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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  1. A
    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.
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                1. G
                  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...
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                    Gaurav
                    Aug 30, 2014 at 6:34 pm
                    As per aamir khan if the movie does better or equivalent business after the first weekend it means movie is good.people are going to theatre to watch the movie . Now in context of the article , even many trade pundits were saying about Jai ho before the release but it didn't performed well. So it is not that only by saying of trade pundits or booking an ad on newspaper makes the movie hit. Generally there is a problem with Indian critics they go into too much technicality of the movie , where as audience go for entertainment . Special 26 was a nice movie but unfortunately it wasn't a 100 crore movie. So Hindi film industry is very diverse and even producer and star are not sure which movie will work or fail at box office.
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                    1. S
                      shikhar
                      Aug 30, 2014 at 6:25 am
                      Good analysis, I read your reviews on saay and they are really good. I have read reviews of other film critics and i can vouch that most of them are biased. It is good to be "left out" if you are right in every aspect of life
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                      1. H
                        Harry
                        Aug 30, 2014 at 6:27 am
                        More than the mes entering the cinema theatres as herds of sheep, oblivious and dumb, they know exactly what they are going for. That is what they enjoy. Surely as a "film critic", you ought to know that. There are different tastes of different people. There is something called a trash-aesthetic even, that people follow. The problem lies in the fact that with the presence of such films, other kinds of films of different tastes and mentality do not get the chance to be seen or to make money which they deserve. Further, what kind of footfalls do the so called 100 crore films get? The high costs of multiplex viewing give them greater returns within just a few days. How is that reflective of "pority"? Maybe you should have addressed that.
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                        1. H
                          Himanshu
                          Sep 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm
                          INOX Malad is fraud.
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                          1. J
                            Jasveen
                            Aug 30, 2014 at 6:42 am
                            Well said. People seem not to realise what the job of a reviewer is supposed to be.
                            Reply
                            1. J
                              Jughead
                              Sep 2, 2014 at 11:44 am
                              We do read your critical point of view. We also see the movie. If I get drawn into the movie and am able to sync with it through its journey then I am ok with it. I am not looking at movies as a life experience / life lesson / i am looking at it as time p, a time out with my family , a joy shared with the children, a topic of discussion like you rightly said OR a break from mundane. If I am able to feel the joy within the theater, the clapping of the audience, the whistles here and there then " I smile " . It is called the "Crtk D" experience like the 4D experience. We purely do not depend on the content on the screen to experience pleasure.You say you do not review the market you review the film. Tell me instead how many films that you have reviewed has marketed the film. I mean really turned the business of the film . I can mention one recent tamil film "Jigarthanda" which critics went supporting non-stop and it turned round the business of the film. It is doing good now.
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                              1. K
                                K
                                Sep 1, 2014 at 4:46 am
                                Who decides what's good and bad. article. I completely stand by critics and what they have to ensure but clearly if it does business beyond a certain point, SOMEONE likes it. Hence a besharam stops at 60 right after a 185(yeh jawaani) by the same actor, marketing could have sold the film as per her. This is just a critic who's pmsimg because someone is canning her opinions. I'm not saying a 200cr film is a good film, I'm just saying it works for a certain audience. If it doesn't work for you it is not necessarily garbage. This article in the other hand is.Anyways atleast that's one critic never to read up again. GIGO as some say!
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                                  Mani K
                                  Sep 1, 2014 at 2:49 am
                                  I will be reading your reviews in the future because that was a well articulated answer to an insreasing question. Does the money a film makes, make it worth watching?
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                                    MARUTHI
                                    Aug 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm
                                    First things first, I was only replying to these lines of the article"And how you, dear viewer, fell for it"coming to your point"I don't have taste"...that is what the gist of my comment was...even I enjo "Black Swan" but on television, I mean frankly speaking what is the potion in India that watches a movie like "Black Swan" in theaters comes out and says "Boss I am relaxed" compared to your supposed "tier movie,singham returns" which i too agree it is.Simply put I can compare this scenario to ever lasting debate (limited to only this country) CRICKET OR FOOTBALL, the w world watches football, follows the game like mad but back here we are a cricket frenzy nation, but you cannot say, the people who watch cricket are fools and don't have taste, we CHOSE cricket to football as it has given us more joy and we got connected to it more emotionally.No matter how global you go and how developed you become as a nation there will still be some things which you cannot separate from your roots, in our case there are two MOVIES AND CRICKET.It may change and will change by the time but for now it is a fact we have to accept (And please don't mistake me to any traditionalist who is supporter of a party's ideology of sorts, I am an IT professional)And my earlier comment was by no way a hate one, I was just trying to put in perspective the view point of a common audience (which I believe are in majority)
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                                      MARUTHI
                                      Aug 30, 2014 at 6:28 am
