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Gloat away!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Everytime a bad film becomes a hit—Housefull 2 being the latest example—the makers go about gloating that they know the audience and critics don’t. But every critic admits that there are some films that are meant for the brain-deficient, possibly illiterate kinds who don’t read reviews. And nobody ever said audiences have to go by critics’ ratings. Even if the critic-proof films never win awards or make it to any hall of fame.  But of course, the ‘laughing to the bank’ kinds don’t seem to understand that money can be lost, but a reputation for great artistry cannot be taken away.  Satyajit Ray films didn’t get bank-busting box-office revenues, but he is still know as India’s greatest filmmaker.

Anyway, the issue of what-do-critics-know comes up each time.  Returning to a piece written earlier in answer to this.  What the commercial filmmakers want is that their films should be unconditionally adored, and critics come in the way of the publicity hype that declares every film a magnum opus before its release and a blockbuster afterwards.  The conscientious critic is a bubble in the rarified air of self congratulation and mutual back-slapping that the industry loves to breathe in.

They are, of course, entitled to their views, but the quality of comment or criticism obviously depends on the quality of the work presented. And if week after week, films that emerge from Bollywood (or the Mumbai Film Industry) are mediocre at best; they can hardly expect anybody to stand up and applaud!   And if reviews and so abhorrent to them, then why are three and four star ratings proudly displayed in the ads?

The lay audience is really not too concerned about the quality of the film,   most just want 'timepass' which even a terrible film can sometimes provide. But there is a section that would read informed criticism and then see the film with a different perspective, and not just as a passive viewer.    Not everyone wants to chuck the film out of their minds along with the ticket stub.

By saying that they care more for ticket sales that criticism, filmmakers are themselves admitting that their work is more commerce than art.   Of course, box-office success is a desirable aim, but isn't the placing of cinema as an art form deserving of meaningful analysis (which admittedly cannot always happen in instant newspaper reviews) also an equally important goal?  Posterity may or may not count box-office collections, but will remember quality when it does make its rare appearance. And who will record that event? Certainly not the mass audience that the filmmaker woos so assiduously, instead of pursuing that elusive quality.

That said,  James Cameron once famously demanded that Kenneth Turan, the critic of the Los Angeles Times be sacked because he panned Titanic, so was obviously not in tune with popular taste, to which Turan is reported to have said, "I'm sorry, but we're not supposed to be applause meters. If you wanted to go to a restaurant for a special occasion and someone said, 'Why not go to McDonalds's ? More people go there than any other place,' would that really be enough to convince you?"

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