Shahrukh’s main point was that critics should go the extra mile and have respect for their profession, don’t just sink into popularity contests and click competition. And my favorite Hindi film critic working today, Raja Sen, proved why he is my favorite by shooting the entire speech. Other people there caught a minute here and there and posted the excerpt. Raja Sen paid attention and treated Shahrukh’s message respectfully and got the whole thing.
His full video of the speech:
And here is my attempt at transcription. I can’t translate much of the Hindi, and I am sure I got several words wrong here or there, but I hope I got most of it correct. And in about 24 hours we will have tons of much better transcriptions and mine will become irrelevant:
Thank you all, all the critics and all the friends [Hindi: some of them are very old friends] Some of them became bad as they got older. [Hindi: I just arrived from China and I am a little jetlagged] I tried to write the speech if you have patience, I’ll take about 3 and a half minutes. [Hindi] The scene opens at an opulent award function with the main protagonist. Anupama Chopra sitting in the first row, bejewelled and dressed in the best designer wear. Looking resplendent in a many varied shades of white. Off-white, on white, on white-off-white. She’s whispering demurely in the ears of my old friend and colleague Rajeev Masand. Now this version of Masand is a far cry from the younger mustacheod one whose complicated vocabulary we all were so convinced by back in the days when I played anti-hero. He’s older now. A tad heavier if I may say. And his mustache has disappeared completely. A critic his age, as he would talk about other actors, might do better considering roles more suited for himself rather than trying to manage fitting his new over-sized fame into a single white sofa while pontificating on the exactness of a director’s angle as it closes onto Salman Khan [Hindi].
For Rajeev, I mean, judging master chief season three of three might fetch him more kudos from a slightly bored and jaded audience. Anupama meanwhile could take on any Bollywood siren if you would go just by the gushy tone in which she addresses male superstars while interviewing them, breaking into short shrilly giggles which could easily find place in a Stree type horror movie actually. Anyway as the scene progresses the plot begins to fall apart, the award function turns into yet another 6 hour long meandering extravaganza of badly choreographed dance numbers no one wants to watch. Not to mention an unendless parade of has been critics for whom lifetime unachievement awards have been lined up for through out the evening. A lucklaster unimaginative disappointment you wouldn’t want to recommend to your worst enemy. I’m going with 1 and a half stars.
Sorry about my 5 star sense of humor. Friends and beloved critics here we are at the Critics Choice Film Awards and I’m genuinely very very honored that you have invited me here. And to sound relevant I have written a speech and the point is that the world is changing and it is changing very very fast as we try to keep up with a new generation. that is super connected through social media, aware of itself like no generation before, and yet simultaneously fragile and impressionable. We also relate to art and the emotion and passion that drives it in new ways. For us artists the challenge is to remain centered in our creative expression while servicing short attention spans, new psychological paradigms, and fast more efficient communication networks. The future will bring tremendous learning and change both technologically and at the level of the artistic relevance of our work. [Hindi]
While we as artists are now at the mercy of an audience who now have so many options at their disposable in order to form an impression of a film’s quality from unbelievably plot revealing trailers to tweets to opinions to blogs and what have you. Even scene to scene reviews from the theater as it goes on itself. And hence the role of the critic is simply now (to break down to the basic truth) and the basic truth is that the best film criticism is an art that can help to unfold the beauty of the film. A well-written heartfelt review can reveal new facets of a film to an audience and cause their thinking to depart on a new line of thought instead of it becoming a rush to get your review declared as only positive or only negative coupled with the so called outreach culture of social media, we may end up reducing our powers of nuance and ambiguity and fairness as a society. As critics, like movie stars, I imagine that we will face one of two possibilities. That social media and its capacity to create egalitarian platforms for sharing views and opinions renders us both irrelevant. Yay for all the critics if they become irrelevant. Or the relevance of our views and our cinema actually increases as the reach of our ideas expands due to the same platforms. This of course would mean a new level of responsibility for both our sides.
We all know and accept it’s easy to critique art but there really ought to be a deeper consciousness that drives a critique. Art forms often emanate from places that transcend analysis and critique. The best artists were rarely recognized while alive precisely for this same reason. It took the world to evolve before it recognized the likes great masters such as Picasso Van Gogh Mozart, the list is endless. Art, after all, cannot become compartmentalized deconstructed or explained or be subject to the rigidity of logic. Have you ever read literary explanations of poetry, of Javed Saab for example? They reduce the rhythm and beauty of words to complicated pieces that remove all the joy from loveliest of verses.
So I request you all present here this evening, journalists and filmmakers, let’s not reduce the reviewers to provide an advisory service, a shopping guide, or a flipkart shopping cart option in the film world. We need a full understanding of criticism, one that grants it more credit than a tweet or a user review. Film critics should be film lovers who have chosen this path because they believe in cinema as an art form. So I hope and pray that these awards here tonight to the recognized masters of the future tonight make a difference. And may these awards lead to their mastery being recognized and appreciated by a larger and larger audience while they are present and working. I do also hope that these awards become more than just another opportunity for people like me, who really don’t do much as far art and cinema is concerned, for preening on the red carpet, as handsome and as cool as I may look at it. I hope they inspire all of us to reach beyond ideas of what is acceptable or viable art within a limited framework towards what is new resplendent with the magic of imagination and just plain brave.
