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The Big Deal About Writing Film Reviews

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Tell us a bit about yourself? And why the love for films?
I would have to say I got my love for films and books from my parents. I find it quite interesting that though they were both born in very small places in the Kerala countryside in the 1930s, by the time they left the state for higher studies in their teens, Dad had a personal library filled with old English literary classics and Mum was a fan of Hindi films and Hollywood films. I am not sure how that came about, but it did. And then, I had the good fortune of having a wonderful school teacher called Deepa Sarobar who introduced me to the joys of not just reading books, but also studying them. After reading William Wordsworth's Daffodils as a kid under Mrs. Sarobar's guidance, and then as a teenager, Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice and Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice again with Ma'am, I could never look at the written word with the same eyes. She also made us watch a film version of Pride And Prejudice to help us understand the difference between the book-reading and film-viewing experience. Not every teacher is wonderful, not all of them join the profession out of passion for teaching and children. But it takes just one great teacher supplementing the efforts of two great parents to make a difference to a kid's life. Mrs. Sarobar was that teacher for me.
When did you first get the idea of writing this book? How did you find a publisher for it?
It's tough to explain precisely when I zeroed in on the idea for this book. It's certainly hard to set out a precise timeline, but I'll try. I remember that some colleagues had been advising me for years to start blogging, but somehow the blogosphere felt like an alien space to me till I watched the film Julie And Julia starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and I thought, maybe it's worth a shot after all. I knew though that if I started a blog it would have to be something unusual, where I am not just posting material on a regular basis, but I'm taking readers on a journey with me, getting them involved, sort of like travelling companions, with a common thread running through all my posts like Julie Powell's blog in the film. I'm not sure I was conscious of these thoughts, but now when I look back I realise that at a sub-conscious level my mind started ticking when I watched that film.
Then in early 2011 I quit my job at Headlines Today because I needed to deal with certain matters on the home front and I also wanted to write for the print news media, teach, write books and do all sorts of things that a television job leaves you with no time for. That's when it occurred to me that I should start a blog in which I promise readers that I would not skip a single Hindi film released in the entire National Capital Region. I knew I wanted to derive a book from the blog, but I was not sure what form or shape the book would take.
The Adventures Of An Intrepid Film Critic 
By  Anna M.M. Vetticad
Om Books International
Pages: 256
Price: Rs 295
The blog was also a big experiment in the new media for me because I wanted to answer this simple question for myself: Would people read my reviews if I was not the official reviewer for a mainstream media publication? Can a person be considered a critic if he or she does not represent an organisation? What makes you eligible for the tag of 'film critic': an official designation or recognition and respect from readers?
As the months rolled by, through the experience of reviewing all those films and tracking down the people who've made even the smallest, least known films among them, I found myself making all sorts of discoveries about the Hindi film industry that I had never thought I could make after nearly two decades as a journalist. The process of writing the blog had most unexpectedly ended up giving me a 360 degree view of contemporary Bollywood. I was in discussions with various publishers at the time but zeroed in on Om because there was a meeting of minds there. But even though we had an idea of what the book would be when I finally signed a contract with them, the final format came to me only after I finished my research and began writing the book. In many ways, once the research was done, the book wrote itself.
Interesting conversation with Eddie and Rohit Shetty... You will probably ruffle a few feathers. What are the kind of reactions you have received so far from within the film fraternity -- outside of those who read the book before it got published?
The feedback from film industry members who have read it so far has been extremely positive. I think people were expecting the book to be a compilation of my blog reviews so they are also pleasantly surprised at the concept of the book. It's possible that I will ruffle a few feathers in the industry but no one so far has got aggressive with me or picked a quarrel with me, so I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
Why the foreword from Ranbir Kapoor? 
Ranbir is the first and only person I thought of when I figured that I want a Foreword for my book. He stands for everything that my book stands for in my eyes — with all the flaws that I may point out in the film industry, at the end of the day The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic is a celebration of a changing Bollywood, a celebration of small films and a tribute to people who are making their own road in the industry. People like Vidya Balan, Onir and Rajeev Khandelwal are doing that in ways that are very different from each other. So is Ranbir. As he himself says in his foreword, he comes from a position of privilege. What he doesn't say is that unlike so many others who also come from positions of privilege, he has been a risk taker right from the start. He could have acted in more formulaic films and played it safe with more obviously massy films like Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. But from his very first film he showed us that he was different. If Ranbir had not acted in Rockstar, for instance, we'd have considered it a small, offbeat film. I think that's one of the loveliest things about Bollywood right now … that what was once offbeat is now mainstream. I mean, if Aamir Khan had not produced Delhi Belly and promoted it the way he did, if he and UTV had not made 'Bhaag DK Bose' the film's marketing USP, Delhi Belly might have been considered a small, offbeat film. People like Aamir, Ranbir, Vidya, Priyanka (Chopra) are at the forefront of this change in the industry. Besides, when you read the foreword and the book, you will realise that Ranbir has several other connections to the many subjects discussed in it, so it had to be him.
