Why I hate reviewers. Note from a masala movie buff

Akshaya Mishra

Dec 14, 2014 15:31:15 IST

"They would walk into the theatre to watch a Rohit Shetty film, and walk out with hankies on their faces to avoid being seen among the crowd of people who have loved the movie and are making no secret of it. They would say 'You know Akira (Kurosawa) and (Federico) Fellini are so much better. God knows why the Shetty types make movies. It's disgusting. Then they would pour bile into their opinion write-ups which they peddle as reviews," said the friend who directs 'masala' films. He was responding to this question: how does it feel to be trashed by reviewers all the time.

He was not done yet. "Masala movies have a life and logic of their own in India, in fact everywhere in the world. These cater to a specific need of the masses: entertainment. Now, you cannot compare a Rohit Shetty or a Farah Khan movie with an Akira or a Satyajit Ray movie. I know I am exaggerating, but these reviewers are comparing apples with oranges; worse they don’t know apples from oranges. Trust me, a successful masala movie is much more difficult to make than a so-called meaningful movie. You have to get all the ingredients right, you need to read the pulse of the audience right, you need to match scale with content, and dear friend, finally it all must show in the money you make. It's a big challenge."

Why I hate reviewers. Note from a masala movie buff

Arbaaz Khan poses with his wife, film actress Malaika Arora Khan and actress Sonakshi Sinha during the launch of the DVD and VCD of Dabangg in Mumbai on 12 October 2010. AFP

Are film reviewers an ignorant lot? Here’s the answer from someone who is an unabashed fan of paisa vasool movies: yes. Here is a bunch of people who, like the director friend said, don’t understand the difference between apples and oranges. They would have the same metrics to judge all kinds of movies, from art house to middle cinema to the many categories within the masala genre. It’s like I know apples; since what you offer me does not fit into the description of an apple, it has to be rubbish. In simple words, if one calls oneself a serious movie ‘reviewer’ one must have the basic understanding that a movie like Dabangg or Singham needs to be judged differently from a movie like The Pianist or The Lunch Box. This rarely happens.

What provokes this article? Every time a reviewer awards two-and-a-half stars to a masala movie you have enjoyed, it's a tight slap on your face. It's his way of telling you: ‘Man, you are so mass, please develop some class. Your taste is so downmarket!’ That is saying if you have enjoyed a Chennai Express or a Dhoom you lack refinement. The reviewers create a distinction between mass taste and class taste, and assume an air of superiority by judging every movie from the class perspective.

Despite consistent poor rating from reviewers, such movies have been growing in scale, size and viewership. When two-star products give a more or less consistent business of Rs 200 crore, it is clear that the stars are irrelevant. Everyone in the value chain - the producer, the director, the actors and the audience – know, and are intelligent enough to know, what the product is about. The only people who are outsiders in the process appear to be the reviewers. Why cannot they understand that mass entertainers, with all the inherent illogic and apparent silliness, have been around since ages and are not going deviate from the template much, at least in content if not in style?

The snooty, condescending approach is good for one’s ego, as is the practice of awarding stars. But there is one aspect of movie viewing I, Mr Downmarket, would like the reviewers to understand and appreciate. Once the light goes off in the theatres and the hero – yes, the hero; he is a bit different from what we know as the protagonist – appears on the screen a bizarre chemistry happens between him and me. In the darkness he becomes an extension of the secret and repressed me. He has all the powers I wish I had, he has all the good intention I believe I have and he has all the will and inner strength to fight the evil which I know I cannot fight in the real world.

The hero is always a lie and the villain is the truth. I know I am too powerless to fight the rapists, the real estate mafia, the goons in the neigbourhood and whatever shape the evil takes in real life. In the hours I spend in the theatre, I want to live a lie. I become Singham, a Chulbul Pandey or whatever role a Rajinikanth plays. Finally, in the good vs evil battle I want to be on the winning side. A loser in real life, I am certainly not going to buy a movie ticket to be shown as a loser in reel life too. I don’t mind an exaggeration of the inner me on the screen. What matters is I am satisfied. This is the logic from which the hero-centric masala movies draw their energy from.

But not all of them measure up to my expectation. The superhero aspect is fine, but the other dimensions of the movie don’t always add up to give me that fulfilling experience. That’s why I liked Dabangg but not its sequel; Singham but not its second installment. If I were in that exalted position of a reviewer I would try to assess why one masala movie works and the other doesn’t; I would not dismiss the idea of masala movies altogether.

Now, if you have an orange, compare it with another orange. If you cannot get out of the apple fixation and be flexible with your metrics, you have no business being a reviewer.

Updated Date: Dec 14, 2014 15:48:26 IST