Saturday 18th May 2024
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The woes of an underfed film critic

Let me begin what I hope will be the first of many Thamarai columns with a rant, dedicated to friend and fellow film critic Anil Sinanan (Time Out), who has been harping on the theme I am going to harp on for years.
For the best part of a decade, the likes of Anil and I, alongside a bunch of committed but foolhardy film enthusiasts have been trying to review Indian cinema in the mainstream British press. Our partial success in this has been in spite of, not because of distributors of Indian product in the UK. Simply put, most distributors do not care to have press screenings of Indian films in the UK prior to release. The blame is usually passed back to Mumbai, where we are informed that the mixing is done and prints are struck mere hours before the release and more often than not, do not wash up on the far shores of Britannia in time. This forces us to watch the film in its commercial release on the Friday and then submit our reviews and hope that they get published.
The distributors in question, with the honourable exception of Eros, usually don’t even bother to list the films on the Film Distributors’ Association website, which, if done, would bring the films to the notice of national editors and perhaps compel them to commission a review. But no, the distributors are content to let Indian films moulder in their ghetto, with only controversy generating films like My Name Is Khan generating national press (and a Guardian review, in spite of Fox deigning not to have a press screening). Their rationale being, there is a built in market for Indian films and fans of such films will wend their way sheep-like to desi cinemas every Friday.
It is precisely this defeatist attitude and the lack of desire to capture a wider, mainstream non-South Asian market, that hasn’t seen an Indian film break the £2.5 million box office barrier. As the London representative of a well-known Indian studio, both of who shall remain unnamed, remarked not so long ago, “We are critic proof. Besides, who else is interested in our cinema anyway?” With such a mind-set to begin with, there is little or no hope of Indian cinema gaining a wider audience like say Chinese or Mexican films.
There is also little or no hope for films that have no ‘face value’ – a term fondly used by distributors to refer to films without megastars – to get theatrical distribution. Again, the built in defeatist attitude that these films have no market here, forces us to scrounge for excellent films like Ishqiya from ‘other’ avenues. The film, incidentally, was a success in India, compared to bloated superstar vehicle Veer. Which brings us to this week’s releases.
With apologies to Bollyland offerings Amitabh Bachchan/Ben Kingsley starrer Teen Patti and Karthik Calling Karthik that features Deepika Padukone and Farhan Akhtar, the film I really want to see this week is Gautam Menon’s highly anticipated Tamil film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya featuring astonishing music by the ‘God of All Things’, A.R. Rahman.
A web crawl brought me to the Cineworld website and clicking on the film, I found an excellent and detailed synopsis. The site also had this nugget: “You should see it because: Apart from its obvious appeal, it’s also the first Tamil film with full English subtitles (in selected Cineworlds).” Well, bully for you, distributor B4U, but who are these subtitles aimed at? If it is a Tamil audience, they don’t need the subs, instead, they are a distraction. If aimed at a general audience, where is your marketing? How do you create awareness? What’s the point?
Aaargh, I give up. I’m off to either the Ilford or Feltham Cineworlds where they are graciously screening the film once a day. Don’t bother sending a search party…
Words: Naman Ramachandran ©
Naman is an itinerant writer with no itinerary, whose spell-check spells words like ‘itinerary’ for him. He is also the author of Lights, Camera, Masala: Making movies in Mumbai, has a PhD in film and he also covers ‘India’, for Variety, ‘South Asia’ for Sight & Sound and ‘UK & Ireland film’, for Cineuropa.