What’s a hit got to do with it

How well a film does at the box office has nothing to do with its intrinsic worth.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published:August 30, 2014 2:53 am
A reader wrote in saying he was ‘very disappointed’ because of the ‘mismatch’ between my review and the ‘collective opinion of the masses’. A reader wrote in saying he was ‘very disappointed’ because of the ‘mismatch’ between my review and the ‘collective opinion of the masses’.

But it’s made 100 crore! And you gave it just one star!

Sure enough, Singham Returns, which your humble critic didn’t care for, has rapidly climbed to the Rs 100 crore-plus mark, according to its publicists. Before that, it was the execrable Humshakals that breached the barrier. And many such similar ones before these worthies.

In the last couple of years, this little litany has been getting louder. Not in a polite, discursive way. But in an aggressive tone. What do film critics know about what the audience wants? If it is so bad, how does it make so much money? Why are you so sniffy about blockbusters? The moment you give a film one star, we know it is going to bust the box office.

Right, what do I know? I’m just the long-time film critic who sits through everything — the excruciatingly awful ones, the middling ones, the good-but-could-have-been-better ones, and the ones that blow me away, the better to sift grain from chaff. More importantly, I am that person to whom putative crores mean nothing. What has meaning is the film in front of me, and what sense I make of it.

Dear viewers, once and for all, I am here to tell you that the amount of money that a movie makes has nothing to do with its intrinsic worth. The money that it makes only tells me, and should tell you too, if you stop to think about it, just how hard-sold the movie was. And how you, dear viewer, fell for it.

Television spots. Reality show judges and special appearances. Posters. Full-page newspaper ads. An online blitz of “First Looks!” and “Official Trailers!”. Interviews. Magazine Q&As. The machine is out in full force, making sure that whenever you turn, on every bit of media that you own and consume, you see a glimpse of the film that you absolutely must see this Friday. What will happen if you don’t? You won’t have bragging rights. What if your friends see it before you do and talk about it at the Friday night bash? You’ll go “uh-huh, uh-huh”, curse yourself for not having anything to say. What if, horror, it makes a hundred crores, and you haven’t been part of that party? It’s called being left out. In the hyper-linked, hyper-connected times we live in, in which you read someone’s live tweets about a film even as you watch it — what!, to actually have to watch the damn thing, without someone else telling you what they are thinking about the scene? — you cannot not be a part of that global feeling.

It’s not your fault. You are inundated by so much verbiage that there is no time for GIGO, which meant, in a more innocent time, garbage in, garbage out. Everyone online, and who isn’t these days, is busy thumbing up and thumbing down, saying how much they loved or hated a film. Instant judgement, which takes less time than instant noodles. No time to breathe, no time to think, no time to let the film rest. No time to really get in touch with the sides of your brain and heart that tell you, yes, boss, that was really good. Or, yuck, that sucked. That’s a luxury you don’t have. There’s only so much noise you can take in, the rest you regurgitate.

One hundred crore! 200 crore! The numbers don’t really tell us anything about the film. All they do is give us an insight on how certain filmmakers are using “audience” and “market” interchangeably, and unforgivably. I cringe when a film is called a product, and I am not, and never will be, a market.

The moment we hear about how much money the film “will” make, we are primed. Why is that the sole reason to watch a film? Then, we are sheep being herded into the ’plexes, just adding to their bottomline, not nourishing our inner movie enthusiast. That’s when you reach out to a film critic, who will tell you if the film worked — on its own parameters, on what it sets out to do — and if not, why not. Not, never, based on the money it is about to make. A reader who’s been in touch with me over a period of time wrote in saying he was “very disappointed” with my Humshakals review because of the “mismatch” between my review and the “collective opinion of the masses”. That’s just the thing. It is not my job to assess collective opinion. My job is to watch the film on its own terms and see where I go with it. You like my opinion, come along for the ride. If not, hey, step off. The world is still going to be round.

