“We are not here to measure applause” 

Her loyally followed, unpretentious yet astute film reviews do end up ruffling feathers. But if you can’t speak your truth, don’t do it -critic and author ANUPAMA CHOPRA shares her personal mantra with NICHOLA PAIS.

What’s your reading of the recent episode where a newspaper over-rode the review of its film critic to upgrade a film’s rating, citing “reader feedback and research”?
There can be no two readings of this situation – it’s just very sad, it’s terrible. A film critic has every right to go back and see a film and change his or her opinions. But if the establishment is changing your opinion for you, or your opinion does not agree with the public opinion and therefore they will change it, then what is the value of your opinion? Then you might as well not have it there at all.

The industry is known to view critics as elitist, claiming they do not reflect the janta’s tastes…
You know, I always use this example –LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan did not like James Cameron’s TITANIC. He wrote a negative review of the film and Cameron was very upset, saying he was totally out of sync with what popular sentiment and taste is. And Turan said, ‘Critics are not applause meters’. We are not here to measure applause. You don’t have to reflect the public taste. It’s your opinion of a film and it can or cannot be evoked from box office. You know, sometimes I love films that everybody else loves and sometimes I hate films that everybody else loves and that’s just how it is! It’s not my job to pre-empt what the public is going to like. It’s my personal take and it’s just an opinion like any other.

Film reviews have grown in importance… this must make filmmakers more than a little wary.
(Laughs) No, I have never felt powerful, not one day in my life! I think we delude ourselves if we think we have any power. I’m not interested and I haven’t spent even half of a nanosecond of my life, thinking about what power I have or don’t have – that’s not why I do what I do. I see my job as tasting the wares before you do, I try and give you some idea of what my experience was like and then you can decide for yourself whether you want to see it or not. And maybe I can direct you to a film which otherwise you wouldn’t have discovered.

There is the power to influence public opinion…
Yes, but to what level? There are so many films which critics have not liked which have been super-duper hits. Studios don’t really need to be afraid. Also, if you’re producing a piece of art for a public platform, reviews and public criticism are a part of the deal. Then to be upset because people are negatively reviewing it, is a bit bewildering because you knew that when you came in.

How does one review a downright bad film, without getting nasty?
I don’t tone things down but I never ever want to be disrespectful, condescending, graceless or personal. I understand that it takes a lot of work… I’m married to a filmmaker – I know what it takes to make a film. That said, I have given your film three hours of my life and this is my take on it. I don’t have friends in the business and I’m not trying to promote or not promote people. I have no agenda at all but to tell people what I thought of the film!

Being married to filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, does it ever create a conflict?
Well, it would if I was reviewing Vinod’s work or any film he has produced, or Raju (Hirani)’s films – which I don’t. That’s of course a conflict of interests which should never ever happen. It’s just fundamentally wrong to review something you have a personal stake in.

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