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Cinema In General
Editorial: More shocks in the script
BOLLYWOOD'S CRISIS IS deepening, much to the shame of a fraternity which is already in the throes of a virtual nightmare. The arrest of one of the biggest film financiers in Mumbai, Bharat Shah, the other day has stirred the script beyond the wildest imagination of an industry well known for and often accused of weaving incredibly unbelievable yarns. Shah - whose ``Chori Chori, Chupke Chupke'' ran into a problem last month when its producer, Nazim Rizvi, was jailed for his alleged connection with gangster Chhota Shakeel - has reportedly invested about Rs. 100 crores in several movies. Also a distributor, Shah has not only been in the business for a long time now, but has also enjoyed a ``clean reputation'' vouched for by stalwarts of the Hindi cinema. Even when Rizvi accused Shah of being an accomplice in this crime, there was a sense of disbelief, even mockery, in Bollywood. At least one respectable figure, Mr. Sunil Dutt, is said to have defended him in an open forum.
Assuming that the Mumbai police has done its homework well, the Shah episode confirms how widely the malaise has spread, how well entrenched the nexus is between the underworld and the Mumbai cinema. But the drama must have had its first scenes enacted long before the murders and extortions began most significantly with the daring daylight killing of the music baron, Gulshan Kumar. It is well known that criminals had a huge stake in Mumbai's real estate dealings, and when the prices here crashed (they had to, for they had touched a ridiculously artificial high) the likes of Dawood Ibrahim and Shakeel focussed their cameras on cinema, whose glamour and appeal came as a bonus to these dons. In a way, the industry played along: some stars accepted underworld hospitality without any qualms, and some producers were more than merely happy when the gangsters put a knife to the throat of an artist forcing him or her to play along. In a place legendary for its unscrupulous indiscipline - stars reporting hours late for a shot or misusing production money - some directors and producers chuckled at this turn of fortune, and, became virtual abettors.
But hopefully, Bollywood will now go through a thorough cleansing. In any case, the stage is set for happier times. The Government recognition of cinema as an industry can certainly pave the way for institutional funding, provided, of course, the men and women in this trade are willing to bring about the much- needed transparency in their monetary dealings, and pay their taxes too. Also, the recent trend among some banners to go public is a welcome sign in a metropolis that has long forgotten the studio system, whose acumen kept the industry afloat. Admittedly, there is always the danger of the small fish being eaten up by the large one, and a degree of volatility is only to be expected with some large corporate houses being tempted to step inside the entertainment arena. Can one then visualise a situation where India would have the likes of a Warner Brothers or a Miramax? Difficult to predict at this juncture, but if that were to happen the Ibrahims and Shakeels would have to pack up. However, for Bollywood the end of a particularly dark tunnel cannot be very far, now that there appears to be a more concerted bid - among the police and the film folks - to put an end to this scare and suffering. After all, no art can live and breathe with a gun pointed at it.
(This editorial appeared in The Hindu dated January 11 2001)