Hindi Film 101: Film Companion Stops Using Star Ratings, But Indian Film Reviewing Still Has a Long Way to Go

I started out writing a different post, but halfway through I discovered something really interesting when I looked at the reviewer aggregate information on Rotten Tomatoes. The state of Indian film reviewing is way more f’ed up than I realized.

Shahrukh gave a speech at the Critic’s Awards that was clear and deeply felt and pretty convincing, and it argued that film critics need to elevate their art and the art they critique, and not reduce either of them to simple star ratings (full speech and transcript here). In response, Anupama made the decision to stop using star ratings on her website Film Companion and, from the way the announcement was worded, it sounds like Bardwaj Rangan who works with her has been pushing for this for a while. He, combined with Shahrukh, convinced her to make the change. And now all the problems of film reviewing in India are fixed! Right?

I started to write this post about the problem with using stars and some concept of abstract grading and I was going to use the website rottentomatoes.com as an example to prove my point, since it takes star ratings and turns them into some kind of percentage score. But then I did a little research and discovered that Rotten Tomatoes is actually GREAT!!!! It’s not based on star ratings, each reviewer gets to decide for themselves and submit a “fresh” or “rotten” score. Plus, the reviewer’s answers get a higher or lower value based on their worth as a reviewer (Roger Ebert has more power than some random reviewer for a local newsletter). Most importantly, they provide short excerpts of the reviews for you to look at so you, the consumer, can determine whether you agree with the bad or good reviews. I started by looking at American films on Rotten Tomatoes and discovered that their ratings were useful and generally correct. There were a few problems, mostly with older lessor known films which were released before the site was founded so there weren’t enough reviews for a strong consensus. But classic films had classic ratings, new films had good or bad ratings, it was all useful. And then just for fun I looked up a few recent Indian releases and discovered that any problem we thought Indian film reviewers had was just the tip of the iceberg.

I looked up the ratings for some of the more reviewed films for the past year. Stree received a 77% rating while Badhai Ho received a 90%. Andhadhun received a 100% rating. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga received a 67% rating. Raazi received a 100% rating. Veere Di Wedding is at 55%. Jab Harry Met Sejal is at 10%. Baaghi 2 is at 30%. Total Dhamaal is at 33%. Tiger Zinda Hai is at 70%. Kalank received a 37%.

Look at that list, and think about it. Is that a list that reflects accurately the quality of those individual movies, or is it a list that reflects the prejudices and blindness of the Indian film reviewers? If you make a movie with few, or no, song sequences, a movie set among the educated middle-class, a movie filmed in a “realistic” manner, and a movie with no big stars, you will get a good review. If you make a fantasy style film with songs, you will get a bad review. Doesn’t matter if it is Baaghi 2 or Veere Di Wedding or Kalank, if it is something that the educated English film watching class of India can’t relate to, the reviews will be bad.

I watched this movie and Veere Di Wedding both opening weekend, both in a sold out theater with an audience that cheered and clapped at the end. Maybe the reviewers didn’t like either of them, but plenty of people did. I’m not saying they should have gotten great reviews, but there should have been at least SOME decent reviews for them!

Now think about if you are using reviews to decide if it is “worth it” to watch a movie, if you will enjoy the film. The Indian public loved Baaghi 2 and Total Dhamaal, reviewers hated them. I’ll go back in time a bit, Badlapur received a 91% rating among Indian reviewers, the Indian public hated it. If you are looking to Indian film reviews to help you decide if you will like a movie…You shouldn’t. Reviewers in India are failures at helping the audience find the films they might enjoy. They are completely disconnected from the common audience.

That’s from the side of bad reviews, let’s consider those “100%” reviews too. In general, a 100% rating is a rare bird. People write their opinions, their personal reaction to a film. If it is a very very good movie, for instance Avengers: Endgame, it might reach as high as a 98% review. But there is always a minority opinion, that 2% keeping it from perfect. In India, apparently, a 100% rating is common. How is that possible? That each person on their own reaches the exact same conclusion? Multiple times? It’s literally unbelievable. For comparison, currently Sholay has a 90% rating on rotten tomatoes. Casablanca is at 97%. And yet Raazi and Andhadhun are better than both those movies?

