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Copyright 2004


Cinema In General


Editorial: Out of focus

INDIAN CINEMA IS in a deep crisis. About 95 per cent of the 900 films made last year(2002) lost money. This year (2003), the picture is as bleak. Worse, despite the tag of industry that Indian cinema got in 2000, movies find funds hard to come by. Banks and other financial institutions hesitate to help. The National Film Development Corporation of India, established to finance good work in the medium, gives nothing beyond Rs. 75 lakhs for a film, and that too if it is in Hindi. Films in other languages cannot hope to get anything above Rs. 45 lakhs each. With the cost of raw stock itself very high today, producers often struggle to complete an NFDC project. Quality suffers and talented actors cannot be hired. The resource crunch accentuates the tendency among producers and others in the industry to take high-interest private loans or tap underworld money. Sometimes, the consequences are tragic.

However, a silver lining is now visible. In Mumbai, a few movie-makers are trying to run their firms like any other normal business. One of them is actually listed on the stock market. There is an aspiration, however difficult it may seem currently, among some in the industry to recreate Hollywood with its powerful studio system of the 1930s and 1940s in a patch of Bollywood. In Chennai, a few film-makers met bankers the other day to try to find institutional funding, a step that can free the industry from the clutches of `high-interest usury'. Also, Bollywood in particular has made modest gains in capturing overseas markets, though most viewers in these cases are expatriate Indians. One does not know how long this appeal will last, for the homemade fare is popular mostly among the older generation.

Some issues need to be addressed if the industry is to come out of the tunnel. There is still very little transparency in the industry's financial dealings. No bank or other financial institution will fund a film project unless it has a definite budget and a sense of accountability. Most productions spend more than what they had planned to, and overshoot their schedules. Some actors and actresses habitually arrive late on the sets or work in two or three films at the same time. Yet they demand and get very high remuneration, which approximates 50 per cent of a movie budget. Sometimes, it is raised to an almost vulgar figure. Money, however, is not the only problem. Producers and directors make very little effort to get a good story and write an intelligent script from it. The basic purpose of a film is to present a gripping narrative. It is only rarely that Indian cinema does that. Instead, Bollywood tends to copy Hollywood; and Kollywood, Tollywood and others are tempted to copy Bollywood. Audiences frequently feel cheated. In the absence of good, original content and clean financial records, Indian cinema will find it increasingly difficult to source funds. In some ways, financial discipline enhances quality. It will, therefore, be naive to hold the Government or financial bodies solely responsible for the current state of the film industry. Indian cinema must stop looking for easy solutions, and do a bit of soul searching.

(This editorial appeared in The Hindu dated July 22 2003)

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