FAULT IN OUR STARS | 11 April, 2024

It was bound to happen. And it has happened. The star ratings of film reviewers and critics have stopped mattering to the public. And it is only the film people who are to be blamed for this.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that film producers and actor-producers first cultivated the reviewers whose reviews were for sale. Getting such reviewers, critics and trade analysts to write or shoot favourable reviews of their films — for a price, of course — became the order of the day. The producers used to then flaunt the fake stars which such journalists gave their films (in return for the money they got) in full-page and half-page advertisements in leading newspapers. There was a time (when this trend had just started) when the gullible public took these star ratings very seriously. To the paying public, four and five stars meant that the film in question was definitely worth watching.

But for how long can you fool people? Slowly but surely, the public started realising that many of the reviewers these days were dishonest to their profession and were doling out four and five stars for money. And now the stage has come when even genuine stars given by such bribe-taking journalists don’t make a difference to the paying public.

Take, for instance, this week’s Maidaan. Producer Boney Kapoor showed the film to the media two days before its release on 10th April. Almost every reviewer and trade analyst was generous in his/her praises for the film because the sports film actually boasts of a phenomenally exciting second half. In other words, Kapoor did not have to shell out money to buy favourable reviews but got genuine four- and five-stars for his film. Quite understandably, Boney Kapoor made the most of the reviews by issuing advertisements in leading newspapers, carrying the phenomenal stars the film had got alongwith the names of the reviewers and critics who had given those stars. But can you believe that in spite of such outstanding reviews, duly publicised by the producer, the film took a dismal opening. The paid previews on 10th April recorded poor collections. As if that weren’t bad enough, the collections today — which is a festival holiday for Eid — are equally disturbing. Why, some cinemas have reported cancellation of shows of Maidaan due to absence of audience today. Yes, you read it right! Absence of audience for an Ajay Devgan starrer which has been given 4 and 5 stars by the majority of the critics.

Clearly, the public has stopped having faith in these stars-laden advertisements declaring any and every film to be a hit/superhit. Frankly, the advertisement for Maidaan could as well have been the advertisement for Dukaan (released on 5th April) which proved to be a debacle at the box-office. What I mean to say is that one had to just replace the logo of the film, the rest of the matter in the advertisement, including the stars and the names of the reviewers, could be retained.

Clearly, the producers and stars have created a monster which has now come to bite them. They manipulated journalists and reviewers so much that the sanctity of reviews and of star ratings has vanished into thin air. On more occasions than one, I have warned the trade of the consequences of the unfair practices used to garner positive reviews. Many in the trade had scoffed at my righteousness then. They must now have realised that I wasn’t wrong in condemning the practice of paid reviews (a coinage inspired by the paid previews and used to describe the system of buying positive reviews for cash or kind).

Another unhealthy practice which will cost the industry dear is the one in which one ticket is given free for every ticket purchased, that too, on the opening day or in the first weekend itself. It’s one thing to give the film a boost at the fag end of its theatrical run by distributing a free ticket for every one or two tickets purchased, but doing that on the day of release or in the first weekend itself is not justified at all. For, the paying public will get so used to this system of free tickets that they will stop coming to the cinemas unless they are lured with these freebies. But does anyone in the film trade really care? So long as the producer — or star — is able to yap that his film reflects handsome collections at the ticket windows (never mind that the handsomeness comes because of distributing free tickets), who is bothered about the harm this scheme of handing out free tickets is doing to the trade? Who has the time to think of the industry as a whole? Selfish producers want to think of only their personal gains. To hell with the industry which has made them what they are today!