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Telugu Cinema : To Review or not to…

April 12, 2010

Before you come to a conclusion what the post is about, allow me to clear the mystery behind that title. The post isn’t about why Telugu film criticism is unethical, it more about the current scenario especially regarding the web content and its influence. I have been writing about Telugu cinema for over a year now, which means I end up watching every random film which releases in the cinema halls in Hyderabad. Before I try to reason why I think Telugu film criticism sucks, I must add that I can talk about only my experience and issues I have noticed. Hence, there’s no generalization but you are free to draw your own conclusions.

The period between 1996 until 1999 was important for Telugu cinema. It was the time when ‘internet’ had just begun and it gave rise to few websites which started writing about Telugu films. Two of those websites, telugucinema.com and idlebrain.com are still ruling the roost. In fact, idlebrain.com had emerged as the leading website for Telugu Cinema news, photos, reviews, interviews. However, few months ago, a gossip website, greatandhra.com has overtaken idlebrain.com in terms of the number of hits per day. For the next few years, idlebrain.com continued to grow and became the most trusted site for Telugu cinema. In the early part of this decade, more websites like cinegoer.com and plenty of other websites came to the limelight. With the explosion of blogs, the content generated exceeded the saturation point. No wonder, you read almost the same news and almost same pics, videos and trailers are uploaded. Some websites shamelessly plagiarize content from other websites and their major source of revenue is either the traffic generated or revenue from online advertising. Let’s examine the situation with respect to the film reviews.

There are perhaps more than 10 film critics who write for websites on a regular basis and countless other bloggers who are trying to make their presence felt. Despite the severe competition, there are only a handful of critics who wield major influence on their readers, because they write on popular websites. Among them, Jeevi (idlebrain.com), SiraSri (Greatandhra.com), Jalapathy (telugucinema.com), Sunitha Chowdary (cinegoer.com), Radhika Rajmani (Rediff.com) are noted names. It would be unfair to comment upon their style of film criticism because each one of them has their own perspective when it comes to Telugu Cinema. This is why there is a difference in presentation, rating and the conclusions they draw.  Film Criticism is a tricky subject. It’s easy to be an unofficial film critic. Does it mean anyone can be a film critic? The answer would be both yes and a no. Yes, because after all, it’s all about articulating your opinion added with a little bit of understanding of aesthetics of cinema. And NO, because writing about regional cinema especially Telugu and Tamil come with its share of serious issues. Let me elaborate on what happens once you write a review:

Comments: Internet is filled with two kinds of people. Sensible and I-know-it-all types. Sensible people are those who offer constructive criticism and feedback. They try to reason with what exactly they thought of the film and atleast make an attempt to have a meaningful discussion. On the other hand, there are millions of others who would drop ‘glorious’ comments which makes you wonder what’s wrong with them.

Fanboys: Each ‘Hero’ has a huge fan base and these ‘fans’ would go to any length to make their voice heard. From abusing others to vehemently trying to prove that their ‘thalaivar’ is the greatest of all, these conversations are good enough to wish that ‘2012’ indeed comes true.

Ratings: Ratings are the worst thing to have happened to film reviews. I mean how do you  decide what’s an appropriate rating for any film? The situation is so bad that there are thousands of people who don’t even read a review. Just that ‘number’ is enough for them to come to a conclusion about the film. Most of the films are ‘rated’ based on the predictions on the film’s ‘Box-Office’ success. At the end of the day, what happens is, the critic tries to pre-meditate and conclude whether the film would work for the common audience or not before publishing the review. Of course, I have no clue if this is the system which most other Telugu film critics follow, but I have been told by plenty of my friends that this is what people want to read. “They don’t have time or patience to read YOUR insight on cinema…they want to know if the film is worth their money.” If only, I had this super-power, sigh! The bigger question is have we misjudged the target audience? Sometimes I wonder if someone is so intelligent, then he/she would try to understand what the critic wants to say. But then, all I see is people trying to rip apart the review/critic if they think it’s not according to their thought process. People, there’s no such thing as a ‘correct rating’. It’s just a gut feeling which the critic had based on his experience after watching the film. There obviously has to be a buffer instead of sticking to the decimal system in ratings that we follow. I mean just because an overwhelming majority of people believe that a film is bad, is it wrong if a critic tries to bring out a totally new aspect of the film? Take Arya-2 for example. It was one of the most complex films made in recent few years. I loved it because the hero was so flawed and like the characterization. What’s wrong in praising this complexity? Is it difficult to appreciate anti-heroes? Think about it…maybe you will judge the film from a totally different perspective.

