India is and has been a cinema-crazy country for years. Whether it is the elaborate rituals that are performed in parts of the country before the release of a film each week, or the numerous fan clubs that adorn the inner lanes of cities where the birthdays of actors and actresses are celebrated with an unimaginable splendour, the life of cinema in India extends much beyond the screen. Growing up, I’ve imbibed and recognised a similar kind of fascination (albeit minus the fanaticism) for cinema within me and gradually saw myself being drawn to study it as well. Writing about a film is an extension of my love for the medium, its potential and its universe.
There isn’t one National cinema but many cinemas of India; each region has nurtured its own industry, icons and traditions of filmmaking. Naturally, the scope for discussion and criticism is amplified with a plethora of voices—genuine and PR driven— contributing to the debate about what makes a film work or an industry tick. A critic, therefore, in such a vibrant atmosphere, is one among the many voices contributing to the reception, history and documentation of a film. Often, a critic also introduces one part of India to another, through cinema.
The country is currently going through an interesting phase. Independent cinema in the recent past has gained a larger viewership, financial and cinematic experiments in filmmaking have seen success too. Therefore, film criticism is poised to play an important role: to note, follow and analyse the developments of burgeoning cinemas in the country. But there is a growing need for more honest voices as well.
Last year, in an interview for The Hindu, the publication I work for in India, Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian’s Chief Film Critic said something which stood out for me. He said, “I hate the idea that a critic is reliable.” It is perhaps easy to bask in the self importance and glamour that the role of a film critic brings with it, perhaps even more in the current era of a social media boom. But if there is one skill I would deem is important for a film critic, it would be the ability to not take oneself too seriously. For me, this skill liberates the critic and the writer in her. It paves the way for an unfettered study and analysis of a piece of cinema, perhaps the closest to an honest one as well. It also privileges the film over its critic; the latter is ideally in service of the former.