Critiquing the Critic

ImageI had started writing this entry almost over a week back, but it got held up due to some professional commitments. And I’m glad that I wasn’t able to complete it. Why? Well, primarily because I was multi-tasking while writing this and just ended up randomly blabbering my thoughts, which the delay has given me an opportunity to edit and also because, I ended up coming across this article in Open Magazine India and its subsequent response by the Editors of and through this article in Mumbai Boss.

This got me thinking about the entire business of being a critic in India, irrespective of which industry it would be referencing. Thus, the change from the original title for this post from being “Critiquing the Movie Critic” to what it states now.

I would like to state at this point, that what follows is purely my point of view, which I have been pondering over for quite a long time and this article is not intended to show any particular person or profession or media entity under bad light whatsoever. My sincere apologies in advance should you feel otherwise

So here I go….

There are movies that you chose to see because they have a legacy, like the Godfather series, Scarface, Don, etc; then there are those which you see out of sheer love for the actor/ character or the craze around it like Iron Man, Batman, Krrish, Gandhi, etc; then some you chose based on the legacy of the directors/ producers like Ronny Screwvala, Spielberg, Ridley/ Tony Scott, Tarantino, etc. and some you chose based on the reviews you read from the critics/ reviewers. The format for restaurants/ beverages/ art / hotels / cars / electronics / gadgets remains largely the same.

As individuals, we all have our preference for brands, type of cuisine, etc. There is nothing wrong with it, atleast not when you are sharing your personal view on the subject, in which case one can always post it on the gazillion websites which feature user reviews. However, my issue is when someone is given a position / assignment of importance and has to address the review of anything to a larger audience. It is at this juncture that, I feel, one can’t or shouldn’t be biased for whatever reason possible.

…I have followed all of the above patterns, especially for movies, gadgets and restaurants always except the last one especially when it comes to watching Hindi cinema. Why you may ask?

Incase of Hindi movies, its simple, the critique given on the reviews are clouded, atleast in most cases they are; clouded with their relationship with the makers or actors or directors or all of the above which one ends up establishing over a period of time reviewing the said segment. As an example, a week or so back, I was channel swapping (my fav time pass when I have nothing to do) and I got stuck on one of the prominent Bollywood centric channels, which was airing a program which gave its movie reviews and ratings. One of the movies it rated that evening was Nautanki Saala; to be absolutely fair, I haven’t seen the movie yet but have got enough and more feedback, from people who have, for me to avoid it. So when the reviewer, also the anchor for this show, gave the movie a 4 out of 5 stars and said its “recommended” I was taken aback a bit. My assumption here – The reason for the movie to get this super glorious review from this critic was simple, atleast to me; the film has the brother of one of the prominent executives (or ex-executives, whichever the case maybe due to the sale of the brand). So the reviewer either was directed to give it such a positive voice or in his over zealousness gave it such, with the hope of a good year end appraisal….whatever the case maybe; I’m not aware of the exact reason and hence taking the liberty to assume.

Now coming to reviews of other segments like restaurants / hotels / art/ wine/ gadgets / electronics….the process largely seems to remain the same. In case of hotels & restaurants, quite a few reviewers with a decent following (Online & Traditional) dine / stay at these places at no cost whatsoever to experience it and then give their feedback and reviews. Same follows for electronics and gadgets where free samples are sent across to reviewers to review, but obvious, and in more cases than not you end up seeing glorious reviews.

In all fairness, unlike movies, the cost of reviewing in any of the other segments can range from anywhere between 4 figures to 6 figures and hence, more often than not, reviews have to depend on free samples.

Referring back to the article in Open Magazine, although very restaurant centric, I agree with the author that a lot of people being sent for reviewing the restaurants are novices out of college or just starting out and their palates aren’t tuned & experienced enough to the flavours of the cuisine. Being from the hospitality space, I have sat through and attended, some reviews where the reviewer is a vegetarian. Mind it, I have nothing against Vegetarians…absolutely not! But what shocks me, even today, is how someone can give a pure, unadulterated review of the food of a restaurant / hotel, if he / she hasn’t tried out the entire spread, which includes non-vegetarians as well? After all, even today, the percentage of non-vegetarians is decently large and can’t be ignored. Unless ofcourse the cuisine is 100% vegetarian, where it would make sense! What I disagree with in this piece or atleast the quote from Bangalore-based Chef & Food Writer, Madhu Menon’s blog – ‘The ‘reviews’ for most major newspapers are arranged by PR people, and the critic will happily turn up after informing you in advance. You will make small talk with them, make sure your best waiter is at their service, and the head chef himself handles the food for their table. If you’re a Page 3 person who has been added to the restaurant management for your celebrity value, you will schmooze with them too – so, essentially, nothing like a typical guest’s experience. They will then partake of your free food and booze, and hopefully give you a stunning review.’ I have been a hospitality and a communications professional for all of my career spanning 11 years or so and yes, the PR machinery of Hotels / Restaurants arrange for the food reviews to happen, almost all of them sit along with the reviewer and a client representative during the process of review not to schmooze with them, but to explain to them in detail about the cuisine and the dishes they are trying out. Nowhere have I known of any Chef / Restaurateur making an extra effort to influence the reviewer for a positive feedback in their article; atleast none that I have come across or had the absolute pleasure of working with. As mentioned earlier, most of the reviews are ‘with compliments’ and thus the writer/ reviewer is bound to give a rather ‘good’ review….may not necessarily be a glorifying one. However, there have been instances where even while being a “with compliments” review, the reviewer have thrashed the food in their write up for whatever reason, known best to them.

Anyhow, coming back to the original concept of this article of how authentic are the reviews of the reviewers?  Starting with a bit of a back story here……

A couple of weeks back, the better half had asked me to accompany her for “Ek Thi Daayan”, I did on the condition that when Iron Man 3 releases, she will join me, which she did. While we were out for IM3, she said that she is quite keen on watching Bombay Talkies, the film which was supposed to be a tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema, which I had agreed to. So the tickets were booked for the 2nd last show on Day 1 of the movie, along with some of her colleagues and all of whom had read the glorifying reviews on the movie everywhere and were super excited to see it. I personally lost interest in the movie when I saw the title track online the day it was released and found it rather a sad attempt at ‘A Tribute’ to such a glorious landmark in the creative field. Anyhow, we went, sat, laughed and laughed our guts out, not because the movie was funny, but because the guys sitting next to me were constantly talking abouView Discreationt how shitty it is (their words, not mine!) and that they should step out to go watch Iron Man 3. And interestingly, this seemed to be the case across the entire length and breadth of the audi where people were cursing each other for recommending this movie.

Now to my point of reviewing the reviewer – The reason why the reviewers are coming under the scanner offlate is because the product they review (movies, restaurants, gadgets, etc.), are not easily affordable these days. For a weekend movie, irrespective of the theatre, in a Metro city one has to pay anything between Rs. 250 – Rs. 900, which suddenly comes down to a rate which were applicable in single screen halls in the 70’s & 80’s during weekdays and in some cases, 1 ticket free on the purchase of 1. Similarly, electronics and gadgets aren’t getting cheaper bImagey the day; everyone today wants a smart phone (atleast in Tier 1 & 2 cities of India) which range from anything between Rs. 6000 – Rs. 50, 000, whatever suits your pocket. So when I am, as a consumer, expected to go and spend such hideous amounts of my hard earned money on something I want and I look for inputs from experts on their experience and suggestions on the same, why am I questioned on questioning the authenticity of the reviewer? Don’t we all have a moral obligation to our professions or to be true to the job entrusted upon us, especially in cases when there are unsuspecting people looking forward to what you have to say? I haven’t been able to find an answer to this and hence this is the juncture I chose draw a close for this specific rant….with the hope that someone, instead of criticizing my thoughts, can shed some light on the core question, a response to which I am looking forward to.

Thank you for dropping in and happy shopping…..till my next rant!

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