WARNING: If there are any fans of Indian cinema who are reading this, then I’d like to warn you. This article might have some side-effects. Some of those side-effects include: ears getting red, nostrils flaring and severe frowning. So, proceed with caution.
A few days ago I had written an article about what Hollywood has taught the Hindi Film Industry during the first film week of March. At a first glance it might look like I rejoiced the fact that the two Hindi films that tried to take on Logan and Kong flopped miserably. By flop, I obviously mean critically because I do not understand the intricacies of a financial success unless there is a huge margin between the budget and the collections. The movie-lover in me did rejoice but the Indian in me felt really scared and from my point of view, I think it’s understandable. The most popular knee-jerk reaction to such a scenario is to kill the competition by buying out most of the screens. Most production companies have been doing that for a long time but that is definitely not a permanent solution. Killing the competition won’t kill the competitors. It will only mean that the Indian Cinema industry has chosen to close their eyes so that they can pretend that there is no competition. They tried to do so this time too but Indian Cinema witnessed a significant slap to the wrist which was the result of something that they have been building up to. It is unclear whether the producers and directors have learned something but I certainly have learned something. I’ll make my best effort to explain that through the course of this article and produce a solution which is feasible to the best of my knowledge.
QUANTITY v/s QUALITY
In a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, Priyanka Chopra was gushing about the magnanimity of the Indian Film industry. I did a brief Google search and well, she wasn’t wrong. According to Wikipedia, India produces a sum total of 1903 movies per year whereas according to a Box-Office Mojo list, USA produces a total of only 734 movies per year. Most Indians stop the discussion here as if a number is the final judgement as to who is the winner but, film and film-making isn’t something whose quality can be measured by numbers. Film is a form of art which is judged on the basis of how well it ages and whether or not it forms a cult-following or whether or not people are excited for a remake or reboot or a sequel of a particular film.
As an avid movie viewer of Indian movies, I can certainly say that not one Indian is eager to see the return of a character. They are eager to see the return of their favourite actor in any role that they wish to do. This notion is not limited to the minds of the audience. It has reached the minds of the actors, actresses, producers, script-writers and directors. All they want to do now is hire the popular stars in multiple films over a year’s duration and make them do the same thing over and over again because they know that the public has become accustomed to this idea. That idea being that characters don’t matter, only the faces matter. That’s why if you go on the streets and ask a movie-goer that what is their most anticipated movie of this year? You’ll get the prompt answer of the name of their favourite star. It doesn’t matter what character they are going to portray. The stars can go ahead and be a lamp-post with a dog pissing on him/her and his/her fans will be cheering them on for that also. If you think I am exaggerating this even one bit, go ahead and try the social experiment that I mentioned.
All hope is not lost though. Some directors and writers do manage to create a character that the audience is excited to watch just because of the character. Most of them come from the Bengali film Industry. Some of them are Feluda, Byomkesh Bakshi and Kiriti. Even though Baahubali is one of the worst movies of all time, it has managed to create an intrigue as to what happened to a certain character instead of banking on the popularity of the actors involved. Still, this forms a very small percentage of the total number of films that are made by the Indian Film industry. Due to this, directors often don’t return to continue what they began. Even the actors lose interest and move onto bigger projects and soon the franchise dies off until someone decides to reboot it and the cycle continues indefinitely.
Now, the utter proof of how the Indian Film industry is failing even though they are producing a large chunk of movies is this: In a not-so-little article from Wikipedia you can clearly see that the highest grossing Indian movie of 2016(Dangal) had grossed a total of $120 million world-wide whereas the highest grossing Hollywood movie of 2016(Captain America: Civil War) had grossed a total of $1153.3 world-wide. As these are world-wide incomes you cannot bring out the age-old argument of the U.S.D. to I.N.R. conversion. So what is this other-worldly phenomenon that India is not being able to deduce?
It’s simple. The MCU has struck a balance between quality and quantity. Marvel Studios has managed to bring together some of the most obscure characters, actors, actresses, directors and writers to create a world-wide phenomenon that keeps the entire world glued to their cell-phones, searching for the tiniest bit of information about their favourite characters. The journey that began in 2008 with Iron Man is going to have it’s grand culmination in 2018 with Infinity War. Many think of this as some sort of magic or illusion but the MCU mainly consists of two things: trust and hard-work. The producers and directors have a very dedicated circle of trust which helps them to come up with the ideas to make quality movies for the fans and the hard-work and dedication of the stars involved adds on to the success of this huge money-churning machine. The MCU has become so popular that it has created it’s branch in the T.V. business too. Still, no matter how big the tree grows, each and every branch doesn’t break the continuity of the bigger picture and that’s what keeps the MCU going.
