Readers Write In #91: Film critics vs public opinion

Posted on August 11, 2019


(by Rudra Dave)

Apart from being extremely successful at the box office and being loved by the audience, can you guess one more common thing between films like “Kabir Singh”, “Judwaa 2”, “Simmba”, “Bodyguard”, “Luka Chuppi”, “Golmaal franchise”, “Housefull franchise” and “Dhamaal franchise”?

They all had received negative reviews from the film critics.

Now, most commercial actors and directors completely write off film critics by saying that they know nothing about the filmmaking process and the taste of the Indian audience. True?

Well, that would be oversimplification of the issue and would lead to a very general and broad point of view, may be a little disrespectful to the film critics as well.

Why do film critics and the audience have such contrasting choices?

(There are numerous cases where the film critics and the public have unanimously rejected a film. A flop film which has received poor reviews is very common. However, it is only 20% of the time that both the parties have common choice when it comes to liking a film, “Badhai Ho”, “Andhadhun”, “Stree” to name a few, but that is rare).

So let us get into the details.

Firstly, most credible film critics in India have a very high exposure to world cinema (not just Hollywood and Bollywood). They have experienced the art of filmmaking and performances of a completely different level. Their taste in cinema has subconsciously changed into more artistic, sometimes dark, deep and impactful cinema. They will surely not like typical formulaic, sub-standard products which probably appeal to people who do not have such level of exposure to world cinema. So film critics watching most light hearted, commercial “masala” films, try to find a point of the film (and the need for that film) and what it is trying to convey and unfortunately for them, those movies have nothing much to offer them. Most of the critics are turned off by watching the trailer itself and subconsciously enter the cinema halls with a preconceived notion of how much they won’t like the film but will have to watch it as a part of their job!

Another noteworthy thing is that the conflicts or issues which affect the audience and the critics are totally different. Some of the issues which have an impact on general public are showing unethical and immoral lead character, making fun of religious sentiments, infidelity, terrorism, anti-nationalism and more, whereas film critics have issues with lack of democracy in voicing opinion, misogyny, racism, sexism etc. Both are correct in their own ways.

Talking at a micro level, both the parties have issues with different things.

For example, an average Indian family will be okay with inequality in roles (actress having no substantial part and only used in songs and dances) or when the hero mouths a sexist line which is meant to make audiences laugh.

But they will not be able to digest the fact that their favourite Shah Rukh Khan is cheating on his wife with Rani Mukherjee in “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna”.

However, a film critic would get annoyed with sexist and racist lines or inequality in roles or screen time and would be okay with infidelity shown in the film since it shows the reality.

A film critic will get irritated when Kabir Singh, a Doctor hits his girl whom he truly loves and will admire when a gangster Faisal Khan from “Gangs of Wasseypur” asks for “permission” from his girl for sex and goes away quietly when rejected. The audience and critics both hate Kabir and like Faisal in those respective moments. However, the audience does not judge either of the characters. They will not question the director or the writer for the actions of their characters. They see the film in context and “just as a film”. They will neither follow Kabir Singh by getting addicted to alcohol and physically abusing their girl nor follow Faisal Khan and become gangsters! The audience just wants to get engaged and entertained. Show them good characters and great stories and they will come to the theatres, no matter what. The only condition is that the main objective of the film should be engaging and entertaining the audience, be it any genre. Some of the snooty film critics on the other hand have already put themselves on a pedestal and just does not want to engage with films that have the intention to entertain the masses. They strongly believe that the mass audience is dumb. They are clearly not. On the contrary, they are smarter than most people in film industry and will endorse only those things which give them what a movie should give them.

To explain the different tastes of the masses and the film critics, let us take an Example- Imagine that you are accustomed to having authentic Italian food and being made to go into a Desi Punjabi Dhaaba.

Though you might find pizzas there but of a completely different taste. And the best thing that the Dhaaba has to offer- Spicy Punjabi food would not suit your taste.

This is what film critics go through. Their taste is just different, one should just accept it and move on. Continuing with our example, when an Italian lover goes to a Desi Dhaaba, in first few minutes he will get turned off. Later when he is asked to give his opinion about the Dhaaba, he will not having anything to talk about the food because it his beyond his taste. So he will talk about lack of cleanliness, hygiene issues, how dirty and dusty the location was, how the waiter wasn’t polite enough, how discourteous the owner was etc. He will talk about everything but the food.

Another major difference is that the credible film critics are intellectuals.

Hence, the frequent issue of film critics with the “logic” part of the film is highly unavoidable. To give a very stereotypical example, people of the mass circuit like it when an invincible hero single- handedly defeats a hundred men and save the heroine or when the hero delivers a punch line or makes them laugh with his one liners (which might be racist and sexist but people don’t care, they just want that laugh of one second and they move on).

I remember after watching the film “URI-The Surgical Strike”, one film critic said that how come Pakistan soldiers couldn’t hit their target a single time and the Indian soldiers successfully killed all their enemies. The audience gave a proper answer with around Rs.245 Crores of net India box office collection.

To be honest and blunt, the film is made for the audiences and once it is accepted by them, it’s the end of the discussion (one likes it or not).

Another reason is that most film critics (an observed fact) like dark and intense cinema. They live a rather comfortable or in some cases, a luxurious lifestyle. They like to indulge into the darkness of films by some of their favourite directors like Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane or Dibakar Banerjee, because they have not experienced that in their lives. They also like to see flawed characters which powerhouse actors like Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and many more amazing actors from the theatre background generally like to play.

The mass audience on the other hand experience such darkness and intensity in their day to day struggling lives and absolutely do not want see more of poverty, darkness, gritty characters. They have enough stress in their lives already. They want to come to cinema halls to get entertained. They want to see a good story with beautiful locations, high production values, and their favourite stars (all these things still don’t guarantee a hit film). They do not want to watch a “realistic portrayal” of their struggles all over again in the cinema hall.  For them their time in the theatres is an escape from their harsh reality.

They will surely not want to spend 30% of their salary to watch films like “Raman Raghav 2.0”, “Trapped”, “Manjhi-The Mountain Man”, “Ugly”, “Photograph”, “Pataakha”, “Sonchiriya” and the list goes on (these are extremely well reviewed and really good films, some of them have travelled to film festivals and have made our country proud. Sadly, they do not connect with the mass audiences).

The worlds of film critics and the mass audience have been, are and will always continue to be completely different. There will be a lot of films that both will reject, both will accept but the majority of the time they will have contrasting views. Also, most film critics do not accept this fact. They argue that at a human level all are same and everyone feels the same emotions, but the fact is that their family background, upbringing, lifestyle, financial situations, politics, sense of humour, desires, fantasies and dreams are poles apart.

So, just because a film critic likes “Sholay” or “Andaaz Apna Apna” or even “Hello Brother” wouldn’t make him or her part of the mass audience.

Film critics watch a film to analyse and examine the film because they have to submit a review of it. Most of them make notes while watching the film. That might work for a slow “festival” type of film but not the commercial entertainers where every sentence has a punch line and one needs to be focused into the film to enjoy it.

The audience on the other hand enter the theatres to give their full undivided attention to the film and hence are able to enjoy it thoroughly.

Lastly, this might pinch some critics but the fact is the general audience watch a movie by paying for the ticket.

Film critics watch films for free (along with soft drinks, Samosas and Popcorn!)

Hence, it is of utmost importance for the audience to get larger than life action, drama, romance, good locations, good clothes, thrill, great songs and their favourite stars, all in one film. When you pay for something, you value it and enjoy it to the fullest, even if you have already consumed the same thing before.

Having said all of this, credible Film Critics are still an important part of the film world.

Their job isn’t easy at all. They have to watch some of the worst films as a part of their jobs. Their high sensibilities and tastes have played a key role in breaking stereotypes and forcing the formulaic filmmakers to push the boundaries in our cinema. They have played an integral part in helping small gems like “Bareilly Ki Barfi”, “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan”, “Newton”,”Dum Laga Ke Haisha”, “Masaan” and many more films. The industry and the audience have discovered and recognised many supremely talented actors like Pankaj Tripathi, Rajkummar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Seema Pahwa, Sanjay Mishra and many more, because of the support from the film critics.

Today, many people blindly trust some of the credible film critics and watch many films based on their reviews. They have helped the audience in saving their hard earned money too in cases like “Thugs of Hindostan”, “Race 3”, “Zero” and many more!