And more importantly, stars like me and filmmakers like me have to change ourselves, as an actor and as a filmmaker I have to challenge myself to push the envelope as far as I can. It’s what my love of acting demands of me and filmmaking demands of me. I’d like to be a superhero, a midget (vertically challenged) man, a fan with a prosthetic face. The kind of lie most men are incapable of being. I’ll be whatever lie reaches into the truest expression of my creativity. To become an actor you need to deconstruct yourself, you need to discard the self, that’s what the truth is when it comes to your art. We filmmakers have also far too long given more credibility to constructed and jaded ideas. We search for art, we search for form, without searching the essence of our stories. We find logic in commerce and disregard the free spirit of story telling. We have to remind ourselves that truth is formless, only untruths have form. We as a film fraternity have to be truer to ourselves and hence to the stories we set out to tell.
So I request all my critic friends here, please don’t be like us Bollywood film stars and get carried away by what Bollywood succumbed to many years ago, the star system. The star system cannot be the only way of summing up films by a critic. 3 stars, 3 and a half stars, 3 and a quarter stars, 5 stars. It’s a film it’s not a hotel for God’s sake. With the advent of home grown critics sprouting all over, film critic is becoming an endangered species. Please let it not perish to be replaced by a consumer service that has no brains and all thumbs. Meanwhile as actors and filmmakers I will try not to keep spreading my arms and flash my dimples at every given opportunity.
And so I wish the whole film fraternity that is gathered here tonight. Raja Sen who I really love because when the film is the biggest disaster he is the only one who likes it. [Hindi]…if she’s here, I love all the alliteration she uses all the time…But I wish the whole fraternity with all my love and goodness as a filmmaker as a star that you’ve made me. May these awards encourage better filmmaking and may the critics here find enough films to like, and encourage that better filmmaking.
And now, I will quickly perform “Chaiyya Chaiyya” with 100 dancers….
My Discussion Starter:
I bolded the two statements I found most revolutionary. First, that idea that “the truth is formless”, that relates to art, to politics, to history, to everything. Forget the context, forget Shahrukh is a movie star talking at an award’s show, that is a deep deep idea, one that we should all sit with for a long time and try to reach in and understand.
And second, his ending plea to ignore the star system. This is why I don’t use stars on my reviews. Film is art, and you don’t serve anyone when you grade art or try to minimize it that way. It would be like saying “Mona Lisa-5 Stars. Starry Night-4 and a half. Beethoven’s 5th-3 stars”. That’s crazy, that’s not how you can talk about creativity. And the reliance of the audience and (increasingly) of critics on the star system is reducing the ability for critical thought in general. And reducing openness to different opinions, to new art, to the world.
He wraps that final plea up in a long explanation pointing out that critics are killing themselves in two ways. First, by reducing themselves to the same level as an amateur review, they leave nothing to differentiate themselves from the amateurs. And second, they are killing the very art form that gives them their jobs, if they do not encourage people to love film and treat seriously, no one will watch it.
That is the content of the speech, but the form is also part of the message. He is speaking to writers and encouraging them to be better writers. And this is beautifully written. The words and phrases he uses, “preening”, “rigidity of logic” “off-white on white on white off-white”, this is a high level of writing and demonstrates his right to be here and to talk to them as an equal. As does his opening, gently twitting Anupama and Rajeev but also pointing out that the criticisms they offer are not that unique, not that deep, and not that hard.
And of course, it is also fun and witty. It’s a ten minute speech, which is looooooong for this kind of event, but it doesn’t feel long. He floats along with little jokes, Hindi asides, entertaining phrasing for his statements, and ends with that great joke. He wraps up his medicine in a lot of sweet.
And this is also a case where the medium is the message, again. This is not a speech that he had professionally filmed or released through his twitter (so far). It was made specifically for the people in the room with him at that moment. Whether or not anyone else reads it or hears it is unimportant to him. He could have written this exact same thing and published it on Facebook, but then the reviewers he is trying to reach might not have heard. The goal is to convince those people in the room with him at that moment.
And one final thing, you know how I have mentioned before that Shahrukh and I agree in many ways and that is why I am his fan? Not because we agree, but because at a basic level we have the same values and those are translated into the world as opinions in which we think the same. I already mentioned that I made a choice not to use stars on my reviews. I also wrote a post about the danger of “word of mouth” versus real true reviews of films. And buried in my post on Priyanka Chopra and her narrative of an affair with him is a comment about how the truth doesn’t have a moral or fit a particular message, that’s how you know it is true.
Okay, now go wild in the comments and sharing this around and all. That transcription was SO HARD! you better appreciate it 🙂