The latest OPEN magazine has a piece, ‘Review of Reviewers‘, by Madhavankutty Pillai and Pratibha Singh that makes for very interesting reading. It talks of how Indian film makers and actors react to reviews and even says that there are just 7-8 mainstream critics that the film industry is really anxious about. The rest are mere frills, it seems!

Here are a few questions/observations.

1.Reach Vs. Opinion

The reaction from the industry is usually about reviews harming a film’s prospects. One actor is quoted, “I know critics are important, but do you know there are some 400 critics today? Every channel, there are two people discussing films when they don’t even understand film-making. You’re harming someone’s business, career; a producer could have put in all his life savings. It’s not fair. There has to be some kind of qualification before you become a critic”.

So, I suppose that the reaction is more towards the reach of reviews than the review per se. The assumption is, if the review is positive, the film’s prospects improve, while a negative review impacts the same. Reach is a factor of how influential and widespread the magazine/media vehicle where the review is carried.

Now, transpose the same to the internet. Every single person with an internet connection can be a reviewer/critic since all of them can create their own content based on their opinion. Thankfully for the film industry in India, internet is not widespread, at least yet. When we reach that stage, they would be worrying about opinions online, far more than the 7-8 reviews. They already seem to be, going by how tweets and Facebook update reviews affect film’s business from Saturday morning onwards.

2.Paid shills

There is a mention that hints that many reviews can also be bought. See this one, for instance, that highlights how this process may be working.

This is a direct result of the warped demand-supply equation – there are too few reviewers for too many viewers. When people take to the internet in large numbers and start airing their own opinion, with or without seeing a film, things may become mighty difficult since there would be way too many opinions worth purchasing. It may simply be better to make a worthwhile film than go through all that 😉

Another factor to consider here is to drum up support considerably before a film is released, much like what production houses like UTV are doing. Does that help in negating bad reviews? Of course not, but it’d at least have struck up a decent conversation among interested people that the word-of-mouth after Day 1 has at least a few supporters from the effort online.

3.Resetting the demand-supply equation

The natural question then is, if everybody (or at least a LOT of people) starts writing reviews on their own, online, who will have time to read all those? Won’t they dilute the impact of the bigger, known reviewers?

It is actually a function of availability and timing – you read the Friday morning reviews in newspapers since it is given to you in a platter and in a predictable place. It is not so easy to dig out reviews online – yes, a Google search will help, but there may be too many to choose from. So, you may end up reading the first 5 that Google throws up. Beyond that, what will really matter is the opinion from people who matter to you…the few who you interact regularly with, on Twitter…the ones on your Facebook timeline. They may be from people familiar to you and they may complement the popular reviewers on mainstream media and help you decide.

There’s pretty much nothing the film industry can complain about in that case since there is bound to a multitude of opinions online that they really cannot manipulate or even be bothered about.

There is a solution, but! It is to simply take the promotion too online, at a social level. So, the film’s promotion stops being a one-way push of how incredible the film is and becomes more participative, using fans of the film’s stars/crew, plot, trivia etc. Facebook or Twitter are mere tools to make this happen.