Saturday, 10 August 2013

Why Indian movie critics get it so wrong

Seeing a spate of movie reviews over the last month, I wondered why so many of the Bollywood movie reviews are at complete variance with what was found when one finally watched it. Typically flop, snooze-fests  get 4 star ratings  and inspirational superhits like " Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" get 2-3 star ratings
So here goes the top reasons why Indian movie critics get it so wrong:

1)      Critics are unable to measure against similar genres
A masala movie like “Chennai Express”, which has smashed box office records, is given the same contemptuous review as “Himmatwala” , which bombed badly. And not a single critic has the sensibility or analytical power to even wonder why one potboiler should be so successful while the other similar genre film flopped. Because hey, “it’s a masala film and my little circle of nerdy movie geeks will think I’m a sell-out if I say I like them”

2)      Critics live in cultural ghettos and have no clue who the target audience of a film is:
The reality is that most of the critics are fans of Satyajit Ray and Mani Ratnam. So anything catering to the typical “Hindi” audiences has to be frivolous. The sneery,patronising undertone is evident in their reviews and the standard defence is “We critique a movie, we don’t consider trade figures”. Yeah sure, but your critique has no meaning when the message is lost.

3)      Critics get personal:
You have them saying that “This actor is desperate , over the hill” etc. which has nothing to do with the film . So now, let’s see if critics can take the personal attacks as well. Anybody in journalism will tell you that film critics are usually at the bottom of the pecking order in a journalistic sense. Almost none are qualified movie critics and are just avid movie watchers of world cinema. During the job interview they reel off names like Bergman and Francois Truffaut and the poor editors give them the job as they really need to focus on more serious matters. And thereafter, it’s these sods who review Bollywood!!

4)      Critics fall in love with a headline and then write the review to match it:
It’s like making a coffin and then trying to find a body to fit in it. So if a critic’s clever headline is “Chennai Express is Rukh-Rukh” , then it means the review needs to say that the movie falters to a stop , otherwise it would be a waste of a smart headline, wouldn't it?

5)      Critics are overawed by personas:  
So you can be sure that any film produced by Anurag Kashyap or endorsed by Kiran Rao will get a thumbs up. After all these people condemn those silly Bollywood films, so they must be ree-aaal intelligent and know what they are talking about. Never mind that the critic was the only person awake, while audiences slept.
P.S : I need to add here,that 'Madras Cafe'released just two weeks after 'Chennai Express". NOT surprisingly the same critics who had a problem with the stereotypical "dark, menacing southies"in Chennai Express, had no problem with the same in 'Madras Cafe'. After all Shoojit Sircar is a "thinking" director, while that Rohit Shetty should have shown lily-white goondas. Point proven.

6)      Critics don’t see the movie with the paying public:
 Since they get tickets as freebies these critics never watch the movie with the audience that it is meant for. Which means they have no hope in hell of knowing whether the film has achieved what it set out to do. So do pay next time. Rs. 200 is a small price to get some credibility.  

Imagine how utterly frustrating it is for them to think they are changing the way people view cinema and then to their chagrin “Ek Tha Tiger’and “Chennai Express” go full steam ahead , embraced by the very people who read their columns!

The paying public rules !!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Priyanka Chopra’s 10 PR tricks that backfired

