BIS moves in on fraud product reviews: Must include films

In the good old days, when there was no Internet, you went to your trusted vendor in the bazaar to buy what you wanted. Local traders and vendors built a reputation and repeat customers were his five-star ratings. Now you love to buy online, sitting in the comfort of your home. Also, in the good old fashion days, if a newspaper or a magazine published an article promoting a product, a professional person, a service provider, just about anything the publication did not endorse, the page carried a disclaimer with the four letters ADVT in one corner of the material published.

You want to buy some product and when you visit its website, there are a number of reviews related to it, mostly adorned with four or five stars. Do you trust the four or five stars? How do you know if these reviews and stars are genuine? You don't, you have no way of knowing if they represent genuine feedback about the product.

Also, you have no way of finding out if the people who posted the reviews really exist or have been created for the job, or have a vested interest in the product.

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In the good old days, when there was no Internet, you went to your trusted vendor in the bazaar to buy what you wanted. Local traders and vendors built a reputation and repeat customers were his five-star ratings. Now you love to buy online, sitting in the comfort of your home. Also, in the good old fashion days, if a newspaper or a magazine published an article promoting a product, a professional person, a service provider, just about anything the publication did not endorse, the page carried a disclaimer with the four letters ADVT in one corner of the material published.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) wants a similar system to be in place in e-commerce businesses. Rarely do you find the letters ADVT in most publications plugging a product or service, except a few that still have a conscience as well as the interest of readers in mind. Most of them let it pass off as part of the editorial content.

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The reason is that there are no regular checks on what thousands of print publications and online portals carry, and with the volume of social media platforms, tracking has become well nigh impossible. Actually, the burden of bringing frauds or misinformation to light is on the public, especially the aggrieved ones who grumble about fraud but never report it.

Certain influential and affluent publishing houses have devised special sections to accommodate, promote and cash in on those products that need unabashed paid plugs or promotions. The sections are so named that if you are smart enough, you are not expected to take the matter printed in them seriously. They are called advertorials or promotional sections.

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Looks like the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has caught up with these fraudulent practices carried out blatantly without any fear of action. And the Bureau is not wasting time implementing its decision to bring order to this exploitation of the consumer. Starting November 25, all those promoting or sponsoring a product or a service against payment will have to describe it as such.

Portals that offer food delivery, travel or ticketing services will no longer be able to publish paid reviews about their product or service and, in case it is done, such reviews will have to carry a disclosure of being a paid review. Not complying with the BIS directives will invite action against the Consumer Protection Act.

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How does this move by the BIS matter to the film industry? The BIS' move to stop such fraudulent acts include fake reviews by independent third-party entities. This is what happens on a regular basis, unabashedly, in the case of film reviews posted on social media.

The one who posts false reports, reviews and box-office collection numbers does not need to apply his mind. He simply posts what is drafted by the PR person concerned. Some film critics have become touts of filmmakers and the deal is that their posts in favour of a film earns them a few thousand. This is a grand fraud played on the moviegoer who falls prey to the publicity, not knowing that they are paid reviews.

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Though the frauds regarding paid movie reviews are not mentioned specifically, I am sure the definition of fraudulent reviews and posts on e-commerce platforms and social media also covers this aspect. After all, a movie is a consumer product and a fraud is a fraud anywhere.

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No Joyride For Joyland

Many years ago, a prominent daily newspaper carried a column where For and Against views were sought from two sides. The theme was whether India and Pakistan should get into a joint venture to produce films. Not strangely, as things work in our profession, the side I chose was already committed to the Pakistani representative, a lady filmmaker. I was left to debate against her point of view which was that India should enter into joint ventures to produce films with Pakistan.

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Why? My stand was that the Indian film industry was thriving and had no need for a Pakistani co-production. Also, it was not our job to promote or prop up the Pakistani film industry with joint productions. For most of its life, the Pakistani cinema chains have survived on Indian films when they are not banned in Pakistan off and on. So, by promoting the Pakistani film industry, should we compromise our own interests?

My final summation was that if Pakistani filmmakers really wanted to join hands, they had better start with their counterparts in our Punjab. After all, Punjabi is a language spoken on both sides. Also, our Punjabi industry was comatose in those days, and both made loud and crude films.

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Pakistan still makes such crude films full of gore and violence and they are lapped up by the audience. Imagine, 'The Legend Of Maula Jatt', a remake of the 1979 film, 'Maula Jatt', was the biggest Pakistani hit in Pakistan as well as in the overseas market, where it is matching the box-office figures of Indian films such as 'RRR'! If the original was a huge hit, the 2022 version is even a bigger hit. No wonder, in that country, a contemporary new film, 'Joyland', has to struggle even to get a decent release.

The film is about a married man falling in love with a transgender dancer. Pakistan is not ready for such a theme. To think that the film has won awards at various international festivals and is Pakistan's nomination for the Oscars does not help. The film has fallen prey first to the fear of mullahs and now to politics.

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A mutilated version (thanks to the Censors in Pakistan) has been released in all provinces except Punjab, which is controlled by the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) headed by the country's deposed Prime Minister, Imran Khan.

Whereas India has one censor certification authority with regional offices serving the other language film industries, Pakistan has five, each independent of the other.

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Pakistan is no country for creativity and it had better stick to making 'Maula Jatt' kind of films. Because the audience there still loves what it loved in 1979. Malala Yousafzai has lent her name to 'Joyland' and while Pakistan is proud to have a Nobel Prize winner of Pakistani origin, her endorsement of the film carries no weight.

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