More likely, what we are seeing is critical peer pressure. Everyone waits to see what everyone else thinks and then goes along with it. There is a “right” answer for a film review, and you had better make sure your review is “right”. 100% tells me people are cheating, they are looking at each other’s answers, just as surely as if I were a teacher and everyone in the class got 100% on an exam. And Jab Harry Met Sejal receiving 10% tells me the same thing. There is no way every reviewer in India agreed to the point of giving a 10% rating to Jab Harry Met Sejal when even Munna Michael incited some difference of opinion, enough to get it up to 50%.

Objectively speaking, allowing for the difference in audience and so on, this movie is just not as good as Jab Harry Met Sejal. Songs, camerawork, acting, script logic, no comparison. Why is it at 50% and yet JHMS received almost unanimous hatred?

The bigger a film is, the more it is talked about, the less likely that the reviews are fair or accurate. Munna Michael got 50%, which seems about right to me. It’s not a great movie, I would give it a C grade or lower, but it is fun for some people. Thugs of Hindostan, with the groundbreaking action sequence, amazing cast, decent songs, and everything else, got only 23%. Because “everyone” knew about it, and therefore “everyone” decided together it was a bad movie. There was no time or space to make up your own mind.

Let me back up. I am saying the end result tells me these reviewers are worthless. But let’s look at exactly how they are worthless. A decent film review should have three levels to it:

  1. There are some objective ways to consider any film from any genre. Camerawork, editing, script, acting, and (in Indian films) dancing and music. There will still be differences of opinion between reviewers on those particular elements, but before anything else those should be considered by the reviewer. Kalank, for instance, had so-so acting and two good song sequences and two kind of boring ones. That is besides the genre of the film or who is starring in it or anything else, that is simply the film itself and how it should be judged
  2. The next thing to consider is whether the film succeeded in achieving whatever its particular goal is. Jab Harry Met Sejal was trying to make a dreamy internal character piece, and it succeeded in that goal. Thugs of Hindostan was trying to make a fun exciting adventure movie, and it failed.
  3. And then you should put on your own personal spin on how you feel about the film. You can acknowledge that Thugs of Hindostan was flawed in the script and songs, but that you really love adventure movies and think Indian films should go “bigger” and therefore you like this film. That is what sets you apart, makes you a writer and a reviewer instead of a plagiarist and a weather vane for general opinions.

Indian reviewers tend to fail on all three levels, but most especially the final one. The best Indian reviewers pass that first basic level okay. They discuss acting, script, etc. The basic building blocks of a film. But the middle step, considering and understanding the goal of the film, is very rarely achieved. We can see that in the percent ratings. Baaghi 2 and Badhaai Ho had very different purposes as art, and they achieved their purposes equally well. And yet Baaghi 2 was punished for the genre to which it belonged while Badhaai Ho was celebrated. And then there is the final level, which is where Indian reviewers do not even seem to understand what they are supposed to be doing. There is no “right” answer at this point. There is a right answer possible in the previous two levels, if you say that Andhadhun had bad camerawork, you are just wrong. If you say Toilet Ek Prem Katha is not politically motivated, you are also wrong. But there is no one “right” answer once you reach the point of personal opinion.

Most Indian reviewers seem to start at the end. Their opinion should be that this film is “good” or this film is “bad”. Okay, start with that, then ignore or criticize all elements of filming, miss-state the goal of the film in order to make it appear to have missed that goal, and finally give a fun punchy summary of your opinion that just happens to match the opinion of every other reviewer in India (that’s how readers know it is “right”).


Calling October only a love story will be injustice to its resilient tone. It’s a battle, both inter-personal and intra-personal. It’s not about logic or wise decisions, it’s about how far can you go for the things you believe in.

Rohit vats
https://www.hindustantimes.com/movie-reviews/october-movie-review-we-all-are-fighting-like-varun-dhawan-and-winning/story-oD4znXFhA2Kz3kp7XdeTkI.html



Jab Harry Met Sejal is absolutely banal with some hummable tunes. It’s a big disappointment to see Shah Rukh Khan returning to his comfort zone and yet not performing at the top of his powers….Pritam’s songs can do some patchwork, but nothing can rescue this 143-minute of lethargic storytelling.

