As serious as a critic? -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

As serious as a critic?

By Usman Ghafoor

It used to be the professionals’ domain. There were well-educated and well-informed culture columnists in Pakistan, such as Safdar Mir (alias Zeno), I.A. Rehman, Hameed Sheikh and Zafar Samdani, whose word was law for the common film and TV enthusiast and it also influenced the product makers. Their reviews were carried in noted journals — with the exception of Hameed Sheikh, who was a broadcast critic — and, overtime, they developed a loyal base of readers who, it is not hard to assume, took to their style of commenting (each had his own particular style, for that matter) and also trusted them to give the right opinion. Today, the situation is unfunnily different.

With the coming into being of the blogosphere, and the world of web becoming increasingly interactive, every man jack with a computer and internet access — and, let’s say, an opinion(!) — has become a sort of a ‘critic’. What’s more, they are creating an impact. Correspondingly, the good ol’ print newspaper suddenly finds itself without much clout. So, where does that leave the ‘real’ and trustworthy critic? Who should the responsibility to ‘influence’ opinions lie with, when everyone is sitting in moral judgment of things? What will become of the seasoned group of commentators in time?

The entire world is debating to find the best answer to the above queries, as the new-age media looks poised to take complete control over the traditional media. Websites such as Metacritic are said to have already replaced printed criticism as it famously rates films based on the opinion of a variety of reviews — readers’ reviews included. At the same time, it is learnt that scores of established critics at Newsweek, Village Voice and Newsday have either retired or been laid off.

Pakistan’s case may be worse as it has lost most of its serious critics of film and TV either to death or to other professions. Both our electronic and print media haven’t been able to produce a credible second generation (of critics). And, from the looks of it, they aren’t bothered. Why, because they know their organisation’s name will carry weight where a writer’s byline doesn’t.

As film maker, academic and critic, Mira Hashmi puts it, “Our TV is not quite regarded as a medium with a lot of depth. I mean, it’s not serious work; it’s just fluff that you’re watching at the end of the day.

“As a society, we don’t take performing arts seriously, so why take critics seriously?” she asks.

Again, the web world paints a completely different picture. Here, a TV morning show is smothered to bits and its host forced to apologise — or else face a termination — when she strays into what is popularly derided as ‘vigilantism’, parading the parks of Karachi in order to ‘catch’ dating couples. “The privacy of a person’s choice is most cogent; they’ll ask for help when they ask you,” wrote Lahore-based Mehreen Khasana in her much-quoted blog. “I am mortified as a Pakistani when I see wardens of rectitude making dangerous spectacles of common citizens simply to boost hits on their show or to become shining role models for people of equally disappointing, mediocre thinking. If that young couple gets hurt — which happens inevitably as a result of your irresponsible moral policing — you will be held accountable for reinforcing the sick obsession our society has with prying and needling into privacy.”

Mehreen is only 22, but her mature and strongly-worded opinion set everyone thinking when it went viral on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Judging a TV show or a film on its technical or literary merits is a more serious job; it requires “some knowledge of the medium, its technique as well as history”, as noted film critic Aijaz Gul says.

Mira seconds him, while also revealing that she “is guilty of the same, because I started writing reviews for The News when I was only 16. But soon I decided to go abroad and study film production, theory and history.”

However, she says, she wouldn’t stop anyone who has seen a movie or is interested in films from voicing their opinion, since “it isn’t a job of great responsibility. I mean, you aren’t a public servant or a minister here, you can’t be held ‘accountable’. It’s just an opinion that you are giving. It is up to the readers what they make of it. And, your opinion is only one among millions.”

Mira’s viewpoint endorses the fact implicit in art criticism that opinion is what a critic is essentially giving and no two critics — however noted and credited — are expected to have the same opinion on the same piece of art. And, neither of them is wrong.

Source: The News