Baradwaj Rangan, let’s talk about bias!

Posted on June 14, 2018


Read the full article on Film Companion, here:

Because it’s impossible to have a proper conversation on Twitter, I imagine a chat with critics of my ‘Kaala’ review and argue why form is important and why ‘Mani Ratnam’ isn’t a bad word.

There may be spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen ‘Kaala’.

So you’re admitting you have biases.

Why don’t we call it ‘preference’ or ‘taste’! After all, we are all shaped partly by DNA, partly upbringing. In other words, nature plus nurture…

Fuck the philosophy! Do you admit you are biased about Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan, whose films you keep bringing up in your reviews?

I tend to do that, don’t I? But it’s got to do with the way I approach a review. I almost always refer back to older films. People ask, “Why do you always have to compare? Why can’t you see a film as a standalone product?” But I believe films are part of a continuum. People build on what came before – and even if they don’t, the earlier films are useful to compare/contrast, to say how this one does things differently.

Which is why my Veere Di Wedding review brings up Arth; my October review brings up Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her; my Meyaadha Maan review brings up Guna and Kadhal; my Joker (the one by Raju Murugan) review brings up Shankar. And even with Mani Ratnam films, my Aaydha Ezhuthu review brings up Amores Perros and Heat. If I were to review Thalapathy today, I’d certainly bring up Benegal’s Kalyug, and if I wrote about Mouna Raagam today, I’d surely include a few lines about Mahendran’s Nenjathai Killadhe.

But there are many reviews where there are no callbacks to Mani Ratnam or Kamal Haasan – for instance, my review of Vetrimaaran’s Visaranai, or my review of one of last year’s finest films, Oru Kidayin Karunai Manu. Because there’s no intersection point. Anyway, if I talk about Thalapathy in the Kabali review, I also refer to the Malaysian-Tamil film Jagat and MGR’s Naadodi. Why focus only on the Mani Ratnam reference?

Because you bring up Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan more often than others.

How can I not? A lot of films today still draw from the templates or archetypes found in their hugely influential body of work. Besides, when I bring up Sathya in my review of Madras, I also bring up Subramaniyapuram (which, as far as I recall, was directed by Sasikumar). Why focus on just Sathya? I am saying that Ranjith’s “energetic filmmaking dusts the cobwebs off” these templates. Is it possible to write about Kaala without invoking Thalapathy? Of course! I’m just saying this is my style of reviewing.

So you’re saying there is no confirmation bias…

That kind of thing is unconscious, and more for the reader to say. Besides, it’s a question you can ask of many people, not just critics. For instance, if you did not know a song was by Ilayaraja (or Rahman), would you still be finding things to like about it? Is that confirmation bias? Or is it the fact that you’ve studied Ilayaraja enough to know the signatures, and you don’t need the name to recognise his touch.

It’s that way for me, with Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan. I’ve written a book about the former. I’ve studied Kamal Haasan’s 1987-2005 work backwards and forwards. I’m cannot be apologetic about this. The point is this: I don’t like Mani Ratnam’s work simply because it’s by Mani Ratnam, but because of the signatures in them…

Continued at the link above.

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