Probably shouldn’t be writing this blog at all (indiscreet + not very ethical, given that I’m a sometimes-professional film reviewer myself), but couldn’t let the topic pass without saying at least something. Entire chunks – whole sentences – of Nikhat Kazmi’s review of Shark Tale in yesterday’s Sunday Times of India are lifted from Roger Ebert’s review for the Chicago Suntimes. (Just one sample: "Strange, too, that the movie’s value system seems to come from The Godfather, a study in situational ethics that preferred good gangsters with old-fashioned family values to bad gangsters who sold drugs.")
And where an attempt is made to alter the original text in a small way, here’s what results -
Original: The mob is ruled by Don Lino (voice by Robert De Niro, channelling Marlon Brando)...
Copy: The mob is ruled by Don Lino (voice by Robert De Niro, AKA Marlon Brando)...
A distraught Shougat called early on Sunday morning to read bits of both reviews out to me; he’s reviewing the film himself, and says he’ll purge himself of the irritation by referencing the Ebert review (in quote marks) himself and then arguing against it. Don’t quite agree with that approach, but I understand how he feels about the subject.
I’ll clarify that I have no delusions about the quality of film criticism in most of our newspapers/magazines, or the competence of those behind it – but one can always be surprised in new and terrible ways. For years I’ve gritted my teeth at the stultifying levels of ignorance on view on the front pages of the supplements of the most widely read newspapers in the country. The triflingness, the superficiality. I’m not talking so much about reviews here – there’s nothing wrong with opinion pieces, if they are reasonably well-argued (and assuming they aren’t lifted from somewhere else in the first place). But the lack of respect for basic facts - even in the past few years, with the Internet mollycoddling all of us – is abysmal. (And don’t get me started on the laziness in the use of terminology. My oldest peeve – dating back to when I was maybe 12 – is the use of ‘Hollywood’ as a generic term for every non-Indian movie; example Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood being included in a list headed "Hollywood movies based on Macbeth" a few months ago – this was when Maqbool was released.)
The inside buzz is that many of the foreign-movie reviews in most of our n’papers are dedicatedly compiled by interns from various websites, and it shows. (Actually, with the half-baked, ignorant nonsense that emerges when some of these ‘writers’ do attempt to produce something out of their own heads, unaided, I thank heaven for whoever invented plagiarism.) But this is the first time I can recall something being so blatantly, so cynically lifted word for word from another piece. Does this mean our reviewers have become completely apathetic about their job, about whether their readers are interested at all? I’m not sure. Maybe we do get the film writing we deserve.