Most People Don't Even Ask If You Liked A Film or Not; They Just Say 'Kitne Stars Diye': Film Reviewer Anupama Chopra

Most People Don't Even Ask If You Liked A Film or Not; They Just Say 'Kitne Stars Diye': Film Reviewer Anupama Chopra

The noted film reviewer, journalist and founder of Film Companion on the changing face of journalism, reviewing and maintaining star relationships
Most People Don't Even Ask If You Liked A Film or Not; They Just Say 'Kitne Stars Diye': Film Reviewer Anupama Chopra
Anupama Chopra and Ranveer Singh in conversation

In a day and age when entertainment news means channels screaming banal headlines, reporters chasing star babies and breathless anchors debating wardrobe malfunctions, it’s rare to come across a platform that discusses the art, craft and magic of cinema. In India, that go-to entity is Film Companion (FC) a portal that celebrates movies – Bollywood, non-Bollywood, Hollywood, shorts and any other motion picture form - like none other. Its founder, journalist, reviewer and author Anupama Chopra, has seen the churn in journalism and cinema in a career spanning over two decades, and FC is an attempt to shine the spotlight on the other side of movie making – the real stories behind films and filmmakers and an honest analysis of the world they create.

Masala! and Film Companion have now collaborated to bring some exciting cinema-related news and views to our readers here; this is your window to the beauty of Bollywood! So what has changed in all these years? In a candid chat, Anupama tells it like it is – about film criticism, stars who sulk and a media that chases gossip… 

What led you to start Film Companion?
When my show with Star World wrapped up in 2014, my husband Vinod Chopra suggested we should try and do something digitally because film reviews should be available when people want them and not by appointment viewing. Then Vijay Nair of OML and two of my friends, Rasika Tyagi and Tarun were also very encouraging that we should try and do something digitally. Honestly, that was the thing - we were a production house, we could produce videos and that’s what led us to begin Film Companion. I wish I could say it was a more thought-out thing but really it wasn’t.

Journalists often lament the lack of serious writing on entertainment. Entertainment reporting has been reduced to gimmicks or gossip. What do you think is the reason?
That’s because it’s all now being reduced to a fight for eyeballs - the more gimmicky or juicy your headlines, the more people are going to click on it. I think everybody is sort of catering to the lowest common denominator and a lot of entertainment journalism (not all) now is either lifestyle or gossip, because that’s what gets the eyeballs. Like they say, ‘you get the politicians you deserve’ you frankly also get the culture entertainment coverage that you deserve.

How can channels such as FC bridge the gap between mainstream Bollywood and regional Indian cinema, given that you focus much on Non-Hindi films too?
That is our USP, our ambition, and we really want to be a pan Indian culture and entertainment platform. My hope and desire is to cover Punjabi cinema, Bengali cinema - we already have a wonderful film critic Baradwaj Rangan covering cinema in the South and I hope we can spread this across the country.

Anupama Chopra

As a journalist, what do you think has been the single most significant change in the star-media relationship over the years? Aren’t yesteryear stars way more candid and honest in their response compared to the PR-schooled stars of today?

I feel the single most significant change in the star-media relationship has been the proliferation of platforms chasing the stars. When I started about 20 years ago, film journalism wasn’t considered a respected job. It was something you did if you couldn’t do anything else. Only those of us who were very passionate about it or those who fell into it because there wasn’t anything else going on around, did it. I remember the days when there were literally eight or nine people covering movies regularly and all of us knew each other. And yes, we did have more candid and honest conversations because there were relationships.

I have memories of sitting in Dimple Kapadia’s home and chatting over chai and coffee. It wasn’t the most professional relationship, but perhaps more honest. What has happened in last 20 years is that Bollywood has gained what anthropologist Tejaswini Ganti calls ‘cultural legitimacy’. Everybody wants a piece of Bollywood now. Bollywood sells everything from Architectural Digest to Vogue India, so they are being chased. Far too few people are been chased by far too many. The power equations are extremely skewed and therefore you have all sort of layers of managers and PR people. This has blown up now because of digital. There are some 300-400 websites covering cinema every single day; when you have that much to fill, what you going to fill it with?

