By Amit Upadhyaya:
Once upon a time in Mumbai, films were produced by individuals who had no substantive financial backing. If a film tanked, the life is in shambles. And if it worked, it’s a lottery. The scripts were written with a formula — a hero and a villain, a heroine who comes on screen to sing under a tree, a song every 20 mins including 2 romantic ballads, the unforgettable item number and finally a climax and action sequence. Money was pumped in by the underworld. But all that was a phase… A phase which has passed.
Now, the film industry is run by corporate honchos, in their way. It’s no longer the ‘mafia’ style but the ‘moolah’ style.
It all began in 2004 when the popular Yash Raj Films became YRF with the release of ‘Veer Zaara’, a brand to reckon with. They came up with the strategy of releasing 3-4 films a year while a couple of others at different stages of production. These were not just films; they were packaged products like a Mercedes for a definite consumer. They came up with some foolproof ideas — huge budgets, casting the biggest of stars and some trendy music. Sounds like the same old way? They did all this with a difference and that was the director’s position being handed over to a new name. And that’s when YRF started churning out hits after hits. From ‘Hum Tum’ in 2004 to ‘Dhoom 2’ in 2006, they had 8 releases out of which, seven proved to be hugely profitable ventures. They launched their own music label, their home video label and a state-of-the-art studio. But the fortune changed for the worse in 2007. With just Chak De India, New York and Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year as exceptions, all their films (15 of them) failed terribly. The reason for this indifference from the audience? It was the entry of new and major players in the industry who played their cards in a rather interesting manner.
UTV Motion Pictures was the second big player that emerged during this time. They learnt from the mistakes of YRF. They offered the audience a different dish. The concept was that the story has to be different from whatever anyone else had to offer. Consequently, films like A Wednesday, Aamir, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Fashion, Dev.D, Kaminey and Udaan became their identity. Their idea of film making worked wonders and more for them. So much so that the UTV head — Ronnie Screwvala, found himself a place on the cover page of ‘Newsweek’.
Further, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai established a name more than a director, called Karan Johar. He changed the way Dharma Productions worked, post the demise of his father. Like everyone else, he gave chance to newcomers (read: directors). Since 2008, Dharma Productions has had 5 releases, all of them being commercial success except for one (Kurbaan). Wake Up Sid was one film that changed it for Dharma Productions, as they entered the gallery of the new — ‘niche’ audience.
Steven Spielberg has a connection with Aamir Khan. Both of them have worked with BIG Pictures of the Anil Ambani Group. BIG Pictures entered the business with the acquisition of the Manmohan Shetty’s ADLABS. They strategically got in the picture of film production, distribution, exhibition and processing. Their first production that made it big was Excel Entertainment’s — Rock On!! (after acquiring the distribution rights from Excel Ent.). Following this, they tried to produce films like Sikandar. They have films like Jodha Akbar and 3 Idiots to their credit. But they also have Kites (acquired for a reported 100 crores) and Raavan to their name. The fact that they are in the business of exhibition, gives them the freedom to actually buy films at such exorbitant rates. It was this craze of acquiring rights at such prices that they were shell-shocked at Kites’ and Raavan’s business.
Another big entry was that of Shree Ashtavinayak Cinevision. They have produced two of the most famous films of their times, Jab We Met and Blue. The former established the career of a director now popular as Imtiaz Ali but the latter destroyed the career of Anthony D’Souza. Other big names include EROS International, Red Chillies Entertainment, Studio 18 and others.
All of these names have changed the way Indian cinema is perceived across the globe. It’s no longer a ‘three-shift a day’ industry. Every film has gained importance and the director is the new producer. A song is not a necessity anymore, neither is Amitabh Bachchan. Films can work without them; today they do. A film maker is not asked to bring the cost of production down by compromising on the VFX or the continuity. The freedom to make a film like Rang De Basanti, a Chak De India or a Dev.D, is what the corporate culture has brought into this money-driven industry. A film like My Name Is Khan was released in Russia with 100 prints, something which was unimaginable 5 years ago.
But when the figures of Publicity and Advertising reach 15 Crores, it becomes difficult and imperative to make some ‘recovery’. Sometimes, what you get is a 3 Idiots while on a bad day you end up feeling “Blue”.
The ultimate winner is the audience who are the beneficiaries of cinema such as Dev.D or Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. It’s probably the beginning of a new era as we have moved on from the situation of ‘old wine in a new bottle’ to a ‘new spirit’ altogether… Indulgence is for the taking.