LESSON TO LEARN – It’s not about making a 1000 movies every year. It’s about making a 1000 movies over the span of many years which will help in carrying a singular idea forward. That will help in preserving the characters, increasing the popularity of the actors/actresses and bring in that sweet sweet money!
LACK OF VISION
This brings me to one other problem that plagues the Indian film industry and that is(as the header suggests), lack of vision. I am always asked in every single interview that I have ever been in and that is: “Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?”
This question does sound a bit irritating at first but if you truly think about it, you have an answer screaming in a corner of your head. If one has a solid background, a plethora of producers eager to back him/her up and a tendency to take risks, then one should definitely listen to that screaming voice. The living proof of someone listening to that voice is the MCU. On the flip side, Indian writers or producers or directors lack that vision. Like I mentioned before, they basically bank on the popularity of the stars. They formulate the plot, character and sets according to the wish of the star. Very often a movie like Udta Punjab, Dangal, Masaan or Aligarh comes which completely strips off the allurement of the star and formulates a memorable character, but every such character is confined to one movie. Yes, we can re-watch that movie a 1000 times but that’s it. Due to that we begin to wish what will be that star’s next performance which again brings the audience back to the same notion of following the star and not the character. Independent movies like Raman Raghav 2.0 and Gangs of Wasseypur are extremely engaging movies but all of them are one-time flings. The property itself is award-worthy but not motivating enough to make the directors and producers and writers to come back for another go. Also, as these movies are not marketed properly they do not receive the required word-of-mouth and that obviously demotivates the people who worked so hard to make that movie.
With Infinity War, MCU will reap the fruits of the seed that was sown 10 years ago. This wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t asked themselves the above question. The positive aspect of asking oneself that question creates a mental goal as to where they want to reach and also creates a boundary to operate in. It also helps the writers to maintain a sense of continuity and timeline throughout the entire franchise. It helps in creating a balance between the performances of the actors and the popularity of the characters. I am not saying that the MCU is entirely flawless and the epitome of franchise films, no. Most of the movie in the franchise are not good films but the idea of continuity helps to cover up those errors. Movies like Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor 2 are not good films on it’s own but they help in building another aspect of the character or a significant plot-point which can be utilised by another director or writer later on in the franchise.
LESSON TO LEARN – Create an understanding between the hundreds of producers and writers and choose dedicated directors and formulate a continuity of a singular plot-point with a bigger picture in mind. Bring out literary characters and mash them into a unified universe where they will interact with each other. Every character has a small fan-base and a unification of characters will also bring about an unification of that fan-base. In that way, the dedicated fan-base who loves these characters will teach the rest of the audience about the characters and eventually people will be eager to see the character’s next adventure and not the star’s next venture. Producers should learn to look beyond the star’s face value, the songs and dance numbers and especially item numbers and focus more on the script and the long term effect of a film.
Now, my solution is based on the reality that I perceive. As I mentioned before, I really don’t have an intricate idea about the financial aspects of a shared universe of films. So, even if it sounds a little ludicrous, please bear with me.
Cobb from Inception makes a very important statement that still resonates with me:
Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate it.
So, what does this mean from the perspective of a cinematic universe? For the MCU it is the idea of a looming threat called Thanos. For the Fox Universe it is the emergence of the Dark Phoenix. For the DCEU it is Darkseid and so on and so forth. This singular idea creates a tightly wound circle in which the movie, the characters, the crew and the audience interacts. Therefore, an idea is the first thing that should be created which will have an universal impact. It can range from something simple to something overtly complicated but that idea should be the end result in any shape or form.
The second most important thing is the magnitude or scale of the universe that should be created. For some reason, India isn’t so “technologically” advanced to make CGI heavy movies. I don’t know why. So until India does become as technologically advanced as the West, we should concentrate on the things that Indian cinema is good at. According to me, Indian cinema is amazing at creating drama and evoking emotions from very basic concepts. So instead of going for mega blockbuster-esque movies, the beginning should be based on building the character and building the extent of the shared universe.
There are two shared universes that I have on my mind and they are the Detective Universe and the Raj Comics Universe. I know, the second one doesn’t sound so impressive but I am sure someone more intelligent than me can come up with a better name.
