Rahul Desai quit Mumbai Mirror because the newspaper changed the rating he gave to Tanu Weds Manu: Returns. But is it time for the rating system to go?
The comments section of film critic Rahul Desai’s review of Tanu Weds Manu: Returns begins with a reader accusing Desai of having “completely missed the audience pulse”. Another reader, though, responded to that, saying “he’s a film critic, not an audience pulse meter”.
While Mumbai Mirror clearly took the first comment seriously, subsequently “upgrading” the rating of the film on the basis of “reader feedback and research”, the exchange between the two readers perhaps raises some not-so-comfortable questions about the very point of critiquing and reviewing.
What is the point of a review or a rating system in a daily newspaper, which most readers read not for an intelligent well-crafted critique but to decide whether it is worthwhile to eat overpriced popcorn over the weekend?
More pressingly, is it even possible to quantify a work of art, which is essentially what ratings do?
According to Nandini Ramnath, film journalist at Scroll.in, the system doesn’t help anybody apart from circulation and marketing departments. “It is a reductive way of looking at film reviewing and should be scrapped,” she says. But it will not be any time soon as Ramnath herself acknowledges: “The fact is that publishers, producers and distributors recognise its usefulness and encourage its use.”
So what does Desai, who has since quit Mumbai Mirror, have to say about the fiasco? “It was wrong and there was no other option for me but to resign. Any journalist would do so. Either you carry on and compromise or you quit,” he says.
When asked if editors at Mumbai Mirror had informed him before changing the rating, Desai stated that that was immaterial to his decision. “I would have quit even if they had informed me before changing the rating. The episode has affected the credibility of everyone involved,” he claims.
Desai who used to work with an online platform called Upperstall.com before working for Mumbai Mirrorsays there are generally less restrictions and more flexibility when one reviews films for online portals versus print publications. “Mumbai Mirror, though, was known to be more liberal, which is why I had joined it,” he says.
Film critic Raja Sen agrees and says Mumbai Mirror had more credibility than any of the other Times group publications.
“The whole episode was shocking. The statement that came from them was bizarre. There can be no justification for changing the rating and public feedback can’t have a bearing on a review,” he says.
Regarding the rating system, Desai states that personally he’d love to do away with the rating system. “I am not very comfortable with the idea of reducing a film to five stars or two hearts – it is a bit condescending. I can write about a film but, if given a choice, I’d rather not rate it. Foreign publication like The New York Times don’t rate films, but reviewers here haven’t really found a way around it,” he says.
Desai, however, says it is unlikely for print publications to get rid of the rating system “because most readers don’t have the time to read the entire review”. “But I am sure most film critics would rather just write a review than give stars because there’s no set way of doing it anyway,” he says.
Film critic Mayank Shekhar believes that the rating system is “hugely reductive”, “condescending” and “is like giving a report card in an exam”. “The rating style of review has made everyone from astrologists to radio jockeys reviewers since there is no need to write anything that looks at a movie from a context of narrative, culture, politics, etc,” says Shekhar.
Shekhar agrees with Desai about the Internet being a more accommodating platform. “Thank god for the internet because space for any kind of independent opinion has shrunk in the mainstream media anyway.”
Shubhra Gupta, film critic with The Indian Express, says readers should not just rely on the ratings. “Ratings are deeply reductive and they do not tell you the whole story. I think readers should take the ratings or the ‘stars’ as just an indicator and actually read the review to know what the critic has to say,” she says.
Film critic Anupama Chopra says ratings and giving so-called stars to a movie is something that she has struggled with through her career. Chopra says she had tried to dispense with the rating system for a bit during her stint with NDTV but it didn’t quite work. “For a long time, I did not give stars but we found that they were needed because people don’t even have the time to watch a three-minute review.”
She adds that most film reviewing is not really a critique as much as it is a consumer service. “I watch a movie on Wednesday and sometimes on a Thursday, and I don’t have the luxury of time. My job is basically to tell the viewer what I think of the movie and whether they should spend their money and time on it. So, in that context, ratings do have some importance.”
Sen says when he first started reviewing for Rediff, the platform did not give ratings but today readers are used to it. “I agree breaking down a movie to any sort of empirical chart is difficult but many people may not want to read my entire review and rather scroll down and see the rating to make up their mind about the movie,” he says.
Sen says, at the end of the day, he is not writing for himself and has to get through to the reader at some level. “Ratings help you do that so I wouldn’t really say we should do away with them. You just have to find the right balance.”
This article was republished from Newslaundry.com.