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The one bit of good news recently was that Manmohan Shetty, Govind Nihalani, Romesh Sharma, Prakash Jha, Pravin Nischol and John Mathew Mathan came together to form a company to produce quality films and television software.
The idea is that they pool in their resources and form a talent bank of writers, directors and technicians.
A change is definitely needed by the Bombay industry in style, content and mode of filmmaking. But this will obviously not come from the very successful major production banners, simply because they don't need to rock the boat.
Maybe these six men will pull off what people have been thinking and talking of doing, but didn't know where to start. And when attempts have been made, they have been sporadic and small, not enough to make a dent in the mainstream monolith.
Govind Nihalani with Thakshak and Prakash Jha with Bandish, Mrityudand and Dil Kya Kare tried to merge popular cinema elements with their own style of filmmaking and failed.
Only John Mathew Mathan's Sarfarosh worked without too many aesthetic or creative compromises. But will he be able to repeat its success?
In the past too, such groups have been formed.
There was a Directors' Forum, announced with great fanfare at a meeting of everybody who was anybody at Subhash Ghai's house. Everybody talked of cooperation and bringing about a revolution, but nothing has been heard of, from, or about the Forum after the initial burst of excitement.
Then Shekhar Kapur and Parmeshwar Godrej announced some kind of alliance, but that fizzled out as well.
More recently, Mani Ratnam, Shekhar Kapur and Ramgopal Varma formed India Talkies to support each other's endeavours, but again they seem to have given up too soon.
There are inherent problems in any such coalitions -- well meaning and ambitious though they may be -- with everybody caught up with their own projects. In such difficult times at that, how long can they sustain the initial burst of enthusiasm?
When the public is so fickle in its tastes, how does anybody figure out what they want? And who is to define good cinema or good television?
All conventional wisdom and good intentions fly out of the window when a chit of a girl like Ekta Kapoor revolutionises the TV soap market with her factory-made family dramas. Can anybody with intelligence and taste compete with such programming? All channels now want saas-bahu serials. Who will fight the trend?
When it comes to the higher stakes of cinema, the problem of defining 'quality' is compounded several times over.
One of the six members in the group, who didn't want to be quoted, said, "Making a film that suits the target audience without losing your sensibilities is easier said than done."
More so now, when there doesn't seem to be anything like a pan-Indian film that appeals to a Hindi speaking audience across the country and to the diaspora.
Look at how some films have fared in recent years: Dil Se flopped in India and broke records abroad, Taal and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam did better business in the overseas market than in the domestic market.
In fact, filmmakers with generous budgets have started making films specifically targetting the NRI viewer.
Films like Jaanwar and Badal flopped in the cities, but did well in the North, Kurukshetra worked in Bombay, Fiza in Bombay and Nizam.
Sunny and Bobby Deol's films do well in Punjab, Govinda's films work in UP-Bihar. Shah Rukh Khan is more popular in the cities and abroad. After Amitabh Bachchan, perhaps Hrithik Roshan is the only star who has won great popularity all over.
When films like Godmother, 1947 Earth or Kairi are not box-office smashes, you are told it's because they are for the elite.
But when a slightly discerning audience is disgusted by the vulgarity of, say, a Hadh Kar Di Aapne, the excuse is that, well, it was not made for you, but for the masses.
This film (like Kaho Naa...Pyaar Hai, Mohabbatein) is for teens, that one (like Kya Kehna, Astitva) is for women, the third, (Raju Chacha) for children, and so on and so forth.
Amazingly, Hari Bhari and Zubeidaa, both by Shyam Benegal, are packing in women -- particularly Muslim women. But by commercial film standards, they are both flops.
It would appear as if the population of Hindi film watchers is divided as never before. No wonder our filmmakers are so confused! Who should they be making films for? Overseas, city or B & C centres?
Where is the magical formula that will cut across all ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural barriers?
When the formula of the last hit can be recycled till the next hit comes along (look at the number of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Satya clones!), where is the place for a strong individual voice that will stand above the cacophony of the marketplace?
Nobody is willing to put money on originality, and experimentation is a dirty word. Then you see a German film like Run Lola Run and see what great imagination and technical flair can do even with a small budget.
Actually, you feel sorry for the filmmaker today, who does not dare tell the stories he/she wants to, for fear that nobody will want to hear them.
That's why you wish this new consortium of filmmakers well.
Maybe they will achieve collectively what they might not have been able to individually. If they show the way and are successful, others are bound to follow.
For there's one thing that always finds takers on the film industry sheep farm -- the scent of money.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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