Critic’s choice: Anupama Chopra lists her favourite responses to bad reviews
Online, there are anonymous threats and accusations. Offline, there are implications of bias. But every now and then, a filmmaker or actor will take it in their stride in amusing ways. One such instance was literally a scream.
“You critics are killers,” a character says in Chup: Revenge of the Artist, released on September 23. The film, co-written and directed by R Balki, is about a serial killer who murders critics and carves star ratings into their heads. The officer investigating the case remarks: “Star denewalon ko stars de raha hai. Critics ka critic.”
All of which made me think back to some of the strangest encounters I’ve had in over 25 years of being a critic. Thankfully, the death threats have only been online, from anonymous, vicious voices that insist my reviews have a larger agenda, an inherent bias or are driven by political leanings. Offline, in the real world, the repercussions of negative reviews have been less grave; some, even darkly amusing.
In 2009, Ram Gopal Varma made a horror film called Agyaat, which means Unknown. The story centered on a film unit shooting in a jungle. Suddenly, members of the unit start to disappear. Agyaat was bewilderingly bad. I wrote in my review that the characters were so annoying that we, the viewers, “were waiting and rooting for the creature that kills them.” A few days after my review was published, my husband Vidhu Vinod Chopra and I bumped into Ramu at a premiere in Mumbai. He didn’t say hello, or mention my critique. He simply looked at me, screamed, and ran in the opposite direction. It was hilarious.
Another time, and this was less hilarious, the director of a hugely successful war film suggested that my review (which was less than swooning) was perhaps muted because he was a rival to my husband and I was in some way trying to undermine his success. A superstar once implied that my review of his latest blockbuster was impacted by jokes he had made about Vinod at an awards function.
One of my favourite memories of an artist gracefully acknowledging a bad review comes courtesy Priyanka Chopra. In 2010, I reviewed Anjaana Anjaani, a rom-com starring her and Ranbir Kapoor. They play strangers who meet and make a pact to commit suicide, only to then have life and love get in the way. It was an intriguing premise, flattened out by mediocre storytelling and direction. In addition to my unflattering review, I posted this on Twitter: “Note to filmmakers after watching Anjaana Anjaani: Stars + styling + foreign locations do not = film.”
As luck would have it, on the Friday of the release I had a telephonic interview scheduled with Priyanka, for a story I was writing for a fashion magazine. I was apprehensive about how it would now go, but her opening line was: “You really liked my film, didn’t you?” She laughed, put me at ease and we finished the interview without a hitch. The professionalism was admirable.
Another favourite memory relates to the film Baby (2015), which was co-produced by T-Series. A few days before the release, T-Series head Bhushan Kumar invited Vinod to a preview. Vinod said he couldn’t make it but suggested that Bhushan invite me, since I did intend to review it. Bhushan hesitated, then said, “Woh kya hai na, Bhabhiji ka kuch bharosa nahin. Woh kuch bhi bol sakti hain.” I didn’t get an invite.
I consider that a badge of honour.