Oct 10, 2008

Entertainment - Bollywood & Globalisation

Mahesh Bhatt

A wise man once said that the opposite of one profound truth is not a lie, but an equally profound truth. Take for instance, the events of the last couple of weeks. While our Prime Minister wined and dined with the leaders of the Western nations, and pushed through the much touted nuclear deal in order that our country may take giant steps into the future and become a force to reckon with; the Hindu fundamentalists continued with their murderous rampage in Orissa, and alleged Islamic bombs ripped apart Delhi, Malegaon and Gujarat. All this happened under the name of God and religion.

Similarly, here in Bollywood, while Reliance’s Anil Ambani pushed forward a $1.5 billion deal with Steven Spielberg to produce 35 international movies over a six-year period, thereby, turning India into a giant global player in the film business; in Mumbai, 1.45 lakh workers in Bollywood went on a strike demanding the fundamentals of any civilised industry – working hours that don’t exceed 12 hours, regularised payments, and a ceiling on the amount of foreign dancers that can be employed.

Another interesting phenomenon worth mentioning is that ‘Kidnap’ , which stars Sanjay Dutt and Imraan Khan released with a total of 936 prints worldwide, out of which 200 prints were released overseas to capitalise on the festive Id season. However, this multi-star cast film only released with 15 prints in Bihar, the heartland of India, which was once one of the most lucrative territories and has now been usurped by Bhojpuri cinema, since Bollywood no longer makes films that the indigenous audience can connect to.

But things in India are changing and changing fast. Do you know that the Oscar winning special effects for the ‘Golden Compass’, the Hollywood blockbuster that took $370 million last Christmas were put together in a ‘thatched village hut’ in India? The huts in question are replicas of rural dwellings that have been made into stylised office cubicles! They are in the outskirts of Mumbai, from where Rhythm and Hues, the leading Los Angeles-based special effects studio outsources world-class visual pyrotechnics with the help of its 250 strong Indian staff, which hunches over computers and works overtime, thereby, doing the job at a fraction of the normal cost.

But not many know that ever since the world has walked into the digital age, here in India, visual effect companies such as Prime Focus, Maya and several others are also generating world-class special effects for the indigenous film industry, thereby, saving them the hassle of outsourcing them at huge cost from the West. The downside of this technological leap of course is that these computer generated effects have made the manual special effects teams almost redundant. Gone are the days when our stunt men, with the help of the special effects team, would blow up buildings and cars, and did death defying stunts through fire. This has affected the livelihood of many.

So upbeat is this budding new industry that the grapevine is abuzz with the news that Pixel Studios is aiming to rival Prime Focus and Rhythm and Hues by increasing its work force in India to one thousand people by 2009.

Nasscom, the Indian IT industry lobby group, estimates that the global animation markets will be worth $80 billion by 2010, and is targeting that market as a prime source of outsourcing revenues, since more and more film work is shifting to India from the US and Europe.

India’s film entertainment market has been growing at double-digit rates for the last three years.

New multiplexes and the new age Bollywood film productions are fuelling box-office growth. The rising income of the flourishing middle and upper middle classes has made the in store rental market surge to an all time high.

Experts say that the low-cost DVD players will contribute to a major boost in the home video market which is almost exclusively a rental market.

The installation of digital projection is certainly going to fuel box office growth here in India. No wonder people say that India will expand at a projected 15 per cent compound annual rate during the next five years to 3.9 billion, propelling it ahead of Australia before this year ends, thereby becoming the second largest film entertainment market in Asia.

It certainly seems as if God is in heaven, at least in Bollywood’s heaven and all is well with the entertainment world.

However, it is said that nothing fails like success. As Bollywood touches blazing heights, it needs to confront one blunt truth. For a country that makes a maximum number of films and has a huge base of skilled workers and technicians which are world class, it has absolutely nothing to offer the world market in terms of its products.

The reason for this is all too obvious. We guys are bankrupt in our story department. If you don’t believe me, see what happened to ‘Drona’ . Dazzling special effects, but no story.

The urgent need of the hour is to make huge investments in our story telling skills. We would really be a force to reckon with when a Hollywood mogul comes to India to get a script written by an Indian writer and a film directed by an Indian director. And sadly, I don’t see that happening for a while to come. As writer directors of Indian origin have proved, like M Night Shyamalan, those Indians who have had the benefit of a Western education, have been able to compete on that turf very ably.

The change that needs to happen in India is one that needs to come from within the heart of our education system.

The day we are taught to think in our own voice will be the day that we will break through creatively. Let’s face the fact that Bollywood films are a big craze only with people of Asian origin.

The affluent westerner is just not interested in our Bollywood movies. We still have miles to go.

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