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August 6, 2011 / Gyanesh Pandey

Feed me back

Feed me back, your likes dislikes.

Frame it as you would but judge me not

Coz’ tomorrow I will not be me.

Couple of months ago I went to watch a film because a dear friend of mine had written dialogues for the film. It so turned out that it was a terrible film. Despite my trying to sit through it, I couldn’t sit beyond the intermission. Also, it was one of those rare occasions, being alone made it only worse. Anyways, I got out of the Cinema Hall and in the evening called my friend and couldn’t keep it from him. Told him the truth “I couldn’t sit through the whole film”. I have always taken pride in being truthful never ass-licking, because I think ass-licking someone is insulting his intelligence because I can smell the ass-lickers the moment i see that dripping oh-so-sweet smile on the face.

In days to follow this friend of mine stopped calling me, ignored me and was just a little short of hostile. He had been not only a friend but a mentor or guide of sorts too and that he was quite senior to me. The reason I blurted out what I did was because he had often joked with me and that I was comfortable telling him as it is. Clearly it was not the healthiest thing to do.

If you are in the field of filmmaking, acting, writing or any arts for that matter, you would have faced this scenario when a friend shows you his work and you think to yourself “This is shit! What do I say now?”

Apart from the above incident, since I act, watching films and commenting on them is almost a part of my profession. Many a times I was in a situation where I had a difference of opinion even judging a piece of work by an unrelated artist. And saying something unreasonably critical of something that someone else like may also have its repercussions.

This got me thinking – How does one give feedback? Because each film involves work of literally hundreds of people with such huge amounts of money at stake while we by a simple stroke bring it down. Similarly for other arts too – how many hours and years does a writer spend in coming up with the novel or short stories or poems or whatever. And apart from money of-course, one of the things that an artist looks forwards to is the reaction of its audience. Also, no matter how big or small an artist is, there is a genuineness in the motivation to do the work. What comes out is altogether a different matter.

So, while giving feedback, there are primarily two broad approaches : One, you try not to say anything rude or unpleasant & Two, you just say exactly what you feel like saying.

In the first approach, one is being overcareful either about the relationship with the artist or other such factors. The basic problem with such a feedback is that it is not a feedback at all. It becomes an exercise in diplomacy. It does not help the artist, except may be his ego (make no mistake Ego Massage can do wonders!), which will also not be healthy in the long run, for him or for you or for the bond between the two.

Second approach, though one may think that saying it exactly as it occurs in your head is the pure objective truth which the artist has somehow failed to see. Well “truth” isn’t that simple a thing even if it is about the one’s reaction to a piece of art – play, film, poem, painting whatever. See I might love ‘Pyaasa‘ or say ‘Apocalypse Now‘ but many others may not. Similarly there might be a Box Office Blockbuster but I might not want to spend a paisa on it. What I want to establish here is that what we call truth is never “objective”, it is always “subjective” – more so in the context of reaction to a work of art.

So what do we do now? We can’t speak as we feel and it’s useless to be over polite. It makes sense to think – why are we giving feedback? What is the artist’s intention in asking for it? Or why this process of feedback. Well the answer is rather simple – so that the artist can improve his work.

“Improve his work” – The sole objective is to help the artist get better otherwise there is no point of this whole exercise.

An approach that works best for me and which takes care of the above dilemma is when we express our reaction in terms of “This is what I liked, these parts I really loved. This thing was ok and these things did not work for me or jarred.” And it takes effort to do this. It is far too simplistic, in fact lazy, to just say ‘Oh i didn’t like it’ or ‘it was shit’ or ‘it is awesome’. What contributes to the artist is when one says ‘Oh this line was awesome, really loved it’… ‘the way it was said was great’….”her being in this dress when he suddenly drops in is inappropriate, felt jarring… and so on…”

Once the artist hears what works and what does not work and for whom – he or she is in a much better position to make choices about how he wants to take it forward.

Having done our job of giving honest reactions, it is the job of the artist to take the feedback the way it is meant to be.

Having gone through a significant introspection I actually put this question to the same friend whose film I had to walk out of – “How does one give feedback?”. He spoke some good words of wisdom and in the process also forgave me. I continue to respect his work and our relationship. He helps me, guides me and also sometimes looks forward to my feedback.

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3 Comments

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  1. Aviral Khandelwal / Aug 6 2011 1:21 am

    Quite a few fair points made in the post. However, to continue in the spirit of the post, it is tough (and often unfair on the author) to give feedback publicly as the objectivity of the feedback gets compromised in its very ‘public’ nature.

    The worst thing a feedback can be is one which causes the recipient to curb his creative instinct.

    Anyway, had read a short story written by you about a kid and his desire to buy a football. Loved it.

  2. Kinshuk / Aug 6 2011 2:25 am

    Separate/Detach the Action from the Human.
    Art is not equal to Artist.( Its just one aspect of the artist, part of the whole not the whole itself)
    Specifically, selectively and sincerely appreciate or criticise the isolated action or aspect of the art rather than the artist. ( Prep him about the same before the feedback and let him understand the sincerity of your intentions and not a judement call on the artist or his capability and also specify it as an individual opinion/perspective which can differ from person to person )

    Express the negative in the form of a constructive feedback with the simple positive re-arrangement of phonetics, gestures and Verbiage.
    So instead of saying “the script sucks or is boring or weird”……making an honest accurate appraisal by saying…”the script related to so and so frames…or so and so phase of the script is a good, fair, logical treatment…(no “buts”) …at the same time, section so and so has opportunity for additional clarity or further treatment…”

    May sound diplomatic or re-iterative in what’s already been touched upon in this article….so at the cost of stating the obvious per my understanding, this approach seems like a good middle-path between sycophancy or plain insensitiveness/rudeness….
    coz….end of the day, the artist is still an imperfect Human and would like to be treated with dignity and respect (no matter the recognition or the criticism)!!….and it would be a good idea to leave them better off than when we found them!

    -Kinshuk Agarwal

  3. gyaneshpandey / Aug 9 2011 12:20 am

    Thanks Aviral for your kind comments about the post and also about my short story. The point that you make about feedback in public is very valid. I also agree about the fact that anything that hampers the creativity is worst, though a whole lot of responsibility about what to do with the feedback lies with the artist. An artist has to be thick skinned too but then soft enough to understand – it is a little dichotomous.

    Kinshuk – Middle path is good, I agree. But damn that was one dude about 2 thousand years ago and nobody has been able to repeat the feat! 🙂

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