Film Journalists Owe Their Jobs To Films, Not The Stars & The Industry Making Them

There's a growing ailment in mainstream film industries, where film journalists are suddenly being deemed the 'enemy' for stating an honest opinion.

A ‘producer’s council’ and a PR collective met in Chennai on Monday evening to decide that – “those reviewers who give pathetic/hurtful comments will not be invited for any events. And they might even face certain legal proceedings if they cross their limits.” This circular comes only a day after a viral video shows Kangana Ranaut bullying a film journalist for his alleged unsavoury comments against Manikarnika, after she was ‘gracious’ enough to let him interview her for ‘3 hours and then have lunch with him’. Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga questioned both the IQ and EQ of female film critics across India for panning Kabir Singh. “These women have probably never experienced true love”, he said when he was told about how many female critics were left uncomfortable about how the audience cheered for Kabir slapping Preeti.

Only a few months ago, the Federation Of Western India Cine Employees (or FWICE) had appealed film critics to ‘digest films’ before sharing their opinions, considering how bad reviews could affect and film’s trade and consequently affect the livelihoods of many technicians.

There’s a growing ailment in mainstream film industries, where film journalists are suddenly being deemed the ‘enemy’ for stating an honest opinion. And to understand this ailment better, let’s try and understand what entails a film journalist’s line of work. They write about films, actors, technicians related to films – and for a lot of this they’re directly dependent on the PR (Public Relations) personnel around the concerned film or actor. The PR sets up the interviews, informs journalists about press shows, hands out invites for press conferences. In short, they control a journalist’s access to the concerned film personnel. And unless the journalist is gushing about the actor/film, the access is restricted.

This growing hostility towards ‘argumentative’ film journalists, goes against the very nature of a journalist’s profession. It is a journalist’s job to find the larger picture behind a film’s impact on the ‘masses’, it is their job to ask questions that hold a celebrity accountable for what they’re trying to preach by choosing to make a certain film. It a film critic’s job to critique a film. NOT to patronise a filmmaker/actor by blunting the edges of their comments, and hand them a consolation prize. This hostility assumes that a certain section of critics, who are not cheerleading a film/actor, want to ‘damage’ their brand or hamper the film’s box office. How about some good faith? That a person, who doesn’t like a particular celebrity/film, has armed their criticism with reasonable logic.

Growing up in a time when a few select tabloids and magazines controlled the discourse around mainstream films, today’s generation of film journalism in India is as ‘organised’ as it’s ever going to be. Where the debate around Kabir Singh isn’t merely related to how it is as a film, but also how it impacts the pop culture ‘narrative’ for the Indian man. It’s obviously a divisive topic, but the passionate arguments from both sides are equally necessary. Such discourse adds significantly more value than conspiracy theories about why Rekha never married. Or salacious gossip about Shah Rukh Khan’s secret mistress in a faraway land?

Look around, mainstream film industries of India. Discussing films through the lens of gender/caste doesn’t amount to spreading ‘negativity’ about a film. Kabir Singh might be getting slamdunked by a large section of (learned) critics, but that hasn’t stopped the film from becoming the biggest hit of 2019. Just like how all the criticism around Uri‘s jingoistic/Islamophobia didn’t stop it from becoming the biggest hit of Vicky Kaushal’s short career. So is this conversation pointless? No. And for that you don’t have to look beyond the drastic fall in collections of Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan between Day 1 and Day 4.

Film journalists can’t be ‘yes men’, who praise whatever is made and go gaga about anything the actors do. If that happens then who will keep these film industries in check? Who will differentiate the good from the bad, the great from the good? If industries force these journalists to be disingenuous about their experiences at the movies, how will they write about what genuinely moves them? It might be an idealistic thing to say, but journalists (in general) owe their job only to the truth. Not the celebrities, the films or the wealthy producers. Film journalists can’t be punished for stating the truth. If they are, then alarm bells should be ringing right now.