Sometimes It Just Blows

19 Aug

Of all the blowhards that populate tinseltown, I always enjoy reading what Ram Gopal Verma has to say. When Amitabh Bachchan starts ventilating about the myriad ways he’s been done wrong, I think yawnsies. When Salman Khan starts rips the fragile filter off his mouth and gives you a guided tour of the Inner Mind of Khan, I roll my eyes. But when RGV starts ranting about how he feels persecuted and doles out his frank thoughts on the film industry at large, I find it highly entertaining.

For example, his latest movie, Agyaat, a movie I have neither seen nor wish to see, apparently came a cropper at every reviewer’s table, so he unleashed this fantastic screed:

Some Peppermint Tejpal wrote a review in Mumbai Mirror, that is if it can be called a review, posing as if he is the world expert on cinema. If the only qualification of a reviewer is to just have an opinion then I would really like to know the process of a paper choosing and employing a reviewer out of millions of opinion makers. If it’s not about his opinion and it’s about expertise then what is peppermint’s expertise. It would be nothing but him being in love with himself the way he can rip apart a film much more than even his actual hatred for the film…..Also I have no problem in getting one star from sweetie cutie Anupama who thinks “Eklavya” is a classic and the lesser said about the Buffalo Bumzai the better.

Heh. RGV in fury mode absolutely kills me. But somebody needs to tell poor RGV that he’ll never get any traction in this snark business unless he learns to lay off the vitriol. Angry snark is not snark, it’s just a pissed off guy employing sarcasm when what he really wants is to egg the other guy’s house.

Wait a minute – did I just review his rant against reviews? :mrgreen:

Levity aside, I found the premise of his argument rather astonishing in a man of his background. Maybe it makes sense in the context of the people he calls out by name – I don’t know, I never read any of them – but a few points really made me think.

First off, do reviews really matter that much to the bottomline? Although I’ve often come across people who’ll murmur as an aside that the reviews have been scathing about such-and-such film, never have I found someone deterred from watching a movie they were genuinely interested in by negative reviews. And generally speaking, people seem to rely more on word-of-mouth than anything else. Added to this, certain movies, directors and actors are always going to be what they call “review-proof” – a term that RGV ought to be familiar with because he’s certainly worked hard to become one of those people.

Had RGV been a no-name director scrambling for funds who found his debut movie trashed beyond repair by a vengeful cabal of all-powerful critics, I might have understood it better. But while it can’t be pleasant to wake up one morning and find the newspapers full of terrible reviews of your work, as RGV points out himself, his bottomline is perfectly fine. Perhaps more people might have flocked to see Agyaat if it had cornered better notices but nothing anybody had to say ultimately mattered to its core audience of RGV- and horror-fans.

And yet, it’s always the review-proof directors who really get their knickers in a twist over the bad reviews. Look at Stephen Sommers, a man who routinely makes movies that cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to produce and market because the studios know he’ll bring in that kind of revenue even in the middle of a recession and he might well be RGV’s twin:

On the most popular movies of the last decade, the reviews have gotten more vicious, more personal. These critics have become a dying breed, and part of it is how much more vicious and personal they’ve become. They attack the directors, personally.

So much for “Indian” reviewers then. The whole rotten tribe of them is evil! They live to persecute poor little directors who only wish to bring joy to the deprived masses.

When RGV, a man who famously began making movies because he couldn’t stop sampling the merchandise in his video lending library, writes:

“The purpose of a review could be to warn a viewer of how a film is and probably to prepare a mindset. But does anybody believe that this alone would be the intention of any of the reviewers.”

it really strikes me as odd that he doesn’t for one minute believe that perhaps the reason why reviewers review movies is for the same reason that he used to once watch movies in his store – because they like them.

“It’s not a critic’s job to reflect box office taste,” writes Roger Ebert in a post that reads as though it might have been written explicitly as a reply to RGV and his brethren. “The job is to describe my reaction to a film, to account for it, and evoke it for others. The job of the reader is not to find his opinion applauded or seconded, but to evaluate another opinion against his own.”

That said, since I don’t actually know any of the people RGV targets for his ire, I could well be mistaken. Perhaps the majority of movie-reviewers out there really hate the movies and want people to stop watching them and are cursing every day the cruelty of a fate that condemns them to watch cinema for a living. Perhaps their job truly is to “warn” others and “prepare” them for what lies in wait.

But for argument’s sake let’s say there are at least a couple of them out there who enjoy what they do. So why then do they write a “bad review”?

Maybe, just maybe, because the movie sucked. As simple as that.