Paid Reviews: I have absolutely no idea if there paid-reviews although I do hear some rumours about it. In all these days, I have never been offered any incentives for watching a film except for my free ticket! It still remains a controversial question for which I don’t have an answer.

Fear and Loathing: Apart from the constant fear of what if I misjudge a film which would end up misleading a lot of people, another fear grapples me. It’s fear of being hated. It’s quite scary to know that you are being hated for something you love to do. Critics aren’t necessarily fault finders and ideally they shouldn’t have a personal vendetta against anyone. As far as I am concerned, if I have written that a film is bad, I am just talking about the film alone…it’s not a personal attack on the actors, technicians who have made the film possible. Few days ago, a popular director had mailed me saying that he felt bad and sad after reading my review of one of his films. Although I am happy that he read my blog, I wish he hadn’t taken it so personally.

Apart from all these afore mentioned points, quite often, I have been asked this question. “If cinema is for entertainment, then why do we need reviews?”. Trust me, it’s a very logical question yet it shows how seriously people take reviews. There were around 130 films in Telugu alone which released in 2009. Does it mean that those 130 films found their audience? The answer would be a NO. If we leave aside big budget films which have big stars and names attached to it, thanks to their marketing campaigns, a review seems quite pointless. However, every year there are atleast 10-20 films which have the great potential to appeal to people, yet they fail to attract huge crowds due to various reasons. In such cases, a balanced review becomes an important tool of starting a word of mouth campaign. Last year, we had films like ‘Ananthapuram-1980’ and ‘Baanam’ which were in this category. At the end of the day, it’s a different question as to how the film reviews are received by film industry. Obviously, there are some issues worth pondering upon:

‘No one wants to make a bad film’ syndrome – If this is true, then why does Telugu Cinema have a failure rate of almost 90% every year.

‘Reviews don’t matter, people do’ – True! After all, films are made for the ‘entertainment’ of audience. Then why is it that quite a few film makers give so much importance to reviews?

‘To Review or not to review’ – There have been allegations that reviews are having a huge impact on the box-office collections of films in the first weekend itself. This is an inevitable situation especially in cities. Some multiplexes in Hyderabad have increased the ticket prices from Rs.100 to Rs.150 and on top of that there’s cola-popcorn costs to be incurred (a safe estimate). It means, to watch a film, a person will end up spending anywhere between Rs.150-250 to watch a film. Naturally, the question arises, is it worth it? I would leave this question to your judgement.

‘Movies are for entertainment only’– True again! But then, the question arises, what is entertainment? You can make money if you make a certain kind of cinema which majority of people like and be content with it. Or you can alter your perspective of cinema completely and make films which you can be proud of 10-20 years from now. You can be the one who initiated a new wave of cinema. The choice is completely with the film makers themselves. What people and critics can do is initiate this thought process atleast among budding film makers.

Movie reviews or movie criticism aren’t necessarily about telling people if the film is worth their money. It shouldn’t be, honestly! However, unless people themselves wake up to the reality that reviews are intended to give a fresh perspective of cinema, it’s highly implausible that great reviews, especially in Telugu, will ever be written. In my opinion, a great review is one which will initiate and encourage you to watch a film again and again. At the end of the day, if you are an ardent admirer of cinema in totality and  not just any particular actor, director, genre then a movie review must make you think, question your judgement, give you more ideas about a film. The question is, do we have such critics especially among those who write about Telugu cinema? The bigger issue is, does Telugu film industry make films which are so complex that it gives the critics an opportunity to give different points of view on the same film?

