Friday, November 18, 2011




It started with a casual conversation regarding the forthcoming International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to be held in Goa, on the 23rd (November 2011). Created to showcase the best of engaging & interesting Indian – and global – cinema, film festivals have always attracted the true-blue cognoscenti and cinema buff on the discerning kind, desperate to sample a life beyond Bollywood! Where there are film fests, can film critics be far behind? In to-day's world – especially with Bollywood booming and blitzing all over the place in all-consuming fashion-can a real committed, dedicated film critic ever hope to survive? Should he, under the circumstances, review and re-invent his role to be part-marketer, part-interpreter?

Respected, veteran Film Critic Saibal Chatterjee is first off the block with a zinger. “I don't think it's a question any-more, but a solid factual statement!” he says. In fact, he is of the firm belief that this breed – film critics – is slowly getting marginalised and residing mostly in the world of blogs or little magazines. “What you got today are mostly reviewers who dole out opinions that are reader-friendly, touching the surface areas of the film in a glamorous way. It is completely in keeping with the mood of the times where cinema is perceived as a product to be consumed by the largest volume of consumer, possible. So, marketing branding, advertising and promotion skills take precedence over knowledge, scholarship or insight. Pitching it right to be dumbed-down readership is the name of the game. In this scheme of things, where does the poor film critic feature?!” Chatterjee tells 4Ps B&M.

Communication specialist Bikram Ohri begs to differ. He believes that we live in nano-second times where reverence and sanctity to anything out in the public do-main needs to be reviewed. “Boss, movies in India are entertainment products. Can we please stop worshipping them, wait breathlessly for that magical 'Eureka moment' and cut to the chase?! The critics mandate today is clear: Blend commentary in a cutting-edge way that entertains as it enlightens. Also, please go easy on the heavies! As the great Hollywood Director Billy Wilder once said If you are lookin' for art, hell, go buy a Picasso. If you're lookin' to have fun and be entertained, hey, welcome aboard!” says Ohri. Joining the party is a noted film critic who refuses to formally participate or divulge her name for professional reasons.” It's all very well to talk about art, sensibilities and values but with the corporates entering the scene with their deep pockets, the equation within the systems and industry has dramatically changed. Film criticism, an intrinsic part of this universe, has been impacted as well. There are no two ways about it,” she tells 4Ps B&M.

Film Critic Mayank Shekhar brings his own spin to the table. “Some very novel things have happened in the last few years in the industry that has certainly impacted the role of the film critic. For one, there is this new entity called Trade Analyst. It is a vague term but this person seems to grab a lot of space in the electronic and mass media. It presupposes some kind of academic/scholastic background but it really is about ringing up distributors from all centers to get box office collection! Does that answer the definition of a film critic? Then there is the smart, sharp and subtle co-opting of some members of the fourth estate by Bollywood to ensure popular reviews and feel-good notices in the media,” says Shekher. He explains that all this is a byproduct of the huge budgets powering big-ticket Bollywood projects. Therefore the marketing machinery has to go full steam to reach, persuade and seduce the audience into seeing the film. “However all is not lost, but yes, it is a tricky and challenging calling!” he adds.

Film Director (of films like Shabd and Teen Patti) Leena Yadav doesn't buy into this argument at all and offers her own take. “Today, most so-called critics have no opinions – but agendas! I believe every film has something worth while to offer – photography, editing, background music, lighting, dialogues, supporting cast – but these are hardly given any importance,” says Leena. Ms. Yadav admits that she has zero problems with dissent and would respect a critic – even if she didn't agree with him/her – for their fresh, out-of-the-box, unique perspective. “I find this totally missing she ads. What better person than the Dada of the Parallel Cinema, Shyam Benegal, to wrap up this debate with his evolved and informed opinion. “Saibal is right. By and large, we have nor real film critics but reviewers with differing degrees of competence, knowledge and ability. There are excellent reasons for it,” he tells 4Ps B&M. Bengal is convinced that unlike the west there is a complete lack of encouraging Film Studies and Cinema culture, manifest in the complete blanking out of any art form by the establishment, corporates or publication houses, except as gestures of tokenism. “What you get is smartly-packaged hype catering to an audience that is driven by gloss, glitz and glamour rather than erudition, knowledge or gravitas. Do these guys influence public opinion? One brand of critics – especially in the electronic media – seems to be with their brash, aggressive, fast-talking glibmanship. It's clearly a sign of the times. The era of an Iqbal Masood or Chidananda Das Gupta is clearly over,” says Benegal.

The late Chidananda Das Gupta, whose chronicling of films – especially the Ray classics – were both enriching and educative, described film criticism as a calling that should be “less judgemental, more interpretative.” The 'Big Mamma' of American Film Critics Pauline Kael went one step ahead and defined it with rare simplicity: “A good critic is that rare artist who has the ability to transmit his knowledge and enthusiasm of his art to others.” Do these endangered species feature in today's space where the mantra seems to be: Salesman Film Critic Haazir Ho?!!