Rohit Vats
https://www.hindustantimes.com/movie-reviews/jab-harry-met-sejal-movie-review-shah-rukh-khan-anushka-sharma-follow-a-route-much-travelled/story-o7RZYWRgU0IYSJwMC4rzFJ.html

(The same kind of film, the same elements of the film, but in one it is “resilient” and in the other it is “lethargic”. Because one film “everyone” knows is good and therefore you should only find good things in it, and the other “everyone” knows is bad and therefore you should only find bad things in it)

And now you are going to say “but, what if it is so obvious that everyone will notice the same thing?” If it is obvious, you shouldn’t be spending your review talking about it. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha had a groundbreaking political message. No duh, talk about that for two sentences and move on because everyone else is going to be saying the exact same thing. Or at the very least, try to put a new spin on how you discuss it. With Indian reviews in particular, the thing everyone tends to talk about is the star. Jab Harry Met Sejal is Shahrukh doing the same old romance. Every review said that. Why even bother reading separate reviews if they are just going to say the same thing? And the thing that is most obvious to me just from hearing about the movie?

The bottom line is, if Indian film had a real critical community working today, then there would be some kind of diversity of opinion present. 100% agreement is not telling me there is a rich and fulfilling critical community, it is telling me there are a few intelligent original thinkers and a bunch of people copying off of them. And even those few intelligent original thinkers have painfully predictable opinions.

What’s especially irritating is that Indian film has such an amazing diversity of talent, genre, and style. The critics seem to be driving all of Indian film to become one thing, small character based star-less and song-less films. Why would you want to delete massive sections of Indian film in order to create one small perfect thing just for yourselves? And when an artist tries to open film up again, whether it is Raabta (14% rating) or Mubarakan (33%), he is punished and driven back into his box

How did this movie not get a decent rating based on the camerawork, songs, and performances alone? Even if you hate the plot, at least acknowledge the craftsmanship!

At this point, just getting rid of the star rating isn’t going to do it. The best solution I can come up with is for those few decent reviewers to realize the hellscape they are working within and adjust accordingly. First, most importantly, try to adjust your personal views to be more universal. If you personally hate love stories, suck it up and try to pretend you like them when you are reviewing a romance. Because whatever you say isn’t just going be your personal take on things, it is going to be the only acceptable “right” answer. If you are an editor (Anupama, for instance) maybe force two different writers to do one positive and one negative review, just so there is some conflict. Most of all, try to understand that there is no one “right” kind of film, no one “right” style of film, and no one “right” opinion on films. Shahrukh said that films aren’t hotels and can’t be rated. I would add that films aren’t standardized tests and everyone shouldn’t give the same answer.

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47 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Film Companion Stops Using Star Ratings, But Indian Film Reviewing Still Has a Long Way to Go

    • I was thinking of the thing you had told me about standardized tests being very good at predicting if the person taking the test is a white upperclass male, and nothing else. Indian movie reviews seem very good at predicting if this is a song-less character based realistic drama, and nothing else.

      On Fri, May 3, 2019 at 4:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. Personally I have my gripes with rotten tomatoes because a review that is barely positive (something like this movie was okay) is given the same weight as a review that is completely positive (this movie was amazing) so I feel like the percentages can be rather misleading. Also the people at rotten tomatoes look at the reviews and try to decide if it’s “good/fresh” or “bad/rotten” which I think is worse than the star system since there’s even less of a range.

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    • I still appreciate them, because at least they give varying weights to varying reviewers. They aren’t just throwing everyone in together. But agree, fresh/not fresh is stupid. If they are already doing a percentage system, thye should let reviewers submit their own percents.

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      • Yeah RT has it’s flaws but I do like how it separates audience reviews and critic reviews. I remember The Last Jedi having a huge disparity (91% critics, 44% audience) so I’m happy that there is a separation there. When it comes to looking at reviews, I always try to take everything with a grain of salt. To be honest I mainly look at film reviews if I wasn’t planning on watching it in the first place or if I already saw the film and even then I take things with a grain of salt. Also I try to get a wide range of opinions when I look up film reviews. One thing I really love about your blog is how you leave the comments open and let all these discussions open up.

