Bollywood Box Office Unplugged-III: Movie reviewers, reviewed
In the big faking game to ensure first week collections, a reviewer is only a small culprit. Among the big names there is only one reviewer who is disposed to hand out benevolent ratings to producers to drum up business, which is obviously unfair to readers. The rest are doing a fair job
Like in every profession, movie reviewers come in all shades. There are trade analysts, willing to offer glowing reviews to help drive box office (BO) collections and there are others, who are courageous enough to stick their necks out and call a flop despite the producer’s clout.
To be honest, a reviewer is only a chhota culprit, in the big faking game to ensure first week collections. Stars who promote Duds (movies that simply fail to take off with both viewers and reviewers) are bigger culprits. Interestingly, among the big names a dispassionate look at the numbers throws up only one reviewers as being disposed to hand out benevolent ratings to producers to drum up business, but being unfair to readers. As we said earlier, the first week collection, especially the all-important first weekend is often influenced by the marketing blitz and star promotions. The reviewers really influence only the second week. Since reviewers are after all human, we do understand occasional aberrations, mistakes or differences in perception; however, we have also come across a pattern of consistent, undeserved high ratings by a reviewer that stand out.
We considered an exhaustive list of 38 analysts and all available ratings by them for movies included in the study. (Refer Graph: The dozen Pied Pipers of Hindi Cinema). Those with less than 10 reviews are excluded from detailed analysis of the reviewers themselves but ratings given by them retained for the movie analysis. It must be recognized that any positive or negative outcomes are purely data-driven and unintended. (Only Hindi movies released in first half of the year, between Jan-Jun 2012 and surviving at least a week at BO are considered. There is a whole alternate business revenue stream of music rights, satellite rights, merchandizing agreements, in-film advertising that is not the subject of this analysis.)
It flows from the analysis and the chart above that not all analysts do justice to the ratings. A good analyst must exploit the full range from 0 to 5 to rate movies, especially when viewers reject movies frequently. If a reviewer gives a 3 and 4 star rating for all movies reviewed by him/her, you are not getting a worthwhile opinion. A reviewer can be purely value-based and unconcerned by BO collections; or can be purely a trade-based critic. But the review must be qualified by a disclosure. (Reviewers whose ratings were included in the research are—Rajeev Masand, Taran Adarsh, Shubhra Gupta, Anupama Chopra, Blessy Chettiar, Omar Qureshi, Martin D'souza, Komal Nahata, Raja Sen, Madhureeta Mukherjee, Kunal Guha, Avijit Ghosh, Srijana Mitra Das, Saibal Chatterjee, Sukanya Verma, Subhash K Jha, Aniruddha Guha, Khalid Mohammed, Piyali Dasgupta, Mayank Shekhar, Kanika Sikka, Vivek Bhatia, Prashant NDTV, Shomini Sen, Mrigank Dhaniwala, Preeti Arora, Zinnia Ray Chaudhary, Resham Sengar, Priyanka Ketkar, Puja Banta, Nikhat Kazmi, Soumyadipta Banerjee, Shakti Salgaocar, Aseem Chhabra, Shaikh Ayaz, Ritu V Singh, Anirudhha Guha, Gaurav Malani)
Head to head
The top two analysts of the film world head-to-head for all movies they rated in the period of study make for interesting comparison. Note that barring two movies out of 33, Taran Adarsh always rates a movie higher than Rajeev Masand. Rajeev Masand has an average ranking of 2.2 and the third horse in the race, Anupama Chopra has ranking of 2.3 as against Taran whose average is way higher at 3. For the statistically inclined—there is a significant difference in all parameters. Take away the exception—Bittoo Boss, and you know the rule. It is cognitively difficult to dissociate ratings by linking them with names; a high rating is a high rating and it fools us into an inflated opinion about movie’s worth.
The difference is more pronounced when it comes to big-budget movies. For the 10 costliest movies in the period, the average rating by Rajeev Masand is 2.15 and that by Taran Adarsh it is whopping 3.45, on same scale of 5. That Taran’s ratings are influenced by a movie’s budget, more than popular choice, is too obvious to require further explanation. It is no co-incidence either, that he is trade analyst and the bias shows. Week 2 continuation/drop of business and thereby the public verdict, supports possibly Rajeev and Anupama’s review ratings as also those of most other analysts. Even last year, the costliest movie ever made, RA One was given the highest rating of 4.5 by Taran, when most analysts could not even tolerate the movie till interval. On other hand, after the same movie, Anupama Chopra wrote a very honest article—Box Office Followers—blasting the obsession of box office with moneybags. To quote her, “The multi-crore grosses that eventually follow are then bandied about as proof of quality. The art becomes irrelevant.”
The Fakestars— the film industry helps create them because of what rides on them and not because of intrinsic merit of the movie reviewers can help build them up with an extra star. Check our film reviewer rating comparator for all movies in the Fakestar category for the top three reviewers (See graph: Aggressive promotion, inflated ratings and reality strikes in week 2). For seven out of eight movies, Taran Adarsh has more generous ratings than the other two. The eight movies listed below accounted for 50% production cost of the industry’s cost of making 33 movies in the period under study.
Names like Agent Vinod (Rs60 crore), Agneepath (Rs55 crore), Rowdy Rathore (Rs50 crore), Players, Housefull 2 (Rs45 crore each), Ek main aur ek tu (Rs35 crore), Teri Meri Kahaani (Rs30 crore) are mostly movies that were either rejected outright by the public or were mediocre. Such big budget movies that are no Kahaani or Vicky Donor need help from reviewers to prop them up and some seemingly oblige with extra starts.
I learnt from Satyamev Jayate that cynicism alone does not help. Provide positive case studies, poster-boys and solutions, rather than just criticize. So, pikchar abhi baaki hai … we will return, Break ke baad, with ideas for positive change. In the meantime, bouquets and brickbats welcome.
Some material disclosures: The author has no business interest in movies/production houses/media companies. Box office data collected from trade journals. While all available known sources of ratings by analysts online were included, some analysts may have reviews which are not included. Such corrections, though not material for large movies, can be made if brought to my notice. Subjective views of analysts are considered to be in harmony with and condensed in overall rating; US and UK box office data is not included and separate analysis is done and available with some very interesting insights. It does not interfere much with analysis here.
(Sandeep Khurana is the founder and principal consultant, QuantLeap Consulting services, based at Hyderabad. An ex-army officer, he is well-read and experienced in government and corporate sectors. Sandeep holds a management degree from Indian School of Business. He has interest in social media, analytics and operations. He likes to watch all good movies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or his twitter id is @IQnEQ.)
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