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Brainstorming in Bollywood

There’s no biz but show biz. Recently, when I went to attend the ‘Bite The Mango’ film festival in Bradford, UK, a top offici...

Written by Mahesh Bhatt |
October 29, 2005

There’s no biz but show biz. Recently, when I went to attend the ‘Bite The Mango’ film festival in Bradford, UK, a top official from Screen Yorkshire, who was very enthused about the forthcoming Indo-UK film co-production pact, gave me some inside information. Screen Yorkshire tried to bid for the IIFA awards which have been showcasing Bollywood globally over the last several years. This bit of information was quite an eye opener for me because it meant that the much demeaned Bollywood was finding takers even in the heartland of Britain! Which only means that in today’s times, entertainment really has no boundaries. Its all about who the consumer is.

Two hundred malls are expected to dot India’s urban landscape by 2006. Now this is mind-blowing that retail steps forward in a country that got its first mall only four to five years ago. Malls have become the latest hangouts for Indian teenagers, yuppies and young families. They are the new temples of noticeable consumption in India, driven by social, demographic and macro-economic changes. All these stores that are under construction will represent a range of leading merchandisers and provide an integrated experience of shopping, dining and entertainment. There is no denying that the world over, entertainment is fast becoming the driving wheel of the new world economy. If you look closely, you will find that all consumer choices these days are manoeuvred by an entertainment quotient. That is why this is called the ‘age of entertainment.’

India which accounts for 73 per cent of the Asia-Pacific region’s cinema admission will touch the 3.3 billion-cinema admissions figure by the year 2008. All over the country cinema renovations are underway. A total of 1,500 cinema halls are scheduled to go digital by 2007. Digital distribution will enable people in rural areas to get films much sooner. This will expand the business potential of a film and curb piracy.

There are powerful reasons why the creative economy will be the dominant economic form in the 21st century. The most compelling is the way we evolve as physical and social beings. The great US psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested our needs ascend in a hierarchy from the physical to the emotional and spiritual. So it follows that we should not be surprised if a market evolves to meet these needs. Increased economic output leads to increased spending power of which more is spent on satisfying our emotional and intellectual desires and proportionately less spent on necessities. Statistics show that on an average, British, Americans and Japanese spend more on entertaining themselves than on clothing or healthcare.

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Many observers have noted that the globalisation of the economy is bringing in its wake notions of materialism and consumerism that do not match with Indian traditions of austerity, simplicity and spirituality. Alas! The small town and the rural India just do not find any place in our films these days. Today our cinema and television is dominated by technological sophistication but it is devoid of genuine socio-cultural context. In fact it’s true to say that so many of our films are set in some ‘la la land’, where very little connection with reality is observed.

Modern technology has overpowered the language, intimacy and the emotional content of the basic Indian film. Indian cinema, in its pursuit of global attractiveness and profits, is working with globalised values, technology and material, although outwardly it is using a national cultural setting. Our cinema has ceased to represent national cinema per se and very soon it will completely lose its identity. So what can we do to resurrect the Indian cinema from its present decline and to help the medium re-invent its past splendor and social significance?

In the late 1980s, when our nation entered the era of globalisation and economic liberalisation with the hope of creating widespread prosperity and growth, the new economic environment began to promote glossy upmarket lifestyles decorated with luxuries among the upper and middle classes. This line of attack transformed overnight the long-lasting gloom of the individuals to tantalising urges for self-gratification.

The prescription of the nation became ‘grab, consume and forget’. Therefore, the main force which is driving our youth is to become technology-savvy and make it big in the world of business and glamour. This is reflected in our movies. Today Bollywood chooses the urban youth as its core audience. The influence of MTV and other foreign networks has initiated a radical change in our music, our choreography, and our films and in the way we interpret life. Today we look at India through a westernised idiom.

The modern film thus represents the growing neurosis of society, camouflaged smartly by the self-confident, flamboyant, upstart lead pair, who have become the archetypes of a positive-looking, modern and upbeat new MTV generation but are internally shallow and highly vulnerable behind this facade.

The parental figures too, in these films are often shown as ultra-rich. They also act modern and global, eager to partake in the celebrations with the young crowd in parties in lavish boutiques, five-star hotels and big mansions.

What is the future for Indian cinema? According to me, today, like never before we need to reinvent its soul by reviving its links with past traditions. For starters, the Indian film industry is facing a narrative crisis. We need to make huge investments in the art of screenwriting.

We must realise that technology is a tool of the storyteller and not the story itself. In this heady age of rapid technological change, we all struggle to maintain our bearings. It is important that we become technology critics in the same way that others are film critics, or literary critics. We can be passionately optimistic about some technologies, skeptical and disdainful of others. Still, our goal is neither to champion nor dismiss technology, but rather to understand it, and apply it in a manner more consistent with basic human values.

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