There was a time when critics were the film industry’s elite. They knew Tarkovsky, Satyajit Ray, Christopher Nolan like the back of their hand. They spoke about cinematography and music and the importance of the arts. This was also a time before social media when the media played the king and the queen. Critics had a whole page to themselves to positively review or trash any movie they desired. Sometimes, the movie was so bad that they went ahead and ignored it. And actors and directors would wait in anticipation as they peered over every word in the review, hoping to catch their name in the printed page. But today, with movies ranking above Pather Panchali (allegedly) and then swiftly dropping down, one wonders if film reviews even matter.
“I think film criticism absolutely matters because criticism is an essential key to art, and I think that part of the cycle of art is that there’s a conversation around it. You don’t want to hang up a painting in an empty museum. Some artists I think probably we get satisfaction from the simple production of the art, but I think that most artists find the conversation around the art that they make to be important,” says film critic and producer Dan Murrell to Grant Connected.
“As film criticism has been seen as this ‘consumer tool,’ I think that bad reviews can hurt a movie financially or at the very least can set the tone for how a movie is going to be received and how, when people walk into a movie, what they expect to see. But also, if it gets bad reviews, there’re some people that are just not gonna go see it who would’ve seen it otherwise. So, I think that there’s a definite financial influence,” he added.
In 2018, according to a Statistica report, 43 percent of adults said that they do read film reviews before watching a movie. Even today, one does go online to check out the IMDb ratings of a movie before they decide to watch it. Shershaah had a great promotional experience but so did Bhuj: The Pride of India. However, Shershaah totally overtook Bhuj in the larger scheme of things. While it may have initially worked well because of the immortal story of Captain Vikram Batra (PVC) and the chemistry that Sidharth Malhotra and Kiara Advani shared, it has sustained its hold in the OTT space because of the good reviews and word of mouth it has received. Bhuj, on the other hand, has completely vanished. It received terrible reviews and people realised that they didn’t want to waste two hours of their life watching a movie that everyone hated.
“At their best, I think a movie critic should and sometimes can remind people of a standard by which all films can be judged. There are no absolutes here, but if mediocrity and repetition go unchecked, then we’re just gonna get worse movies year by year. I think an independent-minded critic can try to remind people that they shouldn’t settle for anything less than good, if not great,” said Leonard Maltin to the entertainment portal.
That’s what the reviewers did when it came to Bhuj. It gave scathing reviews to the movie which just jumped onto the nationalism bandwagon and made a joke out of patriotism.
But reviewers also do appear biased at times. Many of them are attuned to a certain kind of movie and dislike anything but the genre of their choice. Hence, they judge a movie based on their prejudices. You cannot judge a Karan Johar movie based on the standards you hold for an Anurag Kashyap movie. This is why there was a whole hungama on social media when it came to Haseen Dillruba. The movie was based on pulp fiction’s idea of romance – it didn’t aim to be anything but. But certain critics judged it in a way that they knew would get them brownie points on social media. Their aim to review the movie wasn’t to judge the quality of the art but to get likes and retweets on Twitter. No wonder Taapsee Pannu was so angry. Judge her for her acting but try and understand the movie first. Haseen Dillruba isn’t a movie you should return to – it’s not that good – but it wasn’t a two-starrer like certain critics made it out to be.
Maybe these critics could learn a lesson from Roger Ebert who makes his point known in his reviews without getting nasty and personal. A review is not your space to hate on a particular celebrity – it’s a major responsibility. However, most critics fail yo understand that. An Anupama Chopra can review a movie without coming off as nasty. A Rajeev Masand used to get extremely personal, at time, and while that worked for YouTube, it didn’t exactly help his reputation as a reviewer.
But to end this discussion, we can say with certainty that movie reviews do matter a lot. In an era when every individual is flooded with content, a review can help them decide whether they want to spend two hours of their life watching a movie.
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