Once and for all, dear viewers, I do not review the “market”. I review the film.

shubhra.gupta@expressindia.com

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    aditya
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:00 am
    Dear Shubra,This situation reminds me of the Emperors Clothes... about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" and that child is you Shubra, for i was fed up of all the cr reviews of almost all the dailies until i read your honest, unabashed, truthful, genuine understanding, and fine knowledge of films and from that day every friday i read your review and then decide to proceed judge if the movie is worth the time and money.The problem with our film makers is that they are feeding us with nonsense thinking kuch bhi ho apna paisa vasool ho ega.. and the questionable part is that we as movie goers except this kind of brashful atude from them. Movie watching is an art and very much a food for thought. If we cannot eat stale food we should not watch a stale movie also.And Shubra ji and the Indian Express Team as a w we are in debt to you for the honest truthful and As it is, So is it journalism that you guys are maintaining, it is tough being that lotus but you guys are doing a society a favour which we may never repay.Thank you
    Reply
    1. H
      Hemant
      Aug 30, 2014 at 10:22 am
      Simple fact: if Shubhra Gupta says 'watchthis one', I go and watch it, I have never been disappointed, and if she says'know the risks' with a one-star two-star rating, I view the film accordingly.Practically speaking, why do we watch/readreviews? To get a reliable opinion from people who have what it takes and have studiedthe subject, developed an angle, eliminated all the trash, done some of yourwork for you and placed a marker for you on something, so that you can go andinvestigate it in your own way but armed with a few warnings.There may be various reasons to make or tosee movies, but I deeply value this honest voice that takes the effort to coverthe territory and then tells it like it is.I think she offers you an intelligentdiscussion of a movie or of the industry.And what's with calling her elitist? Integritydemands zero tolerance to . She has the courage to say so and hats off toher.I always greatly admire and enjoy thesensitivity and intelligence of her reviews and frankly, her unique use oflanguage as well - she has a hugely entertaining prose style and vocabulary thatoften leaves me guffawing all the commercial the industrychurns out, there are movies that change you, change society, bring inperspectives, and you realise it is a responsible occupation.. and it takes highersensibilities in a reviewer to internally 're-create' and digest them, and to beable to communicate that understanding.I think she offers you that, stripped of boxoffice considerations – and without boring you one bit!Unashamedlya fan.
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        Gooner_Kyle
        Aug 30, 2014 at 4:48 am
        Our movies are a reflection of our society. The easier, commercial way to cinematic ness is a highly sought after route. How can we slalom this junk, when we are repeatedly bombarded with the commerce and marketing gimmicks of this filth. Wake up, you Vijay Krishna Acharya, Sajid Khan and the rest of the rabid pack of delusional clusterf**ks. Years down the line, these guys will realize the opportunity they lost, with the resources and funding available to them, to change someone's life. They will be remembered, but only for serving glorified s to their audience, which we gladly accepted.
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          AS
          Aug 30, 2014 at 7:15 am
          Mes are es. So joining the m is to become an . Anyway most of the so called 100 cr films come on TV in 3 to 6 months. So One can still enjoy the at no cost.
          Reply
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            Ashwin Parmar
            Aug 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm
            Do not worry about it Maam, you can keep doing your job. There are many who understand difference between good movie v/s so called money grossers, and fully ascribe to your point of view of 'critic'.I guess we always keep forgetting one fundamental rule 'Pority' has nothing to with 'Potential'. The problem is much deeper, the kind of movies make money is a clear reflection of overall society's maturity. You can see all around us whom do we choose as our leaders , what movies we call good or spend money on, look at it objectively and you will understand we are in a rut.
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              Dibendu Moulick
              Sep 7, 2014 at 4:44 am
              Finally the reason behind the 100 crore phenomenon. It is not being dumb or anything. It is basically dearth of choice. That is what these films bank on. They flood all screens, leave no other option for you and shout out to let you know the Friday. They themselves know they are and the only way public will take is when he finds nothing else.
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                Dinkar g
                Aug 30, 2014 at 2:51 am
                Thank you, happy to have persons such as you, not getting swa by the "sell" of the film makers.
                Reply
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                  Ganesh
                  Aug 30, 2014 at 4:21 am
                  I liked this review too.Your earlier review was right too.But not you, but the people today are banana people. No sense of values left in them. May be 1,00,00,000 people watched the film are wrong, but still I go with right values of yours. Its my core Indian teaching that tells me to do so...
                  Reply
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