Bringing together critical perspectives on theatre, the Theatre Critics Conference had a session on “The Need for Critics”. The Panelists included Gayatri Sinha, Ananda Lal, Mayank Shekhar, Deepa Gahlot. Moderating the session, Mukund Padmanabhan (Professor of Practice, Krea University, Editor and Journalist) said that across the world, there has been a market decline in the coverage of arts. It is often regarded as an activity that will create dissonance and upset the status quo.
Editor, Art Critic and Curator, Gayatri Sinha said, “We tend to turn more to academics then say critics for more considered and intense serious writing and research in the visual arts. In comparison the critic seems more lightweight. This is like an umbrella discipline and yes, it’s horribly marginalised. We see the chain of patron consumer, producer, theatre artist etc. the critic is the weakest link in the chain. Oddly enough if the market falls, the link that gets dissolved is the link of the critic. They are poorly paid and they are not seen as very important. A lot of early writing in this century is about the loss of the critic. Why this has happened is because art curators have become really powerful. Curator has become the dominant writer in critical discourse. The critic has sort of slumped.”
Ananda Lal, Theatre Writer, Director, Critic and Professor said, “You think of the media in three different categories, there is no theatre criticism to speak of, online. There’s really no platform online for theatre as such. If you look at print media where the theatre critic used to inhabit, you will find that only New York Times and the London Times continue to have brilliant criticism. Most of the newspapers have stopped theatre criticism.” He also added that when he started 40 years ago he would write about 600 words, which have now declined to 300 words due the politics of space in print.
There is thing hunger for reviews but at the same time, there’s very limited hunger. It’s only for glowing, good reviews. Are we extra sensitive to criticism?
Film Critic, Writer and Journalist Mayank Shekhar said, “We are unable to see critics as a society as no different from a writer to begin with. To see criticism as a craft and art form of its own, I think we are quite far away from that point which has also to do a lot with the readers in terms of what they demand from a critic. There’s this idea built in the social media sphere that my opinion is as good as yours, so why are you a critic? He also explained that the relationship between artists and theatre critics is never going to be a happy one and it is unfair to expect that. “If I cannot like a particular film or play, I cannot expect the audience to like my review. It’s the most emotional response you are likely to have. You really like that critic who gave you a good review. That fondness stays only until a point that he doesn’t,” he added.
The panel also agreed that one of the prime responsibilities of a critic is to be more well informed about the craft by engaging with its creators through long form interviews, interactions and in depth pieces. Mayank Shekhar addressed a burning question that we often see on social media about the credibility of critics. He said, “There’s no special CV for a film critic and readers are the best judge of how good a critic is. You don’t need a degree to be a filmmaker, why should you need a degree to be a film critic?”
In a nutshell, Sujoy Roy, who’s known for his work in creative industries and the cultural sector and the man behind the Jaipur Lit Fest for years, said that, “It’s absolutely vital to have free speech, commentary and dialogue. Criticism irrespective of the art form is all conjoined.”