By The Way

'Sorry, I didn’t like your film'

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Two things happened today.

First, P.C. Sreeram, a senior cinematographer I respect went off Twitter after expressing his disappointment with a review I had written.

He felt I was spitting acid. I truly respect his opinion, criticism of my work and any judgment of my competence that comes with it. He has every right. Just like every other reader to hate or like anything I have written.

Realising he was following me on Twitter, I thought it was my duty to assure him that this was truly my idea of honesty, however sucky it was.



I genuinely did not like Shamitabh (I am not the only critic to have not liked it). I apologised for how I made him feel. It was certainly not my intention to disrespect someone as senior as him in any way.



However, I stand by every word of what I had written. In fact, I could break down my review numerically under two heads – Merits and Demerits – if that would help those in denial to see the obvious.



But I completely understand his need to go offline to switch off from the negativity. I would have probably done the same. Always best to let your work talk.



Art is personal.



I remember what Vikram told me when I gave his superhero film ‘Kanthasamy’ a bad review and assured him it wasn’t personal. He said: “It is personal. My art is my life. I take my art very seriously. If you don’t like it, we can’t be friends.”



Of course, we are not friends anymore.



I don’t mind that at all. Because, he worked doubly hard after that, chose some good filmmakers to work with and recently came out with a performance in Shankar’s ‘I’ that would shut every critic up. He proved beyond any doubt that he was the most committed actor around.



I am not trying to take any credit for Vikram’s self-actualisation. His triumph is purely his own. It happened because of his own strong will, grit, determination, hard work… and also a desire to prove his critics wrong.



Criticism is tough love. I can talk about how this is just a job we are paid for and that readers expect us to be honest… But no, the role of criticism goes beyond money and readership.



This absolutely beautiful profanity-laced >exchange in Whiplash comes to mind.

Or to quote another film I love to bits: The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.





I have written long rave reviews that sometimes go up to 3000 words when the film truly moves me for the blog that has a much smaller readership than the newspaper. Because I truly care and want to talk about these films to however small a group of equally passionate people. ( >Birdman, >Rockstar, >Tree of Life. Inglourious Basterds to name a few) Inglourious Basterds

Passion is the keyword here.

It is very easy to react to art academically and dispassionately. A two-column table titled Merits and Demerits would do the job. But a critic’s job is not to say what’s good and what’s bad about the film. It’s to explain why it is good or why is it bad. A critic’s job is to state the arguments that support our judgment. A critic is an advocate judged by the reader after they watch the film, not the judge itself.



But when you read an emotional, passionate piece – however angry, frustrated or acidic – you know you can be certain of one thing. That this guy really cares about what you did.



Shamitabh is frustrating because it could have been great.



With the kind of performances it packed (all credited duly in my review), with the kind of people behind it (Ilaiyaraja and PC – two Gods of Tamil cinema – thoroughly wasted but I was kind not to blame them for it out of pure respect) and the potential of the plot itself (the beauty of the ending duly credited in my review).



I was (still am) convinced that the writer-filmmaker Balki was guilty of messing up the screenplay by playing up the title-concept gimmick with contrived excuses and convenient plot-enablers and then adding shamelessly whorish product placement to this travesty. If this is how much you are willing to pollute your art, craft and story, isn’t it fair you take some flak for pimping products when we’ve paid to watch a movie, not an advertisement?



I would love to see Balki shut me up with his next film.



That brings me to the second thing that happened today.



A popular star took offence to a story that was critical of his films today and made his displeasure known through this publicist. I am reminded of that conversation I had with Vikram many years ago. And I just cannot wait for this phenomenal actor to do what Vikram did.

Prove me wrong.

I can’t wait to eat my words. I am not afraid to apologise for hurting your feelings. I have all the apologies in the world to hand out to anyone upset about how I made them feel. But I am not sorry about telling you how your film made me feel when I don’t like it.

As Fletcher says in Whiplash: “The next Charlie Parker would never BE discouraged.”

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 12:44:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-by-the-way/article6877460.ece

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