When director Dibakar Banerjee held focus group screenings for his upcoming release,Shanghai,recently,the feedback revealed that the audience could not understand the political manoeuvrings in certain sequences. The Shanghai team re-edited the film,adding backstories of the key characters and a few freshly-shot scenes. But upon testing the effectiveness of the changes through yet another screening,Banerjee realised that he had misjudged the audience reaction. They were not looking for explanation to the sequence of events. They instead wanted to understand how these political manouevrings have impacted the characters, he points out,adding,We made the film tighter,with focus on the characters as opposed to their background. During the next screening,everyone in the audience connected with that segment.
Set to release Shanghai in June,Banerjee heavily relies on focus group screenings as part of his filmmaking process. While he learnt its importance the hard way during the making of Khosla Ka Ghosla,Aamir Khan has been using the guiding tool since his debut in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988. Vidhu Vinod Chopra Productions and UTV Motion Pictures have also been employing the technique to fine-tune their films. Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwanis Excel Entertainment,on the other hand,warmed up to the idea more recently with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and now Talaash. Yash Raj Films,which otherwise does not subscribe to the idea of focus group screenings,conducted such screenings for Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge,a film which released under their Y-Films banner.
We believe audience feedback is an important step in the finalisation of our films, says Sameer Rao of Vinod Chopra Films (VCF). The production house,which particularly asks the audience to focus on what they did not like in the film,has in the past shot extra scenes to implement the feedback. The song Subaah Ho Gayee Maamu in Munnabai MBBS,was,in fact a part of the background score but was later shot and included in the film.
The process on the outset is deceptively simple; the perception is that one gathers a group of discerning viewers and shows them the film for feedback. However,Shikha Kapur,senior vice president,marketing,UTV Motion Pictures,asserts that much depends on the nature of the film and the reason behind the focus group screening. Is the film radical in treatment or script and therefore is it necessary to gauge the reaction of the target audience? Does it aim to plug loopholes in editing or storytelling? The purpose decides the stage at which the focus group screenings will be held, she explains. Ashish Patil,business and creative head,Y-Films,seconds Kapur. Weve,in fact,used the process to evaluate our in-film placements and brand associations, he adds.
While most filmmakers,including Aamir Khan Productions and VCF,hold screenings after either the first rough edit or before finalising the final edit,there are others,like Banerjee,who have multiple focus group screenings at various stages of the film. The process requires the films marketing and research team to target various demographics across cities,depending on the target audience. The audience is then informed that the film is not a final product and during a group discussion,after the screening,viewers are asked pointed questions
regarding their views on the film. While writers and producers of the films often take part in such sessions,directors prefer to stay away since their presence can colour the audience opinion.
Banerjee notes that focus group screenings can be a double-edged sword. The feedback should be dealt with objectively as the audience has a tendency to tear the film to shreds. Also,since they do not understand the nuances of filmmaking,they may not be able to word their views properly. It is crucial to look for commonalities across the feedback and focus on those points as opposed to adopting every suggestion, he says.