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Social media is huge. Its reach is huge, and its speed is supersonic. Post something on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and see how it can spread like wild fire.

It’s human nature to spread the negative faster than the positive. Does that mean that the film industry should fear the social media? Can it impact the box-office? Conversely, is it right to use social media as a potent tool for promoting films, as is being done by producers today? If social media can aid in augmenting the box-office collections of films, as is widely accepted, does it also work in the reverse direction? Here, one is talking not about paid promotion but rather about social media as a platform which is used — for free — to mould public opinion.

Frankly, the most effective tool of promotion even today remains the word of mouth. Social media comes as the second most impactful but a distant second. The younger generation may not agree but that is, perhaps, because it relies too heavily on social media to communicate and interact with one another. ‘If it’s not on social media, it mustn’t be true’ is the mantra many youngsters seem to follow. So long as good things are being written on the social media about a film or a star, nobody is complaining. The tension starts when negativity is peddled on social media platforms. For example, what happened with the trailer of Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak 2 during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in the build-up to the film’s premiere on a streaming platform was social media murder of the film even before its release. People disliked the trailer and posted such horrific comments on YouTube that it soon became one of the most hated YouTube videos ever! Everyone knows that videos of worse trailers have been posted on YouTube but they haven’t got half as many dislikes. Clearly, there was a concerted attempt by the public to run down the trailer and thereby cause untold harm to the film’s box-office chances. Even while industry stalwarts like Subhash Ghai said that the negative comments for the trailer should be interpreted as that many more people being the potential audience for the film, those who claimed to understand social media said otherwise, and predicted doom for the film. That Ghai’s conjecture was incorrect was clear when the film premiered on Disney+ Hotstar on 28th August and bombed right from the word ‘go’. But does that mean, the other opinion was true. Not exactly!

Despite so much negativity for the trailer, the film could still have worked its magic on the OTT platform (Disney+ Hotstar) had it been a good film. Had those who watched it on the first day of streaming liked it, the film would’ve generated positive word of mouth. This favourable mouth publicity for the film would have erased the impact of the negative vibes sent out by the lakhs who posted terrible comments about the film’s trailer when it was released on YouTube. In other words, like water finds its own level, the film would have found its audience notwithstanding the negative talks about its trailer on social media. The ultimate victory would’ve been of the (positive) word of mouth rather than of the (negative) social media comments. But since the film itself was so boring and so dated, the public which watched the film on the first day gave it such a terrible thumbs down that that then became the benchmark to judge its merits or demerits. So while the people who spread negativity about Sadak 2 on the basis of its trailer, would have the world believe that they ensured that the film bombed on the OTT platform, the truth is that the film killed itself. Like nothing can stop a good film from running, nothing can save a flop film from failing. Sadak 2 bombed because it deserved to bomb, not because there was a campaign by trolls and bots to ensure that it should flop. Mahesh Bhatt’s comeback film failed to strike a chord in people’s hearts when they saw it — and only that was the reason why it failed.

Yes, the negative comments about the trailer could have unnerved even an Iron Man but finally, those comments were born more out of the wishful thinking of the people who left no stone unturned to influence other people. That’s all the power those comments had. That power was reduced to zero the day the film started to stream on the OTT platform. After that, what took over was the word of mouth of the people who had seen the film. That, exactly like the social media comments from the time the film’s trailer was released, was horrendously negative. But the impact of the negative mouth publicity for the film was a thousand times more than that of the negative comments for its trailer. In other words, the negativity which was spread, basis its trailer, had a shelf life only till the film released. After that, it was the public reports of the film which took over. So, while the negative reaction to the trailer may have ensured that Sadak 2 did not open too well on Disney+ Hotstar, what actually did the film in was the negative talk about the film, not its trailer.

A similar drama had played out in the case of Deepika Padukone’s Chhapaak. Her visit to the JNU campus to stand in solidarity with its students, a couple of days before the film’s release, was decried by the anti-student lobby who lost no time in declaring that they would boycott the film in the theatres. That the film did not fare well at the box-office is a fact but to attribute the film’s failure to social media would be giving social media — and the film itself — credit where they do not deserve. Chhapaak failed because it had to fail, because it deserved to fail, because it was not a good film, because it did not stir the sentiments it was supposed to. The very people who had vowed to boycott the film would’ve gone hurrying and scurrying to the cinemas had the word of mouth for the Deepika starrer been positive. After all, they were not obliged to boycott the film, they were not accountable to anybody. It so turned out that the acid attack victim’s sordid tale did not shake the audiences enough for them to recommend the film to their families and friends, and so, the film simply failed to gain momentum at the ticket windows. To attribute the film’s failure to social media would be far from correct. Had the film been loved by the majority of the audience who saw it in the first weekend, the powerlessness of social media would have been underlined.

Social media enthusiasts, especially those who used the platforms to run down either of or both the films, may pat their own backs and take credit for the failure of Sadak 2 and Chhapaak. But the acidic truth for them is that the paying public is more street-smart than them and won’t ignore a film till it is written off by those who spend their hard-earned money to buy tickets for watching it, not because someone simply typed out a post on his mobile phone, laptop or table-top computer.

A similar story is panning out currently in the case of Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb. If the negative comments on YouTube, where the film’s trailer has been released, were all to be believed and taken seriously, they would shake the confidence of its makers. But everybody in the trade, who understands films and trailers, has loved the trailer and feels, the film might be one cracker of an entertainer. Of course, none of these people in the trade has seen the film — just like none of those commenting negatively on YouTube and other social media platforms has! If Laxmmi Bomb is indeed a good entertainer and if, therefore, it clicks when it is premiered on Disney+ Hotstar this Diwali, the power of social media in comparison with the power of mouth publicity would stand exposed for all to see. And that is likely to happen!