By Vinod Mirani
The filmstars love to be in news, have always been. And they do need the publicity to stay visible, relevant. But lately, over a decade and a half, filmmakers are trying to grab the spotlight, even more than the stars do! Some of them love to be in the media glare day after day.
There were great filmmakers earlier, who did not care much for the public glare and they let their work speak. Makers like K. Asif, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Vijay Bhatt, Chetan Anand, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Guru Dutt, V, Shantaram, BR Chopra and many more before them, to Ramesh Sippy, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Raj Khosla, Vijay Anand, Nasir Husain, Shakti Samanta, Manoj Kumar and so many successful filmmakers, who are remembered because of their work and not because they coveted media or cultivated journalists. Even for the media in those days, producers, directors and technicians did not sell copies, they sought only the stars.
For the filmmakers who love limelight, things are easier now. Not only has media expanded to the extent that it has become desperate for content: for the electronic media, it is all about a byte and a comment. And, to add to that, even the media which enjoyed some credibility some years back, does not do so now because it does not only sell ad space, it also sells editorial space.
That bought space has helped some filmmakers buy popularity and, what is worse, also belief in their bought popularity. Media was never so easy to manipulate.
Like, Shah Rukh Khan would call a few hundred media reporters at 1pm to celebrate his birthday (this happened only on birthdays when his new release was due) and himself would arrive only at 4pm. The reporters would be swooned by his very presence and compete among themselves for a selfie to post on social media! That is the level of film journalism today.
Aamir Khan would call the media at 12 noon at a far-off five-star hotel to release one of his forthcoming film’s promo of 30 seconds. The exercise would continue for a period till he exposed all the promos and the desperate media would be there to cover it!
This media made some filmmakers believe they were the film industry. That they made and finished stars and their careers.
Now, sh*t has hit the fan and there is nowhere to hide as the very media which made these few filmmakers believe they were the law in the film industry is running after their blood since the death of the budding star, Sushant Singh Rajput, under suspicious circumstances.
The case was instantly declared as a suicide by the police, and the investigations were merrily moving towards a dead end and the closure. That is when Kangana Ranaut stirred it up again by blaming and naming names that played footsie with Suhant’s career. The media got interested because Kangana’s allegations included names of those very media-created bigshots of filmmaking, like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, among others.
To make matters worse, many other celebrated names like Shekhar Kapur, Shekhar Suman, and Shatrughan Sinha among others as well as the eternal crusader, Subramanian Swamy, have now joined the cause and are asking for a CBI investigation.
If the concerned filmmakers thought they had finished Sushant’s career, his death has proved otherwise. His death proved that he was a much-loved actor.
Also in the debating domains is the contract system that new artistes are bound under. These major production houses hold these artistes under a contract under which they literally run (or ruin) their careers. The artiste such bound is compelled to do films for the banner he is committed to. When it comes to outside offers, the studio decides if he / she can do that film or not. Of course, if an outside film is allowed, the studio charges a percentage of his remuneration for handling his career.
Usually, an artiste is never stopped from doing an outside film, especially if the offer is from a reputed and successful maker. However, it is reported that in the case of Sushant, he was not allowed to accept an offer from a reputed maker like Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The film in question was “Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela”, which would have put the career of Sushant on another level.
All these matters and what was done to demoralise and demean the actor, is in public domain and still being discussed on television channels.
(Meanwhile, another revelation has just hit the headlines, with pictures of stars and filmmakers posing with some anti-national foreign-based persons. Now, posing with people is not a crime, as on most occasions actors oblige fans with a picture. But, what has shocked the media as well as some politicians is that, some actors and filmmakers were not only hobnobbing but were also doing business with these anti India operators.)
There have been instances of unofficially blacklisting artistes like Paresh Rawal and Anupam Kher. But, that was subtle. Not made so obvious for it to be discussed in public domain. Fortunately for them, they have risen too much bigger levels than depending on this petty studio system manipulations. Both Paresh and Anupam are brilliant actors and ignoring them is a loss to the makers and film lovers.
The ‘exclusive contract’ system did exist earlier, too. But, breach of a contract never led to suicides or murder and, most of all, never created a scandal or involved police.
Dharmendra, for instance, signed an exclusive contract with as many as three producers at a time. Nobody took him to court or drove him to end his life.
Rajesh Khanna made his career when he won a talent contest held by United Producers, a group of affluent top rung filmmakers. This limited Khanna to doing films only for this group of producers in a time-bound contract. As luck would have it, the expiry of his contract coincided with his first superhit, “Aradhana”, which launched him to superstardom.
Ganging up also happened against the media. Producers were most hurt when a trade paper, Trade Guide, reviewed and rated their films negatively. The reviews and ratings were purely merit-based and on the box office performance.
Trade Guide, the only trade magazine that dealt only in the business of film trade, also survived on the ad revenue from filmmakers who advertised to attract film distributors from film circuits to buy their films.
A couple of big shot producers did not take kindly to the reviews of Trade Guide for their films and decided to ban the magazine. For a few months, a magazine surviving purely on film ads, got none. But, in their heart of hearts, producers knew the magazine was honest in its views. The first one to break the ban and issue an ad was the very President of the producers’ association for his upcoming film, “The Thief Of Baghdad”!
In those days such action came as knee-jerk reaction, but there was no venom or pettiness. Both of which some makers reek of now.
With all their claims to greatness and making or ruining the lives of aspiring actors, what does this lot amount to when it comes to taking on the might and domination of the multiplex owners? If they can unite to ruin a Sushant Singh Rajput’s career, why can’t they unite to get their own terms against multiplex domination?
There are two films that are ready for release but are not opting for OTT. Aren’t they in a hurry to cash in when the OTT is on a buying spree? That way they can also convey to the multiplex chains that their domination is over. Sadly, they can’t. Because, they were forced to borrow monies from multiplex owners since, now, the corporate houses have stopped backing films financially.
The entertainment world is in a transition period. It is moving towards OTT platforms where these self-proclaimed career makers and breakers won’t matter much.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)