ARCHIVES - INDIAN CINEMA
Cinema In General
Editorial: Misty frames
CINEMA IS NOW an industry. Formally. It was declared one two years ago, but the official notification came the other day. This can mean that loans and other forms of aid from financial institutions will be available. Insurance for delays and losses will be possible as well. In an industry that has been largely cash-strapped, the new status can remove several obstacles that have, for years, come between a producer/director and his project. Literally, hundreds of them, with promise and potential, have fallen by the wayside to remain disappointed, even frustrated, with a system that gave them little scope to fulfil their ambitions. Often, movies overshot their budgets, because they could not be completed in time, and lost. Sometimes, their producers never recovered from this, and spent the rest of their lives in penury. The tag of industry, the Government feels, will inject a shot of health into a business that has not had it easy in a long time.
However, monetary help is just one of the many problems of India's motion pictures. Of the 650 or so that are churned out every 12 months, a mere 15 per cent breaks even or makes money. The rest of them sink without a sign. Every time this happens, theories are floated and possible causes analysed. But very few have the courage to state the obvious. Most of the films are copies or, worse, copies of copies. Time was when Bollywood would lift from Hollywood, and the other centres in India would reproduce, with regional variations, from the Mumbai basket. Today, with a freer flow of information and technology, Calcutta or Chennai or Bangalore or Hyderabad does not have to wait for Bollywood to get into the act. What is absolutely shameful is that even renowned directors plagiarise with impunity. It does not take very long for audiences, who have access to the latest foreign fare via the satellite or pirated disks, to see through this little trick. But other movies that can lay claim to a degree of originality have, more often than not, no good stories to narrate. Or, they have poor scripts to push images across with verve and conviction. Much of the country's cinema can well be termed an insult to human intelligence.
The storyboard apart, film production lacks transparency. How would any bank offer a loan unless the facts and figures are on paper? The estimate, the expense and the profit or loss have to be spelt out with precision for any legal and lawful dealing to be okayed by a financial institution. Are producers ready for this? It is well known that most of these transactions are covert, star salaries take up half of the budgets and that black money plays a big part in many movie projects. The industry is often guilty of tax evasion, and big people in it lead a lifestyle far beyond their declared incomes. Unless these cobwebs are cleared, the cinema here will continue to be plagued by failure and unsurmountable hardship. The industry label will be quite meaningless until the film fraternity cleans up its stable and makes an effort to get out of this mess. Movies are essentially an artistic expression, a creative endeavour. They must not be allowed to rust, because some are tempted to look for easy solutions, be it a copy or a questionable financial dealing.
(This editorial appeared in The Hindu dated November 1 2000)