A circular sticker on the book says "Celebrating 100 years Of Indian Cinema". The content seems to be largely your opinion of films, your experience of watching a movie, more than the research and the whole eco system of movie making. The book is hardly celebrating cinema but more of actor/producer/director bashing to a certain extent (and by virtue of the title, it is rightly so). Was this a conscious decision, or do you think you should have included the real gems of the movie making - of people who work behind the scenes, a good make-up fellow or an editor who probably doesn't get a mention other than in credits? Essentially give both sides of it. Were there any constraints you had set for yourself about the outline of the book? 
Oh, firstly, that sticker is not specific to my book. You will see it on all the film books being released by Om Books International this year. Second, I completely disagree with your take on my book. The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic is not my "opinion of films". It is an overview of Bollywood, the functioning of the industry, the social and political stances it does and does not take, etc. And through that overview, I am hoping my readers will discover the larger point I am trying to make, which is that every film industry ultimately mirrors the society that it is drawn from. So, contrary to what you say, my book is very much about the eco-system of movie making in Bollywood. It is a celebration of good cinema and a denunciation of bad. And it is not "actor/producer/director bashing" at all. There are lovely little jewel-like films and talented people I discovered during my research. I have spoken to producers, directors, actors, theatre managers, theatre owners, distributors, assistant directors, screenplay writers, casting directors and even film critics as part of my research and discussed their work in the book. And why restrict myself to giving just "both sides" as you ask? I have given you voices from all three sides -— my voice as a journalist and observer, the voices of film industry members and even quotes from members of the public.
How many aerated drinks and pop corn pods have you devoured so far? What else on the food list while watching a movie?
Actually I don't like aerated drinks. My staple movie-viewing diet is chicken momos or steamed corn and a cup of coffee.
When and where do you write?
I can write any time and anywhere, at crowded cafes and in the quiet of my study, when the TV is on and when the TV is off, on the lawn outside my house surrounded by screaming children or on flights. I prefer silences when the writing is in full flow, but I can survive noise too. When I write, I guess I am just lost in my own world. My favourite writing place, where I wrote most of my book though, is my study where I am surrounded by my father's old books and the ones I have acquired from my childhood.
What's your energy drink?
Tea. Of late, green tea. But in moderation.
What makes a book a really good read or a bestseller?
I can't tell you what makes a book a bestseller. I doubt if anybody knows the answer to that one. I can tell you though that what makes a book a really good read for me personally is if it transports me to another world and then stays with me even after I've finished reading it. It's been a while since that happened to me, but it did when I was reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. At first, I was convinced that her success was the product of brilliant marketing hype, so I resisted reading her books for a few years. When I told an acquaintance in the publishing business about my mind block, he simply gifted me Books1-6 (Book 7 was not yet out) with the guarantee that I would be hooked from the word go. He was right. I read all six books without a break, and when Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows was released, I re-read the first six books and then read the final one, which means all seven books back to back. J.K. Rowling has got the imagination of a genius.
What's the hardest thing about being a writer?
That people think it's easy. I once heard a senior colleague tell another, "What's the big deal about writing film reviews? All you do is go watch a film, then just sit in front of your computer and type." Considering that this person couldn't string a single sentence together without a grammatical error, it was all I could do to control myself and not butt in.
What are you reading now? E-book or a paper format?
I don't read e-books. Maybe someday I will, but right now I like the feel of a real paper book in my hands. Lately I've been going through a mix and match phase of reading. I just finished Orhan Pamuk's The Naïve and The Sentimental Novelist. Since I found the book slightly taxing, I decided to give myself a break by reading something really light, so I returned to a childhood favourite, Red Rackham's Treasure and The Crab With The Golden Claws, both from the Tintin series. Now I have just begun reading Shashi Tharoor's Pax Indica. He's already got my attention with this sentence: "We are all interconnected, and we can no longer afford the luxury of not thinking about the rest of the planet in anything we do." He is referring to foreign policy but it kind of reminds me of something I tell my journalism students every year - that all beats in journalism are interconnected, that a political journalist is an incomplete journalist if he or she does not care about films or the economy, and a film journalist has no business saying, I don't read political or business news. Yes I know, it's an odd connection to make. But that's the thing about books -— we each will find our own meaning in what we read.
So, what's next?
Right now, I am juggling three writing projects. There's a novel, a biography and concepts for several books of non-fiction, many of them unrelated to films. The challenge is to decide which one to prioritise. My teaching will continue but I have got to figure out the direction I will now take as a journalist. Let's see. The possibilities are exciting.
(Compiled by Sanjitha Rao Chaini)