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Face To Face with National Award Winner Film Critic Piyush Roy

Piyush Roy is a columnist, critic, author and academic, pursuing a multidisciplinary doctoral project on the ‘Aesthetics of Indian Cinema’ at the University of Edinburgh. He has authored two books, Alexander An Epic Love Story (historical fiction, 2007) and Never Say Never Again (fiction, 2007) and wrote the ‘introduction’ chapters to a series of English classics (Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, etc.)  He has also curated film seasons at Cardiff and Edinburgh. In March 2013, Piyush won a ‘Special Mention’ honour in the category of Best Film Critic at the 60th Indian National Film Awards. This week He is on Face To Face With Nwztoday.

Nwztoday - How are you feeling after receiving the National Award?

Piyush- My National Award ‘Special Mention’ citation states that it was conferred for my ‘in-depth knowledge of cinema and easy, informative style.’ This I think is a huge endorsement and boost to my writing style. The National Film Awards are Indian movie calendar’s highest andmost eagerly awaited felicitation ceremony. Having been in the organizing team of two of Bollywood’s biggest popular award ceremonies (the annual Screen and Stardust film awards) in the past, participating in a ‘national film award ceremony’ was a truly humbling, and uplifting experience. Humbling because of the honour’s nature of national recognition and seriousness of affairs, being presented by the President of India, after a selection by a learned jury featuring some of the best minds in one’s calling. Uplifting because, this like no other film award in the country, aims for a true celebration of the best of ‘all Indian cinema’ in both art and spirit!Professionally, the huge buzz the win has generated in my home state, Odisha, and the awareness to my work in the national media (in a non-glamorous film category like film criticism) is very encouraging. Personally, there is of course a sense of joy, courtesy the tremendous amount of happiness it has generated amongst friends, family and colleagues from the media fraternity.

Nwztoday - For writing a balanced film review what are the most important points to be kept in mind?

Piyush- Film criticism is a fine art, and film appreciation like any other professional discipline needs a certain amount of dedication, talent and conscience for fair play. The job of critics goes beyond finding faults, to discovering and highlighting the beautiful moments in a viewing experience. They should educate their readers/viewers on how to appreciate cinema as an art and point them to relevant examples beyond their comfort zone of regional or national cinema. Critics should avoid the temptation of making below the belt, saucy comments to boost the popularity of their takes, because a review is a serious piece of journalism.One of the biggest training for a film critic is to never tire of seeing as many varied films as possible from different countries, languages, cinematic styles, etc. One should never lose out on his education of the history of cinema in the pursuit of reviewing current successes. However, while reviewing Indian cinema, I also believe that the context of its culture should be understood to better appreciate its unique attributes, and different style of storytelling instead of a defensive seeking of some form of Western appreciation. That concern; eventually became the trigger for my multi-disciplinary doctoral project, exploring the traditional, ‘Navarasa Aesthetics of Indian Cinema,’ which I am currently pursuing at the Centre for South Asian Studies in the University of Edinburgh. 

Nwztoday -  Share about your journey from IIMC to University of Edinburgh.

Piyush- I was born and brought in a middle-class family of teachers in Rourkela. My father, Dr. G.K.Roy was a professor in the department of chemical engineering in the erstwhile Regional College of Engineering, Rourkela and the first director of National Institute of Technology, Rourkela. My mother, Dr. (Mrs) K.L. Roy was a professor of Mathematics in REC Rourkela.
So, in a way I come from a strictly ‘science’ background, though both my parents have been great patrons of literature and cinema. My joining the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal (1996-1997) however helped me get some clarity on my future career. After IIMC, I joined  The Asian Age in Bhubaneswar (1997-1999) as a sub-editor. There I realised my inclination for featurebased writing  vis-à-vis news reportage. Subsequently when I did some reporting on the Mumbai ‘underworld’ for the  Society magazine, the Mafia’s attraction for the film industry became my focus of investigation. This incidentally was the topic of my M.A. in International Journalism thesis at Cardiff University. While pursuing my studies at Cardiff, I became the first Indian student in a UK University to win British Council’s Shine International Student Award in 2004.However, once I joined  Hindustan Times (in Mumbai), as a special correspondent (2005-2006), I decidedly moved towards analytical writing in the culture beat of music, theatre, TV and cinema. My subsequent joining The Indian Express (2007-2008) had me further narrow down my writing to serious cinema reportage. That’s when I got a fully funded scholarship to pursue an MSc in Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh (2008-09), which opened me to the joys of world cinema, especially the cinemas of Europe and the Middle-East, and alternate styles of filmmaking. 

