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January 27, 2015

Zee JLF Conversations: Anupama Chopra

Text by Nittal Chandarana

“I have a 20-year love affair with Rahul and Raj…but that never blinds you to movies you don’t like”

Verve chats with Anupama Chopra on films and critiquing post the launch of her book, The Front Row

  • Anupama Chopra
    Anupama Chopra
  • Anupama Chopra and Sonam Kapoor
    Anupama Chopra and Sonam Kapoor at the launch of The Front Row

On her foray into films and critiquing
“It’s weird but my journey into films was actually via the film industry. I was not a huge film fan before. It’s amazing; it’s really bizarre! And I wish I had been (a movie fan), because I lost out on at least 20 years of valued movie-watching time. I wish I would have started at five…I would have been so much ahead in my movie knowledge. I got into it because I started working for a magazine called Movie simply as a lark. Aur kuch pata nahin tha, so I thought chalo yehi karte hain. And then I fell in love with the film business. I fell in love with the film industry. But the movie I remember clearly from my childhood was Sholay. I remember that soundtrack, I remember how I was afraid of it as a child, and I remember what a big thing it was in our lives. And I can’t pick a favourite character. I love them all, including Kalia! Including Dhanno, the horse!”

On separating the movie buff from the critic
“I really don’t think you need to separate the two. Criticism has to come from a place of love. I don’t think any film critic should be walking to a movie with either fatigue or boredom or condescension. I think you have to love it. It gets hard sometimes. I see so much bad cinema. I have an existential crisis, and I think my whole life is going to go watching bad movies! But I’ve never felt that I need to separate the two. I think that because I love it, I am able to critique it.”

On separating the movie buff from the critic…when it comes to Shahrukh Khan
“But I love him! I have a 20-year love affair with Rahul and Raj but that never blinds you to movies you don’t like. I wasn’t a fan of Chennai Express. I did not care for Happy New Year. I don’t think it blinds you to the extent where you believe anything is okay. But like I said, I come to it from a place of affection.”

On the practice of critiquing in India and abroad
“I’ve never done film criticism for them. What I do for The New York Times (NYT) is reporting, so I’m a Bollywood writer for them. Their criticism is light years ahead of ours. I am a novice; I would not hold a candle when it comes to them. I read those people every week so I can learn from them because their range of reference, their body of knowledge, their ability to watch, their intellect is so far ahead! Also, the journalism in their best publications has a rigour that I, personally, don’t find in ours. When I work for NYT, they go through that article again and again and again; every fact is checked, every piece of information is cross-checked. We go through an insane amount of back and forth. One of my assistants was laughing that you could have written four other articles in the time that you wrote one for them! But then, that’s what teaches you, that’s your education.”

On her favourite critics
“The greats: Colin Gayle, Roger Ebert…. Currently working would be Manola Dargis, and Anthony Lane. He’s the funniest. I read him to laugh and I mean that in the best possible way because what he writes is so witty. He’s the Oscar Wilde of critics! There’s a flair, there’s a wit, there’s a language, so it doesn’t matter whether you see the film or not. With such critics, it’s not about seeing the film, it’s about reading them. Here, Rajeev Masand is a great friend and we’re always bantering off each other. I love what Nandini Ramnath does, I like Shubhra Gupta, Raja Sen; all are really fine writers. But I find that I learn most from foreign writers.”

On taking her show, The Front Row, to Cannes
“Cannes is one of my favourite events on the planet. The first time I went was in 1997. What they have built is an incredible platform that marries commerce and art and I think that’s what cinema is. You can’t ever get away from that. They’ve combined glamour and great cinema and great business.”

On ‘fangirling’
“Last year, Judi Dench was at the Rambagh (Palace, Jaipur) and I was just doing cartwheels looking at her! She was so lovely to talk to. When I interviewed Christopher Nolan, it was hard to keep it straight.”

On the Zee JLF
“I love the JLF. What they’ve built is absolutely fantastic; and the fact that they have built it around reading and books is great. Somebody just asked me if I think it’s too crowded. Of course it’s too crowded but this is about books. Not about cricket, not about Bollywood but books! It’s about reading and encouraging people to pick up a book and what can be the downside of that?”

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