We all know that Priyanka Chopra, popularly known as PC , has tried every trick in the book to stay in the news, despite average box office performance. Most of her recent hit movies have run on the name of the male superstar. So no surprise she has gone into a PR overdrive to remain relevant .  Unfortunately these PR efforts have consistently boomeranged on her. Let’s go back to the past year (it’ll be too exhausting to talk about the PR disasters of the last one decade she’s been around)
1)      The snide salvo at K.Jo : This one was the biggest PR boomerang of 2012. After using her PR machinery to “anonymously’ run-down star wives, she went one step ahead and back-stabbed K.Jo who gave her two of her biggest hits Dostana and Agneepath. Karan Johar was smart enough to see through it and retaliated, something Ms. Chopra would’nt  have expected. Sure enough, the two kissed and made up, but only after K.Jo had made his point. Forget any sympathy for Priyanka, we don’t expect to see PC anytime soon in any Dharma production.
2)      Earning WHAT ?? To prove she was on par with reigning queen Kareena Kapoor, she set about the rumour that she was earning as much as Ram Charan Teja for Zanjeer . However as clarified later by his team, he’s earning Rs.12 crore, while Priyanka is receiving Rs.5.5 cr.  Oops, how embarrassing for the poor girl!
3)      Musical oversell: Everyone knows that her much touted single “In my City” sank without a trace and was contemptuously dismissed by critics as a Rihanna wannabe song. That did’nt stop her PR going into overdrive stating that the single went “triple platinum”. Queries about the criteria of triple platinum went unanswered.
4)      Twitter and PC: Have you noticed how some of the least popular actors have the largest number of followers? I mean if these THREE MILLION plus followers of PC actually went out and saw her movies, every one of her films would be “triple platinum” (Snigger). Anybody in the know can tell you that shrewd digital marketing gets you meaningless followers.
5)      Barfi leaves a sour taste: Yes, we all heard about how hard poor PC prepared for the role of the autistic girl in Barfi. Unfortunately critics were unimpressed with her exaggerated mannerisms. Not only did she fail to win any of the popular awards, but also could not get a mention at the respected National Awards. What must have been more galling for PC was that her one-film old kid sister Parineeti Chopra  got a special national award the same year for her FIRST lead role in Ishaqzaade!! Tsk tsk
6)      Those carefully manipulated photo-ops of PC arriving at the airport: The press is tipped off,“PC is arriving”. And out she comes after an 18 hour flight looking ready for a cover shoot! Unfortunately for her, people prefer commenting on her various cosmetic procedures instead, earning her the nickname plastic PC. See images below if you don't believe me from
7)      SRK : Yes, no discussion is complete without mentioning her well-publicised “romance” with the man himself. There is no way this could have been exposed unless somebody wanted it to be. Sample this:  Suggestively retweeting this lovey-dovey message from “My Shah Rukh Khan”, a fan of the REAL SRK : “Every once in a while, someone comes into your life and you wonder how you ever lived without them :)” . On the face of it it seems that its from SRK, until closer examination shows its a message from a fan of  SRK. So the question is, why is PC retweeting it unless she wants to create a controversy and hence publicity for herself?  Unfortunately this little ploy did not trend and was’nt noticed.

8)      The Marriage proposal from SRK : She gave sound bytes on how SRK had proposed to her during the Q&A of Miss India , when she was a contestant. Shrewdly, she thought this would send people into overdrive with SRK’s “proposal” grabbing headlines. Again, except for a few trashy entertainment channels, this news was largely treated as another ho-hum, desperate publicity manoeuvre.

9)      Priyanka and her favoured websites:  What is it about certain sites which manage to get “exclusives” about PC , whether its leaving SRK’s office at 3 a.m.  Or writing completely unsubstantiated stories about her marrying Baadshah Khan? Perhaps PC has some friends there? Unfortunately for her, the story was trashed as a “figment of an overactive imagination”.

10)   The latest- PC as a “voice” in the animation film Planes: Yes we all heard from “sources” how Siddharth Roy Kapur of UTV had recommended her name over that of his wife Vidya Balan . Until Mr.Kapur , in an interview to respected weekly Screen , categorically refuted it. So a few days later the story was changed, and now the recommendation comes from director of Planes, Klay Hall . Wonder how long this story will hold now!

Keep a look out for more of PC’s pathetic little games in 2013!!

11) Yes I know I said 10 failed PR ticks but here's the 11th ! They just keep coming! Priyanka now dropped from coffee ad after she broke up with Shahid Kapoor (another relationship leveraged for gains)

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Eleven mysteries over 100 Bollywood years

