Shaping the Future of Indian Cinema

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Film Director, Producer, Screenwriter sharing key insights on the ‘Future of Indian #Cinema’ at #AIMA‘s Diamond Jubilee National Management Convention (#NMC) 2017. Read excerpts –

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Film Director, Producer, Screenwriter delivering a keynote Address at #DiamondJubileeNMC

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Film Director, Producer, Screenwriter delivering a Keynote Address at #DiamondJubileeNMC

To understand any future let’s understand the past first. We got independence in 1947 and our early films, like the first five-year plan, had a lot of hope. It was about a nation coming together, a nation was born and there were a lot of dreams at that point in time because we were building a nation. We had films like “Naya daur, Saathi hath badhana, Ye desh hai veer javano ka ” and those were the kind of emotions but something started happening towards the end of the 1950s. For the first time we saw the main protagonist, and no gender bias here but mostly that time it was male-dominated kind of stories being told as the main protagonist, and for the first time we saw a hero being a black marketer in Devanand in Kalabazar. So here was the nation who had a problem with police coming into the neighborhood not even into their homes and we then accepted a hero who was actually a black marketer, a thief, Jaal all these movies. What happened? Was it the Bengal Drought? Was it the two wars with Pakistan, was it poverty, had we woken up from the dream of independence in free India and we understood what a momentous task lies in front of us after gaining the independence and then we lost the China war and movies were reflecting that. Every youngster wanted to have a stubble like Devdas and die as such. You know it was a doomsday kind of thing. “Jinhe naaz hai hind par wo kaha hai, Jalado jalado ye duniya” it became the iconic and the subconscious of the nation. The political system was failing; the first prime minister was dead, there were chaos, joblessness, long lines for everything. We didn’t have any ideology, neither capitalist nor communist, it was a mixed economy. We wanted to take the good of both the economies and also attracted the evil of both the systems as such and became expert at that, as the time would tell. So we invented escapist cinema and somewhere in the late 60s our hero, which is Shamikapoor, started dancing, he started that. So we accepted a new kind of man who now dances he is still dancing I don’t know why but maybe we still need that escapism. It always beats me. So if you notice, a lot of us would know that the hero before Shamikapor never danced. Dileep kumar, Devanand, Rajkapoor, Motilal, Ashok Kumar, K.L Sehgal the iconic ones, they never danced. We left it to the grace of the fairer sex. And in those even dances were very classical.

With the passing time the system became enemy for us, the government became the enemy, the politicians became the enemy and we gave birth to an anti-hero. We give a lot of credit to Amitabh Bachchan but actually, it was the need of that time. Though there were movies like Satykam didn’t make any sense, which was falling the true path as such. Nobody wanted a true hero anymore. We wanted a guy gone bad, who could pick up a gun and revolt against the system and we made him an icon. That was mostly seventies for us. Because the socio, political and economic situation was changing, accordingly the cinema was reflecting it. Then came what I’ve termed as the Dark Ages which was everything we had not done right or we had wronged we were suffering for that for the next 20 years whether it was the political system, the businesses were very skewed, there was no entrepreneurial skill. The spirit of nation was not showing, whether in sports, whether in business or in anything, society was cast driven and there was more and more stuff happening and so the cinema also could not define itself and we had nothing to talk about for the late seventies, eighties and nineties but then the economy opened and something started happening in cinema also. People started breathing more easily. They started expressing themselves. They started, very simply put, making money for the first time outside the system, outside of how the government told them, in a big way. They started understanding that they are global. So movies also started kind of blossoming. Some ahead of time, I know I went through that part and one of my biggest success, Rang de basanti, was a movie about changing system, anti-corruption, raising a voice, patriotism, reinventing patriotism and all that.

