Two weeks ago, the much awaited film Ra.One
released to mixed reviews. It faced criticism from popular film critics such as Rajeev Masand, Saibal Chatterjee, Raja Sen, Mayank Shekhar and Baradwaj Rangan, despite all the publications they write for carrying positive pre-release news over the last three years on the various facets of the film. Even after breaking box office records, the movie is still not being called a hit. This is a confusing outcome for the public who relied on print and online publications to gauge if they should watch the film. The media should perhaps introspect whether it promoted a poor product and misled the public.
When a product is heavily marketed, especially through editorials in media firms of repute, consumers tend to try it with a positive mindset. In case the product turns out to be bad, the disappointment is a tad bit more because the consumer trusted the media’s judgment of the product. Ra.One is no different. People awaited the movie with anticipation mainly owing to the media’s extensive coverage prior to its release. Had the media been more prudent, the public would have perhaps watched the film with realistic expectations.
Even before the film went on the floors, the media began discussing it. Since then every aspect of the film has been widely discussed without even seeing one screen shot. The actors finalized for the film, director, production spends, visual effects, story line, involvement of Hollywood technicians, release dates and rivalry – everything was reported with little scrutiny.
Is so much information necessary, considering most of this is nothing short of hear-say? Does the reader need to know that around Rs 150 crore
was spent on a film? I don’t think so because it raises their expectations from the film and makes them want to see it as soon as possible contributing to the “initial” that the film rakes in. In case the reporter deems it necessary to quote such figures, he/she should also ask how the increased investment will translate into better experience for the viewer and whether such extravaganzas have paid off in the past. That would bring balance to the piece.
Post the movie’s release, publications that contributed to the hype around the film, pulverized it. For example, The Times of India
has published two conflicting reports on Ra.One
– One mentioning how the special effects have set a new benchmark for Indian film industry
and another saying how the special effects fizzled out
. What can one make of such reportage?
Some may argue that a film is a mass entertainment product and scrutiny into its business aspects are best avoided. I would differ on this point. In an age where film production houses are increasingly getting publicly listed, as also many have been discovered to have unscrupulous sources of funding, it becomes important for the public to become aware of where they are putting their money – even if it means shelling out a measly Rs 300 for a first day first show. Financial newspapers are already reporting on such data pertaining to film businesses. Why would film journalists want to go soft?
A film should be treated like any other consumer product. While covering products in any other industry, reporters do not quote unverified figures pertaining to investments in product development or discuss the product’s features without trying them out. Similarly, it is flawed to discuss any technical/ visual/ performance related aspects of a film without seeing a single shoot schedule or a rough cut.
Reporters covering the media and entertainment industry need ask questions that seek to provide a balanced perspective of their subjects. Not merely mouth the lines spewed by the actors, directors or film publicists. While the film review post release can be restricted to a critique of its storyline or acting or visual quality, one can ensure that other coverage can include aspects such as:
The distribution strategy and box office collections – For eg: Ra.One
was released across in 4,600 screens and that is a key reason for it raking up high collections (Rs 170 crore and counting). Bodyguard which released in 2,700 screens made less money (around Rs 130 crore) in the same period. This is fairly simple arithmetic – the more number of screens you release the film in, the more revenues it is likely to generate. Reporters should instead focus on whether such a strategy is viable for long term and point out instances of other films where a cost effective distribution strategy has helped generate similar revenues. A case in point is 3 Idiots, which was released across a little over 2,000 screens and grossed over Rs 100 crore in the first four days.
B) Funding for films – When a film is made for public consumption, the public perhaps can be allowed to know how the film was sourced.
C) Project management of the film – Does the consumer really care if the project overshot its budget? I would like to draw comparisons with the Commonwealth Games here. The public perception of the games was poor due to the media’s coverage of the financial mismanagement and poor quality of infrastructure. In contrast, the public perception of the recently concluded Formula One event was positive because the management reported on the milestones from time to time and there were no reports on any budget overshoots or completion delays. Both these events are focused on public entertainment. When media coverage in both these cases can shape public opinion, is the same not possible with films?
Marketers will oversell products which don’t necessarily live up to their praise. However, the media must moderate whatever it publishes so that the public is not blatantly pushed towards consuming such products. How should media houses ensure that they don’t contribute to the hype surrounding films? Some of the following aspects can be considered.
The editorial must keep a tab on the number of stories it publishes pertaining to a film. This will ensure that only notable developments get covered and the quality of stories is retained. Additionally an arrangement can be reached with the advertising department of the publication to strictly not seek any favors from the editorial for biased publicity.
A strict policy needs to be developed on what aspects of a film will be covered prior to its release. Aspects bordering on speculation such as spats between the co-stars, leakage of storylines and budgets need to be clarified from multiple sources before validating if it is worthwhile to report on it.
Reporters must be cautious of films produced/ ghost produced by the lead actors as in such cases it becomes difficult to draw a line between the acting and production capabilities and hence evaluate both roles objectively. For eg: in Dabangg, the film’s production capabilities were compared to that of the lead actor Salman Khan’s ability to produce blockbusters. In case of Ra.One, reporters were seldom able to report on Red Chillies Entertainment (the production house) without reporting on Shah Rukh Khan.
Greater scrutiny of the film business is necessary so that film makers judiciously use the media for their promotions. In addition to some of the questions listed earlier in this piece, publications can try to randomly pick a layperson from the public and provide a joint review of the film. Alternatively, a movie buff can be asked to contribute a blog on any technical aspects of the film which the reporters are unfamiliar with. These measures will ensure that any bias by the reporter is suitably balanced by the public representative.
Reporting on films and the entertainment industry is difficult and often subjective. However, with proper guidelines in place, the media can give the public an informed perspective.