Does social media chatter help a film succeed?

Both controversies and a marketing push lead to a buzz on social media for a film. But should such manipulated discussions influence movie goers on what to watch,
asks PALLAVI BHATTACHARYA

 

There was a time when people discussed movies over phone and at coffee shops. Later they got hooked on to the internet, and discussions on films were initiated with both friends and strangers alike on social media. In face to face interactive discussions there are generally just a handful of people debating on films; whereas if you log in to social media, you get to see hundreds and thousands of people commenting on the film simultaneously. Do social media discussions affect the outcome of a film at the box office?

 

Box Office Figures

Whatis.techtarget.com defines social media as, “The collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration.”  Mind boggling box office numbers when exchanged and lauded via discussion on social media, may induce some to watch the film. Poor box office numbers may make others keep their footfalls away. Akshaye Rathi, Film Exhibitor, Distributor/ Director - Vidharbha Exhibitors Pvt Ltd says, “While Whatsapp and Instagram are used at a very basic level, it’s primarily Facebook and Twitter that have the outreach and therefore, are largely the main platforms on which films are promoted. While you cannot deny the impact of social media, there are multiple layers that need to be looked at in this context. The collections, which were traditionally exchanged only between exhibitors, distributors and producers are out in the public domain. What is amusing is that different publications publish different collections for the same film and there isn't a single entity that can be trusted entirely for their authenticity. In fact, a lot of production houses also push out collections through their PR agencies to build a perception about the film's 'success', which is often contrary to the reality.”

"What is amusing is that different publications publish different collections for the same film"

Not everyone is swayed by mind boggling box office numbers being circulated on social media. Nishant Kashyap, entrepreneur based in Mumbai, founder of pet parenting website gingertail.in says, “There are many superficial films which enter the so-called prestigious Rs 100 crore (and beyond) club. I judge a film by its qualitative value instead.”

 

Manipulation

Social media discussions don’t always come from the heart. Nevertheless, many naïve people consider them as genuine. Akshaye explains, “In an era when social media 'buzz', published reviews etc can be influenced by filmmakers and PRs, unfortunately a few gullible movie-goers tend to believe what they read on Twitter, Facebook, websites etc, rather than using their own discretion and deciding whether they want to watch a film or not. At times, they end up missing a film that could have catered well to their sensibilities because some critic didn't like it and decided to pan it. At other times, they could end up paying for the tickets of a film they wouldn't like and end with a bad taste in their mouths.”

 

Individual decisions

Various people get influenced by social media discussions on films in various ways.

Tushar Jain, Assistant Director at an advertisement production and filmmaking house in Mumbai, has a discerning eye for films which may not have a big budget, but nevertheless elicit favourable reviews on social media. He says, “Meaningful films which didn’t have a huge budget for publicity, garner eyeballs through recommendations on Twitter and Facebook.” Some of these films include Masaan, Margarita with a Straw, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, City Lights, DedhIshqiya, The Lunchbox, English Vinglish, Gangs of Wasseypur, Vicky Donor, Paan Singh Tomar, Saheb Bibi Gangster and Love Sex aur Dhoka: all of them made profit at the box office. Whereas people like Tushar may purchase the ticket for critically acclaimed small budget films; die-hard fans of popular stars may watch a film even if social media berates it, as they will never miss any film of their favourite star.

"Meaningful films which didn’t have a huge budget for publicity, garner eyeballs through recommendations on Twitter and Facebook."

When certain eminent personalities laud a film on social media, those who respect the opinion of those personalities, may be interested to sample the movie. Some of these personalities have a mammoth following on Twitter. So, when they tweet in favour of a film, it builds a positive image among their ardent followers. Tushar says, “For example, when Amitabh Bachchan tweeted in praise of Kangana Ranaut’s performance   in Tanu Weds Manu 2, it made me want to watch the film even more.” Nishant says, “On Twitter I may be influenced by the feedback on films by certain opinion makers and columnists whom I follow.”

The reviews of film critics are widely circulated on social media. In the process the film may go on to having social media debates based on the review. Akashaditya Lama, a writer of films and TV serials based in Mumbai says, “I am influenced to choose my films on the basis of the critics whom I think have calibre and are unbiased in their views as well.”