By now you are up to your ears on the best, the landmark, the “how fantastic our movies are” spiel
Here’s my list of 11 mysteries of Bollywood over the last 100 years:
1)     100 years and yet no Oscar?
Sure you can say we don’t need endorsement from the west, but lets face it, its more credible than the IIFA’s of the world. So when Bosnia, Iran eta al with virtually no industry or budgets can win, what stopped us?  WE who produce the most movies in the world can’t produce ONE in a century? There is something seriously wrong here. In movie sensibilities, in selection, in promotion....
2)     Why does India produce film family mafias?
Almost 80% of actors and directors today have filmy lineage. Which country in the world has this percentage? It is’nt just about the public wanting it, otherwise Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar would have never made it. But to have only 1-2 top actors in every generation from outside? There is serious shutting out of talent here. Chief offenders in the past 100 years: The Kapoor family (all the brothers who survived flop-after-flop till they made it big), the Chopras (Uday Chopra OMG), Karan Johar (when was the last time he did a film with a non-star kid cast?).Our oh-so-principled Aamir Khan too is not above promoting a wooden nephew, and a wife with directorial skills which every second FTII grad has. The less said about the Jacky Bhagnanis the better. Nowhere do such patently uncharismatic /talentless star progeny get a chance the way they do in India.
3)     Why the growth of crap PR?
Everyone knows flop actress Aishwarya Rai is PR made . You can look at it as brilliant PR or as a con trick. I believe the latter. Like Shahid kapoor. His PR about how he’s having affairs with the actress of the day and how he is considering offers with hot-shot directors (none of which happens).So maybe these highly paid PR guys are there to just ensure endorsements by keeping their clients in the news. 
4)     Why Indians became “Haw-jee-Haw cine viewers” :
Kissing has become acceptable on screen only in the last five years. Shameful. Our censors post-independence decided that “Angrez chale gaye, lekin Victorian values chod gaye”(The British left India but the censors upheld Victorian values). Likewise for cusswords. Like they don’t exist. Hence kisses and curses were censored and Indians became generations of “Haw-jee-Haw” viewers. We believed that such movies would “spoil” the kids. Which brings me to the next point...
5)     Why does Bollywood not produce enough children’s films?
Because our regular films are childish and simplistic. No layering or shades of grey. No nuances (is there even a Hindi word for ‘nuances’?). Just silly movies which makes the whole family laugh....Look at the recent Rs.100 crore “hit” films and you’ll see what I mean.
6)     Why the Holy cows?  
Like almost every aspect of Indian public life, there are certain holy cows who can do no wrong and are subject to idle gossip but NEVER is their ability questioned or character flaws highlighted. E.g Sachin Tendulkar, Mahatma Gandhi and in Indian cinema Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan(possibly the most phoney among actors). I mean is this the best we produce? People who play larger than life, have set mannerisms and can never hope to be anything in international cinema. Sure they are popular, charismatic and talented but finally they are caricatures of themselves....
7)     Why no shame in copying?
In Hollywood an A class director makes a successful film and he is copied by C-class wannabes . In Bollywood A class directors make successful films and which are then copied by themselves and then by other A class directors. So Yashraj will repeat their formula till it fails. Ditto Sooraj Barjataya. Ditto Karan Johar. Ditto Kunal Kohli. Ditto all the Dabangg wannabe’s. Ditto all the item numbers stuffed into every movie.
8)     Why no original scripts?
Which gangster film has been made which is’nt inspired by the Godfather? Why do we have super hero concepts imported from the west when we can do a far better job adapting Hindu Mythology? Why do we find our best movies have been inspired by the foreign films-any foreign films (Sholay for that matter, though it was an improvement). Why are script writers cronies of top stars/ directors and not well paid professionals. The strange thing is that for an industry which worships “opening weekends” ”Rs.100 crores” etc can’t figure out the returns they can get on a great original script (Kahaani and Vicky Donor made ten times the invested money)
9)     Why do we never retire until we are kicked out by the seat of our pants?
Again, its a peculiar Indian trait. In politics, sports, movies. So we have to suffer a doddering Rajesh Khanna/Amitabh Bachchan who refuse to ride gracefully into the sunset, till the producers go bankrupt. Over-the-hill actresses just marry Richie rich guys who they would never have looked at in their heydays when the real eligible guys were chasing them. Kajol is possibly the only exception who married when the world was at her feet.
10)  Why so wannabe?
Our filmmakers shoot abroad or in some la-la land where everyone speaks Hindi or is an Indian. Goras in minor roles are the guys the director must’ve chatted with on the plane and said “Hey, wanna do a Bolly film for fun?” The movies cater to NRI’s who want to see Indians as glamorous people and “good Bharatiya ” values. (Yes, the same set up they left behind for better options). So we have the entire KJo lot of movies, the Anjaana Anjaani  type unbelievable road film crap, Agent Vinod, Teri Meri Kahani, Cocktail- hundreds of such movies with a success rate of 5%.Wake up and smell the coffee folks. Be proud to be in India with cosmopolitan sensibilities.
11)  Why do we object to being called Bollywood?
The industry is just a parody of what real movies should be. All song and dance with exceptions being three movies out of several hundred in a YEAR. The film fraternity throws a red carpet welcome for every has-been celebrity from the West, even though most Indians don’t care for them at all. So when we don’t take our craft and audience seriously, why get so offended?
We can stop patting ourselves on the back and get down to some serious introspection.

P.S. Notable exceptions:
The future of cinema will be people like Anurag Kashyap, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Zoya Akhtar, Ranveer Singh, SRK(How he started, not his current  trap with the filmy baba log ), a few pathbreaking moves by pucca commercial makers like Aditya Chopra ( Band Baaja Baarat and his inputs for movies like Kahaani ), scriptwriters like Juhi Chaturvedi, pure hearted film makers like Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Raju Hirani. The rest of the proposal makers will have the occasional hit but will on an average get a lower return on investments than the aforementioned.