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        • I used to just gobble review up when I was a kid, I’d read dozens every week and dream about being able to watch all those movies, someday when I grew up and was free of my evil parents who made me do homework. And then I guess I did grow up and now I am watching all those movies, and the reviews don’t entice me any more.

          Of course I leave the comments open! I still have so much to learn from you all. Whether it is some super important plot point I missed or you conscientiously correcting me every time I miss-spell the name of the other “Kriti S.”. Maybe it’s an advantage of being an outsider? I know that I don’t know everything?

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  2. The blasted hellscape of conformity. We all fall into the trap sometimes. But in some professions it matters more than others!

    I’m currently being nonconformist on my way to watch Endgame. 😅

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    • Oh oh! Come out of it and say you hate it, just to be a rebel!!!!

      What bugs me about conformity in reviewing is that it is so easy to avoid. See the movie, write about the movie. Don’t talk to anyone or read any other reviews until you have written yours. It’s not like people are beating down your door to force you to listen to their opinions. The whole point of reviewers seeing the film before anyone else is that their opinions can be pure.

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  3. I think the biggest problem that has occurred in the last few years is that reviewers are tailoring their writing for the social media audience. Everyone is trying to survive on the web now that print publications are all shutting down. The quickest and easiest way to get hits for your site is to write a review that inspires interest on twitter/facebook or other sites like that. The audience has become so accustomed to quick bites that most people don’t read the reviews at all. What they do is look at stars or 1 or 2 punchy lines and spread that to their followers. A nuanced review won’t get attention because it’s too much to read and comprehend and not made for that perfect twitter bite.

    The reviewers themselves know that small movies never inspire that kind of interest from the audience. There are no fan armies who are going to spread Friday reviews of Stree for instance. Because of that, small movies are able to escape and breathe and find their footing like movies used to be able to do in the past. Badla wasn’t watched because of online reviews. It was watched because your friend told you to watch it or your neighbor said they saw this little film and it was really fun.

    Big movies are what these BW sites profit off of and the quickest way to get attention is to attack with a negative review very quickly after release. There will automatically be thousands of hits since everyone is waiting. A positive review never ever gets the same attention simply because people aren’t built that way and a mediocre review is the most boring of all. Have you noticed that almost every single big movie gets trashed? Whether it was Race 3 or Thugs or Zero or Kalank. The only reason Simba got saved (heavily positive reviews looked super-fake) was that it came so quickly after Zero that it *had* to be given positive reviews to contrast with Zero in order to put out the narrative that the Khans were failing. If it had released at another time, I’m fairly sure Simmba would have been destroyed too. I think this pattern is going to continue unless the big film has some kind of patriotic or noble theme because those get by just on trying.

    Film Companion made a good start but I fear their hits will drop and they will be forced to bring back the star system. People are lazy and many of them don’t read and will just stop clicking on those reviews if they don’t get what they want from it.

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    • I doubt they will be forced to bring them back. As of now, more than Anupama’s reviews, Sucharita Tyagi’s Not a Movie review are more popular and they never used a Star Rating.

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      • Those are video reviews, aren’t they? Does she put out her written review? I hardly watch her so I’m not sure but from what I’ve seen, she also engages in ripping apart movies in a humorous way. People tune in to see the roast. Obviously she’s smarter but in a way it’s no different from the popularity of KRK’s youtube reviews. They’re spoon-fed anyway – not the same as having to actually read a Rangan review, for instance.

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    • So really, the problem with reviewers is the same as with the films, the big tentpole wide release fever. As the movies get more and more focused on opening weekend, they push the publicity campaigns higher and higher, and then reviewers benefit much more by writing (especially writing bad things) about the big movies. Small films run longer, are more accurately reviewed, and are also generally better movies (because there is less pressure).

      But unless the Indian government switches to supporting single screens over multiplexes, I don’t see this pattern changing any time soon.

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      • Yes, but how would supporting single screens be a better option for different cinema that pushes boundaries? The big tentpole releases already command most of the advantages and marketing budgets that exist.
        Single screen viewers don’t really seem to care about reviews so it doesn’t affect their turn-out for big budget star vehicles either way.

