An exclusive interview with the noted film journalist Deepak Dua

By Murtaza Ali Khan
Film Journalist Deepak Dua
Film Journalist Deepak Dua

Ever wondered what it takes to become a professional commentator on cinema? Would you like to watch movies and get paid for it? Would you like to interview your favorite film personalities? If writing about movies is what you love then can you fully dedicate yourself to it? How feasible is film criticism as a full-time profession? These are the questions that we often receive from many of our readers which include young cinema enthusiasts keen on taking up film criticism as a profession. In an endeavor to seek out the right answers we have started a special series wherein we would be interacting with some of the leading film commentators in the world and try and get them to talk about their success stories. How they got started? What inspired them? How they overcame the various challenges? What is it like to have tasted success? How they keep themselves relevant despite the changing dynamics, etc.?

Now, we consider ourselves really fortunate to be presenting you with someone really special for the second part of this series (Read Part - I with film journalist Aseem Chhabra here). Deepak Dua, who will be completing 25 years in the field of film journalism this September, needs no introduction. After starting his journey at YMCA, Delhi, in the year 1993, he has never looked back. Other than his association with some of the country’s leading film journals, newspapers and magazines, he has been closely associated with radio as well as television. Some of the publications that he has been associated with include Hindustan, Amar Ujala, Hari Bhoomi, Chitralekha, Filmi Kaliyan, Outlook - Hindi, Rashtriya Sahara, and Shubh Yatra, which is the In-flight Magazine of Air India Airlines, among other. Apart from cinema his other passion is travel and he frequently writes travelogues which can be read in publications like Hindustan, Hari Bhoomi, etc. Currently, he is writing/recording a series of audiobooks titled ‘Sunehra Daur with Deepak Dua” for a leading Swedish publication Storytel.

We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to film journalist Deepak Dua for making himself available, despite his busy schedule, for a detailed one-on-one interaction and for sharing his thoughts/experiences in a most candid and elaborate manner.


Q1. You are about to complete 25 years in the field of film journalism.  How did the journey start?

A. It may come as a surprise to you that I was never a compulsive movie watcher. But we have this tradition in the family wherein the parents used to take us out to the theatres every time a good film released. By good films I mean films made by Children Film Society. I am reminded of films like Bal Shivaji. Also, when Gandhi came out I remember the entire family went to watch it. Tapasya was another film that the parents took us out to watch. It wasn’t very frequent but and such family outings happened about a couple of times in a year. Then during the final years of my school, around the late ‘80s, the films although they were tasting success they somewhere they lack the quality. Watching those masala films I realized that ingesting too much of such films could cause indigestion. That’s how I gradually developed an understanding of what is good or bad in movies. Then during my college years I really started exploring cinema, carefully choosing to watch rare gems.

It was the time when the parallel cinema moment was coming to an end we had a new hybrid kind of cinema which despite being offbeat was finding success. Here I would like to name films like Lekin, Rudali, Salim Lande Par Mat Ro, Maya Memsaab, etc. and commercial cinema was also producing some good films like Heena, Prahaar, Gardish, Angaar, etc. All these films would have a strong influence on me and in a way helped shape my thought process. I was also reading a lot of literature in those days. Also, I had developed a habit of reading newspapers. The film critic of Jansatta, Mr. Manmohan Talkh, had deep influence on me. After his retirement, Mr. Shrish Chandra Mishra took his place. He has been among the leading Hindi journalists of the country and his work has had a very strong influence on me. So during my college years I started contributing letters to newspapers and also got associated with some radio programmes. Basically a communication channel had started for me with the world of media.

Since I had Commerce background, I decided to pursue Mass Communication before making a foray into the media. Just after enrolling into the course at YMCA, I visited the Jansatta office looking for an internship. Mr. Shrish Chandra Mishra recognized me immediately as I had been regularly contributing letters to the editor. It was under his mentorship that my journey as a film journalist began to shape up.

Q2. As someone who has seen film journalism very closely, how do you think it has changed over the years?

