Mumbai Mirror 'revises' Tanu Weds Manu Returns rating: Tabloid should be ashamed

Deepanjana Pal

May,26 2015 12:34:38 IST

On Friday, if you read Mumbai Mirror, Tanu Weds Manu Returns was a two and a half star film, according to film critic Rahul Desai. Today, if you go to the Mumbai Mirror website, it's a three and a half star film. Some might think their memory is faulty, others may feel anxious about their eyesight, a few may worry about their counting skills. Everyone, relax. You didn't become blinder or stupider over the weekend. Mumbai Mirror decided that when it comes to a film review, journalistic ethics aren't really of critical importance.

In today's paper, under a cutout of Charlize Theron from this year's red carpet at Cannes, there's a little notice to readers:

"Our reviewer Rahul Desai had given this week's main fare Tanu Weds Manu Returns two and a half stars. Following reader feedback and research which differed significantly from him, this newspaper is upgrading the rating of the film to three and a half stars."

It's a pity 'reader feedback' and 'research' hadn't taught Mumbai Mirror's writer how to use commas, but faulty syntax is the least of the tabloid's shames.

The note in today's paper begs a couple of questions. First, why is Desai's review still online if Mumbai Mirror doesn't think it's worth defending against the monument of erudite film criticism that is "reader feedback"?

A still from Tanu Weds Manu Returns.

A still from Tanu Weds Manu Returns.

Second, what is this "research" that decided the changed rating? Third, how can the newspaper impose someone else's notion of a 'correct' rating upon Desai's review? Also, why bother with reviews and reviewers if all that matters is a rating based on reader feedback? Finally, isn't it a bit self-defeating for a news publication to report public opinion? Presumably, the public already knows its opinion and doesn't need to read it in the morning paper. There's also a tantalising phrase in there — "this week's main fare". Does that mean that if Tanu Weds Manu Returns not been a highly-anticipated and/or hit film, there would have been no revision?

Mumbai Mirror belongs to India's largest media conglomerate, the Times Group, and is considered one of the more reliable sources of information about Mumbai. It has on numerous occasions been the first to unearth important civic and crime stories, as well as gossip. Its list of columnists are all respected writers. This is not the publication that you expect will hang its journalists out to dry.

Yet in two awkward sentences, Mumbai Mirror did precisely that. Perhaps because film reviews are considered fluffy and unworthy of serious attention, the hope was that no one would notice. Had a news report on a political rally seen a revision based on "research" and "reader feedback", there would be an uproar.

But this is just a film review. It's not really censorship. Right? Wrong.

Mumbai Mirror declared its film critic Desai was wrong in his opinion of Tanu Weds Manu Returns, even though there's no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to reviews. You may agree or disagree with the reviewer, but that's about it. A film is not a maths exam: there isn't a correct answer. Yet the publication discredited its own reviewer, making it seem as though he had made a mistake, and distanced itself from Desai. That's disgraceful.

Worse, Mumbai Mirror didn't revise its opinion of Desai's review because its editors thought it was unjustified or ill-conceived. His credibility is being shredded because the public opinion "differed significantly" from his. So the ultimate judge of Desai's critical faculty are not his peers at work, but a vast, anonymous community that may not be qualified to judge his writing.

If we take a leaf out of Mumbai Mirror's book and treat reader feedback as truth, then 'research' on social media suggests the tabloid crumpled under pressure from Eros, which produced and distributed Tanu Weds Manu Returns.

If Eros is indeed behind that little corrigendum, shame on them. Not just because the company has behaved like a bully, but because that quarter-column notice was definitely not paisa vasool. It can't be cheap to twist a major publication's arm and if you're going to go all the way with that splurge, then surely you want something flashier and bigger? Perhaps a huge heart — throbbing like the red one in Whatsapp — with snippets of random people's reviews? After all, Tanu Weds Manu Returns is one of the biggest hits of the year and Eros shares have seen a 4% jump because of the film.

There has been so much anger on this issue that Mumbai Mirror is now one of the top trending topics on Twitter. Many have asked how the tabloid could stifle freedom of expression as it did and many more have wondered whether Desai consented to the change in rating and accepted being publicly humiliated in the corrigendum-esque message printed today.

That "reader feedback" and some mysterious "research" can be used to discredit a critic is a malaise that isn't limited to Mumbai Mirror though. Once upon a time, critics were almost expected to be contrarian. Their job was to add to the existing body of knowledge, rather than parrot what people already thought.

However, kowtowing to public opinion and blurring the lines between advertisement and editorial content threatens to be the way forward in contemporary journalism. As it is now, journalism is a broken business model and no one is quite sure how to fix it. Our only source of strength and encouragement: we've never had this many interested and eager-to-engage readers.

But in India, this enormous audience may end up to be a double-edged sword. Our viewers and readers are vocal, frustrated and yearning to outrage because it makes them feel less helpless. Unnerved by the intensity that's been glimpsed in public surges like the anti-corruption begun by Anna Hazare and the pro-women's rights movement that was galvanised by the Delhi gangrape of 2012, public institutions often choose to follow prevalent moods because that feels like the safer option. If you don't, you risk drawing the ire of online trolls and offline muscle-flexers. The media has choices to make at this juncture. How will we serve our readers, our integrity as well as our paymasters?

The scandal right now may be at Mumbai Mirror's doorstep, but it threatens all of Indian media. If publications won't stand by their journalists, how will reporters have the confidence to poke around structures of power and corruption? When we can't trust publications to hold their ground for something as uncomplicated as a film review, how do we believe what's printed about politics and current affairs? How can readers and viewers trust media to withstand the pressure they'll face when they do controversial reports on defence, the economy and politics? Will we only get news that doesn't ruffle any important feathers?

Updated Date: May 26, 2015 12:37 PM