Movie reviews have become hugely popular but do you think people care more about the ‘ratings’ given to a film than its analysis? Do reviews impact the viewing decision of the audience?
I don’t know how much reviews impact the viewing decision of the audience. I can’t imagine that we have a hell lot of clout. I don’t imagine I really make a big difference to anyone, but I think where I can make a difference is maybe try and convince someone to see a film they otherwise would not have considered. And yes, there is definitely too much importance given to the ratings. Most people don’t even ask did you like it or not like it, they just say ‘Kitne stars diye’! I find that very reductive and almost disrespectful to the filmmaker and the film. But it is the state of the affairs at least right now.

What is your honest opinion on film criticism in India, given the explosion of social media, blogs etc?
We are taking baby steps. Though we have had film critics for many decades, we still have miles to go. I, for one, always feel like I am not educated enough - I don’t have enough references and I feel I need to be far more cinema literate than I was when I had started. Honestly, I see very few great film critics in the way that there are in the West like Roger Ebert, Anthony Lane, A.O Scott, Manohla Dargis… they are incredible. And it’s just not one or two, there are many, many film critics in the West who are superlative writers and thinkers. I don’t see enough of that here and this includes me. I wouldn’t call myself a film critic, I am just a film reviewer who’s like a food taster telling you how the food tastes before you taste it.

How do stars react to a negative review on your channel? Journalists complained of access to a star being cut off because of a bad review or unflattering interview. Is it necessary for a critic to do the balancing act?
It depends on the stars. Some people have been really cool with it. Like Priyanka Chopra. I reviewed Anjaana Anjaani very badly and I had to speak to her on the same day for the interview I was doing for a magazine. She laughed and said ‘You really hated my film, didn’t you?’ I really admire that because it takes a lot. Filmmaking is very hard work and it takes a lot to take criticism in and not react badly. Some people are very mature and evolved about criticism and some are not. They get angry and stop speaking to you. But what are you going to do? It’s part of the deal of being a critic. I did not get in this job to make friends.

No, it’s not necessary for a critic to do the balancing act. If a critic does that, then he or she should get out of the act altogether. The first thing it requires is a very high level of honesty and integrity and if you are worried about losing access or having people dislike you then you can’t do it.

How do stars react to a negative review on your channel? Journalists complained of access to a star being cut off because of a bad review or unflattering interview. Is it necessary for a critic to do the balancing act?

It depends on the stars. Some people have been really cool with it. Like Priyanka Chopra. I reviewed Anjaana Anjaani very badly and I had to speak to her on the same day for the interview I was doing for a magazine. She laughed and said ‘You really hated my film, didn’t you?’ I really admire that because it takes a lot. Filmmaking is very hard work and it takes a lot to take criticism in and not react badly. Some people are very mature and evolved about criticism and some are not. They get angry and stop speaking to you. But what are you going to do? It’s part of the deal of being a critic. I did not get in this job to make friends.

No, it’s not necessary for a critic to do the balancing act. If a critic does that, then he or she should get out of the act altogether. The first thing it requires is a very high level of honesty and integrity and if you are worried about losing access or having people dislike you then you can’t do it.

As a reviewer, do you wear a different lens when analysing say, a Salman Khan or Anees Bazmee film as opposed to a Rajkummar Rao or Shoojit Sircar movie?

My premise for evaluating a film is did the filmmaker fulfil the promise that he/she made to the audience. So a Salman Khan film will make a different promise to the audience than a Rajkummar Rao or Shoojit Sircar film and therefore, I will evaluate on that basis. If the idea of a Tiger Zinda Hai is to give us a good time, then I say ‘Well, they did deliver that?’ Maybe Shoojit Sircar in October is not trying to do that at all, and then I have to ask what is he trying to do and does he manage to do it? So the barometer is different but it’s always the promise that the filmmaker makes to an audience. I go into a film with the same level of enthusiasm, seriousness and optimism. I always want to love it.

What are your future plans for Film Companion?

I would like to scale up and see it grow. I would like to be talking about many more kinds of cinemas than we are right now. I would like it to be the home of great content not just around films but also around web series, short films, theatre and gaming. I had said this to Baradwaj Rangan when I was trying to get him to join Film Companion, I said ‘Think of us as the Avengers of film journalism’. He said that line got to him and he decided to quit the job he was in.

Masala! and Film Companion have now collaborated to bring some exciting cinema-related news and views to our readers here; this is your window to the beauty of Bollywood!

What advice would you give a young reporter on the entertainment beat?

I would say, work your ass off because I don’t think there is any substitute for hard work. There are many, many people who are far more talented, far better writers, far more knowledgeable about films, but one thing I do, is that I work very hard. I would give that same advise to all reporters. Just have a work ethic that nobody can match and you will get somewhere.

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