Murtaza Ali Khan is an independent film critic based out of Delhi.
He also writes for Wittyfeed.
Why film review at the first place? Why not leave it to cine goers to see and decide?
Murtaza: Well, I would like to answer this question at two levels. Firstly, let’s discuss this from the perspective of time and money. The ticket prices have been sparing like anything and obviously we cannot watch every movie. It is therefore the job of the film critic to help the viewer make a choice. It’s only like a guideline or an indicator. It is the viewer who ultimately gets to decide. But staying away from a trashy or an irrelevant movie (depending on one’s taste of course) the viewer can also save a lot of time.
Secondly, it is a critic’s responsibility to help in the propagation of art. So many times a viewer requires recommendations when it comes to art. I mean there is so much to be read, watched, and savoured. A critic works dedicatedly to prepare lists and recommendations. It also helps in rediscovering of lost gems as well as their preservation. We have had examples of film critics like Roger Ebert who actually played a pivotal role in introducing the foreign films to the American audiences. At the same time he also helped promote independent cinema. There are many such examples. French film critics like Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut played an instrumental role in presenting the works of the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock in a completely different light. Suddenly a seemingly commercial filmmaker got a new lease of life as an auteur par excellence and of course the world of cinema greatly benefited from it. In fact, not just a film critic but art critics in general play a pivotal role in propagation of art.
As a critic, we have our job cut out
How impartial is film reviewing and rating?
There is always a level of subjectivity involved when it comes to assessment of art. The same is true of cinema. We all have our favourites. Some like a certain kind of cinema while the other may have a completely different bend of mind. I am sure more of the film critics have integrity and take their job very seriously. After all, a lot depends on their judgment. But there always are exceptions.
Who are the film reviewers movie lovers should look forward too?
I wouldn’t want to name anybody from the current crop as it would reflect a bias on my part. But, speaking of the all-time greats, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Susan Sontag, and Gene Siskel are right up there. For anyone starting out, it is absolutely essential to read the Ebert’s Great Movies collection. Also, Siskel’s discussions with Ebert are a must watch. You can find many episodes on YouTube. Kael and Sontag have written many amazing books on cinema and anyone interested in film criticism should read them.
Who among the former (late) who are missed today?
There are so many people who are missed. If I start mentioning the names it would never end. So many great filmmakers, actors, artists are missed today. I am sure that had they been alive the world would have been a much better place. Speaking of film critics, I miss Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel a lot. While Ebert passed away only a few years back, Siskel died back in 1999 when I was too young. But there is some much we can learn from their writings and discussions. Even today when I revisit a movie I prefer to read Ebert’s thoughts on the same so that I am sure that I didn’t miss anything. Often my opinion differs from his. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect his. More often than not you would find Ebert’s take on any and every important film released before 2013—the year he passed away. So you can imagine how extensively he would have written on cinema during his lifetime.
A film no matter how bad it appears to movie buffs, takes months if not years to be completed, then how can a film reviewer pass a judgment on it by just finishing it in two hours?
You know only recently I posted something on my Facebook timeline wherein I emphasized upon the need to first and foremost love movies. As a critic, it’s very easy to criticize films and filmmakers and give a demonstration of one’s superior, sophisticated taste. Appreciation, on the other hand, takes a lot of heart. Fortunately, I have watched some of the best films from the world of cinema. Since I have seen the best of the films I know very well that not everyone can make the best. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Does it? So, as a critic, we have our job cut out. So, of course, we cannot elevate a trashy film but at the same time we must ensure that a good film gets the audience it deserves.