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Critics, film ratings and Onir

By: Moses Navgire, IndiaFM
Friday, August 18, 2006
With the coming of blogs and online film forums, it has become so simple today to learn about the latest releases. Just log on to a forum and you know whether the film is a worth a watch or not. This has definitely put the position of film critics in jeopardy. As audiences you'll realize it is not very uncommon to notice that though a particular critic claims a particular film as "highly remarkable" work and will be the biggest money spinner; when you actually go for the movie, it turns out to be nothing more than a glam show with bunch of big names offering nothing more than 3 hrs of escapism. Impractical stories, flamboyant people, European streets and a big banner is all that counts. Escapism is not bad, but is it the only kind of "cinema" that Indian audiences watch movies for according to those critics? Is Bollywood just about escapism? If a film is judged and rated only on the basis of the amount money it will make, where does creativity go? When filmmaker Onir was asked whether he would prefer critical acclaim or commercial success, he had some interesting things to say.

Onir is just one film old. His last film, My Brother Nikhil which dealt with the issues of HIV-AIDS and Homosexuality, won multiple awards at various film festivals across the world but it is so ironic that the film didn't get a single nomination at any of the award functions back in India. Says Onir, "For me, more than critical acclaim, what really matters is connecting with the audiences. I don't mean having a huge hit, but reaching the audiences whom I'm trying to and to be able to tell a story that people are interested in listening." He believes that building a strong connection with the audiences is much more important than getting any kind of critical acclaim. He explains this saying "For me critical acclaim means nothing because after My Brother Nikhil people kept saying 'Oh the film's got so much critical acclaim'. But for me it seemed to be some kind of a joke because if My Brother Nikhil got 3 1/2 star rating by some critic, they also gave 3 stars for Tango Charlie?. So for me that half star extra means nothing." It is one of the issues which not just film makers but also the audiences have started noticing these days.

But what can possibly be the reason for sloppy reviews and the dig for escapist cinema by some critics? "Unfortunately, in our country critics don't have any basis for rating a film. It is so important that reviewers should understand under what logistics a film is made. You'll find it very often that when the so called "sensible cinema" is under review, then people will try to find more flaws, but when it comes to brainless cinema they just readily agree that it's brainless. I don't understand this whole logic." Where My Brother Nikhil hardly got any mention in our country, the film recently won the 'Audience Choice' award at the Milan Gay and Lesbian film festival. Says Onir, "So when it comes to critical acclaim, it feels good, but then if you look at reviews, the same film which gets four stars by one critic gets two stars by other. So, there is no standardized thing in the country. I don't understand why certain films are getting certain kinds of reviews and certain other kinds of films are getting certain kind of reviews."

Onir currently is all set to release his next film Bas Ek Pal which is scheduled to release next week. The film is a story about five urban characters played by Urmila Matondkar, Sanjay Suri, Jimmy Shergill, Rehaan Engineer and Juhi Chawla and their search for a moment of happiness in life. Though a highly commercial film, Bas Ek Pal opened at the Osian's Cinefan 8th festival of Asian Cinema at Delhi this year.

If given a choice for critical acclaim or commercial success, Onir says "I would go for a mix of respectability with acceptance. Because at the end of the day what will I do with a whole lot of awards if people don't see my film. So I would rather go in for audience appreciation because that is what means more to me."

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