Nwztoday - How was your experience working with Stardust?

Piyush- As editor first of India’s youngest film weekly, StarWeek and then, Stardust (2011), I guess helped carve a niche for myself in mainstream film journalism in India.  Stardust follows a relaxed, but ‘thinking and provocative’ approach to reporting on film stars that encourages journalists to hone individual writing styles. Coming from a background of serious writingon cinema in national dailies, it was an eye-opener and an education to work with thepublication’s Chairman & Managing Director, and pioneer of tabloid journalism in India, Mr. Nari Hira. Editing the magazine’s iconic column, ‘Neeta’s Natter’, which is normally penned by the Editor was a live lesson in brevity, satire and nuanced handling of hurt celebrity egos.Those days, I was approached to do a Sunday column on cinema for the new and emerging daily from eastern India, Orissa Post, which marked my debut as a columnist. The column is now in its third successful year, with another following a year later, on review introductions to 100 iconic Indian movies.

Nwztoday - Who is your role model or inspiration in life?

Piyush- As a teenager I had a lot of role models ranging from ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to actress Rekha. Now when I look back, I realise that I have been greatly inspired by the simplicity of my grandfather, Shri Aditya Prasanna Madhual, the sincerity of my father, Prof. G.K. Roy and the passion for creative arts inculcated by a very dear colleague of my mother, writer-lecturer, Mrs. Pramila Panda of erstwhile REC Rourkela. Amongst critics, I admire a lot the style, structure and balanced analysis of all crafts of filmmaking in the reviews of American film critic, James Berardinelli. In India, I used to admire the reviews of the late Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India for her ability to notice something uplifting even in the worst of films.

Nwztoday - Besides Indian films which other films are of your interest?

Piyush- While pursuing my Masters in Film Studies, I was introduced to and impressed by a lot of films from Europe, especially France, Germany and Spain. Spanish cinema in terms of its irreverence, colour, vibrancy and melodrama, comes closest to popular Indian cinema sensibilities. I also admire the subtle, realistic style and heart-warming humanism in Iranian cinema and the poignant satire of Palestinian cinema, and just love the costume action dramas from Hong Kong and China.

Nwztoday - What is your opinion about the advancement in making of Indian films? What major changes do you find? 

Piyush- Hindi cinema, especially the art house and ‘small budget, independent’ movies, are in a very inspiring space of creativity today, constantly bursting with new talents, possibilities and story ideas. Never before had so many good films and performances happened in a single year in Hindi cinema after 1957 and 1975 as now in its 100 Mani Ratnam has hailed 2012 as the ‘actual golden age of Tamil cinema’. Young directorial talents have made the ‘new age urban Bengali art cinema’ even more experimental. Malayalam cinema continues its leadership in showcasing unique story ideas, while Telegu cinema has been achieving new highs in technology led by the likes of filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli, who happens to be the most adapted director in popular Indian cinema today. Last but not least is Marathi cinema, which starting with Shwaas (2004), has seen a phenomenal surge with some seriously never-before-seen tales, to emerge one of the bravest regional cinemas of our times.On the flip side, still a majority of productions from India’s biggest and most prolific Hindi, Telegu and Tamil movie industries continue to give technology priority over content. Most star-driven projects in Hindi cinema today hardly have anything new to offer. These bigbudgeted films do look much more beautiful than before, sadly their soul seems to be on a perpetual flight from the sets.

Nwztoday is an initiative to inform, enlighten& entertain the audience… your message for the team.

Piyush- Infotainment ironically has become a guiding journalistic mantra and motivation of our times, courtesy the shrinking reading habits of the new generation. The challenge to attractively package serious content often makes one go easy on the foundation journalistic rule demanding a balanced coverage of all viewpoints to a story. One should strive to trigger healthy debates and sensitivity in the public space through one’s reportage, and not shortchange on a journalist’s other important role to educate as well.

Thanks a lot for your valuable time, Nwztoday wish you all the very best to you.

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