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15 Nov

Why are film critics important?

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was considered a humiliating defeat for Ben Affleck. The Telegraph called it “the most incoherent blockbuster in years” and it wasn’t the only publication who hated the superhero saga. Regardless, the film managed to collect over 870 million dollars on the global box office, and despite negative reviews, it went on to become the 7th highest grossing superhero movie of all time.

More closer to home, this phenomenon can also be observed in Bollywood. Most of the films that make big bucks at the box office aren’t necessarily great films or even good. This has been the criticism for Shah Rukh Khan’s films lately, where films such as Happy New Year and Dilwale have been ripped apart by film critics but enjoyed by the masses.

So what does that say about the relationship between film reviews and box office collections? It points out that the formula is quite unpredictable. While film reviews could discourage people from going to the cinema, we have seen many films doing rather well despite the negative publicity they receive. However, everyone’s role remains the same. A filmmaker will make a film, a cinema-goer will spend his money to watch it, and a film critic will review it for his readers.

Here in Pakistan, film critics are considered evil or useless. The Hum Style Awards recently included a little skit belittling film critics and their influence, claiming that nobody really wants to read all those long and boring film reviews. Other filmmakers have taken to their Facebook pages to condemn critics, saying that they’re trying to “damage the industry and only want to focus on the negative aspects of films”. Wajahat Rauf’s Lahore Se Aagey has received mostly negative reviews from all the major established publications and that has not gone down well with the director as is evident by the following status on his Facebook page: “Since everybody has an opinion, here is mine: Watch all Pakistani films and form your own opinion. Do not get influenced by people who are focusing only on the negatives and trying to damage our industry, that too in its teething period. In addition, those who consider themselves as authority on cinema should rather prove it through their work rather than indulging in childish social media banter. The real beauty of cinema is that it is the people who have the final verdict. Fortunately, critics do not make or break films, audiences do!”

Gohar Rasheed also felt strongly about this matter when he told film critics to “keep their mouths shut” till they can learn how to write films reviews. “To all my self-proclaimed so called ‘film critics’ except for two or three max, rest of you don’t even know how to critique a film so do the Pakistani film industry a favour, keep your personal opinions to yourself and if you can’t keep your mouth shut then at least learn how to write a film review until then get in the habit of buying cinema tickets. It is my humble request to all the cinemagoers do watch Pakistani films and then decide. Don’t go on their word because even they don’t know what they are writing.”

We agree with Rauf that nowadays everyone has a voice. All one needs is an internet connection and that does dilute the quality of critique that films receive nowadays.

However, it’s naive to discredit established newspapers which have educated journalists sitting behind the desks; journalists who have studied film theory and earned the right to critique films. The idea is to improve the industry, not to run it down. And most criticism is constructive.

After reading social media rants (from the director and actor), we feel like we have some explaining to do. Why do we critique things? As a film student and film journalist, let me tell you that it isn’t done to take revenge or sort out our personal vendetta. Critics too have gone through a long and arduous process to study film and journalism and they have a responsibility to give their readers a fair review of the work that is presented to them.

Filmmakers need to understand that critique is being given so that there can be improvement. Also, sometimes films will be digested by the masses while being bashed by the critics. Understand what your film’s purpose is. If you want to make a commercially viable film then the reviews shouldn’t bother you as the examples cited above have clearly proven that a film can be successful despite what the reviews say. If your film doesn’t make money and is also hated by the critics, then do some self reflection and understand that your work needs improvement.

Another humble request to filmmakers is to stop asking people to watch films in order to support the industry. We are supporting the industry. That is why we are purchasing our tickets and going to watch the movie in the cinema. But you cannot ask critics to call a bad movie ‘good’. And you cannot discredit all film critics by saying that they are out to get you in case your film gets negative reviews from multiple sources.

This is the time for our film industry to learn so let the critics do their job while filmmakers do theirs.

This article was first published in Instep, 15th November 2016.

Manal Khan

The author is Deputy Editor at Something Haute who has studied film and journalism from SZABIST. Will be found at the gym if not in the office.