– Rinku Gupta
When his film Chennai 28 hit the screens several years ago, director VENKAT PRABHU never imagined the humungous response it would generate. A film on the lives of several friends united by gully cricket, it went on to become a cult flick, launching his directorial career in a big way. Now the director is ready with the sequel, titled Chennai 28 – 2 , where the original actors are shown all grown up. The teaser of this most anticipated film was released recently and made everyone sit up and take notice. The reason was, the way Venkat Prabhu has, in his characteristic tongue-in-cheek manner, referred to the fast rising phenomenon of paid reviewers on social media. In a chat with him, we uncover why Venkat is troubled with this phenomenon.
“The teaser crossed 1 million viewers in a week in its You Tube release. That’s a huge number for a film which has no big stars,” says Venkat. “I know it’s a genuine number since I maintain the site personally. I’ve also gotten personal calls from the industry folks, who’ve commended me on it. So it’s been gratifying to see the response to our sequel.”
Mocking the social media charade
Apart from the fun factor of watching the cast again, viewers were hit by the tongue-in-cheek reference to paid film reviews. In the teaser, actor Shiva is shown referring to Venkat Prabhu negatively, as a ‘copycat’ of Hollywood films like Hangover. But when someone informs him that money has been put in his bank account, he changes tacks and gives a positive comment about the film. We ask Venkat to explain these references and he replies, “I added the snippet in the teaser since it’s an important part in the film. It’s a light hearted approach to an issue we see all around us these days. It’s not meant to hurt anyone. I was mocking myself when Shiva refers to me as a copycat of Hollywood films. At the same time, I was also mocking the new and fast rising phenomenon of paid reviews on social media. Thanks to social media, anyone with a camera phone, can watch a film and start reviewing it right from the first frame. They may or may not know about cinema but continue to review films and are encouraged by the growing followers that the social media space gives them. They may rip films and trash them just to get increased followers and once their base increases, some tend to exploit the situation. I hear that several of the new breed of social media reviewers benefit monetarily when some industry folk pay them, to avoid a bad review. So I thought when they mock us, why not I mock them too. Since we take it sportingly, they too shouldn’t be hurt, since it said in jest. I am not referring to any one individual, but to the phenomenon overall.”
Venkat feels that the Internet has changed the way people read News and view cinema, “My cousin aka music director Yuvan, brother Premgi and I, keep in touch with FB, Twitter and Whats App and see the way films are ripped apart week after week by these so called ‘reviewers’. Now, anyone with a camera phone is a reviewer. Many may not have the critical acumen of a journalist but because of access and the fame it brings, they tend to mock films just to get the added attention, instead of enjoying them. Before the first show is over, the details of the film are out and it goes viral. We get scene-by-scene ‘reviews’. If you are so busy commenting how can you hear the dialogues or enjoy the film? They don’t realise how many people’s lives depend on each film. I personally feel that reviews should be out only 3 days after the film has released, so that each film gets a chance of a good opening.”
Kollywood’s fad or future?
By the calls he’s getting from people, it can be gauged that the director has managed to touch upon a hot topic that is affecting the entire industry. Says he, “Lots of directors and actors called up to appreciate the teaser. There is a lot of confusion all around about whether there are any real benefits from such paid reviews on social media. I don’t know if the phenomenon is present in other film industries. But in Kollywood, social media has a strong presence, so it’s an important and relevant issue for our industry. However, only those who are abreast with this new phenomenon understood my reference. For instance, my dad couldn’t get the reference at all. But even if 5 people realise what I am referring to, I’ll be happy that it’s created an impact.”