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Bikas Mishra (http://dearcinema.com/user/5) is the founder and editor of DearCinema.com. A Masters in Mass Communications from MCRC, Jamia, New Delhi, Bikas has worked as a producer and principal correspondent with leading Indian broadcasters Network18 and Zee. He also writes on cinema for publications such as Mint The Wall Street Journal and NDTV.com. A member of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), he is on the visiting faculty of Social Communications Media Department of Sophia Polytechnic.
1. What is the art and craft of film reviewing?
A film review means different things to different people. However, what everybody would agree is that it’s a kind of writing which has a cinematic text as its point of departure and where the writer and his subjectivity play a crucial role. Reviews are mostly written, so the craft of writing is important and since it involves writing on cinema, so some sort of understanding of cinematic tradition also becomes important.
2. What according to you are the must have’s of a good review?
A review must first give me a fair idea of the film. I like reading reviews which are rich in observation, which tell me how the film looks and sounds. If it also attempts to place it within the larger cinematic tradition, better. A review that passes judgments without argument is hollow. I’m not particularly fond of reviews which just drop names of other films without citing the context of comparison. Ideally, a good review should help me form an opinion about the film rather than force a judgment on me.
3. How do you approach writing a review for a film?
Some films evoke a strong response, while many don’t. Since Cinema is a manipulative medium quite often such responses are emotional. That’s why I do try to distance myself a little from the film before writing because a review isn’t an emotional response to the film. For me a review is a reasoned reaction to the film which must be backed by observation. I avoid reading any other review, or often even synopsis or plot of the film. I try to enter the theatre with an open mind. Since, I’m not obliged to write reviews in a hurry, I mull over and if needed revisit the film before writing.
My writing involves fair amount of rewriting. Most often first drafts include many more “I” and “me” that I subsequently get rid of. First person account is an easy substitute for argument. Writing something like “ I hated the film” or “the film left me in tears” isn’t difficult to write for anybody.
4. Which would you consider one of your best review and why?
I share a dialectic relationship with my reviews; I love and hate them.
5. Any film critics/reviewers you look up to and why?
Like many others I follow Roger Ebert, though not necessarily always agree with him. On DearCinema.com, I’m quite fond of Jugu Abraham’s writing.
6. What is your advise to an aspiring film critic?
Cinema is more than a century old now. Watch as many films as you can and read as much as you can. Remember a critic is not a judge but a passionate film viewer who has a better understanding of cinema. Everybody has an opinion on a film but one who can argue for his/her opinion, limiting the discussion strictly within the four walls of the frame yet bringing in the entire discourse around cinema into the argument is entitled to call himself/herself a critic.
7. What is the role of a film critic?
See, first, a reviewer is a reviewer and a critic is a critic. A critic doesn’t limit herself /himself to writing weekly reviews. His/her concern is cinema as an artistic medium. S/he ponders over the relationship between society, cinema, politics, philosophy and other art forms. This is why many important film theories have often come from other domains of life. There would have been no montage theory without Marx, no Third World cinema theory without rejecting the European renaissance sensibility. A critic’s approach is rigorous and much larger. Review is an immediate reaction to a film that serves a utilitarian purpose. It helps readers pick the “right” film for the weekend. Readers and reviewers do share some sort of an understanding. I know if Ebert has recommended a film, it will be watchable if nothing else; though they are mostly rewarding. I know if a famous Indian online critic (reviewer actually) praises a film highly, it has to be a disaster. For reviews an important consideration is the writer, critics have no such short cuts to fall back, they have to rely on arguments alone.
8. Being a member of the FIPRESCI and being part of the international film scene do you see any cultural difference in approach by a film critic?
Interestingly, critics across the world have a shared view on reviewing films because international critics grow up on similar films and texts. Strangely, our many mainstream critics have their own “original” ideas. Writing about stars, performance, music, songs, predicting whether it’ll work in “interiors” or “exteriors”, commenting about the costumes of the stars and dance moves etc are what we may call uniquely Indian!
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