P.S: I have been writing about Telugu cinema for just about a year now. I am still trying to understand the various facets of Telugu Cinema and why films are made in a particular manner which are most of the times contrary to what I would have liked to see. I write Telugu movie review @123telugu.com and if you want to read my reviews, I must warn you that my ratings are quite misleading. So, please, read the review and @#$% the ratings!

P.P.S: All images have been used for only illustrative purpose.

Yours,

Hemanth

Follow me at twitter: http://twitter.com/crhemanth

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2010 10:59 pm

    This is an awesome post. I agree with you.

  2. Srikanth permalink
    April 13, 2010 12:20 am

    Brilliant!! you got your job defined, But yeah Telugu movies have to come a long way.

  3. Kiran permalink
    April 13, 2010 12:59 am

    I agree with you about ratings. Better to do away with them. Most of the time i find that the actual review & the rating are not in sync at all.
    Kick director, Surender Reddy, told me that they had sent quite a few lakhs to the websites for reviews. So yes i’m a bit jaded about the whole stuff.

  4. April 13, 2010 2:09 am

    Fabulous piece Hemanth…

  5. April 13, 2010 8:26 am

    Very neat article. Echoes my thoughts exactly. Kudos!

  6. Anvesh permalink
    April 13, 2010 10:33 am

    Nice post man. Hemanth, see if you can post something on the dynamics of cinema. Like how it works/unfolds. A ring side view. Even better would be the economics of it, why it works.

  7. April 13, 2010 12:32 pm

    definitely a gud post.. wid lot of info..!

    i dont agree with you partly though.. 🙂 !! sorry for the longggg post.. 🙂

    when it comes to RATINGS, they are bound to come.. even u want to see the rating.. (not in movies.. but if it is about some fluid mechanics or rocket science.. which u want to know whether u can use it or not..!! in that scenario.. u dont want the expert to tell you its history.. etc.. u just want to know simply.. whether its worth using it or not..!! the same way.. people who are not so.. in to movies, making.. nd just in to them for sheer entertainment value.. they only want to know the final value/worth from the people they believe/trust..!!

    thats how we human beings are.. nd our psychology is.!! we want simple information to easily process.. nd decide..!! 🙂 thats why ratings.. and verdict after every analysis.. nd conclusion in every report..!!

    PAID REVIEWS: it doesn’t have to be in direct money-giving format !!! if we takes the case of Jeevi sir, the first time he avoided review is.. for Bangaram movie. (as far as i have observed) !!! it may be because of pressure.. or relations or associations or favours or dealings or businesses or whatever he has with babus or may be nothing at all !! some how reviews are getting effected.. (if im in his position.. i may also do the same.. ) !!
    nd now he said on twitter that – if a movie’s rating is less than 3, review will be posted late.. and not on release date.. keeping in view of overseas bussiness that is majorly effected because of his reviews..!! 🙂 whats with that..!!

    i guess he don’t want to write a biased review.. bt bcoz of some unavoidable reasons.. delaying it for the benefit of himself/ movie/producers !!

    REVIEWS DOES MATTER !! if somebody says they don’t.. it clearly means film sucks at some point !! if it is meant for 1 or 2 reivews.. then its ok.. !! afterall.. reviewers are main influencers.. diverting people to movies.. thus.. diverting money.. !!