Saturday, November 05, 2011




How much is too much and how far is going too far in needling the status quo regarding what is right and wrong in the world of advertising? Engaged in the business of educating, informing, persuading and selling goods and services in an intersting and consumer friendly manner, are some players “crossing the line” in their anxiety to attract attention of the wrong kind? Should “creative licence” be milked dry in a manner that encroaches and invades personal space and disturbs reputation, tantamount to mocking, riduculing, and even indulging in character assassination?

The facts. Micromax Mobile has come out with a TVC – Micromax Bai – which shows two young girls discovering how the first girl's boyfriend bought both of them new Micromax phones. The situation takes a flip when they discover that he has gifted a new Micromax phone to the Bai (the housemaid) as well – all to increase his chances of winning a Hayabussa motorbike, a special Diwali offering by Micromax! In the real world, screaming headlines of “Shiney doesn't buy the ad” greeted the Lowe-created TVC followed by the tainted actor serving the mobile company with a legal notice. Shiney is clearly not amused at his name being used, nor at the sly dig involving a housemaid. [For late entrants, the actor was sentences to seven years in jail for allegedly raping his maid, and later, released on bail. The maid has already retracted her accusatory statement]

While the agency chose to remain silent, viewers are categorically vocal! Noted ad guru and Chief Consultant of Planman Marcom Alyque Padamsee is first off the blocks, doing a thumbs-down for the ad created by his old agency. “Freedom of speech, expression and thought is fine and totally acceptable but not when it indulges in maligning well-known personalities. That's poor form!” Padamsee tells 4Ps B&M. Even the acclaimed and flamboyant champion of irreverence ad film-maker Prahlad Kakkar seems to do a freeze-frame when he says, “Smut is cool but never at the expense of housekeepers, women or public figures going through a downer.” He may have a point there.

But petite, Santiniketan-trained and Paris-based graphic designer Piya Sen takes a categorically opposite view and appears totally zapped. “Indian society continues to be paranoid and has this huge problem of being conveniently sanctimonious, and forever taking everything too seriously! Come on, it's just a light-hearted aside on an issue that's dead and buried. The man is out and living with his family. Why so desperately touchy? This hoo-haa has revived interest and attention of the public and on cue, a dumbed-down media has played it up big time to convert it to a headliner. I suspect no one would have connected it with the Bai controversy had not the actor got all heated up and taken legal action. I think in the year 2011, one has to be a little more chilled out about these things. Coming from this great financial super-power in the making, it's really weird!” she says.

Youngistaan too chips in, hot n'heavy. Young assistant film director Sneha Shreyasi completely vetoes the ad's approach. She insists that this is “not done because, firstly, these are watched with family and this kind of judge-wink jhatkas are in bad taste. Secondly, the adwallahs must think of Shiney's family members and their feelings before they create such ads!”

Veteran ad person Esha Guha disagrees. The Delhi-based director of Concept Advertising is of the opinion that a piece of communication that should have normally been taken with nothing more than a light-hearted “wink-nudge-chuckle” has taken on impossible dimensions. “Does one really expect advertising in the year 2011 – in a space celebrating Delhi Belly, Murder2, Love Sex Aur Dhoka and Ragini MMS, among other raunchy stuff – to be cute n' nice and play footsie with the viewers/audiences? Besides, what's this big premium on great, creative work that does not disturb the status quo but scores big? Sure the Fevicols and Zoozoos of the world must be recognised and appreciated but engaging advertising is also about provoking, titillating and taking 'panga' with the audience, making it special, different and clutter-busting in a competitive environment,” Esha tells 4Ps B&M.

Leo Burnett's NCD wraps up this debate in his own characteristic fashion. Pops Sridhar explains that this whole stance and pitch depends totally on how the brand would like to appear or the perception-positioning metre vis-a-vis its consumers. “There has always been the 'Rebel' brands – Virgin – Benetton – Tommy Hilfiger – FCUK- reflecting the personality of its product profile and appealing to that section that likes to live on the wild side! These are the 'Challenger' brands trying to seek attention and make a dent in the market, through querrilla tactics. It's not about morality but a connect with the times we live in. In an era when the 'F' word is more a form of diverse expression than abuse, this comes with the territory, boss!” he says.

But what got forgotten in the whole melee is the fact that the biggest advantage in this whole episode – irrespective of the sides you take – has been to both Micromax and Lowe. One of the most important factors that any agency or brand would hope for in any ad is the brand recall. What this god-gifted controversy has done for Micromax and Lowe has been to create astounding brand recall and free media space – as this editorial also proves. In other words, the controversy on one side, the fact is that the brilliant media hype completely takes Micromax to another level altogether. Take that for marketing.