Tamil Talkies reviewer Maran, more popularly known as 'Blue Sattai' because of the blue shirt he always wears in his videos, has come under attack for his review of Vivegam.
The Ajith starrer opened to massive expectations but has received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. While people have applauded the film for its cinematography and stunt sequences, several have pointed out that there is barely any plot or logic in the narrative. Maran is hardly alone in his criticism.
However, considering Tamil Talkies has 262k subscribers on YouTube currently, industry insiders and disgruntled Ajith fans have gone after the reviewer, all guns blazing.
Maran is loved and hated alike for his presentation style that pulls no punches. He's often politically incorrect but his audience finds his language and observations entertaining.
While it's not new for fans of a big male star to go on rampage when someone criticises their favourite actor, the film fraternity too has jumped onto the bandwagon.
Should not being "hurtful" be a reviewer's priority?
Taking on Maran, cinematographer and director Vijay Milton did a "review" of Maran's review, in which he equated making a film to bringing a baby into the world. He said that while the team did its best, like expectant parents, to bring out a perfect child, nobody could predict the results.
He added that nobody would laugh at a couple who had a child with disabilities (though plenty of Tamil films have made fun of people with disabilities, people who are dark skinned, people who are transgender, people who are gay, people who are women....never mind).
While the filmmaker's passion is evident in the hyperbolic statement, it is hardly practical to expect viewers to see a film, especially one that has been made for mass appeal, in the same way.
Other industry insiders like director Arun Vaidyanathan and actor Raghava Lawrence have also condemned Maran, claiming that his comments were too hurtful and that it could not be considered a review since he'd not mentioned the "positives" of the film.
The problem, they and many others believe, is that he has not respected the "hard work" put in by the film's team, irrespective of how wonky the final product might be.
"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
These words are from Pulitzer Prize winning American critic Roger Ebert's famous review of the film North. In fact, a collection which has over 200 of his most entertaining and caustic reviews goes by the title I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.
It might seem incongruous to draw a comparison between Ebert and Maran but it goes to say that there is no universally accepted method of doing a review. "Not hurting" filmmakers and actors needn't be a reviewer's priority at all -- as difficult as it might be for industry insiders to stomach.
Every film, for that matter, is the result of many people's hard work. If reviewers and critics have to soft-pedal on a bad product only because so many people's efforts went into creating it, why do film reviews at all?
The allegiance of a reviewer should ideally lie with the public who consume their reviews and not the filmmakers.
Are reviewers 'genuine'?
However, it's not so simple. The question of who can review a film and when the review should be done has been raised time and again by the film industry.
A few years ago, Suhasini Maniratnam had kicked up a storm after she said only "qualified people" should review Maniratnam's OK Kanmani. This came after Maniratnam's Kadal ended up a box-office disaster and was panned in most reviews.
More recently, Vishal, the president of the Producers' Council, had said that reviewers should hold off posting reviews for the first three days of a film's release.
There are also allegations that many reviews are not "genuine" but have actually been bought. There is certainly some truth to this: many PR persons in the guise of film reviewers tweet quick reviews of new releases as they're watching the film. Their "reviews", as is only to be expected, are mostly positive and build up the buzz around the film.
And it's not just money, it is also about expanding one's access within the entertainment industry. People who make their living from writing about cinema, celebrities, and film releases cannot afford to spoil their relationships with the industry bigwigs. Writing a brutally honest review of a big star film may well kill their chances of growing in the space.
Most reviewers, therefore, play it safe by giving a story summary and adding a few effusive lines about the star. The criticism, if at all, is presented in as dilute a form as possible so as to not offend industry insiders and rabid fans. They are willing to be a lot more unfettered with other not-so-big films.
Who is qualified to review a film?
The Vivegam review is hardly Maran's first scathing or supposedly "disrespectful" one. The reason it has raised the hackles of industry insiders is because the review is about a big budget film and has a prominent star like Ajith in the cast.
Many have asked if wearing a blue shirt has given Maran the qualification to review a film.
One is confused about the qualifications that filmmakers want in reviewers because they keep shifting the goalposts. Point out in a review that a film is ridden with tired stereotypes, and they'll tell you that the film was not made for "you" but for the "masses". But if they believe you are no better than the "masses" and have no special qualifications, you cannot review the film anyway!
One may enjoy Maran's reviews or dislike them intensely. One may believe that he has been honest or has malicious intentions. His sarcastic comments may seem entertaining or insulting -- it all depends on which side of the camera you are. But if he has built such a substantial audience, it means that there are several people who like to know his views on a film.
A single negative review, however prominent the reviewer might be, can hardly scuttle a film - especially one like Vivegam which took a huge opening. The film will sustain its hold over the box office IF there is good word of mouth from the audience.
Meanwhile, making death threats and demanding that people respect "hard work" no matter how good or bad a film, is neither veeram (bravery) nor vivegam (prudence).