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        • But the big tentpole movies only came into existence because of how multiplexes skewed the market. The contract with multiplexes gives a larger percentage to producers opening weekend and smaller every weekend after that. And the ticket price increases mean people are likely to only see movies once. The whole market is driving towards a big opening weekend movie people only see once, and away from smaller films with long runs.

          The argument for multiplexes is that they allow for more movies to be playing at once. But fewer tickets are being sold, fewer movies are being watched. With the luxury of choice, folks are choosing to spend their money only on the tentpole films and ignoring the others, rather than watching whatever plays each week in their single screen. Or choosing not to watch any movie at all because the tickets are too expensive.

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          • Right, I understand. But weren’t single screens always about the mainstream star vehicles? Didn’t smaller films only start getting their due through the multiplex crowd?
            If single screens regain their importance, they’re still going to be skewed towards tentpole movies, right?
            I find that it’s always the multiplexes that squeeze in a couple of shows of smaller films in their roster, and in some rare cases, actually increase showtimes based on the general response.

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    • I’m a fan of the People magazine reviews, I think they hit a good balance between thoughtful and short enough to read on your phone in 3 minutes or less. I noticed them when I had to read a lot of book reviews for work. After reading endless self-important (and some good) long form reviews, I was so appreciative of their ability to be punchy and concise without losing the essence of the thing they’re critiquing. The website seems kind of clunky to me but the writing translates well to the internet age.

      Example:
      https://people.com/movies/crazy-rich-asians-review/

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      • Yes! I had a People subscription for a while and I was really upset when they shortened the book and film section. I found the reviews really good, gave you an idea of what the film was without giving away the whole plot or being needlessly judgemental.

        On Sat, May 4, 2019 at 8:46 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Hello
    Film companion already has three reviewers on its panel for Hollywood/Bollywood movies – Anupama, Sucharita Tyagi and Rahul Desai who posts written reviews on the main site. And in fact for certain movies all of them have quite varying opinions. Most of my friends actually by now know exactly what they can deduce from all of the three reviews. So there are multiple reviewers in the indian film community however most of the more popular videos are not really considered reviews somehow. In fact Sucharita’s segment is specifically called Not a Movie Review. I would suggest that if you haven’t you should try watching/reading these reviews for your analysis.

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    • Thank you for commenting!

      I hope this didn’t come off as an attack on Film Companion in particular. It was more a general comment on Indian film reviewing, based on the fact that reviewers seem to be in such lockstep with each other. It’s good that reviewing is growing in India, but right now there isn’t a diversity of opinion in general, and certain films are not being treated fairly. The community needs to pull together as a whole and address this problem, there shouldn’t be so many movies getting such similar reviews, and films should not be judged so harshly. For example, since you brought it up, I just went to the Film Companion Hindi film review section, and I skimmed the headlines. So far as I can tell from that, every review this year besides Sonchariya and Photograph and Gully Boy has been unhappy, joking, sarcastic. I just don’t believe that in the past 5 months, there have been only 3 movies in Hindi cinema worth treating seriously and everything else is only there to be a punching bag. And that the only “good” movies are the ones that best match Western sensibilities. And that Rahul Desai and Anupama Chopra have never disagreed in their reactions in the past 5 months. Here, you can do the same: https://www.filmcompanion.in/category/reviews/movies/bollywood/

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      • They not only have the same opinions, they have them in the same way. Most reviews look like templates where they fill in the blanks with each new movie. The format and the writing all sound very similar from movie to movie.

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        • I just skimmed the two reviews of Raabta, and I did notice that. A comment about the cinematography or acting, then a plot summary that gives away almost the whole thing in a joking way, and finally the critique. It’s not a bad template, really, I just wish it didn’t feel quite so much like a rush to the funny lines at the end of the review instead of a consideration of everything that goes into the film. I picked Raabta on purpose because it really suffered. Both reviews quickly cover something related to the technical aspects, then plunge into making fun of/spoiling the plot, and end with a witty insult. There’s no swinging back to the technical parts and acknowledging their value or trying to integrate the whole review into one. I feel mean picking on them because I know it is hard to write something every single week and make it different. But then, I write multiple reviews every single week, and I have my own template, but it varies more than that (I think), and the American reviews I read aren’t so short and predictable either.

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      • Have you seen any youtube videos with Anupama and Rahul? For some reason, I always get the feeling that Anupama feels out of her league with Rahul and ends up agreeing with whatever he says. The minute he pushes a certain opinion, she collapses and accepts it.

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        • I haven’t, but that matches what I have noticed in Anupama’s interviews before. Which really isn’t a bad thing, depending on the purpose of the interview. She can make the other person feel comfortable and draw them out. But it isn’t good for situations that are supposed to be more confrontational.

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  5. You left out one of the most important factors (if not THE most important). And that is the incestuous relationship between most of the reviewers and the film industry. Pretty much all of them need to keep in the good books of the industry big wigs, to have access for interviews and their shows. Most also are trying to peddle their scripts and/or directing projects. (Yes, even Baradwaj Rangan. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I learned that.) You’re right that their “reviews” are trying to be tailored to a western sensibility, but the problem is that none of the reviewers themselves have grown up with that sensibility. If you want to have a good laugh, read/watch their reviews of Hollywood movies some time. It is so obvious that most of the time they have no clue what’s going on. Baradwaj Rangan reviews other foreign films besides Hollywood ones (mostly when he attends film festivals abroad), and even then, I get the feeling he’s only skimming the top in terms of understanding a film.

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    • I’ve never seen BR skimping on his critique of Bollywood movies. though. Even if he is ‘peddling’ scripts, it doesn’t seem to be affecting the quality of his statements and argumentation.

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      • Skimming Film Companions Hindi review page,I had an immediate feeling of relief when I saw the Bardwaj Zero review. Even the title felt different more than a simple “good thing-but it’s still bad” structure.

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        • Exactly. The same with Kalank and praise for what it does right on his blog.
          On the other hand, criticial praise from his peers doesn’t skew BR’s readings. His Sonchiriya review, for instance, cut to the mechanics of why the movie didn’t work as a whole.

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          • That’s wonderful, to know both that he will praise a movie everyone else dismisses and critique a movie everyone else is praising.

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    • I was really surprised when I looked up one of the reviewers and saw that they reviewed both Hollywood and Indian films. It’s not impossible, but it is surprising to me, that they attempt to switch between such different critical lenses. And some of them also do TV shows? I can’t do that myself, it’s why I stay so firmly in Indian film.

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      • It might seem off, but I feel like there are some crucial things movies from any language have to get right. A decent critic can comment about those things, unless there’s something avant-garde or experimental or homage-like going on, in which case, specific film history comes into play.
        I feel like it’s okay, as long as their main profession covers a specific industry and any reviews of outside films are done on the side.

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        • Going the other way, American writers writing about Indian film make me nervous because more often they tend to over-estimate. They will give a film credit for things like a good song sequence, without realizing that within the standards of Indian cinema, it is not that impressive.

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  6. Hi commenting after a longish time was busy in Lyf

    The main reason for stopping the ratings was the continuous hate anupama gt for giving 3 stars to kalank .
    She focussed on costumes/sets etc and analysed from that angle and said that emotion etc was ok bt costumes etc was good.

    So ppl criticised her for her access to dharma /yrf ,she never giving less than 3 stars to those movies etc due to close links with kjo.

    Also she has to run a film YouTube section and there’s a huge conflict as big stars won’t come iff it’s a bad review etc.

    She copped out of toh/simmba by giving excuse of vacation.

    So I feel the timing is important , she was finding it hard to jusrify the 3 stars for kalank and soty2 next week so she used this srk speech to cut some flak.

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    • Also views on her channels are slowly reducing due to her apparent bias towards nepotism gang and interviews with sweta bachchan , twinkle khanna etc.
      And her relevance is slowly diminishing In her own company.

      The millennia watch not a movie review with sucharita tyagi as it’s fun college gang stuff.

      Serious film inclination stuff read rahul Desai.
      Deep intellectuals read bharadwaj rangan

      Sneha Desai has brought a fresh take on interviews with her calmness and fun wit.

