There has been a lot of debate recently on how important film critics are, and if they can indeed influence the audience’s decision to watch a film. There has also been increasing talk of how our critics cater to a Western sensibility, and how their evaluation parameters are disconnected from those of our Indian audiences.
The film that epitomized the critics-viewers disconnect was Salman Khan’s ‘Ready’. The film was panned by almost every critic, scoring about 1.5-2 stars consistently. However, it remains one of the top 5 films of the year on our WOM (Word Of Mouth) Index, suggesting how much the film was appreciated by the audiences who paid for its ticket. It will be convenient to just pass off this positivity as Salman Khan’s star power. After all, Bodyguard, which came two months after Ready, does not feature in the top 10 films on WOM this year. (I will refrain from over-emphasizing that good opening and good WOM are two different things. The former has absolutely nothing do with the film’s content.)
To find out the exact role film reviews play in India, we studied more than 3,000 theatre goers across the country and asked them a series of questions on film reviews. Below are some key findings that emerged:
1. Only 17% said they read/ watch reviews of most or all the films. A large section of 71% said they read/ watch reviews only occasionally, which could be as low as once in 2-3 months. 12% said they have not read/ watched a review in the last one year.
2. Among those consuming reviews, the primary source of reviews was: Television for 42%, Internet for 29%, Newspaper for 26% and FM Radio for 3%. (So, for all the RJs who have started taking themselves too seriously as film critics, wake up and smell the popcorn.)
3. For males, Internet reviews (35%) are almost as relevant as television (37%). However, for females, television leads at 49%, and newspaper reviews come second at 26%. Younger audience (college) have an Internet skew, though television is the primary source of review for all age groups and markets.
4. When asked which aspect of the review is important to them, the results were surprising. 53% said the analysis (story/ direction/ performances) was more important. 17% said the star rating was more important. The remaining 30% felt both aspects were equally important. Indeed, the star ratings, which are often ‘quoted’ in film ads post release, emerge as an overhyped element of a review. “Tell me about the film and let me take my own decision” seems more like the way to go. That’s why a TV review works better. It combines video (promo) with the analysis, making comprehension stronger. Also, the medium’s higher reach is a bonus.
5. Are reviews reliable? Only 39% felt so. 57% said they use reviews in conjunction with other information and feedback available (e.g. promos, opinion of friends, etc.), to decide on whether to watch the film in a theatre or not. Remaining 4% said they don’t trust reviews at all.
So, dear critic, you are addressing only 17% film audience, out of which only 39% really believe your fraternity in the first place. So, we are talking of just 7% impact here. Or one in 14 people.