While the ‘I-won’t-invite-you-to-my-birthday-party’ tone of the circular is childish and immature, critics and reviewers say it has no legal standing.

In childish circular Tamil film producers threaten to ban harsh reviewersPic courtesy: Picxy.com
Flix Kollywood Tuesday, July 09, 2019 - 13:34

In a contentious move, film producers in Tamil Nadu have decided to ban journalists who write 'unnecessarily harsh' reviews of Tamil films, or criticise actors, directors, producers or other industry professionals. The decision was taken by the Tamil Film Producers’ Council Consulting Union and South Indian Film Media PRO Union on Monday. This comes on the back of several producers and filmmakers making bitter comments against reviewers, and is widely seen as a juvenile move by the organisations involved.

In a joint circular, the two unions said they were taking measures to cut down “unmanageable costs” incurred by production houses while organising press meets for their films. The move to sideline reviewers and critics was slipped in however, along with a threat that legal action would be taken against critics and reviewers who are "too harsh" on a film.

“In the name of reviews those who write negative reviews that go beyond what’s warranted against the film’s actors, director and producers will not be invited for any Tamil film related events. Moreover, legal action will be taken upon those who do," reads the circular.

While the ‘I-won’t-invite-you-to-my-birthday-party’ tone of the circular is childish and immature, critics and reviewers say it has no legal standing.

Baradwaj Rangan, film critic and editor of Film Companion South, says that the circular will not have any effect on the workings of film reviewers. “If you think you can muffle the critics by issuing this circular, what about the word of mouth reviews shared by the general public on social media? In fact, that is the biggest way in which a film gets praised or trashed. Moreover, how does one decide what constitutes “degrading” in a review? Who decides what is degrading?” he asks.

Pointing out that the circular has no legal standing, Baradwaj says, “I think they are just beating the drums keeping the (Producers Council) elections in mind.”

Sudhir Srinivasan, film critic and Editor of Cinema Express, points out the council should not be leading the way for producers who intend to seek petty retributions by issuing such circulars. “The phrase – ‘varambu meeri tharakuraivaga vimarsikkum’ (degrading reviews that go beyond what’s warranted) – lends itself to multiple interpretations. I think the council should not, with such vague choice of words, lead the way for producers to potentially seek petty retribution. If they do feel that any reviewer, at any time, has overstepped the line and engaged in personal abuse, I think it would be more suitable to handle it on a case to case basis. Issuing a press release, threatening legal action and vague choice of vocabulary, only seems to reek of insecurity and a reluctance to accept criticism in general.”

“If they are particularly concerned about cracking down on expenditure, how about looking at better measures to fight piracy? First, it was Sandeep Vanga in his interview, suggesting that critics are more dangerous than piracy, and now this. I understand that they will be providing further clarity on this circular, but while we wait, there is no doubt that we must come down very strongly on this,” he adds.

A well-known film reviewer and box officer tracker who did not want to be named tells TNM that the circular hardly matters to a reviewer. “Naturally, the film producers are a big force to reckon with but this circular hardly matters. In fact if a film is bad, it will get a bad review irrespective of influencers. They just want to blame press and media for their own failures,” he says.

He further adds, “This is not the first time that such a notice has been issued. They have done so in the past too, on how to treat the press, on how to keep away the bad reviewers… But now, online reviews have taken over traditional media. Anyone has the freedom to rip apart a film if the content doesn't live up in the opening day. Today, a person reviewing a Tamil film may not be in Chennai at all where the said events are being held. It is a free country. Reviewers can either praise or run down a film as they deem fit and no one can stop them.”

Speaking to TNM on the condition on anonymity, a popular YouTube reviewer says that he was invited to a meeting last week with the Producers’ Council regarding his reviews.

"They asked if I will post reviews three days after the movie is released as opposed to doing it immediately. I said that was not possible," he says. “All this is just theatrics ahead of the Producer Council elections. They want to make it seem like they are all working towards the welfare of producers by clamping down on the democratic rights of the media and controlling critical views," he adds.

While the circular was issued on Monday evening, as of Tuesday morning, a new message was sent to the media that the members regret sending a poorly worded circular and that a meeting will be convened at the Producers’ Council at 12 noon to clarify and rectify its errors.

A second meeting took place on Tuesday among the Tamil Film Producers’ Council’s ad hoc committee, the Cinema Reporters Union and Tamil Film Reporters Union and two new resolutions were passed in addition to the ones already decided on Monday.

The two points listed in the new circular are as follow: “1. A mutual understanding, one that doesn’t cause damage to both parties (producers and media persons), has been reached to deal with the financial difficulties faced by producers while organising press related events. 2. Film reporters and reviewers should treat both big budget and small budget films equally.”

But what led to these meetings in the first place? A source from the Producers’ Council told TNM that the financial hurdles faced by producers in organising press events and the role reviewers play in affecting the film’s box office collections were the two main factors that led to these discussions.

“Today organising a press event costs anywhere between 3 to 4 lakhs for a producer and this includes the “cover” money given to media persons who come for it in addition to proving them with food. This practice is prevalent in Tamil industry and not so much in other industries. Producers expressed their collective opinion that this needs to stop.”

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