With deep societal, cultural, and religious links with our South Asian neighbors, the links and legacy coupled with the reach and charisma of Bollywood could be a win-win combination for regional collaboration in the art and craft of film making, if appropriated thoughtfully and strategically, writes Ram Krishna Sinha for South Asia Monitor
The untimely and shocking end of the life of a promising Indian actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, has not only brought a pall of gloom in the film industry but has also evoked emotions and reactions, not only across India but around the world. Besides bringing the neglected domain of mental health back in focus, it has also brought out some serious ills afflicting the industry - like nepotism, bullying, lobbying, camps, hegemony, exploitation - reportedly prevailing in Bollywood, the heart of the world's largest film industry in terms of the number of films made annually.
In the crossfire of messages, posts, and tweets, some Bollywood bigwigs and production houses are finding themselves under close public scrutiny. Without going into the validity or merits of the allegations and aspersions, there is a necessity to make a strong and long overdue case for financial, recognition, and promotional remodeling in the industry. The changes seem imperative and critical for the realization of personal dreams, unleashing creative energy, generation of livelihood and jobs, and emergence as soft power. If carried with the right intent and zeal it may greatly help redeem the industry.
The financial framework needs revamping in three ways. First, the ‘top star payout to overall budget ratio’ has to reduce significantly. The huge fees paid to top few artistes are heavily skewed and not only leaves very less for other artistes - singers, composers, lyricists, story writers, dancers, etc - and ground workers but also shrinks investment in technical, cinematographic and professional domains which add to the brilliance of a film and respectability to the industry. This shift will be a positive step against excessive control, and towards corporatization of the industry. As we know, the mega corporates are now also engaged in correcting the gross imbalances in CEO/top functionaries’ compensations vis-a-vis average salary of employees. The unfair and unjust model must change. This is all the more required now as, going forward, growing digitalization and streaming trend would obviate the need to engage/hire many ground-level workers, functionaries, and employees leading to loss of jobs. A safety net and a humane platform for the cinematic workforce are needed urgently.
Secondly, start-up culture and model should set in. This model will help raise alternative sources of finance and build an eco-system for the production of more creative, middle-budget films, affording opportunities of work to aspiring and budding talents.
Thirdly, professionalizing accounting and audit systems and incorporating standards of corporate governance should be prioritized as this would help expand funding avenues from banks and financial institutions. Needless to say, all these measures will have a positive demonstration effect on fashion, modeling, television and regional film industries too.
With digitalization and evolving new tech trends, a large number of cinematic works are now watched outside theatres through streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, Amazon, etc. Not only this medium is gaining a massive audience and popularity, many artists, who otherwise were not getting opportunities or plum roles, are able to showcase their talents and gaining appreciation and popularity. This trend will get further traction in the post-pandemic future. In this backdrop, there is a need to acknowledge, recognize, and reward the work of these artists in all major film events and ceremonies, as a regular and prominent “category” of awards. Further, the jury base in all major awards committee should be expanded to include more neutral and creative minds to recognize creative talents from all sources-not only big screen but small screen, regional films, streaming platforms as well. This would also help exceptional talents with aspirations to transit to the big screen with minimum shackles. Efforts should also be made to make the award-giving process more transparent, and to democratize federations and associations through periodical elections, to allay bias and prejudice.
Bollywood is India's acknowledged soft power. Yet this has remained underleveraged even in India's neighborhood. With deep societal, cultural, and religious links with our South Asian neighbors, the links and legacy coupled with the reach and charisma of Bollywood could be a win-win combination for regional collaboration in the art and craft of film making, if appropriated thoughtfully and strategically. All our neighboring countries, like us, have a young population with aspirations, and admirers of Bollywood films. Going beyond dams, ports, and hydel projects, the government can also tap this immense potential for South Asian collaboration proactively.
A dedicated ministry/department at government level may be set up and mutual agreements could be explored for producing/exchanging films and documentaries. Staging film events and festivals, sharing of shooting locations and studios and training and mentoring aspirants, etc. are some low hanging fruits to be leveraged vigorously. Further, there could be umpteen human stories and social saga in the region that may find the common emotional thread and may resonate well in this neighborhood.
In post-pandemic scenario, there would be a surge in such stories and narratives which in turn can form bases for cinematic projects leading further to collaborations forging at producing companies, corporate, and government levels. This would not only help improve the financial health of Bollywood, leverage overflowing creative and technical talents, create job opportunities but also prove a potent tool of diplomacy.
‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ are okay. It is high time Bollywood also embraced ‘Sunlight, Camaraderie, Vision!’
(The author is a former bank executive and writes on contemporary issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)