                                      You are talking as if the film makers come out with a net every Friday with all the pre-arrangements made(promotions) and you (film critics) are the only intelligent one's who do not fell for it and the general/common audience is always the prey.Why is it that film critics always feel that they have better understanding of how good a movie is or it is an art which they have already mastered and the general/common audience will be a student in front of them for eternity.Talking from a common audience point of view I do feel irritated and doesn't want to see these gravity defying stunts our protagonists perform on screen but I always wanted people to understand (and especially critics) that it is impossible to get flicks like 3 s and Taare Zameen Par every Friday week after week and month after month.I belong to the majority community of this country where we go watch movies only to relax and shred off our week long stress which is provided by entertainment and nothing else.Do you know that we do bully the movies which are bad or just unbearable and we laugh our hearts out by reminiscing the actions,the scenes of the movies and we make our time out of it.We are not prepared to put our hard earned money and the only time we get in the weekend to lean back and admire the sheer cl of movies like "Black Swan" etc go back to our work and start a discussion and appreciate its master cl art, we have much more things to do."SO PLEASE, STOP SHOWING YOUR PITY ON US"Yes we could and should expect our film makers and actors to be more sensitive and portray the art in a more convincing manner, talk about convincing I always had this question in my mindWhat is the probability of news reader reading that Superman/Spiderman/Batman/Hulk/boy/Thor or Krrish have come to the rescue of saving some one's life to the news which reads that a police officer has cracked down hard on notorious gang,I believe 0:100 or at least 0:50 in this day and age.You are always in awe of their super natural powers,the visual effects,go ga ga about the movies, you purchase their merchandise (which is a "COOL" quotient) but you look down on people who buy movie tickets of "Singham Returns" or "Chennai Express" as if they have made the most foolish mistake of their life and they will never under stand what to see and what not to.WE WATCH MOVIES WHAT WE WANT TO AND ONLY IF WE WANT TO, NOT BECAUSE WE ARE FOOLED BY FILM MAKERS AND THEIR PROMOTIONS.YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY INTELLIGENT SPECIES EXISTING
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                                      1. M
                                        MARUTHI
                                        Aug 30, 2014 at 6:35 am
                                        You are talking as if the film makers come out with a net every Friday with all the pre-arrangements made(promotions) and you (film critics) are the only intelligent one's who do not fell for it and the general/common audience is always the prey.Why is it that film critics always feel that they have better understanding of how good a movie is or it is an art which they have already mastered and the general/common audience will be a student in front of them for eternity.Talking from a common audience point of view I do feel irritated and doesn't want to see these gravity defying stunts our protagonists perform on screen but I always wanted people to understand (and especially critics) that it is impossible to get flicks like 3 s and Taare Zameen Par every Friday week after week and month after month.I belong to the majority community of this country where we go watch movies only to relax and shred off our week long stress which is provided by entertainment and nothing else.Do you know that we do bully the movies which are bad or just unbearable and we laugh our hearts out by reminiscing the actions,the scenes of the movies and we make our time out of it.We are not prepared to put our hard earned money and the only time we get in the weekend to lean back and admire the sheer cl of movies like "Black Swan" etc go back to our work and start a discussion and appreciate its master cl art, we have much more things to do."SO PLEASE, STOP SHOWING YOUR PITY ON US"Yes we could and should expect our film makers and actors to be more sensitive and portray the art in a more convincing manner, talk about convincing I always had this question in my mindWhat is the probability of news reader reading that Superman/Spiderman/Batman/Hulk/boy/Thor or Krrish have come to the rescue of saving some one's life to the news which reads that a police officer has cracked down hard on notorious gang,I believe 0:100 or at least 0:50 in this day and age.You are always in awe of their super natural powers,the visual effects,go ga ga about the movies, you purchase their merchandise (which is a "COOL" quotient) but you look down on people who buy movie tickets of "Singham Returns" or "Chennai Express" as if they have made the most foolish mistake of their life and they will never under stand what to see and what not to.WE WATCH MOVIES WHAT WE WANT TO AND ONLY IF WE WANT TO, NOT BECAUSE WE ARE FOOLED BY FILM MAKERS AND THEIR PROMOTIONS.YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY INTELLIGENT SPECIES EXISTING
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                                        1. M
                                          MARUTHI
                                          Aug 30, 2014 at 6:54 am
                                          You are talking as if the film makers come out with a net every Friday with all the pre-arrangements made(promotions) and you (film critics) are the only intelligent one's who do not fell for it and the general/common audience is always the prey.Why is it that film critics always feel that they have better understanding of how good a movie is or it is an art which they have already mastered and the general/common audience will be a student in front of them for eternity.Talking from a common audience point of view I do feel irritated and doesn't want to see these gravity defying stunts our protagonists perform on screen but I always wanted people to understand (and especially critics) that it is impossible to get flicks like 3 s and Taare Zameen Par every Friday week after week and month after month.I belong to the majority community of this country where we go watch movies only to relax and shred off our week long stress which is provided by entertainment and nothing else.Do you know that we do bully the movies which are bad or just unbearable and we laugh our hearts out by reminiscing the actions,the scenes of the movies and we make our time out of it.We are not prepared to put our hard earned money and the only time we get in the weekend to lean back and admire the sheer cl of movies like "Black Swan" etc go back to our work and start a discussion and appreciate its master cl art, we have much more things to do."SO PLEASE, STOP SHOWING YOUR PITY ON US"Yes we could and should expect our film makers and actors to be more sensitive and portray the art in a more convincing manner, talk about convincing I always had this question in my mindWhat is the probability of news reader reading that Superman/Spiderman/Batman/Hulk/boy/Thor or Krrish have come to the rescue of saving some one's life to the news which reads that a police officer has cracked down hard on notorious gang,I believe 0:100 or at least 0:50 in this day and age.You are always in awe of their super natural powers,the visual effects,go ga ga about the movies, you purchase their merchandise (which is a "COOL" quotient) but you look down on people who buy movie tickets of "Singham Returns" or "Chennai Express" as if they have made the most foolish mistake of their life and they will never under stand what to see and what not to.WE WATCH MOVIES WHAT WE WANT TO AND ONLY IF WE WANT TO, NOT BECAUSE WE ARE FOOLED BY FILM MAKERS AND THEIR PROMOTIONS.YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY INTELLIGENT SPECIES EXISTING
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                                          1. K
                                            Kirit
                                            Aug 29, 2014 at 11:02 pm
                                            OK, thank you mam
                                            Reply
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