So now we stand in a very interesting time as to what is the future of our cinema. I think entertainment and sports are gonna drive a lot. Outside the other core areas and fundamental pillars of our economy and society cinema and entertainment in the coming years, are gonna find themselves. Till now they have been nascent, they are very much underwater, they are gonna surface now and they’ve started surfacing. So movies will have content, no more escapism. Told in an entertaining way. They have to make you laugh and cry. Don’t get me wrong it’s not about documentaries and the social message. Though lot of my movies have that, it’s about entertaining you but at the same time telling you the entertaining story like your grandmother used to tell you and then she would ask you what’s the moral of the story but she would tell you a very interesting story and you are wide-eyed and you would every night want to hear the same story for the next 10 years. So you never got bored of it. But there used to be a moral of the story. So we will be the content-driven not just in cinema but in everything we choose, every product we pick up, every lipstick we buy, every bottle of water we consume, any medical facility we opt for. We are gonna demand quality, we are gonna demand services and that we will also demand in cinema. Let’s have something, which can be at par with more evolved societies in the world. On the other end of the spectrum will be movies with a lot of imagination. These will be big-ticket numbers. These will be a Sci-Fis. These will be thinking out of the boxes or out of the box. If I were to give you the numbers of the 10 most successful films in the history of cinema 9 of them are animation or SciFi. 10 most successful means billion dollar films that mean more than a thousand crore movies. They are not hero led. Only one stands out Gone with the Wind which stands there today when adjusted for inflation. Other than that there are movies like Jaws, Close encounters of the third kind (where people came from outer space), Avatar (which was set in the future about the natural resources and the human greed). So they all are content driven they are human stories but they are not necessarily led by so-called iconic faces as such. So I think we’re gonna move there and that would be the best for us because it will give a lot of independence to cinema makers to make a film for five crores and at the same time it will give big producers to make big-ticket number film for 500 crores.

Future of Indian cinema will also depend on a lot of business houses now. So far we have been a mom and pop store. It’s been all about Bombay, and within Bombay Juhu, and within Juhu just 10 families. So it’s been like once upon a time how there were two-three business families in India and that was it. “Tata birla bolte the hum bas uske age kuch nahi ata tha, to abhi ham usse nikal rahe hai” from the mom and pop store and we need to empower every small village city, kasba, small town, b town, c town to tell the stories and when they start telling the stories. Believe me, because I hear a lot of those stories and meet a lot of people. They will conquer the world. It’s not very much different from a cricket team. Earlier there were Maharajas, Princes, and very rich people and Oxford, St. Stephens only in the cricket team. Only known people or the quota system or north zone or south zone. The day we broke that, we became an unbeatable team. I am not saying number one but we are a force to reckon with right now we are number one also. But that changes every week. That’s not the point here. The thing is we expressed our self, a narrative of a nation through a game called cricket. Also making it into a billion-dollar franchise by unleashing the real power of the nation. We got a captain from Ranchi, we got an opener form Ballabhgarh, we got a fast bowler from a village where Munaf Patel came from it has got seven thatch roofs, we got batsman from Lucknow and stuff like that. You should go to the dressing room I have been there and it is wild, it is like college days or worse than that. There is no language barrier there and it’s amazing because there is no pretense so we actually unleashed and that’s what when we do in cinema it will become the future of a cinema.

We’ll need a lot of help from the organized sector because “Mal to hai hamare pas but Dukan nahi hai abhi.” we don’t know where to sell. There were 12500 theaters, which have reduced to 7000. Now we’ve grown back to 8.5. We are very happy about multiplexes but multiplexes belong to a very upper middle class, niche, rich people, the rest also consume entertainment but without paying for it, and we call it piracy. I don’t call it piracy. I say it’s a question of a supply chain. You give them something that isn’t available to them and they will pay you the price for it. But if it is available in other domains and there’s no supply chain for it they will download it from torrent and I am happy they will at least it’s reaching out, at least we know there is a huge market size which we have not been able to monetize and we keep blaming piracy for that. Seven years ago the business of China in theatrical revenue was one third to one-fourth of India. Since then their theaters have grown and they have opened one screen a day even today as we talk one screen will open today. The business has gone up more than thousand times that of India. We have stagnated because we have not opened theatre chains. And if we opened, we’ve opened them in Italian marble where you get hot dogs and we are more concerned about that than bringing in the people in. So yes but that’s niche and stuff. The future will also depend on the organized sector building the infra around our movies.

I’ve always said and believed, in anything and everything I have done, In all my movies, to all my contemporaries; the first thing to do is to give yourself permission to fail and if we don’t if we are very harsh on ourselves if we always know the results then what’s the fun of getting into it. The greatest businesses in this world have been set up when there was a sense of adventure and there was a sense of discovery, there was a sense of passion. I think that will be the future of our cinema. We will be driven by the narrative of this country and then cinema won’t end up with India. You can buy cinema anywhere in the world. There is property available, there is license available, there are cinema chains available, which are shutting down and are ready to be bought and show them Indian films. Increase the appetite, it’s like opening a curry restaurant in the neighborhood. It might not work for five years but after five years curry becomes a national dish. So yes there is a lot of similarity between food and cinema, entertainment and sports. The more economically stronger country gets, its entertainment and food also become popular all over the world. So yes I would like to end by saying that we all should give ourselves permission to fail because personally for me that is my personal journey I can share. I have had more failures than successes and every failure, every success is the result of half a dozen failures put together but then that is the beauty of it for me at least. Thank you.

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