While asking our friends if a film is worth our money, we generally don’t trust everyone’s opinion. Nishant says, “I like films which make me think. I trust the social media film reviews of those friends with whom I share similar tastes in films. I may be ignoring positive reviews from those who generally laud films, which I believe have little artistic merit.”

Those who have a fine taste in films, often pen a beautifully worded review with astute critical analysis on Facebook. A review from one with refined tastes, may not prompt someone with frivolous tastes in films to watch an aesthetically made film. Some of us curate our friends judiciously on social media, which is why we may generally witness reviews from like-minded people and be influenced by them.

Mumbai based author, Tuhin Sinha, doesn’t decide whether to buy a ticket for a film, based on the social media feedback of those in his friends’ list. He reasons, “Even if I do get the time to follow social media discussions, I feel it’s too trivial to base your decision on whether or not to watch the film at the theatre. I go by the star cast, the director’s expertise and film reviews of my favourite critics.”

 

Box Office outcomes

In 2016, and in the recent years, these films which elicited positive feedback on social media, were also hits (as per koimoi.com) at the box office: Neerja, Talvar, Bajrangi Bhaijan, Piku, Dum Lage Ke Haisha, Finding Fanny, Queen, The Lunchbox, Vicky Donor, Kahaani, English Vinglish and Paan Singh Tomar. Rave social media reviews don’t necessarily translate to box office numbers. Akshaye says, “Anurag Kashyap's films are hailed by the scribes and the social media, which is a far cry from the results they earn at the box office.” Some other films which have flopped at the box office despite positive social media reviews in recent times include Raman Raghav 2.0, Waiting, Filmistaan, Shahid etc. 

"Controversy gives rise to a plethora of social media discussions. Depending on the scenario, it may either give the movie collection a boost or dampen box office success."

 

Controversy sells a film

Controversy gives rise to a plethora of social media discussions. Depending on the scenario, it may either give the movie collection a boost or dampen box office success. The most recent example is of Mohenjodaro, which had multiple controversies attached to it, the main one being that it was possibly plagiarized from Akashaditya Lama. The film had invited negative criticism ever since the trailer had been launched. Akashaditya roused a campaign regarding the fact that the film was his brainchild on social media as well. Some journalists wrote in favour of him and his story was covered on news channels as well, all of which was highlighted on social media. Akashaditya says, “Many boycotted the film when they read on social media about the plagiarism controversy.” The box office collection of Mohenjodaro, has been termed as trade pundits as unimpressive, in fact as a flop by koimoi.com.

Controversy, however seemed to act as a catalyst for the collections of P.K. Social media was rife with heated debates on whether the film had unfairly portrayed Hinduism. Debates on TV regarding the same were circulated on social media. Though some may have boycotted the film, others interest was kindled to watch it. It became a super hit.

Akshaye opines on controversies and box office collections correlation, “This depends on how the marketing and PR machinery of the film exploits, spins and manipulates the controversy. A lot of times, controversies are created by actors and filmmakers by issuing statements that attract controversies and at times, films stumble upon controversies that become points of discussion in the media and among people. Where the PR machinery of the film takes it from there varies on a film to film basis. The PR of Udta Punjab did a fantastic job in using the buzz created by the controversy around the CBFC to the film's advantage and generated curiosity among people who decided to watch it and thus, the film got an opening that it never would have got otherwise. However, after a point, the merit of the film and its entertainment / engagement quotient takes over and leads the film's business to its logical conclusion.”

 

Future

Social media word of mouth is just a portion of film recommendations from the public, with people mainly from urban and semi-urban areas in India, participating in this. In the coming years more Indians will join social networking. Akshaye says, “The social media discussions, debates, arguments and even fights are only poised to rise with the advent of time, but their actual impact at the box office would always depend upon the direction that the marketing and PR agencies give to them in order to generate awareness, engagement and finally, the curiosity and drive to buy a ticket.”

Should you watch or skip a movie based on social media feedback? Akshaye advises on a concluding note, “Every person's taste differs from that of the other and ideally, movie-goers should trust their own judgment rather than relying on that of another person who may not share his/her taste or worse still, be influenced or biased in with his opinion.” 

 

 

 

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