Is corporatisation of cinema curtailing creativity?

Filmmakers talk about how the commercialisation of Bollywood has changed the film industry.

Sanjana DeshpandeUpdated: Sunday, January 15, 2023, 08:01 AM IST
Still from Dil Se... | IMDb

Of late, conversations with the stalwarts from the Hindi cinema industry aka Bollywood have been around the corporatisation of cinema and its bearings on the films that the industry has been producing.

Amid the debate, many filmmakers have opined that the corporatisation of the cinema has steered the masses toward making commercially safer films where a director’s creativity is limited.

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur is one of the directors who has been vocal about the corporatisation of cinema; in 2020, when Dil Se.. completed 22 years after its release, he said that he, Mani Ratnam, and Ram Gopal Varma predicted that the filmmakers’ creativity will soon be controlled by big corporations. He also stated at an event that the corporatisation of the film industry will kill creativity.

Looking at the bleak year the Hindi cinema industry had with many major films tanking, the subject has been stirred into conversations again.

Corporate model of cinema

Cinema, unlike in the 80s and 90s, has been backed by large corporation studios since the 2000s and is largely financed in three ways: debt financing with loans, equity investments, and money raised by selling distribution rights.

Veteran film director and screenwriter Shyam Benegal pointed out that the corporate model of film production essentially works on a television model wherein there’s a design planned — one person will focus on writing, the other on directing, and so on.

Benegal added, “It (studio-backed film) is like a factory line; the producers work out most details and a filmmaker may have to direct the film physically,” he said. He also mentioned that he would not be comfortable in such a setting for filmmaking.

Meanwhile, writer and director of the short film Bare, Ronak Kamat, highlighted that big studios think in numerical values — the bottomline is the balance sheet; their moves are calculated, he added. “Looking at cinema from just the numerical aspect takes away its creativity,” he said.

Kamat, elaborating about films, said, “Gangs of Wasseypur as a film worked because the actors and director Anurag Kashyap had authenticity in their performances.” With reverse engineering, many films are suffering setbacks, he opined, adding, “Filmmakers in the industry need to pull up their socks.”

Shariq Patel, film producer and CEO of Zee Studios, stated that the financing of the film compared to the yesteryears has changed. Patel points out that, until the 1990s, films were funded by the producer themselves by raising debt from either lenders or presales of theatrical territories.

In the 1990s, music, video, and satellite rights became significant sources of revenue with the advent of satellite television, thus increasing the source of revenue that could be monetised.

Elaborating on the process of funding today, he said, “With the advent of corporations over the last decade or so, films are being financed with money from publicly listed companies. The corporations buy a stake in the film ranging from 50–100 per cent of the cost of production. This is money as equity and not debt,” adding that the producers or corporates investing significant stakes will have feedback.

Elucidating further, he said that a venture capitalist gets a seat on the board if their investment in a company is substantial, and thence a studio or corporate, which at times takes a 100% risk, would say that it’s fair to call the shots about the script, etc. of a film.

“There’s an imbalance in the risk-reward ratio wherein the producer/corporate takes the financial hit in case a film fails. Whereas the director and producer make their fees and production margins irrespective of the fate of the film,” he said.

The resolution

When questioned about what the probable resolution to this argument is, filmmaker Kamat said that there’s a need for more producers who are ready to take a leap of faith. “Aamir Khan took a leap of faith and saw a movie in Ashutosh Gowariker’s script. Despite the hurdles, Aamir backed the director, and thus Lagaan happened. We need more producers who will take a leap of faith,” he said.

Concurrently, Shariq opined that the complaints from filmmakers will keep coming until the equilibrium between risk and reward is balanced.

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