Film Critics Need to Stop Playing God, Says Director R Balki

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Renowned director, R Balki, known for some of Bollywood’s most memorable films— Paa, Padman, Mission Mangal-is known in the industry for being someone who releases a version every four years. This has been the norm so far. But this year it’s different. Balki has two consecutive releases this year, one is next Chup: Revenge of the Artist featuring Dulquer Salmaan, Sunny Deol and Shreya Dhanwanthary and the other is groomerwith Abhishek Bachchan.

Chup: Revenge of the Artist is a take on film critics, with a serial killer stalking film critics, leaving a mark behind, to hint at the ratings critics give films. The concept, says Balki, had been in his mind since 2007, when he made his very first film, Cheeni Kum. “Film critics need to stop being gods. They’re mere human beings and they’re just doing their job. Please get out of this halo that you’re a god. Words can hurt, words can kill. So use your words wisely and wisely. Don’t show your sarcasm, show your wit, humor and analysis with sensitivity,” he said in an interview with THE WEEK.

Extracts:

Chup is about a serial killer stalking movie critics. Did this idea come from a personal experience?

Yes. When my very first film, Cheeni Kum, released in 2007, the reviews that arrived at the time affected me a lot. I first approached Amitji, and he asked me if I really wanted to do this film now. I said “yes” because this review of my movie was so venomous that I really had to give back. Amitji was convinced of the idea and we had to start working on it, but Paa past. So the thought stayed with me for a very long time. This time I was determined to just focus on that and that’s how it turned out.

Is it true that after reading this review of your first film, Cheeni Kumhave you stopped reading reviews of your own films?

Yes absolutely. Not even when they were passed on to me. It is only by searching Chup that I started reading reviews of various movies, especially mine.

Why? What struck you about this review?

It was very depressing. It was the most callous criticism of the time. The film itself was widely appreciated, and we had the most fantastic reaction from everyone, and the film premiered in London and nearly 2,000 people watched it. This critic had a personal agenda. At that time, I didn’t understand how the industry worked. People consoled me, but I couldn’t bear it because it was written all over me. So from there I decided to steer clear of these reviews.

Because you think it’s unjustifiable and wrong for someone to be harsh when reviewing a movie.

Well, here we are, toiling day in and day out to make a movie, and it’s inhumane to literally trash it, and trash it in the most reckless and cruel way. The role of a critic is to tell the audience how to see this film and guide the audience on how to analyze and watch it, show new perspectives and add nuance to the art (film) present. To simply spoil it is to be immature. Let the audience decide whether they like the movie or not. Your job is not to direct them to hate the movie. You get paid to analyze beautifully and have decency about art.

So how did you originally plan to get revenge on those who wrongly criticized your films?

I didn’t know the way! It was a long time ago. So film critics just write and that’s it. Who is their critic? How are they accountable and to whom? They can actually harm my life and get me out of it smiling. But I can’t do anything to you. Why does it work like this? Why is this such an unfair system?

Do you think your audience reads movie reviews and they are more relevant now than ever?

For some movies, audiences read the reviews and don’t care what they read. Because they want to see the movie anyway. But for some movies, the review is important because it helps the viewer to make the decision to watch it or not.

Do you see film critics and critics pushing their own personal agendas in their reviews?

Yes, and it’s very annoying. A set of people have a power that does not exist. They’re not even supposed to see power in it. It is a responsibility to write reviews and influence public opinion.

Are there lines from a movie review (for your movie) that touched you?

Yes so much. “I think he went blind briefly; he didn’t see what he was shooting.” It was the line. All right, now that it’s written and published. But now where’s the one who wrote it so I can say something back? What system of recourse do I have, especially when I want a thousand people to read my response to the review, just like they read the writing of this review? Where is the forum for me?

As part of the search for Chupyou have decided to read everything that has been written about you and all your films?

I called my co-author and told him we needed to find someone who could give us some insight into the mind of a reviewer. What do they think and why do they think the way they do? What motivates them, provokes them, evokes them and what really makes the job of film critic or critic, that’s what I wanted to know. So I called Raja Sen, himself a film critic. He too was seduced by the idea. I read every movie review ever written about my movies and it didn’t take me long to realize that Raja was the guy who criticized me the most. So I called him saying come on, let’s have fun. So when we sat down and wrote the script, we had fun thinking about ways to kill each other. If you say it’s a bad movie, remember someone worked on it. All I’m saying is, you have to exercise restraint in how you say things, whether you like the movie or not.

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