So, the Detective/Sleuth Universe can consist of Byomkesh Bakshi, Pradosh Mitter a.k.a Feluda, Kaka Babu, Shabor Dasgupta, Kiriti Roy, Bobby Jasoos, Jagga Jasoos, Faridi Ahmed and the Sunil-Sudhir duo. Byomkesh Bakshi, Pradosh Mitter, Kaka Babu and Kiriti Roy belongs to the Bengali Film industry and are based on literary characters. All of them have a fairly strong fan base and has already cast very strong actors for each of the roles. Bobby Jasoos and Jagga Jasoos belongs to the Hindi Film Industry and Shabor Dasgupta belongs to the Bengali Film Industry and they are created only for their respective films. Faridi Ahmed and the Sunil-Sudhir duo are still untouched by film and therefore has the potential of being cast with strong, upcoming actors. All of these have their respective arch-enemies and those arch-enemies can be used to progress their individual plots and a larger syndicate like H.Y.D.R.A can be created to bring all of these detectives together. This will obviously need the consent of the creators of the characters and a unification of the Hindi and the Bengali film industry and as Byomkesh Bakshi has a stronghold on both the Hindi and the Bengali Film industries, it can serve as an example for adapting a Bengali literary character in another language. I’d personally love to see all these characters to be handled by the Hindi Film industry because it has a superior production design and the scope for a higher budget.
The second idea/suggestion is not as far-fetched because a majority of the characters that I am going to name are the property of Raj Comics. Only a few characters have been created for the films and all those producers have a fairly nice rapport and a merger can be created. As to buying the rights of the comic book characters, I do not think it will need too much persuasion. The characters that belong to Raj Comics are Shaktimaan, Doga, Nagraj, Inspector Steel, Bheriya, Shakti and Parmanu. I know, some of those names are absolutely hilarious but after buying the rights, their names can be altered to suit the powers of the character and the feel of the movie. Devi is a character from Liquid Comics and is sleek enough to be adapted into films. Now, none of the film based heroes have very good movies but all of them are recognised by the Indian audience. They are Krrish, G-one from Ra.one, Flying Jatt(I don’t believe I said that name) and there is an upcoming Ayan Mukherji superhero flick starring Ranbir Kapoor. Each character from Raj comics, especially Shaktimaan has a very strong fan base and the nostalgia card can also be played to bring in the audience. Krrish and G-one are portrayed by two of the most popular actors and that’s why their respective fan bases can come into play. Flying Jatt might not get a solo film but can be paired up with the above mentioned characters. A similar approach of solo films leading up to a team-up can be given to this superhero universe but the producers shouldn’t commit the same mistake again by investing in a huge budget and extravagant sets. A more grounded and gritty approach should be taken to give each of these characters some substance to work on, at least for the first phase of films. I guess by the second phase the numbers can be increased by a notch and the scale of the action set-pieces can be increased and by the third phase the producers can risk to go completely haywire.
One thing that should be common in the initial phases of both of these universes is that it should concentrate and respect the target audience. The Sleuth Universe doesn’t have the scope of going full retard but the Raj Comic Universe should keep it’s budget constrained and should focus on acquiring good scripts or connecting with the fans to get ideas because fans give the best ideas. The characters which require an adult rating should be dealt with an adult rating and the characters which are more kid-friendly, should pander to kids as well as adults. Pandering to kids only will not work in the 21st Century any more.
I have always tried to provide some constructive criticism to the declining nature of Indian films. It’s a common misconception that as Hollywood is more popular, it is trendy to follow Hollywood but Hollywood has contracted a disease of *cough* *cough* remakes/reboots *cough* *cough* and it is beginning to get on my nerves. As Hollywood is geographically out of my reach, it is none of my immediate concern. As an avid movie-goer, Indian cinema is my primary concern and I think that Indian cinema should begin to get it’s groove back. The time is now because the current crop of actors and actresses are capable of pulling off almost any kind of role. There is a huge number of independent writers who can be brought in to brainstorm and create an innovative way of starting a shared film universe. I think it will have a huge cultural impact because right now, India is divided on the basis of the stars and movie industries from different states. Seeing these stars and industries work together will bring a stronger sense of unity and patriotism than standing in a dark hall for the national anthem before the beginning of every single movie.
Thanks for reading and Jai Hind.
Picture Courtesy: ComicVine, Dna India, SquareSpace, We Got This Covered, StarLoggers,ZBrush Central, Deviant Art, Wikipedia, Exchange4Media, Omega Underground, The Indian Express, GlamSham, IB Times, KawKaw, Teleport City