Media Talks Back With Sudhish Kamath
What exactly is the responsibility of the Media towards the independent music and film scene?
We talk much about the need for the Media to support independent artists, to help these movements flourish and prosper – but in reality, negative reviews (written from informed perspectives) are equally essential to artistic growth.
In this sense, the Media and the artist have a shared responsibility and grander purpose – to cultivate a rich, diverse artistic landscape. A ‘scene’. This is achieved through quality artistic content, and also through responsible journalism and informed critics who can offer constructive critiques that have the capacity to drive the musician or filmmaker to reach greater artistic heights. The tendency to shy away from negative criticism, or ‘go easy’ on artists because of the indie tag attached to their work, is a patronizing tendency that will only result in subpar content.
“I’m sure more film critics are more sensitive to independent cinema”, says noted film critic and independent filmmaker Sudhish Kamath, a critic who doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. “Some actually do go easier on them – I don’t agree with that approach. If a film is bad, it’s bad. Having said that, when there is a good film that comes out, it’s our responsibility as critics to spread the word.”
In the Indian context, Sudhish is optimistic about the role the media plays in actively supporting the independent film scene. “A lot of my friends who are film critics are always plugging independent films,” he says. “I think the perception that they’re not getting covered in the media is because they’re not getting the paid slots, or the promos, the billboards, because they can’t afford these … But from an editorial standpoint they’re getting as much coverage.”
The problem, he observes, is often not with the media, but rather with certain aspects and attitudes of the industry itself. “There are times when directors get annoyed [with honest reviews] … even after making a bad film that nobody would think is good!” he revealed rather candidly. “There was one ridiculous film I critiqued, and they tried threatening us with a 25 crore law suit. The producer went on stage and threatened and cursed me, saying that my hands and legs would stop working. Well luckily that didn’t happen. As my boss said, it’s not really worth getting killed over a review, so I stopped reviewing Tamil films. But these guys need to have a thicker skin – I don’t know why they take these things so personally.”
Sudhish himself has two films to his name –That Four Letter Word (2006) and critically acclaimed indie love story Good Night Good Morning (2010). He also has another film brewing and set for release in October 2014 – an experimental film titled X, in collaboration with several other forward thinking Indian filmmakers. As both a film critic and a filmmaker, he occupies a unique space that intersects the boundaries often dividing critic from creator, and feels that as a filmmaker it is essential to expose one’s work to the possible stone throwing of fellow critics.
“[Film critic] Raja Sen and I are both part of Good Night Good Morning – but we actually wanted people to rip our film apart, and we asked Karan Johar to do just that. Just to showcase that we are perfectly okay with people critiquing our work. It’s a different story that he ended up liking it. But we both would appreciate getting a well written bad review.” But as Sudhish reveals, occupying this limbo space can also set lofty standards that one is then expected to live up to as an artist. “With X it’s going to be trickier, because we have me, Raja Sen, Pratim Gupta, Suparn Verma – almost four critics comprising the team, setting us up for more pressure. ‘Four critics made a bad film’ – now thatwould be bad!” he laughs.
To really drive the development of a rich music and film scene, there needs to be quality artistic content coexisting with responsible journalism that offers constructive critiques – critiques that have the capacity to drive the musician or filmmaker to reach greater artistic heights.
Although the media does possess an important role in ‘setting standards’ for artistic content, Sudhish is also the first person to admit to the human element of subjectivity that also characterizes the task of the arts media – in his case, as a film critic. “Films are like people – they evoke different reactions in you every time you meet them,” he says. “And they evoke different results depending on you and your mood. When I saw Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, I wrote how I found it was like a trip to nowhere, because after two hours and forty minutes, he simply brought me back to the same place I started! However, the second time round, I was so convinced by the passion he took to tell the story, and thought, ‘If we don’t give him the chance to indulge, then who are we going to give that chance to?’”
But to truly capture the imagination of a critic, Sudhish feels that one’s work should be “unlike anything else before”. “It’s very simple,” he elaborates, “— every film critic wants to see something original, unique, he or she wants to know why this guy is so passionate about this film … that is what would enable a film critic to sit up and take notice.”
Overall, the media’s role towards the independent film community is a significant one – one that can support, nurture, but also set standards for a rich and diverse independent film scene. “I think there has to be some amount of empathy and honesty – but just because these guys don’t have money to make a film, doesn’t give them the license to make bad films,” remarks Sudhish.“If you did that, then you promote the worst kind of cinema – mediocre low budget stuff. At least the big stuff can pass off as guilty pleasure because stars sometimes have the ability to shine through really average material. And maybe the kindest thing we can do to a bad independent film is to ignore it. Because one, you end up wasting your time writing a review for a film no one would watch and two, you put it out there in the internet to remind the filmmaker and have it haunt him for the rest of his life. But when the film is good, the media needs to go out of its way to promote it — that’s what I did with Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her.
“There’s an agenda-setting role there – you as a film critic stand for the change you want to see in cinema. So when you come across that kind of cinema you need to treat it as your own and go all out to support it, recommend it, write about it.”
For more on Sudhish Kamath visit his website www.sudhishkamath.com