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Where's the substance?
Somebody who once visited Bharat Shah's office came back zapped with the sight of countless bank notes piled in neat little bundles in a wall-to-wall cabinet.
A man who could treat money so casually must have such immense reserves of it. And this kind of wealth always has a stupefying effect on people. A few weeks ago, he was the most powerful and envied man in the film industry (in the city, for that matter). Today, he seems to have no friends.
Even if he is acquitted and proved innocent of all charges against him, will all this money be able to wipe out the fear and loneliness he must undoubtedly have felt when he was abandoned by the very people who fawned on him and called him Badshah of Bollywood?
Money can buy you almost anything, but not what really matters.
If you apply this to films, well then money can buy you great production values and top stars, but can't buy that intangible something -- let's call it soul for want of a better word -- that turns a story written on paper into celluloid magic.
The most recent example of what money can't buy is the Rs 30-crore fiasco Raju Chacha. It's amazing that filmmakers will spend (and boast of the fact) crores on putting up elaborate sets which add nothing to the film; they will spend lavishly on foreign locations when there is no real need to shoot abroad; they will pay half the budget of the film to the actors who don't deserve it, but they will begrudge good writers a few lakhs when, in the end, they have to admit that it is the story and script that makes all the difference to a film. After this come treatment, music, technical finesse, production values and performances.
Filmmakers need to be reminded over and over again that whenever a film has bragged about its budget rather than its content, it has flopped -- Deedar-E-Yaar, Razia Sultan, Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, Jeans and now Raju Chacha -- are just a few examples.
If a filmmaker needs to spend an obscene amount of money on the sets of a film (or, like Jeans, shooting a pointless song at the seven wonders of the world) when any good-looking and authentic location or imaginatively constructed inexpensive set would do just as well, or if he spends millions on special effects where they do nothing to improve the film, he (hardly ever she!) has his priorities all wrong.
Ajay Devgan, producer and lead actor of Raju Chacha spent crores on his palace set and special effects. Now compare this film to Gulzar's sweet and simple Parichay, and see which one audiences prefer.
The budget of the unfortunate Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, said to be a remake of Doosri Dulhan, is reported to be Rs 13 crores?
Why does a story about three people need such a huge budget? It is entirely his privilege, of course, but why does Sanjay Leela Bhansali need to put up a huge set of old Calcutta, when any film by Aparna Sen or Rituparno Ghosh would have revealed to him superb locations of old badis which would enhance the look of any film at a fraction of the cost.
Cinema is not about embellishments. It is about communicating ideas, feelings and emotions. The rest is just expensive window dressing. Of course a comfortable budget helps, but you don't need to bust a bank to make a great film.
When there is no substance, a filmmaker needs stars to attract audiences. To get that saleable star, the proposal maker (and there are more of this kind than the real filmmakers) dangle big money, and perks like exotic locations.
And since they need big money for the frippery, they can't be too picky about where they get it from. Whether the gangster gives it or the loan shark or a paanwala -- it's all the same. Recovery is just a matter of smart marketing and sharp business dealing. Nobody is really bothered about the actual product, as long as everyone involved with it benefits financially.
In some small, perhaps indirect way, the current crisis our film industry is going through could be traced back to this drying up of talent in our mainstream cinema. It opened up the doors to all kinds of undesirable elements to enter into what is (or ought to be) essentially a creative field, and now the consequences are there for all to see.
If the film industry looks bad today -- despite loud protestations of innocence from self-appointed spokespersons -- they only have their own greed and venality to blame. Once the wrong kind of people get in the door, there is no way of getting them out. It's the classic camel and Arab in the tent story.
However, talk to the honest and sincere people in the industry -- not all of them have dirtied their hands -- and they feel that this blowing of the lid on underworld-industry nexus can only do good in the long run.
All this while, the industry did survive without underworld finance. It won't shut down just because a couple of sources dry up.
If the industry gets cleaned up -- and there are sceptics who believe that is not likely to happen -- the right kind of people will want to invest in it. Maybe not banks and financial institutions, but above-board businesspersons, NRIs, even Hollywood studios. Things were already happening and negotiations being conducted when this unfortunate underworld affair was exposed.
The desire for change has to come from within. Even though corporate Hollywood studio kind of functioning may not suit the Indian industry, there has to be some semblance of discipline and professionalism. The complete chaos of the last few years, the emphasis on all the wrong things, the inordinate power of stars has to change.
Stars, technical wizardry and 'item' numbers may bring people into the hall for the first three days. But such films never sustain at the BO. Most of these expensive star-studded films make money for the people concerned, because of increased revenue possibilities these days, but they don't get the heartfelt appreciation of the audience.
A filmmaker who is an artiste -- not a businessman -- craves this appreciation, too, along with financial profit. Money is essential to be able to continue making films, but genuine appreciation (or criticism for that matter) is essential for the artiste to grow.
The tragedy is that there are plenty of showmen going around these days, but no artistes.
E-mail Deepa Gahlot
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