Wishing BOLLYWOOD all the best for the next 100 years.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Satyamev Jayate: Hazare meets Winfrey

Why Satyamev Jayate is as superficial as the “breaking news” channels and Aamir Khan
Aamir Khan introduces the show in a messiah-like tone. The irony of a film star fashioning himself as another Anna Hazare would be lost on the TV audiences where the equivalent of the word “irony” does not exist in the Hindi dictionary. The teary-eyed Oprah Winfrey look is a nice touch though.
Social networking sites will be flooded by people impressed by a movie star being so “responsible”, judging the show as shallowly as the program itself.
Why I hated the show:
First and most important : If there is a woman watching , who is being forced into having her female foetus aborted, the show tell her NOTHING about what she can do as an individual.
The show highlights that the system is helpless in acting against erring doctors even though the PM declared that firm action will be taken against them. So what hope does the individual have?
In all its superficiality, it completely ignores the social reasons why educated people abort and the fact that the poor, uneducated person does not because they simply don’t have the means to do so.
And if the educated people are doing it, then clearly lack of education is not the reason. So can the show give the cure and not just talk about the disease?
And please, supporting fast track courts is school kid stuff, not cures or solutions.
All this show promotes is neighbourhood activism where people endorse a petition. (Oh Star will make a lot of money for charity given that Indians vote for anything right from Indian idol to Little Champs)
So what really helpful stuff can be shown that really could make a difference?
For example, in the immediate term, how about legalise prostitution so those frustrated men get an outlet? (Oh I forget – this show is TRP driven so Star TV may alienate the sobbing women watching)
Why not give contact details of NGO helplines or law bodies for distressed women? (No point because the channel needs immediate quantifiable results to show the sponsors) So what if it helps some poor woman watching and wishing she knew whom to turn to.
What is the mid-term solution ?
How about an RTI for district collectors of the worst affected districts? Details on how they are preventing female foeticide? (Oh no, too troublesome. Who the hell wants to go through all that?)
What is the long-term solution?
Complex. Because its all about social conditioning . Only when  people are ostracised for this crime and the law becomes uncompromising can there be a change.
In the meantime the holier-than-thou attitude is really annoying when the anchor gets Rs.3 crore per episode and its clearly a commercial show . I mean if Aamir felt as strongly, would he have hosted the show free ? So we’re all making money, its just that the brand proposition is different.
And like I said, shallow. Apart from the twitterati, chatterati, glitterati, literati and arty-farty, I see majorly falling TRP’s by the third episode.

August 2012: As predicted Satyamev Jayate has seen drastic falls in TRP's and is not even among the 10 top rated shows. Even Zee "Dance India dance" has higher numbers. Despite Star's entire network telecasting the episodes. To make things more embarrassing for Star, Aamir has said that "TRP's are not a true reflection of viewership". This, when Star TV sells ads at premium rates claiming the highest TRP's!! OOPS , what a sorry figure their ad sales people cut when they meet advertisers who are now demanding ad rate reduction due to non-deliveries!! Clearly their house is not in order. In the meantime Sony got TRP's of  11 plus just because Salman Khan appeared on the show. Yeh public hai sab jaanti hai. Being Human  puts its money where its mouth is, SMJ just pretends to.

See India Today link on this:

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Aishwarya Rai ! The tragedy of being an also-ran....

Close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful face you can. Chances are it would match with Miss World, Ms. Movie Star, Mrs Bachchan and now Mommy-to-be , Aishwarya Rai.

Endless press, endless praise and envy and yet so, so little achieved beyond the beauty queen crown. And that is the tragedy. To be branded Queen bee and still be left holding the runner-up trophy everytime.

It is no surprise though. Just about everyone would have cooed to her when she was a baby,admired in school , ogled at in college, her breezing through auditions as a model and having every filmmaker panting to launch her. No wonder then that substance could never overtake her looks. I mean, why work at things like acting or developing any other aspect of your personality or repertoire (or laugh) , when things came so easy. 

Achievements? Her efficient publicists will be able to answer that best, but here is a no-holds-barred list of why Ms. Rai always ended up with second-best . Sad but true.

Miss India and all that jazz
Who can forget the favourite Ms.Rai getting pipped at the post by dark horse Sushmita Sen at the Miss India pageant eons ago . The reason? The overconfident and  vain Ms. Rai claimed in the final round that if born earlier she would have changed the course of history. She lost the crown and was left to compete for Miss World instead of the more prestigious Ms. Universe . Having said this, Ms. Rai should have stuck to modelling .She's the perfect mannequin.

