Buy blue tick and turn a critic!

There is a peculiar problem that filmmakers are facing. The system they created to use for their advantage is now backfiring on them.

There is a peculiar problem that filmmakers are facing. The system they created to use for their advantage is now backfiring on them. Buying influencers on social media seems to have boomeranged on them to the extent that some filmmakers were compelled to seek judicial intervention.

There was a time when filmmakers as well as film stars wielded influence on film critics.

The critics used to be followed by some because their views and reviews were available in the print media. The opinions of ‘trade analysts’ were available only from specialist magazines that only the trade folk subscribed to.

There was this system whereby a film was screened for the critics at a special preview a couple of days before its theatrical release. This was a privilege but the makers went a step further as their PR people would pass around what was known in the trade as the ‘lifafa’ (envelope) with cash for the critics.

Some did not accept these envelopes; others with a conscience tried to write a balanced review even after accepting the inducement.

This was a futile exercise because almost all print media had a very limited readership and nobody in the mass of viewers seemed to care for reviews. What worked was ‘word of mouth’: public opinion.

When the corporate production houses arrived, everything about filmmaking turned into deal-making. The critics were sidelined and the deals were struck with media houses.

Earlier, the media had renowned film critics; whether people followed them or not, they did their job diligently. After all, their views were personal. One critic may praise a film, the other may not.

Yet, the fact remained that most people did not read reviews and, at best, read the last few lines that summarised the opinion of the reviewer.

So, the media started rating a film with stars. One did not have to read the review; one had only to check the number of stars a film got.

In the new scheme of things, deals were struck between the corporate film promoters and the media. However bad or poor a film may be, the minimum stars to be given to a film would never be less than three.

While the corporate production houses did not want their films to be run down and were happy with the deal of a minimum three-star rating, the same was not enough for the film stars.

The film stars wanted five stars for their films. They started cultivating some critics directly. And, with this, the system of reviews and stars began to command a price tag.

Five lakh rupees was the upper limit. As much as Rs 5 lakh for four to five stars, depending on certain factors. In some cases, even the media management was a part of the deal.

Since the film production budgets had moved to crores from lakhs, Rs 5 lakh to read a good word about your film was good for a star. It was a deal that both parties were happy with — the film folk as well as the critic.

With the coming of the World Wide Web, the reviews became a part of various portals. They gained importance because the reviews appeared instantly, as soon as the film’s first show was over. Print media reports became secondary. Still, not everybody enjoys access to the Net.

The combination of social media, smartphones and affordable phone data followed.

As is their wont, filmmakers, stars and others concerned thought nothing of this new system. Bribes work everywhere and there was no reason why they should not on social media. They started with the ones with trade paper backgrounds. A good review and production house-furnished box office figures earned these trade experts sums of Rs 25,000 to 35,000 per positive post.

What has happened now is that every handle on social media has turned into a film trade expert. All you need is to buy a blue tick costing Rs 600 a month and you become a verified critic; your comments count!

Now, all you need is to be noticed by the people who pay Rs 35,000 to blue ticks. So, you run down a film with some detailed observations. It does not take long for the film folk concerned to approach and pacify you. Your Rs 600 per month starts making thousands for you.

More and more blue ticks seem to be popping up posting views on films. The idea is to write negative posts so that every filmmaker’s PR includes you in the payroll and adds you to the influencers list!

The same filmmakers and stars who bred these self-styled film critics and/or analysts now feel trapped. How many blue ticks can you feed?

As things stand now, the film fraternity, which created these Frankensteins, has taken to communicating with social media managers asking them to pull down videos and posts that run down their films. Some such critics, in fact, post elaborate videos on YouTube running down a film.

Recently, producer Vashu Bhagnani had to write to social media to withdraw a certain post relating to his latest film, ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’, because the post had violated copyright rules by using the film’s posters.

It is another thing that these posters and other such material are provided by none other than the production house in anticipation of a few positive comments.

In the South, especially in Kerala, the issue has even reached the courts. The issue was again about unauthorised people running down a film. The filmmakers argued that this amounted to blackmail.

Legally, there is no law to stop anybody from posting his or her views once a film is in the public domain. All that the court could do was suggest that such social media handles refrain from commenting on a new release till 48 hours after its theatrical release. It was also observed by the court that negative reviews were posted by those to whom the makers did not agree to pay!

–By Vinod Mirani

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