Today, on Sept 28, 2015, National-Award winning film Chandni Bar completes 14 years! As I bask in the glory of this hard-hitting, life-changing (at least for me!) film, I cannot help but recollect the reviews Chandni Bar had received from the critics, back then in 2001. The opinions were starkly polarised. There was a section of critics that felt the film was dark, depressing and showed no hope. While, another set of critics saw the same film as realistic, hard-hitting and the need-of-the-hour! I was a struggling newcomer back then and such polarised views taught me an early lesson that after all, a film is an opinion and opinions vary from person to person. Like Quentin Tarantino once said – if a million people see my movie, I hope they see a million different movies.
Since then, and with due respect to all the critics, I have taken all their reviews – both positive and negative – with a pinch of salt. While the positive reviews have encouraged me, the negative ones have never stopped me from making films the way I want to. Incidentally, the films that followed Chandni Bar, also faced the wrath of polarisation. Satta, with Raveena in the lead, was highly critically acclaimed but did not do that well at the box office. Page 3, which gets screened even today at festivals in India and abroad, was panned by one section of the critics who said “it’s better to attend a Page 3 party than to watch a film by the same name.” At the same time, there was another section of the critics that lapped up the film and called it a bold and daring attempt by the filmmaker. The film went on to win three National Awards. Similarly, Traffic Signal too faced diverse ratings from critics. The film was awarded zero stars by a leading critic while some called it a thought-provoking film. It did very well at the box office and was also a National-Award winning film.
My next film Corporate, which was commercially successful at the box office, and which even today is a part of the case studies at IIM-Ahmedabad, suffered from similar polarisation. Fashion, which to-date remains everyone’s favorite, could not find favor with all the critics. Some even went to the extent of saying,”it is better to attend a fashion show than to watch Fashion the film.” Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji and Heroine too, received a mixed response from the critics, but went on to do above-average business at the box office.
Therefore, when Calendar Girls released last Friday, it was a deja-vu moment for me. While several critics lashed out at the film, there have been others who have really loved the film and have come out in support. While I feel such diverse opinions are a healthy way to evaluate a film, what saddens me is that sometimes, critics cross the line and get personal in their reviews. Attacking the filmmaker more than attacking the film is unbecoming of a critic and makes one feel that the critic has a personal score to settle through his/her review. The feedback I have been getting about some of the reviews conveys some kind of personal hatred towards me the person, than towards me the filmmaker. In an ideal world, this is wrong. But then, do we always live in an ideal world? May be not.
Despite the mixed response to all my films, I shall continue to strive to explore newer stories. Depending upon what the script demands, some films will have stars while others will have newcomers. Making topical, issue-based films is not only my way of responding to my polarized critics, but also the only way I know.