A. Things have certainly changed greatly. First and foremost the relationship between the film star and the film reporter has changed considerably. Now, there are two ways to look at it. On one hand since the number of people covering cinema has increased it has somewhere diluted the quality of relationship that the celebrities traditionally shared with the journalists as in those days there were limited number of journalists who would regularly interact with the celebrities. They were the people who had great understanding of cinema and it was their love for films and not glamour that brought them into film journalism. Earlier we never ever asked a film star for an autograph but today we have Selfie Journalism.

If we look at the positive side then I can tell you that today there is great level of accessibility. As today we have new means of communication, it is easy to reach the film stars today. Earlier it used to take several weeks before we could fix an interview with a star. Today you can even contact a star or the manager on WhatsApp and get done with the interview very easily. Also doing detailed interviews which allow the journey of the star to come out well is much easier these days. That’s why I feel that today, more than ever we can have great celebrity interviews if the interviewer has the right skill set.  

Q3. You not only practice film journalism but you also teach it. Tell us about this other facet. Also, tell us what an aspirant must do in order to embark on a journey in the field of film journalism.

Deepak Dua's review of Dangal in Class VIII book
Deepak Dua's review of Dangal in Class VIII book
A. Along with teaching film journalism, a chapter written by me is also being taught at the Uttarakhand Open University at the Masters level. Also my review of the movie Dangal is now a part of Class VIII curriculum across schools in South India. Actually, a Hindi scholar based in Hyderabad first came across it on the News18 portal and reached out to me through Facebook and that's how it took shape. I have always given one important advice to students keen on take up film journalism. That it is to watch as much as possible and to read as much as one can. This is also written in the chapter that I have contributed. As watching cinema regularly develops your understanding; also the same is true of reading articles on cinema. The understanding of what’s good and what isn’t will automatically come to you. If you read a few film reviews you can very well find it for yourself that which one seems to make more sense than the other, whether a review is excessively laudatory or overly critical. So regardless of whether you are writing on cinema or not you must watch cinema and read one cinema as much as possible. Once you are thorough with the basics you can start looking for story ideas and the best way forward is to approach the editors. This is a basic approach that holds true for not only film journalism but to all the beats of journalism. Once the trust is established the editor would contact you himself/herself for the next story but initially there is bound to be some struggle.

Q4. Some of the film reviews are too heavy on the story and the plot while others are heavy on analysis. What according to you are the characteristics of a balanced film review?

A. Well it actually varies from person to person. Even some very senior journalists believe that it’s important to reveal a major part of the story at the very beginning of the review itself. But I personally believe that a review is not just about giving trivial information about the film. A review has to do more with providing a point of view on the movie and its related themes. Rather than giving the names of the artists it is more important to comment on the nature of their work. It is about highlighting the merits and demerits of work of the writer to begin with and then the director’s ability to translate into a motion picture, and editing and various other aspects. Also whether the actor has done justice to the character or has added more value through his ability to express. I feel the focus ultimately should be on the subject and its execution.

Q5. In today’s age when the information is so readily available on the internet how important is the job of a film critic?

A. The job of a critic has always been important and it will always stay important that way. Sometimes filmmakers say that they don’t make films for critics but for the common audiences. The fact of the matter is that the critics are a part of the same audiences. On the other hand when a critic gives your film a rating of 4 out of 5 the next day you mention about it in the advertisement. This means that the filmmakers do take pride when a film gets well received by critics and they consider it worthy enough to share with the audiences. Now a review may not be able to fully convince a viewer to watch a film or decide against it but it certainly affects his/her opinion as to whether he/she should watch a film immediately or can even afford to watch it later or if it can be skipped altogether. So, at a subconscious level, it will always stay with him/her that a particular film has been panned by the critics or has received critical acclaim.  
Film Journalist Deepak Dua at a recording session
Film Journalist Deepak Dua at a recording session
Q6. How do you go about writing a review? How long do you take to write one?

