We have spoken a lot about where entertainment journalism stands today and how it is endangered. We also spoke about how publicists hold a section of journos on a tight leash and remote control the news that circulates in the entertainment space.
So, what about film critics?
Is it true that a lot of wheeling and dealing goes behind film reviews? If you talk about manipulation, there is a section of film critics who willingly let themselves get manipulated. And today, I am going to tell you how it is done.
Does this mean that there are no genuine critics today? Yes there are! Lots and lots of them. There are film critics who do their job with such passion and honesty that their dedication will surprise you. In fact, some of the film reviewers are so dedicated that they wouldn’t trade their job for all the profit of a Salman Khan film.
But today, I am only going to talk about the dishonest ones and the manipulators — all the rotten eggs that have spoiled the basket.
So, all the honest film reviewers out there, please ignore this blog post. I am not talking about you.
When film critics were held in high esteem…
Say, about 20 years back, film criticism was considered an elite job and only the best writers happened to be film critics. If you were a film critic with a daily then it was assumed that you were one of the best writers and respected for your views in Bollywood. That time a lot of filmmakers were convinced that film critics could make or break their film at the box office. During those days, filmmakers used to be get really tensed before the special screening of their film for the critics.
It doesn’t happen anymore.
Now, let me ask you a few questions — have you ever thought why does the ratings of film critics vary so much? How come one set of critics gives a film one star, while another set ends up giving four? How come a film is perceived so differently among the same set of people so regularly?
Today, I will attempt to answer these questions — the reasons why most films critics differ in their ratings and the manipulations that go behind the screen.
I wouldn’t name any film reviewer, publication or media house in the post because my intention is not to embarrass anybody. What I plan to do is review the way some of the Bollywood film reviews are done. So, here it is…
Group A: The buy-my-stars brigade:
This group of film reviewers in Bollywood are the most ‘famous’. They are up for sale and you cannot expect more than two stars from them unless you pay them. This group contains a few star critics as well. One star reviewer has a rate card. If you want four stars, then you have to pay him four lakhs. However, perhaps to maintain his dignity, he doesn’t give five stars for five lakhs. It comes for free if the film is genuinely good. Once paid, this reviewer will usually give you four stars and if the film is bad, the reviewer will give you three and half. If the film is very bad and you still want the stars, then his rate is much higher. If I can count correctly, then at least three star reviewers in Bollywood sell their reviews for money and their rate cards are usually negotiable.
Group B: The give-me-some-publicity-too brigade:
This is an interesting group of film critics. Instead of filmmakers preying on them, these film critics prey on the filmmakers. Before writing their reviews, they usually contact the filmmaker or the PR agency and say that they have liked the film immensely and would be rating it four stars. Now, they just have one demand — their names should be put up on the posters of the films (usually from the second week) as a ‘prominent critic’. They don’t want the money, they are just looking to see their names on the posters. This group trades their star-ratings for publicity.
Group C: The stars-for-the-stars brigade:
Unlike Hollywood or the UK film industry where film critics rarely engage with a star or a producer in an official capacity, a lot of film critics in Bollywood are entertainment journalists themselves. Like any other journo, they also do star interviews and report on Bollywood when they are not reviewing films. This is a group which comprises of entertainment journalists who double up as film critics because they are pretty senior in the hierarchy.
Now the PRs love a few journalists belonging to this group. Why? Because to get the required number of stars, you only need to make sure that the stars of the films are made available to these ‘journalists’ when the publicity of the film is on. The stars meet these journalists, shake hands, air kiss, click pictures with them, give exclusive one-on-one interviews, and you know that your film won’t get a bad rating ever. If you ignore them during the promotions,then your film might get screwed in their reviews!
This is not a generalisation. One must remember that not all senior journalists-cum-critics indulge in this kind of behavior. Most of them are responsible and true to their craft. Most of the reputed senior journos from leading media houses are loyal to their craft and very responsible. Hence they don’t belong to this group.
Group D: The please take-me-along brigade:
This is the wannabe reviewer brigade who usually don’t get to know where the press screening of a film is taking place. The PR usually never informs these critics about press previews. At the press screenings, they will hang around the PR and tell them how great the film has turned out to be and how much they are going to praise the film in their reviews. They do it because they want to belong to the elite group of reviewers who are treated like God-on-earth by some PR agents. These reviewers usually don’t come from reputed media houses.
Group E: The excuse-me-we-are-arty brigade:
This is perhaps the most serious lot of reviewers but I find them the funniest.
Once, after the screening of a film, a PR agent came up to me and asked, “Do you know if Mr ***** liked the film or not?” I answered with a hint of surprise, “How would I know?” She said without battling an eye-lid, “I heard he has liked the film and I am very worried. If he gives four stars to a film that means the film is a sure-shot flop. I have been told to ensure that he doesn’t give more than one star to this film.” It was almost a soliloquy and she kept on mumbling even as I moved out of her sight.
But her statement pretty much sums up this brigade — a motley group of critics who go by their own World Cinema standards and apply them to Bollywood commercial movies. If they rate a movie very highly it means that the movie is made for a niche audience and hence, a sure-shot flop at the box office.
The rest of the reviewers in Bollywood follow the herd mentality — they usually transcribe the plot of the film (without the ending mostly) and add a line of their own in the end which doesn’t really say if you should see the film or not. They always try to gauge where the herd is headed and flow with the tide.
The above examples and incidents hold true for only big commercial releases. Indie films and small budget films still struggle to get reviewers, the way they are pushed out of good release dates by Bollywood big budgets.
Short-link of the post -> http://wp.me/p3x1zT-lM
Thank you Avinash Patil for doing an illustration for me. Kindly visit Avinash’s cartoon blog. It’s hilarious!