    MOVIE IS PERSONAL !! people spend years or months making a movie.. put all their effort in to what they believe in..!! for sekhar movie is like his daugther.. son.. mom.. etc !! but the thing is.. people are investing their money.. to see their movies.. so they have right to comment !! so makers have to deal with it.. when they make mistakes.. !!!

    when people make a movie hit.. they say “prekshaka devullu” !! and when they say its trash.. they have to agree that..!!

    but for them, i guess the problem is – they feel that reviewers don’t have enough technical knowledge to review a movie..!! some of them don’t even know the basics of movie making.. just because they have good writing skills.. and sense of humour.. they are writing what ever they want..!! 🙂 !! though its not totally true, but they got some point..!!

    sitting in a stadium, i can judge any player how ever i want.. with out any knowledge of cricket.. but reviewer is almost like an umpire (slowly becoming one.. with internet)..!! he is a game changer.. decider in some cases..!! so he should have some basic knowledge.. to appreciate the movie making as an art too.. and reivew with respect to technical details..

  8. mrinalini permalink
    April 13, 2010 3:11 pm

    hey,

    your reviews r good.

    i dont agree with the last “movies only for entertainment”. i strongly feel..movies, if the story is said the way it shud be said, is a very important medium to get across a message. any strong message can be easily conveyed thro a movie. pure entertainment movies r there though.

    n every single person in the audience is a critic.

    critics, ppl who do write about movies, should remain unattached while judge a movie. get what i mean?. dont bother about what touches them…but decided if “IT IS touchy”…a scene, dialogue, a song whatever. then probably the judgement wud appeal to a lot more..

    hmm..seeya!

  9. April 13, 2010 5:16 pm

    Hemanth bhayya! Brilliant post my man. You kinda summed it all up almost perfectly. Raccha anthe!

    @ravikreddy People have the right to say whatever they want. Yes you can comment on how that guy played that shot. And I shall tell u how exactlythe movie maker goofed up. If they invest so much time and energy on movies, why cant they make good ones. Why do they have to live in an illusion of crappy is good enough. Why do they have to copy from each other and desecrate an artform to earn some quick buck or satisfy so called filmmaking urge. Make something original if you want to. They have all the right to be torn apart. Critics are made worthy by their followers. they are just like a certain director or an actor who have to constantly maintain their integrity and produce good stuff. An actor or director can sell himself out and make a poor movie but when critic does that he dies an instant death in his audience. Cos the audience is ehre to trust the critic where as they are just being entertained by the filmmaker.

    • April 14, 2010 1:14 am

      @vemana

      first, thnx for arguing 🙂 !! i thought hemanth bhayya will argue.. but he said he agree with me on all.. 😦 🙂

      if you see my last paragraph u will understand my point – there is a difference between end consumer and reviewer..!! if u believe that media has responsibility.. then the same way reviewer also has some responsibility..!!

      I agree that reviewers became worthy by their followers.. but that doesn’t make them god’s !! for example : if u have to buy a share.. u prefer to ask person with sound technical knowledge and real time experience !! the same way.. if a reviwer got technical movie making knowledge.. that helps him to judge the movie in different perspectives..!!

      and last but one para tells – what reviewer needs.. nd should have..!! nd how someone with just writing skills nd sense of humour is becoming a reviewer.. !!

      COPYING :: lol.. how many of your friends copy in exams 🙂 !! im not saying its ok.!! bt we guys should learn to give credit to orginals… atleast in the way of “aswaddama kunjaraha” 😛 !! if u ask me, as a end consumer i dont bother about his copying.. as far as that makes me happy.. !! also that way.. our music directors have introduced us to arabic.. spanish.. german nd global music 🙂 thnx to manisarma.. koti.. keeravani etc.. 🙂 !! nd sometimes i feel its better to listen to best copied music than shitty orginal tunes etc.. !!

      when it comes to CREATIVE field.. its not maths to smiply say 2+2 = 4 !! its subjective.. and people around you may like ur story for some reason.. or may just say that they like it or love it.. eventhough inside they think its avg or bad..!! these things happen all the time in creative field !! so.. we can’t say they are doing bad movies.. just for the sake of money.. or something..!!

      but, lot of movies.. and scenes lack common sense.. 😛 for that we can directly blame them.. (ex: capatian comedy scenes in youtube.. balayya kamedy.. and chiru’s most famous horse skid.. and tractor jumping fight.. and lottt more ) what were they thinkinggg.. !!!

  10. Naresh permalink
    April 13, 2010 5:33 pm

    A majority of Telugu audience has still not moved up to the review reading clan. Reviews r for overseas, part of Hyd n probly 2-3 other towns. So obvly u cant expect a good set of critics n a solid review culture. All the producers r interested in is creating hype thru platinum disc functions, vijaya yatras n stuff tht build up some word of mouth publicity.

    Review reading ppl seldom walk up to theatres to watch mves like Baanam. They ll wait 4 dvd. So reviews r something telugu films need not worry 4 a few yrs now, according to me. They need to focus more on better pre-release marketing and bigger release.

  11. April 13, 2010 5:34 pm

    Hemanth,
    Paid Reviews do exist and with the irresponsible media in the rise,the scope for paid reviews is increasing.An example for paid reviews and critics can be seen during the preview show reviews of MNIK

  12. April 13, 2010 5:34 pm

    Telugu reviews lack quality. not one review puts it right (not as a review but as mere presentation). this space isn’t enough for details though. but yes, you ARE doing your job right. I don’t know why I said that 😀

  13. Anil permalink
    April 13, 2010 5:38 pm

    Nice article Hemanth. I agree with what all you said..But some sites are biased..Before i make my point i want to tell that I am not a hard core fan of particular hero and I enjoy all good movies. Some sites like greatandhra.com make it a point to praise heroes like Junior NTR unnecessarily, i dont understand why. They try their best to make people think that hes the number one dancer in Tollywood. Its a different story whether he is or not..But i dont understand why they make it a point to highlight him so much..As far as your reviews are concerned , I respect your reviews but I am highly disappointed with your review of “Adurs movie”. I read your review i think you rated it 3.75 or 3.5 and I went to the theatre with high expectations I must tell you i got highly disappointed with the movie.

  14. April 14, 2010 9:58 am

    Y dont u start the trend. F**k off the ratings. And if u cant stop giving ratings, bocz the website does not allow, please have a separate blog of ur’s and give a quality, technical insight into the movie.

  15. truth permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:11 am

    Lol what a hypocrite , everything you wrote is contradicting to yourself .

    Its more of a article to battle your inner guilt .

    Who gave varudu 3 and who says nagachaitanaya is a brilliant actor ?
    Ans: HEMANTH (YOU)

    wake up !!!

    • Hemanth permalink*
      April 14, 2010 11:23 am

      @Truth (or whatever you are known as!) :- Thank you for telling me what I am…truth is, I had no idea about it…I am sure we have had a conversation earlier on twitter as well…and I am not wrong, you are the same person (@kingofcinema) who compares opinions with absolute truths!. You say…’Sky is Blue’ and call it absolute truth. Have you thought about the actual colour of sky?? It’s perhaps black! What if someone is colour blind? What colour would ‘Sky’ be for him/her?

      My point is, there can never be an absolutely correct review…it’s just difference in opinions. And if you choose to call it being ‘Hypocritical’ then so be it! You are free to make your own choices! 😀

      On a different note, if you are done with trying to pummel your soft target whom you have found on the internet…why don’t you try expressing your own ‘Absolute Truths’ and make sure you do that in an honest way. That means, you have to talk only about work and not have any personal vendetta against anyone. Do share your opinions with me…atleast I will learn how not to be hypocritical.

      K.Thx.Bye!

  16. truth permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:52 am

    lmao , there is no such thing as absolute truth .

    You don’t read properly , you cant find absolute truth in relative world period .

  17. truth permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:54 am

    sky is blue is not absolute truth .

    • Hemanth permalink*
      April 14, 2010 11:56 am

      @Truth: Pardon me for my immature views! :-P…You ain’t gonna earn anything by trying to argue with me…it would be a good option to start your blog or something and write about what your views on cinema…that would be a much better option..what say?…:)

      • truth permalink
        April 14, 2010 9:29 pm

        Not immature views but you misread my tweets on absolute truth :|.
        well at least we agree on the absolute truth theory .

        Yes there is no absolute truth review .

        But iam not arguing abt absolute truth , we can only argue relative to something .

        Going by absolute truth nobody will be a bad actor , no film will be a bad film etc etc

        Blog ? well my English sucks big time , if u can give me one on one coaching and help me improve my vocab ill try ..what say?….:)

  18. April 14, 2010 3:38 pm

    Hemanth,

    I always loved your reviews and am a regular reader of your blog. This is a nice article you have posted.. but I have few points to put across..

    You say, “As far as I am concerned, if I have written that a film is bad, I am just talking about the film alone – it’s not a personal attack on the actors, technicians who have made the film possible
    You have called Namitha a MILF (well.. almost) in the review of the movie Jagnmohini [I am not a fan of hers and know she is a terrible actor]. Most of the critics vent out their anger by trying to exaggerate the flaws of the movies/actors by quoting some funny lines which certainly would be offending the film makers/actors personally. We all know, Emran Hashmi is a bad actor, but Rajeev Masand has said once that his dining table shows more expressions than Mr.Hashmi.. this is just an example, now critics say they have nothing against the actors personally!?!?

  19. Kamal permalink
    July 5, 2010 5:23 pm

    Hemant,

    There is a history to Telugu film journalism. Before the dawn of Internet and TV media, print media was the only source to film buffs for reading reviews. Almost all the Telugu film magazines never dare to criticize any of the movies for various reasons viz 1. they were afraid that the industry may turn against them thus not allowing them to give interviews, invite to press meets and parties… 2. Magazine owners had links to film industry. In general our film journalists were very submissive to film industry.

    To our rescue came TV media. we were expecting a great reforms in Telugu cine journalism. Though some TV programs tried to do honest reviews of films, soon all those programs vanished for the same above reasons. In fact, TV media became worse than print media and went overboard in declaring every movie a success even before they were released (especially big budget movies/stars/producers/directors) . If you don’t agree then watch any of the film based programs on any day.

    Finally, we relied on internet and initially we were overwhelmed by the sheer presence of honest reviews by true movie lovers. I would say, this is the first time we could see that some one dared to rip off any movie which is bad.

    For the first time, the industry guys had difficult time. For years, they could ‘manage’ the print media and TV media but this technology wizard called ‘Internet’ was a new kind of monster that they didn’t know how to ‘manage’. The reviews were honest, straight, and harsh at times. Though the industry guys were hurt, it didn’t bother them since they believed it won’t affect them. Mean while, some entrepreneurs capitalized the opportunity and launched web sites featuring reviews apart from other stuff. Most of these websites did a good job and were honest for some time. These sites attracted especially NRIs as internet was the only medium for them to make a decision on spending $10 for a movie. Soon industry guys realized how their overseas market is being affected by these reviews/ratings. To protect the overseas market, industry guys now started their tactics to ‘manage’ website owners and critics. If you are like me, you will find honest reviews are becoming scarce or biased……..you will know the reasons by now.

    Irony is that in the whole world, only Telugu film journalism seems under the control of some ‘mafia’. I know you won’t like this statement but tell me on what basis they say “Congrats on the BIG success of your cinema” during LIVE interview with producer/hero/director/ on the day of film release at 9 AM (Bloody morning show is not yet begun!!!!!!!! ) OR at least tell me why Telugu TV anchors tell us around 1000 gossips on Bollywood stars and none on our guys!

    That’s our telugu cinema journalism.

    God save us…..

    PS: Though small in number, we are appreciating all those reviewers who are still writing honest reviews.

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