      So ac is slowly becoming outdated

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      • The whole idea of AC as running an internet outlet never really made sense to me. I love her as an investigative journalist and analyst, but that requires a lot of slow work for little content, the opposite of what a web presence requires.

        On the other hand, and I could be wrong about this having only read a few reviews, but I think Rahul Desai might be an idiot.

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    • After having just skimmed through their review section, I feel like her review of Kalank was the first reasonable review they had given in months. It’s ridiculous that everything is so cynical and down on every single film. If it was because she was pressured into giving a good review, then it was simply pressuring her into actually giving an honest review for once instead of just looking for the negatives.

      I hope that removing stars makes them more likely to give good reviews, ones that balance good and bad features of the film instead of rushing to some kind of grade that is usually poor.

      I do think there is a huge conflict with how the website relies on star interviews on the one hand and runs reviews on the other. They need to have a clearer editorial distance between the two sections.

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      • I’ve thought for some time now that the relationship between critics and stars in India is really, really strange. Instead of remaining at arms length from stars so they can be objective about their films, they cosy up to them and do long interviews. I don’t think Western critics do the same thing. The interviews of stars in promoting a movie here is mostly TV and some magazine interviews.

        I found this especially jarring with respect to Anupama (sorry, she seems to be the poster child here for all that’s bad and I know she isn’t the only one but this one got to me), Shah Rukh and JHMS. She had a multi-part interview with him while he was filming the movie in Lisbon, then a regular long interview with both SRK and Anushka, And when the film came out, she bashed it pretty severely. I remember thinking when I read her review, “Did she watch the same movie I did? Did she watch all of it?” There was so much in that review that made me so mad. One of several examples was her inability to understand any complexities of Sejal’s character–something you had no trouble seeing and writing about. Another was her disbelief that a man and a woman can share a room, and even a bed, without having sex. Oh, that happens in real life.

        I began to wonder whether her social relationship with Shah Rukh forces her to be more severely critical of his films. (To be fair, she did praise his performance and said she’d have liked to see that character in another movie and, like most of the critics, laid the blame at Imtiaz’s feet for always making the “same movie.”) In the Lisbon interview, SRK asked about her son and his age–who he knows because AC’s kids and his kids attend(ed) the same Ambani school in Mumbai, they are both there for school events, etc. They’ve been at the same events and birthday parties–not all but some. So this “incestuous” relationship between critics and stars can’t help them be objective.

        And, by the way, this is all on top of your very astute observations about Hindi film reviewers in this post.

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        • After my research of the past two days (so, not that much research), it really feels like Anupama is leaning towards being more critical rather than less thanks to her relationships. Because her site is way way WAY too critical of films in general, like they have to prove they are the “cool kids” somehow, and friendship doesn’t mean anything to them.

          So far as interviews go, you’ve got me thinking about it. It feels like there are two kind of interviews people give around films. The first is the fun fluff promotional stuff, which I would expect to see on a “we’re all friends here” kind of outlet that doesn’t give really serious reviews, like when SRKajol did a 15 minute interview with a British radio show kind of thing. And the second are the really serious interviews that are strictly about the piece of art with a goal of better understanding it. Which I would expect a reviewer to do, because they have the background to understand the artwork.

          Either way, the interviews will affect the review. The light fluff pieces belong with people who write light fluff reviews. You don’t have to say a movie is good if it wasn’t, but your baseline should be something a little more friendly and happy to match the friendly happy “we just love movies and you and everything” tone of the interview.

          What bothers me more with Film Companion are the in depth interviews. The purpose of an interview like that shouldn’t be “oo wow, I am talking to a celebrity” but instead “let me take this opportunity to try to understand your art on a deeper level”. I am used to seeing things in reviews like “as so-and-so mentioned to me in our interview last week, the goal of this scene is to draw the audience into a deeper connection with the character”. And then the reviewer can say “and the movie failed/succeeded in that goal”. It doesn’t have to change their opinion, just give them more understanding. But they should at least acknowledge the extra information they have. Bardwaj Rangan does this very well (he does everything well). It feels weird to me when reviewers try to pretend they don’t have that extra knowledge, like the interview and the review aren’t even connected to each other.

          It’s completely appropriate, to my mind, for Anupama to do a long interview with Shahrukh about his career so far and why he is doing this particular film and what the goal of the film is and so on. But after that, when she reviews the film, she should at least acknowledge that conversation and her understanding of the film based on that. Not including it just feels WEIRD. Heck, I’d even be fine if she talked about stuff she learned at social events, said “Shahrukh happened to mention to me at a birthday party, and I got his permission to repeat it here, that for this scene he was actually drunk”. This way feels far more unprofessional to me, pretending somehow the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, like she has to give shallow snarky reviews of films even when she has more knowledge available. And again, it goes back to my not thinking the online outlet is the best place for Anupama, or for Anupama to try to be guiding others. In her books, she handled it perfectly, wove the interviews into her film analysis. But somehow when she is writing these short pieces, she isn’t trying to combine them into a larger whole, they are all off in their own worlds.

          And to talk about myself for a while, this is why I throw in funny fan stuff in most reviews, so the fan-y TGIF posts don’t feel completely divorced from the more serious stuff. I don’t want to look like I am a fake fan, or a fake reviewer who is really a fan.

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  7. Since Carol and I discuss this extensively and some might even say ad nauseum I can mostly just agree, I will only be more vehement about Anupama who has been most unfair to Shah Rukh. We speculated there had been a falling out, but since he only retaliated at the Critics thing clearly she hurt him. Anyway I think you are completely right about the state of Indian criticism. The only other weirdness about it is the “communalism” of it. Akshay’s “patriotic” films can do no wrong even when they are idiotic.

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    • I think the problem is, as soon as you say something nice, you are accused of being just a “fan”. I mean, you’ve seen that happen to me over and over again, right? And I am a nobody, the Film Companion folks get way more attention.

      So if anyone famous or influential at all is involved, you have to criticize the film. The only safe exceptions are movies with no stars or mainstream appeal, or movies that have something patriotic in them.

      There’s the constant accusation of saying something nice to pander to fans, or to make nice with celebrities, but looking at the content it feels far more like they are running in the other direction to avoid those accusations. Heck, maybe Anupama would have felt more comfortable giving a good review to JHMS if Shahrukh HADN’T given her that really long interview and therefore opened up accusations of her being nice to suck up to him.

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  8. You’ve pinpointed the issue for me, or at least a way around the fact that Anupama (and others) do these long interviews and then pretend they never happened when they write their reviews. Acknowledging the fact of those interviews, incorporating them into their film review, would make so much more sense.

    And I’ll freely acknowledge that the multipart Lisbon interview with Shah Rukh was mostly about his art and his movies as well as his stardom. It wasn’t just a fluff piece at all.

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    • Exactly! Do that interview, and then when you review JHMS say “I know Shahrukh was looking at returning to a familiar character but in a new way” or whatever she wants to say. But don’t do a 40 minute interview, and then a 5 minute review.

      If nothing else, that’s what sets them apart from, well, me. Anyone can do 5 minutes on Facebook about what they thought about the movie. If you have the ability to get special knowledge through these interviews, use it! Give us something original and in depth in your reviews. The films should come first, the interviews should serve your understanding of the films.

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  9. Also, Anupama has said more than once that how she rates (1-5) one film is not related to how she rates another film. She’s usually asked then when she gives film A a 3.5 but film B a 2.5, even though many people might feel the reverse about the two films. So my feeling is, if the rating isn’t meant to be a comparison with other films, or at least other films off the same genre or by the same director, then there is no real point to the rating at all.

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    • Yeah, that’s strange. The most useful way for a rating to exist, I think, is in comparison with other reviews by the same writer. So reviewer A is known for routinely giving out 4 stars but rarely 5, a 3 star review is remarkably bad, a 5 star is remarkably good. Reviewer B is known for almost always giving 2 star reviews, and only rarely above that. 1 star is bad, 3 stars is above average, 4 is really good, 5 is extremely rare.

      Maybe Anupama meant “I rate the films based on how well they accomplish the goals of that particular film”? Which is a common and legitimate reviewing practice. But in that case she should speak up and own her opinions instead of prevaricating about it.

      On Tue, May 14, 2019 at 6:47 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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