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Derek Malcolm: “Ray or rubbish” – Filmmakers and professionals remember the critic who adored iconic Indian filmmaker…(video +)

Derek Malcolm: “Ray or rubbish” – Filmmakers and professionals remember the critic who adored iconic Indian filmmaker…(video +)

A giant among critics, he travelled to the country routinely and in 2018 talked to us about his love of Indian cinema in Cannes…

OSCAR-WINNING British filmmaker Asif Kapadia is among those who have paid warm tribute to legendary and hugely influential film critic Derek Malcolm, whose death was reported in The Guardian on Sunday (July 16).

Derek Malcolm shares a joke with acv editor Sailesh Ram in Cannes in 2018 (see video interview below)

Malcolm was among the longest serving British newspaper film reviewers to have worked for a single title and was honorary president of the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci).

He passed away on Saturday (July 15) from heart and lung failure after a few months of illness at his home in Deal, which he shared with his second wife, historian Sarah Gristwood. He was 91.

Malcolm covered film for The Guardian for 26 years (1971-997) and then for the London Evening Standard from 2004-15; and was probably without peer when it came to respect from filmmakers and those who consider cinema an art form.

Many reports describe him as the independent filmmakers’ champion and a giant of film criticism.

He also had a long association with Indian cinema and its greatest ever export Satyajit Ray, whom he counted as a friend.

Ray’s trilogy of films, centred around the character of Apu, are regarded as immortal works and catapulted Indian cinema to new heights – especially abroad.

Asif Kapadia

Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955) won a special award at the Cannes Film Festival the following year. was privileged and much honoured to speak to Malcolm in Cannes in 2018. (The interview link is below and so are Sailesh Ram’s personal recollections of talking to Malcolm – who was a raconteur par excellence).

Kapadia, talking to The Guardian, said that Malcolm was hugely influential, as he studied to be a filmmaker at the Royal College of Art and later came to serve on film festival competition juries with Malcolm, as the president of the Jury.

Kapadia, whose ‘Amy’ documentary about the singer Amy Winehouse, won him an Oscar in 2016, quipped that Malcolm would “let us all speak and then told us which film he thought should win.

“He was one of the best. They definitely don’t make people or critics like Derek Malcolm any more.”

Malcolm was an institution himself at Cannes and Venice film festivals and that much was apparent when acv met him in the India pavilion at Cannes in 2018. (See video below).

Derek Malcolm talking to Lalit Mohan Joshi for his BBC
radio series on Indian films

Malcolm was the chair of the UK-based South Asian Cinema Foundation (SACF), a body dedicated to raising the profile and reach of Indian cinema that is not Bollywood and Malcolm served on it, from 2000-14.

SACF founder and former BBC World Service journalist and now Indian cinema historian and documentary maker Lalit Mohan Joshi said and he, and well-known Indian film archivist PK Nair, went to a London pizza restaurant, to talk to Malcolm about the possibility of the film critic becoming the organisation’s first chair.

“He agreed and it was very gracious of him. He was a lovely gentleman, very funny and very supportive of Indian cinema, and was a passionate admirer of the films of Satyajit Ray – he used to say: ‘Ray or rubbish’,” chuckled Joshi.

Joshi with Malcolm and Indian director Shyam Benegal

“Malcolm held much of Bollywood in contempt and we set up the foundation to promote cinema that was not of those sensibilities. Ray ‘s relationship with Bollywood was more nuanced.”

Joshi explained that Malcolm was drawn to Indian New Wave, or Indian parallel cinema, as it was also described – which flourished internationally in the late 1960s and into the 1970s – not just through Ray but other seminal figures such as Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, to name just three of around a dozen or so Indian directors who made cinema rather than movies.

Bhuvan Lall with Malcolm in Cannes

Indian author and another Cannes regular Bhuvan Lall recalls his meetings with Malcolm on the Cote D’Azur in Cannes.

Calling him “extraordinary”, Lall noted that Malcolm was a fierce advocate of independent Indian cinema, long before it became fashionable. (In our interview Malcolm explains why Indian cinema fell off the international festival circuit radar).

He also told acv that Malcolm had shared a funny story with him about Ray and the film critic going to the filmmaking icon’s house, in what we presume was Kolkata.

“Derek asked Ray where he kept all his awards since they were not in his study at home.

“Turned out they were stored in a trunk under the maestro’s bed. Derek recalled seeing all the top international honours from Venice, Cannes and Berlin just kept away casually.”

He said that he had been reading Malcolm’s film criticism for many years and had never imagined meeting him and getting to know him and said many in India would lament his passing.

Legendary British producer Jeremy Thomas (‘The Last Emperor’) shared his memory of befriending Malcolm in Bombay (Mumbai), telling The Guardian that they “talked long into the nights facing The Gateway to India. Many beers and Silk Cuts were consumed.”

Stephen Frears, whose first feature film was Hanif Kureishi’s highly original (for the time – 1985), ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, said that Malcolm’s positive review had changed his life. About an Asian lad of Pakistani origin (Omar played by Gordon Warnecke) and his school frenemy skinhead Jonny (Daniel Day-Lewis) falling in love, the film was an independent budget feature that could have really sunk without trace – few involved were established in the industry at the time.

Frears noted how helpful Malcolm’s review had been.

His use of the word “groundbreaking” helped the film and “changed my life and the lives of others,” Frears told The Guardian.

Film Bazaar, the market section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which is hosted in Goa at the same time, also tweeted its condolences and recorded Malcolm’s support and interest. Many Indian filmmakers find foreign producers who can finance and then sell Indian films abroad.

Malcolm was also a big supporter of the state supported International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) and extolled its virtues, saying it could “become the best annual film event in India”. IFFK also tweeted its condolences and fond memories.

Malcolm actually started his working life as a National Hunt jockey and spent three years in repertory theatre before writing about horse racing for The Guardian, then films.

He is survived by Sarah and his daughter Jackie from his first marriage to Barbara Ibbott.

Sailesh Ram, editor of acv, writes…it was hugely thrilling to meet and interview Malcolm. He had a particularly dry wit and often said things that cannot be repeated in print or broadcast – though hilarious and eye wateringly, right-out funny! He loved India and Ray – and saw both as an antidote to a modern world of film, which is essentially about commerce – and not art and perhaps beautifully summed up in his own phrase, recounted by Joshi: “Ray or rubbish!”. I can imagine him saying it with that impish grin all will miss…

Derek Malcolm, film critic, May 12 1932 – July 15 2023.

On Youtube – the 2018 video interview

Here is the slightly shorter same video originally published on May 12 2020 – Malcolm’s birthday and put out when the festival should have started but was cancelled because of the global pandemic.

The Guardian –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture