If reviewers are not to review, then what are they supposed to do?

By Maliha Rehman

“… let people go and watch the movie first, your reviews can wait. You coming up with reviews (be it right or wrong) can damage the film big time and it won’t help the industry in any way. This industry needs support…” actor and producer Fahad Mustafa Tweeted earlier this week.

The Tweet came about a week and a half after the release of the first Pakistani film since the pandemic broke lose, Khel Khel Mein. The film is a Filmwala Pictures production, helmed by producer-director duo Fizza Ali Meerza and Nabeel Qureshi who are well-recognized as two of Pakistan’s most successful filmmakers. They are also Fahad’s good friends and have worked with him in multiple hit movies.

The mixed reviews received by their latest offering, Khel Khel Mein, probably prompted Fahad to write his Tweet. And it triggered off a slew of comments on social media. Some Twitter commentators felt that it was wrong of the actor to expect audiences to ‘support the industry’ when ticket prices at major multiplexes had spiraled to a whopping Rs 900 per person. If a movie was good, people would watch it but why shouldn’t reviewers have the freedom to critique a bad movie, they pointed out.

Fahad’s peers in the entertainment industry, however, expressed their support. “Well said,” said Aijazz Aslam and Sami Khan. “Agreed!” commented Wajahat Rauf and Mehwish Hayat.

However, if reviewers don’t review movies, how will they be doing their jobs right? With Pakistani cinemas only just shaking off the cobwebs, perhaps reviews can be written with a kindly eye, offering balanced perspectives rather than vicious rushed declarations, but how can Fahad Mustafa expect reviewers to stop critiquing altogether? Reviewers, in fact, owe it to the people who wait for their opinions to publish prompt, honest reviews.

However, do Pakistan’s filmmakers feel differently? Producer and director Yasir Nawaz – whose movie ‘Chakkar’ starring Ahsan Khan and Neelam Muneer will be releasing next year provided the coronavirus stays at bay – feels that some reviewers simply make controversial observations in order to gain fame. “There are very few people who write honest critiques and genuinely want to support an industry that has only just begun to revive,” he says. “Most reviewers are on ego trips, launching their own Instagram pages and YouTube channels and wanting to be recognized as celebrities in their own right. They just put together as much masala as they can in order to get mileage. Reviews can come out, cinemas are public platforms after all, but they need to be a week or 10 days after the movie’s release so that the audience can form its own opinion rather than rely on what a few bloggers are saying.”

‘Chakkar’s shooting has wrapped up and a release in 2022 can be hoped

Around the world, however, reviews get published on the day after the movie’s release. Don’t audiences deserve to know whether a movie is worth watching considering the steep ticket prices? Why should they have to wait for an entire week or more to gain a renowned critic’s opinion? “Film industries around the world earn profits in millions. Here, we are barely able to break even. The producers also invest huge sums of their earnings into making movies. At this early stage, we can at least delay reviews by a few more days,” says Yasir.

Director Nadeem Baig who has helmed a slew of hit movies and hopes to wrap up Humayun Saeed – Mehwish Hayat starrer ‘London Nahi Jaunga’ next year, says, “Personally, I am not very bothered by when a review comes out but keeping the overall picture in mind, perhaps a review can be delayed by a week to help movies that are in need of a push.”

The long-awaited London Nahi Jaunga’s shooting got stalled midway when the pandemic struck. The producers hope to wrap up shooting next year and release the movie on Eid-ul-Adha

Producer-director Wajahat Rauf who recently released the trailer of his upcoming movie Ali Rehman Khan and Hania Aamir starrer ‘Parde Mein Rehne Do’ declares that reviews can be delayed till the day after a movie’s opening weekend. “Monday. After the weekend. It is the press’ right to review anything that is in the public domain but we are too small an industry to get movies killed by bloggers or journalists before we let the audience decide.”

Parde Mein Rehne Do releases next year

However, can reviews of bloggers or journalists truly harm a movie’s box office earnings? Wajahat’s last release ‘Chhalawa’ did not get great reviews but won big at the box office. Similarly, Yasir Nawaz’s ‘Wrong Number’ was unanimously put down by major critics and went on to become an all-out success.

“Reviews actually don’t matter,” says Humayun Saeed with the wisdom of an experienced movie-maker. “If people want to see a movie, they will see it. They won’t care what the reviewers say. My movie Jawani Phir Nahi Ani got plenty of bad reviews and it went on to become a huge hit.”

The rollicking mega-hit ride that was Jawani Phir Nahi Ani

Reviews, however, can dissuade filmmakers from dabbling into cinema again. Producer Sadia Jabbar, for instance, refused to invest into another movie after her cinematic debut ‘Balu Mahi’ flopped and got bashed by critics. Sahir Lodhi had been incensed when his debut movie got slammed immediately after its release, leading up to a press conference that became infamous.

One way of delaying negative reviews is to skip out on a premiere night altogether, where the stars and press gather for an exclusive viewing of the movie right before its release. The movie Wrong Number 2, for instance, was released directly into cinemas. Even then, critics are bound to watch the movie and write their opinions on it. The general ticket-paying audience is also very likely to voice their opinions in public forums on Facebook and Twitter.

Even if filmmakers believe that critics are biased and stir controversy just to get fame, they cannot point the same allegations at their audience which may be all praises or may be incensed at having wasted time and money on a substandard story. Opinions are bound to snowball and filter out on Twitter.

Beyond YouTube videos and online reviews, a movie brings in profits if it appeals to the masses. The box office never lies. That’s the beauty of cinema.

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If reviewers are not to review, then what are they supposed to do?