B Unnikrishnan's Villain starring Mohanlal, Manju Warrier, Vishal, Hansika, Raashi Khanna and others, opened on October 27.
The big budget film backed by producer Rockline Venkatesh was released on a record number of screens in Kerala. However, the film received mixed reviews, even as Mohanlal asserted that the character he plays in the film, Mathew Manjooran IPS, had given him a lot of satisfaction.
Many reviews have faulted the film for its slow pace and predictable plot. While some fans have called it a "classy" film, others have found the film's penchant for philosophizing to be pretentious.
Stung by the negative reviews, director B Unnikrishnan has claimed that reviewers would have written their reviews differently had it been another director whose name had appeared in the credits.
Speaking to Manorama News, B Unnikrishnan who appeared for an interview along with Manju Warrier, said, "There is no film which has satisfied everyone. I read several reviews. The state of reviews is pathetic. Because I have a past of doing cinema reviews very seriously. I will tell you a joke - if you change 'Written and directed by Unnikrishnan' to some other names, the same reviewers would have praised the film as a classic."
The director's statements must be taken with a pinch of salt, considering distinguished filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan have also lashed out against reviewers for panning their films in the past. In most cases, it isn't the name on the credits but the content that earns a film good reviews. For instance, director Jeethu Joseph's Drishyam was highly acclaimed but Oozham, his next release in the same thriller genre, was trashed.
Many debut directors who don't have the same clout as the big names in the industry also manage to get positive reviews if their film is considered to be good.
However many such examples, this backlash from the film industry is not uncommon. In Tamil Nadu, the Producers' Council President Vishal (who is incidentally a part of Villain) had even said that the Council would try to prevent reviewers from posting their reviews for the first three days of a film's release, claiming that negative opinions would harm the film's business.
B Unnikrishnan went on to elaborate on a specific review that he felt was unfair.
Turning to Manju Warrier, he said, "In one review, and I'm saying this so Manju also knows this, they've written that Manju's character is a fangirl of her husband's. It's not like that at all. She is, in fact, a woman who invests in property without her husband's knowledge and tells him that I'm going to do something I like in this place."
B Unnikrishnan went on to say, "If they didn't understand the film, is it our problem? Because the character has that much individuality. Mohanlal's character makes a very important decision in the film. It can be called the film's highlight but he takes his wife's permission before doing it. It's not something he decides by himself."
The review that the director alludes to was published on Fullpicture.in, a digital media platform that publishes reviews and film analysis on Malayalam cinema.
Responding to Unnikrishnan's statement, Neelima Menon of Fullpicture.in told TNM that this attitude was not unexpected.
"I have noticed this intolerance towards film reviewers widely from our actors and directors, with the glorious exception of a few. When a film is panned, they immediately label us paid, vicious and ignorant, more so if a woman writes about it," she said.
Neelima points out that the film industry is especially sensitive to criticism if it comes from a woman reviewer.
"The general theory is that a woman who reviews films isn't as insightful as her male counterpart or that she only focuses on the feminist point of view. In Mr Unnikrishnan's case, he says he is personally targeted which is really such a pathetic defence. The criticism was only about the film. And from what I see, Villain was met with mixed reviews," she noted.
Neelima adds that while filmmakers are all right if the opinion is unadulterated praise, they tend to justify panned films by bringing up "hard work, money spent" and so on.
"Tell me one film which we saw for those reasons or became a hit?" she asks.
In the Manorama interview, Unnikrishnan also slams another review which had reportedly said that the film was "pushed" to the audience as one shot in the 8K format (the first Indian film to be shot thus). The director said that the reviewer didn't seem to know what shooting in 8K meant.
In a video posted on Facebook, Unnikrishnan has said that film criticism should be done with responsibility but that even the most prestigious publications today publish only paid reviews. "Film criticism has reached a stage where they say you pay us and we'll give you a good review," he claims. "You'd have seen evidence of this in the last two days."
Neelima acknowledges that paid reviews do exist. However, she also says it's unfair to make such generalisations on reviewers. "Not discounting paid reviews but it is equally unfair to generalise film reviewers simply because they didn't write what you wanted about your film," she asserts.