Social media is a double-edged sword, especially so if you're a celebrity, and Kollywood has come to understand this slowly. On the one hand, it has helped actors, directors and others to interact with their fans, promote upcoming releases and help generate positive word of mouth. Some of them have also taken to expressing their political views openly, which has largely been welcomed by the public.
On the other hand, celebrities have come to realise that this is not a one-way street. They cannot sit in their ivory towers and expect that the easy access they enjoy to their audience will not backfire once in a while. From routine abusive trolling to scandals like Suchi Leaks or the outrage about certain actors' comments during the jallikattu protests, things can get quite ugly on the Internet.
However, it appears that it's not just this which bothers Kollywood, it's also the near instant reviews that surface on social media on the very day of a film's release. Speaking at the audio launch of Vikram Prabhu's upcoming film Neruppu da, Secretary of the Nadigar Sangam and President of the Producers' Council, actor Vishal said that he was requesting reviewers not to review films on the very day of the release and to give the film a chance for the first three days.
Superstar Rajinikanth, who was also present at the launch agreed with his views and said that reviewers must watch their tone and try not to "hurt" the feelings of those who had made the film.
Later speaking to Puthiya Thalaimurai TV, Vishal said, "Give some breathing space to the film. Let it run for three days, 12 shows in theatres. Don't do reviews before even the first show is over. It's hurting that particular filmmaker and producer."
"We need to regulate certain things. Regarding these reviews, the body will decide what to do and make an announcement soon," he added.
Given how quickly Kollywood bristles with indignation every time someone asks for more responsible cinema, it's amusing that they expect reviewers and the general public to be more "ethical" just so they don't get hurt - emotionally and financially.
Bad films earn bad reviews and in the age of social media, even a big star's film can tank despite intense promotions if the word of mouth is poor. The happy flip side to this is that a small film with barely known actors has a shot at becoming a sleeper hit if enough people talk about it positively online.
This is not to say that reviews are always fair or someone's honest opinion. A personal friendship or grudge could very well make somebody write a biased critique. However, if the reviewer does this consistently, s/he only stands to lose their credibility with their audience. Please remember Mr Vishal, that reviewers too get trolled on social media and open themselves up to criticism every time they post a review.
People follow reviewers because they trust their opinion or at least respect their intelligence or presentation style enough to be curious about their take on the film.
Why should the public not have the chance to make an informed decision about their weekend plans? Why should it be their priority to save the filmmakers their money and not their own by watching a bad film?
Rajinikanth's statement that the tone of a review should not hurt filmmakers would hold more water if he watched out for the "tones" in his film that almost always promote misogyny, sexism and colour prejudice - when filmmakers are dismissive about criticism along these lines, claiming that "it's just a movie", one wonders why they cannot say "it's just a review" and move on.
At film launches and interviews, actors and filmmakers are fond of talking about how hard they worked on a film. And to be sure, making a film is no joke. It takes money, time and people's energy to make one. However, this in no way changes the fact that the majority of films made in Kollywood are poorly scripted, lack originality and perpetuate the same stereotypes that have been around for decades. And the audience, fed on this diet for way too long will reject a film if it's no good. Good intentions alone are not enough to ensure a film's success.
It's true that sometimes, there are concerted campaigns to run a film down on social media. Nivin Pauly's Action Hero Biju faced such an issue when it released in 2016. Fake social media accounts started posting highly negative reviews of the film just minutes after its first show had started. However, the alert filmmakers promoted the film aggressively and since the audiences that had seen the film liked it, the word of mouth and genuine reviews that came later in the day were enough to save it. The film went on to become a box office success.
Even if there might be some instances like this, what power does the producers' council have over what anyone does on social media? How do they plan to discern who is posting a "genuine" (read fawny) review and who isn't? Stars are known to be touchy, so how far can the criticism go before it's judged as motivated?
Holding reviewers responsible for a box office failure is ridiculous. All it does is make Kollywood look like a giant cry baby.