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Monday, May 16, 2022

Look beyond the stars: Why one should not go strictly by review ratings

Because the stars, those pernicious little things twinkling away above the review where your eye can see them even before you’ve gotten started on the first line, do not tell you everything.

Written by Shubhra Gupta |
Updated: October 12, 2014 1:00:35 am
The committee held a protest against the film and its producers. Shahid Kapoor in a  still from the film Haider

Sunday Talkies

“Only TWO stars? Why?”

The impetus for writing about the fault in the stars, dear Brutus(es), comes from the slamming I’ve received this past week. For my review of Haider, the third of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespearean adaptations, to which I gave the aforementioned two stars.

I’m not going to repeat the detailed reasoning which led to the star-rating (which is what a review is for), but I will re-emphasise a couple of things. Bhardwaj is a director who unfailingly creates brilliant mood and imagery and music, is capable of extracting great performances from the most unlikely actors, and is sometimes a scintillating storyteller. And I am excited about each of his films, even his less successful ones, because there is always something going on.

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I have been pounced upon (how could you) pilloried (how much did they pay you, the “they” being left mysteriously vague) and abused (an irate detractor using an invective that Bhardwaj finesses often in his productions, which matches the way Haider pronounces “chutzpah”, and which is the reason he says it like he does). “Hootiyum sulphate” doesn’t sound the same, does it?

And the barrage has come from all kinds of people, from former venerable teachers of mine, to people I’ve met randomly in peoples’ homes (including an Army officer who knew the score), to online trolls.

My first reaction, when people ask why, is because. Because I’m genuinely puzzled that they should be asking that question in the first place. Because that tells me something about the asker, and I want to ask them right back, Shakespeare-style, miming Shylock’s famous “do we not bleed” line: do you not read?

Because the stars, dear Brutus(es), those pernicious little things twinkling away above the review where your eye can see them even before you’ve gotten started on the first line, do not tell you everything. How can they? They are an entirely reductive device, which scrunch a critic’s reasoned, thought-through appraisal into little squiggles.

If you go strictly by the rating, you are missing both the woods and the trees: if you’ve taken the trouble to fetch up at a review, dip in. And see how the critic has arrived at it. Bash away, after. Take issue, after.

Because ratings, like opinions, are personal. My average may be your good. My rating may differ, sometimes wildly, from other critics. And that’s as it should be, because we are different people, applying different metrics to the watching of cinema, and so we arrive at different conclusions. And you and I will differ, sometimes, and that is all to the good.

Because it is as pointless to say “but you gave that film 2 stars, and it was a brainless superstar potboiler, AND you have given 2 stars to this one, which is well-meaning, well-intentioned, well-produced” (not my words, one of those enraged but civilised people — a rare combination — who wrote in). Pointless, because all films are weighed upon the parameters they set for themselves. For me, the gorgeous setting and the conflict in Haider did not conflate.

But what the animated, heated conversations have told me, as they should tell those associated with the film, that Haider has managed to achieve what few mainstream Bollywood movies do. It has started a conversation about a thorny subject which has been kept firmly on the fringes. (Sanjay Kak’s excellent documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi, is mandatory watching for those interested: Aamir Bashir’s recent Harud is a harrowing, haunting account; Bashir has a small role in Haider).

By showing a Kashmir drowning in blood and bullets, and sketching, even if summarily, its takeover by militancy and the military, it has made sure that it will be talked about, long after it has gone from theatres. Because the Kashmir issue, as it is referred to in genteel circles, is ongoing. And the past is a different country.

There can be nothing better for a film, stars or no stars.

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