Film associations and certain filmmakers in Kerala are seeking regulation of online film reviews, fearing that unfavourable comments will adversely affect the box office. The Kerala High Court, responding to two petitions seeking guidelines for online film critics and vloggers, has issued notice to the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Central Board of Film Certification.

Update: In its most recent update dated 14 March, 2024, the Kerala High Court has introduced specific guidelines aimed at regulating social media influencers involved in film reviewing. These guidelines include a provision for a 48-hour embargo period between the release of a movie and the posting of reviews by these influencers. This worrisome trend impacts freedom of expression and needs to be examined in depth. You can read more about it here.

Watch Episode 1 of Free Speech Talkies with Laxmi Murthy, where well-known film critic Anna MM Vetticad decodes the implications of the High Court directive on 25 October, 2023 on “review bombing” for free speech and for the right of independent reviewers for fair comment and opinion.

The call for a ban on ‘review bombing”, as they term it, comes in the wake of two separate petitions filed in the Kerala High Court by Mubeen Rouf, director of ‘Aromalinte Adyathe Pranayam’ and Ubaini E, director of ‘Rahel Makan Kora’, alleging concerted efforts to ‘review bomb’ their movies.

The Kerala High Court has also weighed in, saying that the industry needs to be “protected”. On Oct 6, 2023, the court issued notice to Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Central Board of Film Certification on a petition seeking to establish clear and transparent guidelines for online film critics and vloggers.

On October 23, Ernakulam Central police booked seven major online movie reviewers and social media platforms, on the basis of a complaint filed by Ubaini E. Among the accused are Hains, owner of a cinema promotion company named Snake Plant; a person with a Facebook account under the name anoopanu6165; YouTubers Arun Tharanga and Aswanth Kok and operators of YouTube channels NV Focus and Trend Sector 24X7; and Travelling Soulmates with a social media handle of soulmates55. Social media platforms YouTube and Facebook have also been arraigned as accused in the case.

In a hearing on Nov 6, 2023, the court directed the state police chief to comply with its earlier order about taking appropriate action against “malafide” reviewers – ‘anonymous posts, which contain vituperative or virulent content.’

Meanwhile, on Nov 3, 2023, the Kerala Film Producers’ Association introduced new regulations, allowing only accredited film reviewers – individuals with expertise in film – to participate in promotional activity for the release of a film.

The Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA) (Film Employees Federation of Kerala) supports this decision, and its general secretary B Unnikrishnan, voiced full support for it, emphasizing that producers invest significant financial resources.

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