Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My views: 100th year of Indian cinema

A century of Indian cinema. We have had greats aplenty. We have had Oscars, we have had Grammy s. Let me not drool over them again now.

As a filmmaker for the past 19 years, I do have my versions and reflections. Over the past 9 years, 40+ movies have passed through my studio. Small ones though. Coz I don't offer the luxuries of other large studios so that I can cater to the lesser segment - low budget digital cinema.

But my reflections does create a contrary opinion in my bird brain. Cinema has evolved to be a show business, not an art form. It has evolved into the best tool for converting black money to colored paper. Not just in Tamilnadu, but all over the country.

One particular incident that transformed my thoughts needs to be mentioned here. It was about 5 years back. I wanted to see a so called 'hit' movie with my family. I tried for online reservations. House full. My kids were dejected. I decided to go personally to the theater and meet the manager, who may be able to help me with 4 tickets. I went to the multiplex, introduced myself as a filmmaker and asked to see the manager. In 10 minutes flat, I had met the manager, introduced myself and also procured 4 tickets for my family. And there I was - in a plush new theater for the first time. I was shocked though, when the movie actually started screening. In a theater with a capacity of about 200 seats, less than 40 were occupied. Why? It was meant to have been a house full show.

A week later, my inquiries bore fruit. The biggies were simply using the empty shows to convert their black money to regular cash. For those of you who did not understand - here it is: The theater gives a statement that the show was house full. They receive their full rent and are happy. The ill gotten cash is transferred to the theater, who in turn gives the producers a valid cheque. Wow! That's legal money!! So, for a regional film, it may be several lakhs converted every show, and in the case of a Hindi movie which has a nationwide coverage, it could be several crores every show.

That gave me a new meaning to the entire business of cinema. Who are the people who generate the maximum black money? Politicians, real estate businessmen, NRIs and the like. And that's where the cinema industry lies. Carefully caressed, amply nourished and well cared for.

The meaning of cinema then dawned on me. But I have already wasted a quarter century of my life in learning the nuances of cinema and ensuring that quality is not compromised at all. The meaning of 'Cinema' now had a new meaning. I have two options now before me. Having directed my own movie now on the compulsion of a friend, I either join the bandwagon or get thrown out on the streets. Life has been unkind to this mountain goat for quite some time. And water will tend to find its own level.

The 100th year of cinema is a celebration in its true right. But it causes heart burns when I see hugely superior filmmakers sidelined, either for political reasons or for the above mentioned reasons. But one thing that I really need to complement the organizers is that they have actually broken the cartel that existed a couple of years ago, in the distribution and theater segment. So much done, so much good. Wish every filmmaker the best of all luck. While thousands stay on the sidelines, talented or not, as the common man in an R.K. Laxman cartoon.