Dear Tamil film industry, we understand that you are very worried. Many Tamil films have been flopping in recent times, though you always tell us that the film is doing a "vetri nadai" and organise lavish success parties, the pictures of which social media influencers sincerely share. You don't believe in giving out official numbers of how much a film has made, so we can only go by these numbers which are often more creative than the films themselves.
It's all right. We understand how much work goes into making a film and how heartbreaking it must be when it does not do well. Like the parent of a newborn who sees the child through kindergarten, school, and college, only to realise that this is a perfectly useless person that one has raised, you go through first looks, teaser of a teaser, announcement of an important announcement, and so many more stages before a film comes out and bombs. It is a cruel world. And it can seem even more cruel when reviewers, like displeased college principals writing TC notices for your child, rip your film apart.
You've spent so much money on this project. So many people have spent their time and energy on this film. And how dare this reviewer, who did not notice the colouring in the 20th fight sequence, comment on the camera work in the item number, or successfully decode the hidden messages in the heroine's curtains, call your film boring?! You naturally wonder if this reviewer has any qualifications for critiquing your Work of Art beyond owning an internet connection. You feel strongly that this person must be sent to a manners school so they emerge knowing how to say please and thank you, and curtsy in between.
But let me tell you a little bit about what happens on this side. About the great adventure of watching nearly the same film with different faces week after week and framing reviews that sound new to readers/viewers.
After all, in how many different ways can you say that the film's hero loves farmers? Or that the heroine looks wonderful but that we know nothing about her other than the fact that she has a name with a 'zha' in it? Or that the film has a five-minute monologue on why Tamil Nadu people should stop taking cash for votes?
We reviewers try our best to be innovative in our presentation (unlike you, we cannot afford to fly to Kilimanjaro or an obscure Russian town in a bid to offer something "new" to the audience), and sometimes, our patience wears thin and we strive to make the review entertaining because the film was not. It is a coping mechanism. Nearly 80 percent of the time, my face looks like Vadivelu's in the image above after I'm done watching a film.
Yes, we understand that this hurts you. But let's be honest, is this about your film getting hurt at the box-office or your feelings/ego? And are reviewers seriously the biggest reason why films are tanking at the box-office?
Every Friday, if there is no press show, a reviewer books a ticket for the earliest show available but there's no guarantee that they can actually watch the film. After braving through the traffic and rushing to the theatre, we're told the KDM hasn't come, or that the film is not releasing that day after all. Why? The reasons could range from a court case to unsettled financial disputes between different parties involved. Your industry has major financier trouble.
Then there's the release schedule itself – if it's a big star's release, you clear the deck for at least two weeks. Smaller films are clubbed together, with as many as five or six hitting the screens in one day. They don't get coveted dates, show timings, or screens, because they don't have the clout. You're aware that there are grumbles about this on your side of the table, yet you haven't done anything to resolve this.
Your budgets are haywire. Your star salaries are hugely inflated. You don't want to address this, though distributors and theatre owners have been asking you to control costs instead of breathing down on their necks and complaining about how much caramel popcorn costs at multiplexes.
You will spend a huge amount to get a star on board but you will not invest in a writer to get an original story and proper script. You will copy-paste scenes from here and there and expect the film to run anyway merely on star value.
Then there is piracy. The film comes out online within days of its release. And even if the print quality is bad, people don't seem to care because the film isn't so great anyway. We know, we know, it sounds like a betrayal, but piracy is a problem world-over – and world-over, many films mint money at the box-office while several others flop.
If a reviewer is consistently producing biased reviews, s/he will lose out on the trust that they've built with their audience. Whether they tweet that a marana mokka film is marana mass or the other way around. Each time we put out our view, we are exposing ourselves to our audience. Maybe some of us have taken money (and please ask yourself, who is paying?) to say good things or bad things about a film, but those who do it all the time are not in a position to sway opinions, no matter how many million followers they have on social media. After all, if they say a film with farmer sentiment plus 'zha' heroine plus political twist is so freakin' original, who is going to believe them?
And even the upright reviewers who don't get paid by the industry (so upright, we don't even plagiarise from our own reviews to write about yet another same-to-same film) really can't make or break a film at the box-office. Look at Kabir Singh which has made Rs 200 crore at the box-office despite the bad reviews. The film may have very problematic politics but it looks and feels new – and the audience is loving it. And there have been many instances when reviewers have raved about a film but it was unable to make the money back (remember Aaranya Kandam?).
Ultimately, the success or failure of a film depends on a host of reasons – starting from whether you've been able to get crowds on opening day, to what sort of impression you've made on the audience. A film like Pariyerum Perumal, which had a limited release, went on to run for several days with additional shows because of the good word of mouth that it enjoyed. Even Kadaikutty Singam, which received lukewarm reviews, went on to become one of the biggest hits of 2018.
A reviewer is a teeny-tiny cog in the wheel. We acknowledge that you have problems, but stop pretending that your problems will go away if we disappear. Focus on creating good cinema. Clean up your stables and put things in order. You are fighting enough court cases as it is, ranging from title trouble to finance, don't add reviewers to the mess.
You do your job, we will do ours.
Views expressed are author's own.