Saving Film Criticism - Why It's Relevant & How It Can Be Salvaged!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on February 03, 2016

While criticism is the 'the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes', critique is 'A detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory'. Film critics were (and even today, are) supposed to ‘critique’ the film, not just ‘criticize’ them.

Therein lies the difference between what used to be and what is and the state of film criticism in our country today.

In the age of 24x7 news cycles & constant status updates, where everyone has an opinion but doesn’t have the attention span for nuanced discussions, there seems to be no space for enlightened film appreciation or criticism. This is also linked to the lack of cinema education in our country. This might offend many, since most of us believe that we understand cinema, given how voraciously we consume films in our country.

But, as the box-office collections of our films has steadily gone upwards, so has the average level of film criticism in our country spiraled downwards. So much so that it has come to be equated with film reviews in our country. And we all know how that works.

Yet, film criticism has had a long tradition in India. MK Raghavendra, the film critic & author of many wonderful books on cinema, pointed out that back in the days, when mainstream publications could still write sensible pieces, even Filmfare had a wonderful & serious film criticism section. Then there were people like T N Ramachandran who ran the lovely Cinema India International magazine that carried pieces on various aspects of Indian cinema.

He was speaking at the session on film criticism held at the Bengaluru International Film Festival 2016. The panel also included Aruna Vasudev, the head of Netpac India & the National Award winning film critic, Meenakshi Shedde.

In his opinion, it was around the turn of the millennium that the serious art of film criticism in India, expired. Today, there are very few publications that carry book reviews and the space for longer, discourse oriented pieces in mainstream media has, all but vanished.

And he feels, it is not the film industry that is to blame for this. Filmmakers don’t relish film criticism, the industry doesn’t need it. Print journalism is all but dead.

There needs to be a distinction between simple opinion and informed opinion.”

Shedde responded with her solution to the problem of lack of depth in public discourse on cinema, by emphasizing the need to engage with modern-day tools of the online world in reaching out to the new-age reader.

Essentially speaking to an older community of film critics, she cited the example of renowned critic Peter Bradshaw, who is completely at home on Twitter and has no qualms in taking selfies with eager young fans wherever he goes.

The critic today has to be a tap dancer. They have to entertain the audience. The reader isn’t obliged to read your article, you’ve to make them want to read. No review is objective and readers love it when you bring in perspective. That is what they are looking forward to.

She also encouraged Critics’ to be ‘forcefully activist’ in promoting good cinema. The Cannes Critics’ Week does it by ensuring distribution of the selected films in a few geographies. This evangelizing role is what could be the future of film criticism.

Cover image: From New York Film Academy.


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