I have little respect for most film critics, barring a couple. I get the feeling that they tend to bring their personal prejudices into play when reviewing. I can almost predict what one female film critic is going to say about a film. If it has Aishwarya Rai, then the film has to be bad. If Aishwarya happens to be in a film directed by a crossover film director, then the film will be good, but Aishwarya will be bad. If it’s a crossover film, it’s always good. Shahrukh Khan will always lift a film above a shaky plot and shoddy direction. Salman Khan is always to be sneered at. I now try to imagine what she will say about a movie and then read her reviews only to see if I am right. I usually am!
I find one thing common among all film critics, though – their Shabana Azmi-Naseeruddin Shah blind spot. Any film starring these two (especially Shabana) have to be raved about, no matter how bad it is. Take the case of Dus Kahaniyan, the movie which is ten movies strung together. All the reviewers gave mixed reactions to nine of the stories. Only one got a unanimous rave review – Rice Plate, starring – you’ve guessed it – Shabana and Naseeruddin. The story was sensitive, the acting nuanced. All the usual reviewing clichés were there.
Till I saw bits of Dus Kahaniyan on cable. Rice Plate quite simply appalled me. Shabana was hamming and Naseeruddin had nothing to do. People criticize Amitabh Bachchan for over the top acting in Black. Why is everyone silent about Shabana in Rice Plate. Old south Indian ladies do not carry themselves the way Shabana did. She could have taken tips from the way Konkona Sen Sharma prepared for her role in Mr and Mrs Iyer. That was authentic down to a T.
The story was a bit ridiculous too. No woman (no matter how orthodox) who has lived in Bombay for decades will sit in a taxi only because it has pictures of gods and then recoil in disgust when the driver turns out to be a Muslim. Or refuse to take back a packet of namkeen she has dropped when she collided with a Muslim man (Naseeruddin) just because he picked it up. Even village women don’t react that way, for heaven’s sake. But just because Shabana and Naseeruddin acted in this film, no one pointed out this basic problem. Clearly, for film critics, willing suspension of belief is not a malaise affecting films in which these veterans star!
Apart from this, what got me was the usual cliché about Hindu orthodoxy, a subject I’ve dealt with in earlier posts – Dixie Chicks and Parzania (16 February 2007) and Profiling and Labelling (27 August 2006). Two stories in Dus Kahaniyan made me see red (a lot of my critics would say saffron, I know but that only reflects on their prejudices).
If Rice Plate dealt with Hindu orthodoxy, another story in Dus Kahaniyan, starring Neha Dhupia and Mahesh Manjrekar, dealt with a woman saving a child from rioters. The way she tried to save the child was ridiculous, of course – she sexually assaults the sword wielding rioter! – but once again the rioter is a Hindu and the child he’s wanting to kill is a Muslim.
As if Muslims don’t have their prejudices and Hindus don’t get killed in riots!