While films like “Peepli Live” and “Subramaniapuram” offer some hope of breaking new ground, Indian cinema has to radically reroute entertainment modes in the new year to resurrect itself
Imagine yourself at a crossroad where one road ends at a steep and rugged cliff and the other points to a holographic bridge over a ravine. Indian cinema is at such a crossroad where traditional proprietary producers see themselves walking towards the cliff while the jargon-touting corporate executives pause awhile before stepping onto the virtual bridge of media and entertainment.
In the coming years Indian cinema has to take some critical decisions in order to hold on to the position of the world's most prolific filmmaking nation. And what we have witnessed in the first decade of the 21st century has been quite disturbing. The average theatrical run of a film has come down to just two weeks while production time has gone up from six months to one year and six months plus. The total turnover of the film industry has quadrupled to Rs 11000 crores per annum in ten years but the number of films has moved up just a bit from 900 to 1150. Sadly, a large number of them are awaiting release in an extremely disoriented market place of multiplexes and worn out single screens! A crore and a half is considered low budget and this huge leap has taken place largely due to well endowed corporates stepping in. Despite media and publicity manipulations, fortunately the verdict has still to be pronounced by audiences and so far, the corporate world has failed miserably to make a dent on their viewers.
Can the Indian film industry save itself from the cliff or the virtual bridge? Yes, it is possible provided it is capable of opening its eyes to notice some important trends! First, the star system does not assure any success at the box office! The star bogey is a ritual for distributors and producers to con ‘vince' each other that ‘known' faces will draw crowds! True, this cliché has been on for quite some time but so far it was being touted primarily by the ‘alternative' filmmakers. And that's the next trend that one has been noticing. This artificial divide between the parallel and the commercial cinema, good cinema and bad, has no meaning at all now! Strangely this divide has been broken by the same corporate sector with organisations like BIG films and UTV funding films of ‘arty' filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Shaji Karun, M.S. Sathyu or Rituparno Ghosh!
That brings me to the most important trend that has emerged of late. Many of the successful films have virtually no plot at all which has in turn resulted in the elimination of the righteous protagonist! Recent hits like ‘Tere Bin Laden', ‘Peepli Live', ‘I Hate Luv Storys' and even ‘3 Idiots' have no heroics or even allude to any kind of ‘moral/ethical value' position. In Tamil Cinema it has been crafted to perfection in the new ‘Madurai' genre loaded with dysfunctional characters and relentless social violence as witnessed in a long list starting from ‘ Subramaniapuram' until ‘Myna' and ‘Nandalala'. Though many critics may see this as a very negative development, I see it as the Tamil populace coming of age no more needing to affirm their dependency on the state and its consequent chauvinistic attachments. By declaring the nation state completely dysfunctional, Tamil and Indian cinema, at large, are now searching for alternate modes of expressing their negotiation with an emerging and disoriented globalised India. The three-act dramatic structure formally stands condemned and in its place we see disconnected scene ‘entities' play out emotions centred on disgust and antipathy. It is frighteningly exciting to foresee the kind of stories and concerns that will inhabit the screens in the coming years as I hear producers in the traditional and corporate sectors clamouring for that ‘out-of-the-box' content!
Though the discrete narration/thought processes are sort of ‘digital' in their syntax the future trend of Digital Cinema has ironically landed in the exhibition zone first instead of the production domain! Digital projections have standardised themselves in more than half the screens across the country allowing mainstream films to be released in over 400 screens on the opening Friday! Imagine five or six films blocking 2500 screens out of the available 10,000 on one day! This kind of exhibition system virtually blocks out so many other films ready for release thus creating a huge backlog and also blocking the respective creative artistes from moving ahead! The present trend is thus crying out for an alternate mode of distribution and monetisation of their final work. It is in this congestion that we have to see the relevance of the new 3G spectrum and the answers that it can provide to filmmakers across the world. Mobile screens, webcasting, holography, multi screen installations, convergent 4G have all been tested out and ready for dispatch! But who is going to control them and what are we going to be subjected to?
Quite like the way that DTH TV channels and their narrative bouquets have altered the earlier rituals of watching certain kinds of programmes in their appropriate slot and time, the new digital media is also going to radically reroute entertainment modes of the future. Aren't the Radia tape scandals providing us potent indicators of ‘content' to come?
In a recent seminar titled “Que faire?: What is to be done” at the Pompidou Center in Paris the agenda was as follows “Since the mid-1990s, critical, social and political theories have been questioned considerably by new approaches, which are now polyphonic. The video and film program will present a selection of works on the borders of the art film and the documentary; thus constituting an overview of what making films politically might mean today. Thus, artists and activists are collaboratively and cross-sectorially developing the revival of a contemporary form of political art.”
The answer lies in synergising all democratic forces in order to resurrect Cinema, the most popular art form ever, with an open mind annulling all stereotypes of authorial filmmaking and instead engaging in real communication, breaking all political barriers to build the bridge and let every citizen enter the ranks of global citizenship.
The writer is the Director, LV Prasad Film and TV Academy.