Thankfully, it took just a couple of hours to catch up with events. On my last day in Bombay Amit had told me about the Indibloggies results. Congratulations to the winners, especially to Falstaff, Baradwaj and Arnab – and while I’m at it, to Martin Scorsese and Helen Mirren, who apparently won Oscars around the same time I was battling evil children on the Rajdhani (more on this later).
I enjoyed this acceptance-speech post written by Baradwaj, because it clarifies some of my own thoughts about the reviewing process (which I’ve brought up at various times on this blog). Baradwaj and I have very similar attitudes to reviewing and we’ve discussed the subject over email a lot. Essentially, what we’re interested in is the review as a form of self-expression, almost as autobiography, written not to tell the reader “Watch this” or “Don’t watch this” but to provide a single perspective (though hopefully an articulate, informed one) on a film; a perspective that frankly might not chime with anyone else’s, but which will, at the very least, say: “this is how a certain sort of person might respond to this particular work – and the response is worth taking seriously even if he’s in a minority of one”.
Talking about his movie reviews, Baradwaj writes:
I’m often told that a reader doesn’t know what to do after reading a review of mine: go see the film, or not. And that’s really how it should be, for I am not in the business of giving endorsements, nor am I a mind-reader...sometimes I feel like adding a disclaimer at the bottom: Thou shalt not make your life – or at least, your movie-viewing – decisions based on the opinions of ONE writer whose thoughts merely reflect what he felt AT THAT POINT IN TIME, and the author reserves his rights to change his views upon subsequent viewings, and so on.This approach will seem uncomfortably open-ended to many people (as I often discover while talking about reviewing with friends). It also seems like a cop-out – and maybe, on some level, it is. Speaking for myself, I’m not very good at holding strong, fixed opinions about most things – and is that necessarily bad? Is it as bad, for instance, as establishing your Worldviews at an early age and then stubbornly sticking by them all your life?
Incidentally, during an informal panel discussion at the Kitab festival on Saturday, Chandrahas made a related point about reviewing when he mentioned that good reviews (book reviews, in this case) should be seen as a sub-set of literature and held up to the same standards. Here too, the underlying assumption is that reviews need to be recognised as things written by individuals with distinct perspectives and biases of their own.
This might seem like a very obvious point to make, but it isn’t. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has said to me “Reviews must be objective” – a sentence I can never understand (I’m not sure I understand what the word “objective” means anyway). In India, there are major misconceptions about the nature and purpose of film reviewing. People often seem to want reviewers (who supposedly are Higher Beings with some secret, cosmic insight into whether a film is Good or Bad) to tell them in clear terms whether or not they should go and see something. And if they happen to strongly disagree with the reviewer's assessment, well, that's the cue for personal abuse/imputing of ulterior motives. Everything has to be centred on Evaluation. Four stars or two-and-a-half stars or three-and-a-quarter stars?
P.S. One of the accumulated mails I had to deal with today was from a friend informing me about two conflicting reviews of a new book and asking me which one he should "believe". I was in a crabby mood and replied with a simple: "They're both lying."