Film career - Bollywood
A dismal track record for a commercial actress . Even more so, considering she had the best of directors and banners . The statistics? In a movie career spanning 15 years , there have been barely 5 hits out of about 45 Bollywood movies she's worked in . Possibly her best was in Ashutosh Gowarikar's Jodha Akbar,which was way better than the nautanki performance in the overhyped Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas.

Today , any movie insider will tell you that its Katrina, Kareena and even the intellectual Vidya Balan who are more viable. And it shows in every poll where they are regularly chosen by the movie-going public above Ms. Rai , as the most beautiful, sexy, what-have-you. Another dream of being considered the best , being relegated to second best

Film career - Hollywood
The less said about this embarassing chapter , the better. Firstly, most of the projects are what is called "off-Hollywood", that is independent producers who make "cross-over cinema" . Bride and Prejudice, Mistress of Spices, Provoked don't count as Hollywood .
Secondly, her Hollywood movies like Pink Panther and The Last Legion were rejected by critics and audiences alike
Thirdly , a lot of hot air was floated about being offered a role as the Bond girl (denied by the producers), and movies like Chaos (with Meryl Streep) and Racing the Moon (with Michael Douglas) which are yet to see the light of day. This is like Gulshan Grover's claims of working with Penelope Cruz. Of course, Rai also claimed she was offered a role in Rolan Joffe's Singularity, which is now being played by Bipasha Basu.

And then in 2008 came along this middle class , plain girl from Malad called Freida Pinto who reached the Oscars with her very first film , without the help of overpaid PR machinery. No prizes guessing who Hollywood will turn to if they want an exotic face - it won't be Ms. Rai, who once again has been left with her nose pressed against the shop window.

One place where she shines (modelling is her forte after all). But because its linked with her celebrity, as her marketability falls, so do the endorsements. Lost to others with poor personal grace on the part of Ms. Rai . Whether its reportedly cutting out Sonam Kapoor from Cannes in 2010, or saying others get her rejects because brands can't afford her (or is it that Ms. Rai's no longer worth the money?)

"I don't know about the Khans. We are the Bachchans" she claimed when disdainfully dismissing Karan Johar's question in 2010 about whom she thought was the Khan of all seasons. I mean honestly , the  pomposity of that statement. Madam, any achievement by the Bachchans is that of Amitabh Bachchan. Even Abhishek Bachchan would never make a statement like you did. I mean the Khans together have generated hundreds of crores in the past two years , and the Bachchans (including you)  have lost approximately that amount for the industry during the same time.
Which really brings one back to a question- Would Ms. Rai have married Abhishek had he not been a Bachchan? An actress , not doing too well, alienated from the bigwigs of the industry, finds this marriage of extreme convenience. Get respectability , even if it means dumping the hapless Vivek Oberoi. Again, her husband is not the achiever which any girl who looked like Aishwarya would expect.She ended up with second-best again.

What should have been a happy and relaxed time for any mother, turned out to be unnecessarily controversial thanks to her own desire to revive a career peppered with disasters over the last two years. How important can it be for a pregnant woman to do an emotionally and physically draining role, whose shoot would go well into her second trimester? And then to threaten to sue the producers for wanting to drop you from the film, where you yourself had concealed facts from the outset ! Ulta chor kotwal ko daatey!
And now we hear that Aishwarya will not sell the baby pictures even though an international magazine has offered to buy them. How noble ! The reality is that no international magazine will pay big bucks for Bachchan pictures as non-Indians are'nt waiting with bated breath on this. And Indian editions of international titles will never pay kingly sums either, as the Indian magazine market just does not have those margins. So rejecting a pittance is hardly a monetary sacrifice, but is meant to make people feel-Wah !
Regular women out there do better my dear.

Obviously this post is not for Aishwarya Rai fans . You may ask "How could she have got so many honours and achievements , if she was'nt the best? "

My question EXACTLY !! Wake up and smell the coffee folks. Given whats mentioned above , hats off to her PR people and the brands she endorses for getting her the right visibility and "honours".....

Read an old article in Tehelka for a similar analysis 6 years ago

Well,  good PR can fool the people some of the time , but still can't get the paying public into the halls. Its my view and thats it.

The latest news July 2012 courtesy the spin doctors handling her PR :
What they say: "Aishwarya is a hands on mum doing everything for the kid"
What they mean : "Aishwarya is SOO busy with the kid that there's no time for movies and endorsements"
What the actual scene is : There are no movies or endorsements happening, so rather than say that, let her project the perfect mom stuff. I mean if she really was so bothered would she have opted to work well into her third trimester with Heroine
What if she had been getting movies even now? : Then the PR spin would be "Aishwarya is so 21st century, she has an amazing family support structure to look after the kid, she's looking like a yummy mummy,people still worship her etc etc"