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Kerala High Court interferes with new trend of Malayalam film reviews that have become a serious concern for filmmakers

On 5 September, Kunchacko Boban-starrer Chaaver was released. Following the release, the movie got mixed reviews from critics and the makers of the movie have alleged degrading of the movie on social media.

For some time now, filmmakers have been complaining of targetted criticism against their films for many reasons.

After the Covid pandemic, the audience’s movie-watching pattern has changed. Now, if a movie gets an average response from critics, people just prefer to wait for another month for its OTT release.

This is a real problem for exhibitors who lose their theatre audience if the movie doesn’t get an extraordinary review on the first day. The filmmakers have been complaining of this first day’s negative reports for some time.

Mubeen Rauf, the director of Aromalinte Adhyathe Pranayam had sought a gag order to ensure that social media influencers and film-reviewing vloggers do not publish any reviews of his venture for at least seven days after its release.

Kerala High Court interferes

Earlier this month, the Kerala High Court had sought an explanation from the Union and the state government on how to curb negative reviews by online vloggers on the day of the release of the film.

This comes as the petition of Mubeen Rauf was taken into consideration by Justice Devan Ramachandran. In his complaint, Mubeen had said that the vloggers were uploading negative reviews without even watching the film. This negatively affects the film.

Mubeen had also said that some vloggers threatened that they would do negative reviews if they were not paid by the producers. Mubeen’s film Aromalinte Adyathahe Pranayamwas released on 6 October.

According to him, it is cruel to write negative reviews of a film within minutes of its release on social media and there should be some restrictions on it.

The court had appointed advocate Shyam Padman as Amicus Curiae in the matter and scheduled further consideration in two weeks. During a hearing on Tuesday, 10 October, Justice Ramachandran urged for devising mechanisms against motivated reviews that are solely aimed at blackmailing the makers or hampering a film’s success.

Government pleader Vidya Kuriakose told the Kerala High Court that they are working out the modalities for controlling motivated reviews and it would require a consultation with all the stakeholders from the industry, including producers, directors, financiers, petitioners, etc.

According to Aneesh Sreekumar, a practising advocate of the Kerala High Court, it is not practical for the court to pass a gag order on film reviews as it will be difficult because of the legal obstacles.

The advocate said, “A gag order can’t be passed. If a court passes an order, it may be based on sound legal principles and the hallmark of a sound legal principle is that it will apply across borders. When you say that you should not review a film within seven days, it should apply across borders.”

“A court can’t say that a person can’t post his review on his social media page or YouTube channel. But the court can say that, nobody should be personally tarnished while doing a movie review,” Aneesh told South First.

According to him, if filmmakers feel that a particular movie is targeted, then they will have to make an alliance in their marketing budget to dispense the allegation.

Kunchacko Boban, on the degrading of his new movie Chaaver, had said, sarcastically, that degrading is somehow a good thing for his movie as people are coming to watch the movie without any expectations.

He also added that his movie Chaaver will have an audience who would support the movie apart from degrading it. At the same time, Tinu Pappachan, Director of Chaaver, had said that the movie received negative comments even before the first show and this is what degrading a movie means.

Recently, in an interview, Santhosh T Kuruvilla, co-producer of Mohanlal’s Marakkar Arabikadalinte Simham (2021) said that a separate team was set up in a house for degrading this movie when it was released in 2021. He added that police had taken these perpetrators into custody.

Shruthi Sharanyam, Director of B 32 Muthal 44 Vare (2023), faced a cyber attack during the release of her movie for which she won the Kerala State Film Award.

Shruthi had told South First that she received negative comments (even from those who had not watched her film) and verbal abuse from fake accounts. The culprits didn’t even spare her parents. “This was really depressing as it makes us understand the mindset of these youths.”

Issue of paid reviews

Earlier, Abhilash Joshiy, Director of King of Kotha (2023), a big-budget movie by Dulquer Salmaan had said that the audience should hold the right to judge a film. “A person should not make a YouTube video that deters people from watching a movie.”

He also said that tearing apart a whole project for ulterior motives is really depressing. It will stop the filmmakers from exploring and growing. The audience should always watch a movie and decide if they like it or not.

Mridul Nair, Director of Kasargold (2023) told South First that targetted attacks against movies, filmmakers, or actors should not be entertained. “Let’s not get personal and let’s not deprive audiences from making their own choices,” he said.

Pratheesh Sekhar, a known PRO of Malayalam films, in an Instagram post, had said that paid reviews are happening in the Malayalam film industry.

He gave examples of the recent film King of Kotha, where many were paid to write against the movie on social media. According to him, he had also received threatening calls from some people as they weren’t invited for the promotions of Kannur Squad (2023), in which Pratheesh worked as a PRO.

A Kerala-based exhibitor, during an informal conversation with South First, had said that first-day reports on social media are crucial these days in deciding the fate of any movie.

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