A. Well, to tell you the truth, a critic has to deal with several kinds of pressures. If we typically talk of a film critic writing for a newspaper then he/she has to deal with the strict deadlines. So the time between watching the film and the deadline is often not sufficient and this can seriously affect the quality of the review. I myself have gone through the process during the stint I reviewed films for Amar Ujala. I remember I hardly used to have one hour to write and submit the review. Another kind of pressure that a critic associated with a media group has to deal with is from the marketing side. Often a critic is under pressure while reviewing films from the big banners. If a critic is somehow able to overcome the various kinds of marketing pressures then he/she can definitely write a good review. As far as I am concerned there have been occasions when I have written reviews in as much as 30 minutes. But I prefer to have at least 2-3 hours for writing a review. 

So ever since I have started my blog ‘’ I have started following an approach wherein after walking out of the theater I deliberately try to stop thinking about the film.  This allows me to completely detach myself from the film as the visual medium is capable of to putting you in a state of awe that can unjustly influence your objectivity. So I let the froth settle first. If I watch the film at night then I don’t think about the film until the next afternoon. If I watch the film in the afternoon then I usually start reviewing the film only in the evening, so that I at least have 2 hours in between where I try to divert my attention from the film. Another important think that I both practice and preach is that a critic shouldn’t read other reviews before writing his/her own. After taking the aforementioned break I start recalling the film in my head and thus begins my critical analysis that culminates in the review. This allows me to overcome the initial awe or disliking, thereby allowing me to critically examine the film to the best of my abilities. I look for the small things that if executed well can do wonders for a film. As critics we should be able to spot the minutest of the flaws as well. Ultimately it benefits the viewers if you are able to do a good job as a film critic. The key is to be open-minded. We all are bound to make mistakes once in a while but if we are honest and let go of the biases and prejudices then it allows us to write consistently good reviews that can stand the test of time. 

Take for example a film like Jagga Jasoos. At the time of its release so many critics wrote it off but today more and more people are opening up about the film. The moment we resort to narrow-mindedness we compromise our ability to objectively examine a film. Sometimes, we have commercial blockbusters which mint several hundred crores at the box-office and yet six months down the line no one would remember about them. So the review of a film should ideally take things like re-watch value into consideration as well. So commercial success isn’t everything, for cinema’s impact goes much beyond and as critics we must be farsighted. As long as a critic is doing his job with honesty he/she doesn’t really care about anything else.

Q7. Having written for India’s leading newspapers and magazines over the last couple of decades you chose to start a film blog a couple of years back. How do you see this transition?

A. The same question was asked to me by Google as part of their initiative to promote Hindi blogging. This was when I was invited to Google’s Gurgaon Office. I had told them that a blog allows me to establish a direct contact with my readers unlike any other medium. Now, I have reviewed films for All India Radio and DD News also and have written reviews for various websites as well, other than magazines and newspapers, etc. I used to post a few lines from my reviews on Facebook and the response of the readers used to be both immediate and overwhelming. So gradually I started posting longer reviews which started getting even better response from the readers. Then many of my friends started advising me to start a blog instead so as to reach an even larger audience and I must say that I have never regretted my decision.

Other than the reach and responsiveness, the blog actually acts as an archive that’s easily accessible for one and all and for absolutely free. You just need to search for the name of the film along my name and you will be able to read the particular review anywhere, anytime. And once you have come to my blog through the search engine you can easily access my other reviews as well though the archive or the search function on the blog.  Also, it allows me to revisit my own older reviews very easily and this way I am able to assess myself critically as well, from time to time. When your review gets published in a newspaper it reaches to over one lakh homes but also those people aren’t interested in cinema but the readers who regularly come to your blog are the ones who are actually interested in cinema and your views on it.  That’s what makes it so special.

But as the expectations go up you have to be very careful with what you write. Since a lot of readers wait for my review and greatly trust my views I too feel a greater sense of responsibility towards them. Perhaps, that’s why I take slightly longer to write my reviews these days. And the challenge is not just limited to writing the body of the review but even capturing the essence the film in the heading itself. To tell you the truth my readers absolutely adore my headings. You won’t believe that they message me if they ever feel that the heading isn’t up to the usual mark. So it is a big challenge but at the same time it is deeply satisfying.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

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