BY VINOD MIRANI
Somebody recently said Bollywood is a soft target! Is it? In what stalwarts prefer to call the Hindi Film Industry, there exists a fast swinging revolving door. Some stay for a while after entering, while others are thrown out immediately. Whoever said that the industry is a soft target knows nothing about the film industry here. What is more, thanks to social media, just about everybody voices an opinion. Especially those who are out of action for years and are not aware of how the things have changed.
Mumbai played host to the film industry when it was called that as an identification, as to where one belonged as well as in the hope that it will be recognised someday. Then the industry finally got due recognition. Film insurance, institutional finance and other such benefits became available.
Sadly, few knew how to avail and fewer qualified! The industry was always at the mercy of the Shylock film financiers who charged anything between 3 to 3.5 per cent PM interest, with the loan renewable every quarter. The interest was deducted at the time of borrowing, not to mention the brokerage payable to the middleman who brought a producer and financier together.
Luckily for the filmmakers, they were spared the embarrassment of approaching financial institutions like banks to back their films; they had too many preconditions. Except for a few production houses — and those few were limited to two or three — others neither knew how to go about it nor had clean bookkeeping to go for it.
I say luckily, because a lot many foreign production and distribution houses based in the US of A or the other country entered the film industry in India. They had all the money to invest in the film industry here.
The strategy these foreign investors worked on was to back names, rather than content. They had all the departments under one roof — like legal, finance, accounting, promotion, communication and so on. But, none could understand and whet a script. They did not need one either, since they financed names that had some standing in the industry, the ones who could bring in big stars. Yes, one other thing they did not know was budgeting.
These companies granted budgets in crores for projects, for films they did not even know how they would be assembled and shaped. With their arrival, films that were made in lakhs were now being made in crores!
In the process, many filmmakers became rich in a short time and, as things stand today, all these money bank corporate houses have been forced to withdraw from either financing or acquiring films for distribution. But, while their business model lasted, it made billionaires out of many undeserving film people. That easy inflow is what has brought in evil like drugs. Earlier, a filmmaker toiled to complete just one film and had no time or inclination to cultivate an evil mind.
Some corporate houses, in fact, have gone in the totally opposite direction. They now do not back filmmaking or marketing. They have taken to adding to OTT repertoire. And the corona lockdown, when the film production and the exhibition was totally closed down, seem to have stolen the edge.
These corporate entities were the soft targets, not the film industry. They were thoroughly exploited.
One thinks that those who make such comments calling the industry a soft target, which the media amplifies, regardless of what such a person making the comment has in the film industry. Here, anybody can get up and pose as the saviours of the industry. The latest to do that in the media was one-time actor Supriya Pathak. She is not alone, many others over the last few weeks have made similar statements. The media is to blame. Why does it think that any and everybody’s opinion matters and is worth airing?
The film industry was never a soft target except during the Emergency phase. Again, even at that time, the film industry was not the only one. From the individuals to artistes and the media to the rich and poor, all were at the receiving end.
In the industry, the soft target is the one whose new film releases on a Friday, be it a star, a director or a producer. If his/her film flops, the rest of the industry gleefully celebrates the failure. But the same producer, when someone else’s film releases, joins with the rest who celebrate! That was not as bad as what has been going on over the last few years. A kind of vindictiveness has taken over many mindsets. A coterie is created and those who don’t belong are held in contempt to the extent that attempts are made to finish their careers.
Are the people like the ones who are on the CBI’s watchlist as well as the suspect list make the Film Industry? Sushant Singh Rajput and Disha Salian were outsiders, so much so that they deserved to die?
Karan Johar has been much in the news recently. A couple of weeks back, a nominated Parliamentarian belonging to a film family, wanting to pose as Mother Bollywood, sought protection for the film industry. Well, that is what will happen once the three agencies are done with their investigations. The industry will be protected from the evils of drugs and also from enticing young stars into drug nets.
If anybody is a soft target at all hours of the day, it is a select group of politicians and, similarly, some of the top industrialists. The film industry does not figure anywhere on the target list.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)