“The best films of a country are produced in times of stress. Look what the war has done to Italian films. Look at Brief Encounter. I don’t think a great film like that would have been made possible without all those air raids London had to suffer. I think what Hollywood really needs is a good bombing.”
These words were said by Jean Renoir to Satyajit Ray.
So, what do we need? A nuclear attack? Why after having a history of more than 100 years our film industry has made a very few numbers of internationally acclaimed good films. The reason is not that we can’t make good films but we don’t want to. The reason is we Indians are scared of originality.
Satyajit Ray tried to find the reasons way back in 1948, even before becoming a filmmaker. In his article, “What is wrong with Indian Films?”, he puts a picture that still persists after almost 70 years. He says,” no doubt this lack of maturity can be attributed to several factors. The producers will tell you about the mysterious entity ‘the mass’, which ‘goes in for this sort of things’, the technicians will blame the tools and the director will have much to say about the wonderful things he had in mind but could not achieve. In any case, better things have been achieved under much worse conditions.”
Cinema is an art form which needs an audience to survive, that’s true. The mysterious Identity, the mass, was not as much mysterious in Ray’s times as it is now. In the 40’s and 50’s, the films made by Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, B.R. Chopra, Kamaal Amrohi etc., were commercially successful. Today a “Happy New Year” collects more than 200 crores and a “Baby” or a “Drishyam” fails. I am talking about the mainstream Bollywood where a big star tries to do a different film and fails. I am not talking about parallel independent movement, forget about a “Lunchbox” or a “Court”.
A filmmaker is scared of originality because he will not find enough audience to pay back his financiers and he will not be able to make another film. The audience is scared of originality because of their reluctance to change. Change is not welcomed in India. That is why we see the same kind of Movies and make them successful. By the same kind, I mean the commercially successful films made by the “Camps”. These camps are business enterprises and not filmmakers. All these films are nearly the same. . This art has now become just a source of making money. Who is responsible for that? It’s a collective effort of filmmakers, audience and the external environment (which we can’t control). For the decades, the camps are showing us the films made in accordance with the market forces of demand and supply. And today we are in the stage of habit formation. We are habituated to watching that kind of cinema. That doesn’t mean that these makers are not capable of making different, innovative, good films. But they don’t want to. I am not being judgmental about the mainstream film industry. All the films they make may not be bad but there is an absence of creativity, there is a lack of depth.
Cinema no more reflects the society because we no more live in a society. Today we live in a market. And like all other products the market forces also control cinema. The camps mentioned above were early in realizing this fact and they changed accordingly, because, in the past, we have seen them making good films (particularly Yash Raj).
Even if a very good film comes, it is essentially a low budget film. Why most of the good films made in India are low budget? The maker is aware of the fact that he will not get enough audience. This fear starts affecting the filmmaking process right at the first stage, the thinking stage. The maker starts thinking more about cost cutting than the concept. If you want to make a commercially successful film it must follow the tried and tested formula because the majority of the audience want exactly that. They don’t want to watch a film which is made differently, unconventionally.
I would like to mention again what Renoir said to Ray about the audience. “It was as if someone had opened a secret door of communication between the filmmaker and his audience. It was a great feeling. Everything we did the audience understood. The French cinema could not have made those enormous strides towards maturity without this wonderfully perceptive audience. They helped us all along the way, and I for one feel grateful to them.”
So, what can be done to bring Indian audience to that level? Certainly bombing the cities is not an option. In my opinion, Innovation is the only answer. Not only in filmmaking but more in marketing. The filmmakers who make good cinema would have to place their product in the market innovatively. Ignoring the business aspect of cinema will not help. They will have to accept the audience as a market and sell their product. The ever-increasing power of social media is the key.
Changing the movie-watching pattern of Indian people is a slow and gradual process but with efforts, it can be done. The independent filmmakers have realized this truth and are using the unconventional marketing tools in effective ways. The mainstream film industry should also take steps in that direction because their outreach is vast. What independent filmmakers would achieve in 20 years, the mainstream films can achieve in 4 years.