invite from a filmmaker whose film is in post-production.The minute the critic accepts the invite and goes for the lunch at some posh place, he or she compromises himself in some way or another because he/she feels obliged to give a favourable review or at least a review that will not kill the film. That lunch keeps haunting one’s waking hours. We are human after all!
On the other hand, I have seen several critics and reporters refusing the gift that is given at the end of a press conference to the press never mind the report or review as this is part of the film’s PR campaign and no questions asked. It is a gift for every single press person who has come to the press conference. What does one do then? If it is a question of a man’s bread and butter, which it always is, a good opting out is to write a FIRST LOOK piece or do an interview and decide never to review the film when it turns out to be very bad. Taking or refusing the gift is a matter of individual choice.
Thirty years in the business as a film journalist has taught me many things and I went along, changing over the years from critics taking a piggy back ride on a star’s expense account to Cannes or Karlovy Vary, to critics not being invited to a press conference at all because the filmmaker or actor or producer has blacklisted the person from such events.
When a film producer starts a film journal, what does one do as an editor/reporter/critic working for the paper on a fat salary? Well, in that case, we all know what happens so there is not much point dwelling on that!