Bedatri Datta Choudhury
Film Critic, USA
My name is Bedatri and I live in New York City. I grew up between Calcutta and New Delhi, India—surrounded by a rich culture of moviegoing and criticism. I studied Literature for undergraduate and graduate studies and my first foray into film criticism emerged from wanting to read films as cultural texts which I could dissect through literary theory. I remember, 10 Things I Hate About You was the first film I ever wrote about, for my Shakespeare class. I wrote a feminist critique of the film. I continue to write criticism because I believe that writing about a film is an act of memorialising it, a means to remember it, and keeping it alive in the public memory, as a product of its contemporary politics and history.
Film criticism reflects a society’s relationship with its arts and with censorship. With the rise of the Right in India and the US, many kinds of cinema and their practitioners have ended up playing mouthpieces to the government. Naturally then, journalism and criticism (of any kind) gets weaponised and used as a means to either further the narrative of the State, or to attack anyone who stands in dissent. Since State-sponsored censorship inhibits the creation of courageous cinema, it also gives birth to timid criticism. India and the US, of course, aren’t the only countries where this happens and it is not just governments who hold the reins over cinema production and the criticism it inspires. The nexus of big studio money, capitalism, and the broken racist and sexist industry often ends up being a stand-in for repressive political structures.
After a year that has changed the way we negotiate with life and the arts, I would love to learn how to write about the moving image within the context of a situation where the borders between TV and film are constantly blurring. Additionally, I would love to learn from conversations about the responsibility of art in the aftermath of rising global racial and gender inequality. What are the duties of a film critic, subsequently, and what holes in the news cycles are we filling in with our coverage? I would love to form a network that keeps in touch and each member doesn’t just serve as a critic for one another’s work but also provides support for one another. I’d love to explore co-authorship and collaborative ideas too.
Although I have mostly written articles, I would love to explore podcasts and video reviews and learn ways in which they can enhance my thinking and help me reach a wider cross-section of readers/audience. Beyond the pandemic, I hope film criticism can eventually become an organic part of the filmmaking process itself. I think the fabled rivalry between a filmmaker and a critic is reductive since it’s beneficial for both these practices to get to a point where they depend on one another to create films that are fair products of their times. As someone who works on producing documentaries and then reviews them, I understand the benefits of being aware of both sides of the equation. It not only makes me a more empathetic critic but also makes me a better producer. I think there is a need to address the inequity when it comes to critics of colour and how critics’ academies can put forth practices and support systems that outlive the festival cycle and provide mentorship that is sustainable and dependable for the critics.
I look forward to learning from the members of my cohort and am happy to support them in all the ways I can.
(Written for the Berlinale Talent Press of 2021)