Critics of the cinema have been around for as long as cinema itself. During private screenings they are silent observers, but in their written reviews, their critical opinions can speak much louder than the average person. The job of a film critic is to critique films for their quality on a very specific set of “professional” film standards, as opposed to a regular movie attendee, who instead views a film for its entertainment value. It would make sense that the two different parties assess the quality of the film from each of their respective viewpoints, but the levels of quality enjoyment can seem too varied to just be their perspectives alone. Also, there exists a major discrepancy between one film critic and the next, and their reviews are rarely very similar.
Today, the reasons why most films critics differ in their ratings and the manipulations go behind the screen: There is a group of film reviewers in Bollywood who are up for sale and you cannot expect more than two stars from them unless you pay them. If you want four stars, then you have to pay him four lakhs. However, perhaps to maintain their dignity, they doesn’t give five stars for five lakhs. Then there film critics who do star interviews and report on Bollywood when they are not reviewing films. Now the PRs love a few journalists belonging to this group. Why? Because to get the required number of stars, you only need to make sure that the stars of the films are made available to these ‘journalists’ when the publicity of the film is on. If you ignore them during the promotions, then your film might get screwed in their reviews! Last but not the least, the group of critics who go by their own World Cinema standards and apply them to Bollywood commercial movies. If they rate a movie very highly it means that the movie is made for a niche audience and hence, a sure-shot flop at the box office.
This is not a generalisation. Not all senior journalists-cum-critics indulge in this kind of behavior. Most of them are responsible and true to their craft. Most of the reputed senior journos from leading media houses are loyal to their craft and very responsible. Hence they don’t belong to any of the above groups.
Whenever there is this topic of film critics, two famous journalists from the earlier era always come to mind - the first very sober and much respected, the second very scary and most hated, but one thing common, they both turned producer at one time or the other:
B. R. Chopra: Late B.R. Chopra was born in Lahore, 1914, after graduating, he did his M.A. degree in English Literature from Punjab University, Lahore. Having a deep-rooted fascination for films, he switched over from a higher education to film journalism, surprising his family. He began his celluloid career writing and editing film reviews for the "Cine Herald" journal, one of the only two English language film magazines of Lahore, the other being Film Critic, edited by my brother R. R. Rishi. They both became very good friends, and when my sister married singer-actor Surendra in 1945, it was B. R. Chopra who hosted a very grand and glittering reception for the couple at Falettis Hotel where the entire who's who of Lahore film industry was present. After the Partition B. R. moved to Mumbai where eventually he became a very famous producer-director, always remembered with utmost respect.
Baburao Patel (1904-1982): He was the Editor and Publisher of India's first film trade magazine, Filmindia, the first edition of which was published in 1935. Baburao was a different breed in a different time, he didn’t think twice before calling Kalpana Kartik “pigeon chested”, Suraiya “ugly” or Dev Anand “effeminate”. In his review of Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, Patel writes: “Meena Kumari as Karuna acts well but her physical proportions seem to be getting so out of hand, especially in the southern regions, that in shape she is beginning to look like an inverted shuttlecock.” Shanta Apte, a famous actress called on Baburao Patel at the headquarters of movie magazine Filmindia in the late 1930s, she was angry and carrying a really big stick. Shanta Apte wanted a word — and a pound of flesh — from the founding editor and film critic after he derided her in his magazine. On another occasion, two film producers assaulted Patel in front of Bombay’s Imperial Studio after the reviewer lambasted their movie. And filmmaker V. Shantaram— once a close friend — accused Patel of blackmail. These were just a few of many scorned subjects who wanted to inflict pain on the writer, but by courting reader-wooing controversies for decades, Patel recorded and profoundly influenced the early days of Bollywood.
He was not only unsparingly acerbic, but also puerile and petty.
Skimming through his opinion columns and film reviews, it’s easy to see why Patel had enemies. Actresses bore the brunt of Patel’s gratuitous obsession with their anatomies. Naseem Banu had “ball-bearing breasts,” and Noor Jehan had an aging face that had “seen two World Wars.” Baburao also made some movies, including Gwalan, Draupadi, Pardesi Saiyan, Bala Joban and Maharani, which all turned out to be the biggest flops.