And really, if RGV wants to see what truly excoriating reviews look like, he should call up Michael Bay. Here’s sample of the kind of things he had to hear about his latest moneyspinner: “Michael Bay has once again transformed garbage into something resembling a film, at least in the loosest sense: it can be run through a projector and used to sell millions of tickets.”

[PS: This whole brouhaha actually reminded me of that goodbye note Stu VanAirsdale penned for Defamer, in which he talked about the limitations of snark:

It also made me lazy. “If I talk to you,” John Cusack began an interview last May, “will you stop writing nasty shit about me?” I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about, but I learned soon enough, rediscovering some tossed-off, machine-feeding item about his upcoming film 2012. Just stupid. And there were others like it — maybe even hundreds of them, too embarrassing to exhume now, but apparently not too awful to stop, you know, doing. They continued unabated, in fact, until a couple weeks ago, when one of the less egregious examples prompted a commenter to ask sincerely, “Do you like anything?”

It was a piece that resonated with me because I’d had a similar sort of epiphany myself not long before he wrote it. About a year or so into writing Hindi film music reviews for this blog, I arrived at a point where I began to actively dislike even the thought of writing them because they were fast making me hate everything my eye fell upon. I stand by every single one of them but at a certain point, when you’ve eagerly plugged in to the latest album only to find it as ridiculous as the last one, you start to wonder if your life is just going to be one long stretch of horrible. Which is why, to those who still ask, I no longer write music reviews. There’s plenty of snark-worthy stuff out there, it just wearies me to point it out when there’s so many other things I could snark about to better effect.]


Posted by on August 19, 2009 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Newsmakers, Video


10 responses to “Sometimes It Just Blows

  1. pitu

    August 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I just think the bigger a director/actor/musician gets (notice I didn’t say better), his/her emotional age plummets to toddler levels. Say one remotely unflattering thing about RGV’s movies and he’ll rip into you. It’s so odd to accuse reviewers of vitriol when these guys are way more vitriolic. KJo, Farah Khan, Salman, Anil Kapoor, Amitabh- all of them have this massive persecution complex. Which I sincerely don’t get, I mean, don’t you have enough sycophants already?! Aur kitna artifical sachharine chahiye?

    As for the ‘sweetie cutie’ comment about Anupama Chopra (a woman who clearly worships the ground her filmmaker hubbie VVC walks on), I can’t help but think back to VVC’s vitriol at everyone who disliked ‘Eklavya’. Why don’t these people grow up? *sigh*

    Personally, I’m glad to get my cheap thrills from RGV and Amitabh because while I may not be a professional reviewer, I do review movies on my blog so basically this is a prem patra for me too :-p

  2. maxdavinci

    August 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    you might wanna read this.

    I had no inclination to watch the movie, but when RGV’s post popped up on my reader, I just had to go see it.

    And believe me, there are not many words in the english lexicon that can do justice to the climax. Seriously you gotta watch it to believe it….

  3. sachita

    August 19, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    “do reviews really matter that much to the bottomline?” – In a way they do, I think. How else do movies like Khosla ka Ghosla and other such small films catch up. Word of mouth is lot more significant but reviewers do add the initial spark. Who knows one of these days RGV might go through a sudden bout of sanity and make a decent movie like the old days, how will I get to know.

    I do think some reviewers settle scores and let every other sundry thing affect their verdict except for the movie. I cant see a lot of good movie critics belonging to the Print/TV media. Even Rajeev Masand and Anupama Chopra who dont seem petty just state what they like/disliked instead of why!

    Besides filmmakers arent Zen, they are bound to react strongly to slight criticism.

    Cant blv. I am writing all this in defence of RGV, but this isnt about RGV at all.

    ““The job is to describe my reaction to a film, to account for it, and evoke it for others. The job of the reader is not to find his opinion applauded or seconded, but to evaluate another opinion against his own.”” – I have read this in so many different forms in baradwaj’s blog including this quote, yet I have seen people screaming at him as to how dare he feel discomfort at TZP’s second half, like Drona and so on.. For decades, our people are used to reading, hero good, heroine look good and story different that they cant understand actual reviews at all.

    • pitu

      August 20, 2009 at 11:31 am

      ROTFL at “sudden bout of sanity” 😀

  4. Ramsu

    August 20, 2009 at 12:30 am

    I guess a lot of reviewers start off because they genuinely love the movies and want to write about them. They also enjoy the act of writing, which is why reviews of movies that they either really liked or really hated are moroe readable than reviews of the middling ones. (Although some people just do the snarky ones better, like yours truly 😀 ) Trouble is, at some point, you begin to lose objectivity. I guess it’s a bit like politics and power that way.

