It's Friday morning. Sunny Leone's latest film is out. And after playing Baby Doll for the two-hundredth time in two days, the RJs on air get down to 'reviewing' the movie.
RJ 1: "In a scene, Sunny is seen pleasuring herself…". "…she must have a lot of practice, no?" RJ 2 cuts in, and giggles till RJ 1 concludes with the serious proclamation: "I give the movie two stars."
The verdict didn't make it to Ragini MMS 2's hoardings or print ads. But the film's promoters didn't need to look hard to find praise. Today, it seems, everyone's two cents can translate into more than two stars. On more than a dozen websites, at-home reviewers hold forth on every major release, offering their assessment of 100-crore films, indie titles and everything in between. Bloggers, Twitter users and at least five of your Facebook friends (and mine) have decided that the world needs their judgement of this Friday's box office offerings.
Hover over the images below for movie reviews and videos
Masand says that the Internet has allowed for the formal style (which he admits had become "elitist, formal and, in effect, predictable") to be broken, with younger, more informal voices coming in. Most old-school critics would take a standard, serious approach (even if the analysis itself was sharp) - opening with a discussion on the plot or a scene perhaps. It is not uncommon, however, for a modern-day critic to present the entire review as a discussion he had with the liftman after watching the film. That's how critic Karan Anshuman wrote his entire review of Dhoom:3 .
Or for someone to illustrate a review via an unabashedly funny stick-figure comic, as Sahil Rizwan (aka The Vigil Idiot) does to great popularity. His Dhoom:3 review, for instance, had unnaturally-large-eared Aamir Khan twins, toy bikes, even a Christopher Nolan as well as a Batman.
Film critic and TV show host Anupama Chopra has done reviews for TV channels and several publications including the Hindustan Times. She also hosts the popular show, Front Row. She, too, feels that more voices can only be a good thing. "Movies are a subjective passion, and the more opinions, the better," says Chopra. "I don't think a critic is someone on a pedestal…"
DOWN TO EARTH
The critic on a pedestal did exist, until recently. Film reviewer Mayank Shekhar says he's happy that the cult of the holier-than-thou critic is gone. "The problem starts when people, especially those from within the industry, start giving the reviewer more importance than you deserve," he says. "And once you get close to your subject, subconsciously, you may no longer say the things you might otherwise have."
Those on personal platforms like blogs and social media, on the other hand, are far less accountable. Kamaal R Khan (flop actor, but a hit online reviewer) has a video review of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani on YouTube that is so vicious - he keeps alleging the director has daddy issues - that it's had over one lakh views.
Several critics are now making films themselves. Raja Sen co-wrote the dialogue for Go Goa Gone (2013) and says he is in discussion to direct something soon and Karan Anshuman is set to direct too. Kabir Khan is critical of reviewers turning directors: "Some only write reviews till they can become filmmakers themselves; or they are full of angst if they've had their scripts turned down."
Sen says one needs to draw one's own boundaries as a film reviewer. He says he wouldn't review a film he's been involved in even slightly, or made by a person he's worked with. But Shekhar sees no conflict in being filmmaker and reviewer: "The director constructs, a reviewer deconstructs."
Chopra is in a more challenging a position. She's married to director-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, so she has immediate family that's part of the industry she must critique. Chopra doesn't review any film her husband is part of. "I know what bad reviews feel like," she admits. "But I will never be dishonest as to what I feel about a film." She isn't wary of upsetting her husband's colleagues either: "We don't have any friends within the industry. So I've never been particularly traumatised by having to give a friend's film a bad review." However, that doesn't mean no one's ever pointed fingers. "A director told me that I was less than raving about his film because he was competition for my husband," she says.
RATINGS AND REWARDS
Of late, there has been a more serious allegation against film critics. In 2011, at a forum at the Mumbai Film Festival, writer-director Nikhil Advani answered "Yes" when asked if he knew of anyone in Bollywood who paid to get a favourable review of his/her film.
The book, Shooting Stars, by old-time film publicist Colin Pal talks about how they used to slip in money at press shows. They called it 'cab money'.
Sen feels people learn to not trust a review source that consistently inflates ratings. "I've been told by readers that a particular newspaper gives good ratings to practically every film, so they don't take it seriously," he says.
As more and more films are churned out by Bollywood, reviews will continue to be written, read, posted, shared and slammed. Filmmakers may not like them; Salman Khan's box office credentials may not be diminished by them. But when did reviews affect any of that anyway? Whatever form they do evolve into - meme reviews, listicles - they will continue the culture of critical thought.
The rage over roughly aimed and quickly taken selfies hasn't reduced the worth of a thoughtfully framed photograph. The same logic, one hopes, will hold for an intelligent criticism.
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One night I was watching an old Dharmendra movie and thought it would be cool to review films no one would," says Kanan Gill, 24-year-old stand-up comedian from Bangalore. So he, along with Biswa Kalyan Rath, an IIT graduate-turned-stand-up-comedian, created video reviews of lesser-known (and even lesser appreciated) films and uploaded them to YouTube.
The pretentious ones: Gill (left) and Rath ripping a film apart
Three months and four reviews later, the boys behind Pretentious Movie Reviews are a YouTube sensation. Their reviews have drawn over a lakh viewers. The videos are full of hilarious comments about the hammy acting, cringeworthy CGI, the plot that trips on itself and the cheesy melodrama. They draw your attention to such gems as Shakti Kapoor referring to Viagra as vitamin sex (in Gunda) and how Hrithik saves Kareena's flying dad from a car accident (in Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon).
These reviews work because the boys justify everything they say with examples. That and Gill's charm and Rath's straight-faced humour is probably what's catapulted them to popularity so quickly.
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