100 Years of Indian Cinema: Looking Ahead

Abhishek Kapoor“There’s nothing more powerful than Zero to elevate – or, reduce you to it”

In India, cinema is a celebration.  Befitting enough, the centenary of Indian Cinema calls for one.  Packed with music, colours, ever-reinventing takes on our epics, modern-day avatars of Rama and Krishna..

We celebrate the past with hopes for a better future.  Time then for Introspection to clarify vision. The journey from Years 0 - 100 has got us to this point; where does it travel to from here?

The answer is simple: wherever we take it

The believer in me hopes for a Renaissance movement and for Institutionalization in the craft & trade of cinema. But, silver linings tend to be bed-mates with dark clouds.  The pragmatist in me whispers slyly: is my wish-list just wishful thinking?

Is Bollywood really a Kings Speech industry living in a Social Network world, struggling to change its DNA? Unsurprisingly, it is so.

Two negatives making for a positive only in the world of maths (& nowhere else)

Behind every great ending is the right beginning. The soul of a Film lies in its scripting, the way the screenplay is played out. Internationally, writers are revered; in India, they’re a neglected lot. When we say Writers, we mean Thinkers; they need to be groomed over time and with experience - no quick fixes here. Lack of recognition & reward has ensured that the cream of the crop is kept away. As a consequence, they use this sacred profession as a stepping stone to become Directors. Both professions are totally different and equally important. Just because a guy cooks my food well, it doesn’t mean I’m going to let him drive my car!

You can take the man out of India, but you can’t take India out of the man

We’ve been furiously at it, our ‘unique’ brand of cinema, turning out song-and-dance musicals like a mass shoe factory run.  We’ve even gone ahead and adapted new concepts and ideas to the same format, be it thriller / comedy / drama / action / romance or whatever genre. We’ve slotted ourselves into a comforting niche, while the rest of the world embraces new-age thinking & sensibilities, and integrates into the global village. Cinema has crossed boundaries and created new markets to wider audiences all across the world. Why? Because the structure of the content has a universal language. Save for us, trapped in our frog-in-the-well comfort zone, oblivious to the evolving world order.

The interval is history. Long live its memory

The concept of intermission survives resiliently - only in India. Every film is obliged to incorporate an interval, regardless of the narrative’s demands. To make a movie divided into

two halves means to conceptualize it so.  It’s a genetic mutation of sorts of the filmmaker’s vision. All in the name of enhancing the viewer experience by selling popcorn and samosa at half-time (it’s as absurd as stopping a roller-coaster ride mid-air)!

One world, one platform

We need to integrate with the global market, to talk the same language of technique and technology, and we need to collaborate for a global vision and outreach. Excellent examples exist the world over - Japan, Scandinavia, Korea, China, Spain, Iran. New age cinema, contemporary narratives and thought-provoking themes occupy pride of place in global cinema. In India, these need to graduate from limited ‘boutique / arthouse’ offerings, which are high on intent, but most low on the will backing them.

No one’s talking about the elephant in the room

Film-making is about collaboration between artistic souls. In our cinema, it’s been reduced to a family picnic. A ‘closed doors’ club picks and chooses from within its limited universe of legacy claimants, while trained talent and technicians cool their heels waiting for the opportunity.  That’s not cool at all. The class system is strongly present in our country, especially in the film industry. We look down upon television actors and send the message that they are not worthy of celluloid. I’ve worked with many lead actors from television, and let me assure you they are dynamite. Television should be the hunting ground for acting talent, not an inherited famous last name.

Moving ahead from Censorship to a Rating System (U, PG, A, AA)

The signs should reflect our times.  Television and the internet are bombarding our homes with content that’s becoming increasingly blurry to classify for viewing suitability across different age groups. Censorship needs to shape up to offer innovative solutions, and to refrain from moral policing. First of all, the ratings system needs to evolve to a stage where one can tell the difference between a “Dirty Picture” (National Award winning film) versus a ‘Nangi Jawaani” (low grade porn), both of which would have got an A certification from the Indian Censors. The two films need to be categorized separately so that the first one (legitimately, and on artistic grounds) can merit a satellite broadcast.

Quit Leaning & Stand Tall

Music and films are two independent verticals of the entertainment business that complement each other. In our country however, the music business leans too heavily on the film business. This is extremely unhealthy as it stumps the natural growth for new age thinking. It’s a fallacy that the masses will not come to see a good film if there are no songs in it.  Songs are used primarily to promote a film and not always to further the story. We HAVE to find newer, innovative ways to promote films other than just songs.

As a natural (and welcome) outcome, the music industry will rise like a phoenix, and signal the re-emergence of original and different genres (non-Bollywood) of music. As of now, truthfully speaking, there is no music industry to speak of; it’s merely a extended arm of the movie business!

A travesty of Olympian proportions

As an industry, we need to move on from being insular and look outward and spread our wings. Our aspiration for global recognition is limited only to the glam portion of the marquee festivals. When it comes to the films however, our big-budget features rarely make the cut. Instead of rolling our socks up and doing something about it, we adopt a defensive stance saying we’re self-contained and don’t need to conform, using dumb catchphrases like “this is what the masses want” & “we like to leave our brains behind”.  We are the largest film-making nation in the world – but, how much can we show of it?

A place for everything – and everything in its place

It’s about time we weeded out the legacy issues and did some spring cleaning, instead of lying cosily cocooned in a time-warp.  Specialization is key. Scripts should get green-lit on the basis of content (not just face value), studios & producers should develop projects and collaborations, actors should focus on performance and technicians on their crafts & skills.  And, let the man with the vision lead the way.

“The Woods are lonely dark and deep

And I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep”

-          Robert Frost