    As for the relationship between filmmakers and critics, my absolute favourite Ebert piece is this one about Rob Schneider, who made the universally panned Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.

    My reason for taking periodic breaks from doing movie reviews on my blog is somewhat similar. After a point, I found myself unable to just sit back and enjoy the movie. My mind was constantly forming and reforming sentences for my review, and I had to keep telling myself to shut the f*** up and watch the movie.


  5. Gradwolf

    August 20, 2009 at 12:56 am

    ^^That’s why I stick to writing one or one para reviews. Unless I really really loved the movie and had a lot to write about. In which case, I need to do the shut the f*** up routine Ramsu does and watch the movie for what it is. Some of us are obsessed with that, “Notice that thing the director wanted you to notice” and write about it because we love movies so much. But then there is a disadvantage of seeing too much into it. And maybe that’s why I like reading reviews than writing them!

    On music review, you won’t do a review, but listen to Wake Up Sid!

    I cannot stand Big B’s blog. It’s not even him writing , is it? No, that’s not blogging!

    • sachita

      August 22, 2009 at 1:38 pm

      I think its him writing, i dont think there are that many meglomaniacs around.

  6. MovieL

    August 22, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Movie is probably bad, but thoroughly enjoyed this song.

  7. Frau Gile

    August 26, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    LOL @ that Combustible Celluloid — hmm, interesting to — spoilerishly speaking — view this name in light of the happenings at a certain cinema-house in France, in IB — comment on Michael Bay! Somehow, stuff like that seems to roll right off the backs (forgive my foie gras hangover, por favor) of Hollywood directors, no?

    On the other hand, funny how furious and foul a being it turns some of their equally-seasoned Bollywood counterparts into. One would indeed presume someone of the caliber of RGV to have long since broken out of the fragile-ego mold, but guess not!

    I think you’re spot on in looking at his mini “explosion” as utterly entertaining. I mean, it’s practically impossible not laugh at his perceiving some poor critic’s personal sob story (of indigestion, perhaps?) to be an indubitable diagnosis of cervical cancer (in the director’s creative womb)?!

  8. Amrita

    August 29, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Pitu – I don’t know, maybe the bubble they live in is so thick that they can’t exist without it anymore? Or maybe they’re just spoiled rotten by the tons of people who run around saying they’re the be-all and end-all of their lives? I have no clue.

    Max – hee hee, not even my oft-confessed love of the absurd can drag me into that theatre. I saw that one movie about that evil tree that eats Sushmita Sen’s family and there was an end to my RGV horror watching days.

    Sachita – I’ve often noticed that too re: word of mouth *positively* influencing audience trends. But I’ve not really seen too much of the opposite. I base this primarily on the reception Hum Aapke Hain Kaun got when it first released and every single reviewer called it dumb. Which it was. But then it became the biggest blockbuster ever (first Hindi movie I ever saw in a theatre believe it or not) and it did so solely on the word of families who went to see it. And then, and this REALLY sticks out in my mind, one reviewer for a newspaper I cant remember now because we ordered literally dozens at the house, but it was either the Statesman or the TOI Delhi edition, *rewrote* his review and apologized for calling it a waste of time!
    So yes, I can definitely believe that there are critics out there who have absolutely no fricking taste or idea what they’re doing, but I think most of us have a good idea who they are and can base our ideas independent of them. All it takes really, is for the reader to watch one movie the reviewer trashed and like it – from the next time on, she’ll automatically rethink the reviewer’s infallible status.
    Oh yeah – and RGV is a child.

    Ramsu / Adithya – This is why I don’t review all the movies I see. Or even talk about all of them. I need to see a few as a fan. I’ve often wondered whether Baradwaj uses his in between reviews section as a recharge mechanism, examining moments that increase his appreciation of film as a medium as opposed to making him hate it. I’ve seen Roger Ebert do the same thing (that btw, Ramsu, was the biggest pwnage in the history of pwning).
    And yes, I’m afraid that crazy talk is definitely their own, Adithya, or else they’re dictating it or something. Hey! Sidney Sheldon wrote whole novels that way.

    MovieL – you and a lot of 13 yr old boys 😀

    FG – RGV really is the most entertaining symptom of an industry wide phenom I think. Have you ever seen an episode of Koffee With Karan? ALL of them complain about critics. ALL of them.

%d bloggers like this: