How Do You Get A Film Made in India?
It might seem like the answer is easy: indeed, to most outsiders, the answer feels as easy as the phone numbers they already have. And yet, the Indian filmmaking ecosystem is large, amorphous, and incorrigibly opaque. Thousands of talented people in Mumbai will attest to how impossible it seems to ‘break in’ — as if it’s a bank, and what they’re trying to do is rob it. Thousands are engaged in the mythical ‘struggle’ — a glorious term often repeated on wooden benches outside cafes and toilets in malls. All rational assessments point to a perpetual, hopeless struggle against impossible odds, and yet, they cling on to the hope that one day, one day.
The Indian filmmaking ecosystem is currently undergoing a sea change.
Here are some -
Take a look at this chart from Statista (via Forbes). India produced 1602 feature films in 2012, compared to Hollywood’s mere 476, and China’s 745. (Nigeria’s Nollywood is usually a close second: in 2006, they made 872).
Indian films also sold almost twice the number of tickets — about 2.6 billion, compared to Hollywood’s 1.3 billion.
Plus, while Hollywood’s home market is already saturated, India is bringing more people online and into cinemas every year.
1. We’re moving rapidly towards corporatization.
Following in the Hollywood corporate model of revenue-driven filmmaking, most production houses have morphed into corporate structures with set hierarchies and leadership. The old-guard of family-name production houses too are adopting a more corporate outlook, with most looking towards a hedged, diversified slate of small/medium/big films every year. The money for filmmaking is also coming from diversified sources: the government granted industry status to filmmakers in 2001, so loans are an option. Plus, 100% FDI is allowed, which means international production giants have created a firm base in Mumbai as well.
2. Regional Films are Huge
We make only marginally more films in Hindi than in Kannada, Telugu, or Tamil. Corporates are already recognizing the huge (economic) potential of these markets and are making more and more regional films.
3. The Internet Is Creating Trouble
While mainstream cinema is still the great cash cow, people are looking to get ahead in the online content-creation game. Online viewership is booming already, and consumption is moving online rapidly — which means international competition. Hollywood is already accounting for over 10% of Indian film revenues. Online, that market share might be even larger. This content is harder to censor, harder to predict, and harder to monetize.
So : Big Questions, and The Point
The film industry is changing right now. We are in the middle of it. All around us, people are moving fast and making decisions one way or another that will affect how this art form progresses into the next decade.
What remains unspoken in all of the above is the question of quality: both technical, and artistic.
Corporatization, the internet, even regional focus — these trends are economic in nature. They say nothing about whether we’re making better movies, or better online videos. Breakeven analyses are well and good, but the bottomline is (pun intended), India is now competing at a global level. Viewers are able to pay little or nothing to watch content from anywhere on the planet. To win over this viewer, quality is the only thing that’ll matter. Corporate structures are unfortunately ontologically ill-equipped to answer this question — this question is for the community at large. How do we create technological, urban, and artistic support systems and that would enable ever-better quality, and also empower closed feedback loops for creators? Money may be a metric for marketing prowess, it’s certainly not a metric for filmmaking prowess.
2. WHY MAKE FILMS?
We’re in-between right now, and it is therefore a time ripe for deep introspection about what filmmaking is, what it encompasses, why it’s important.
The ultimate corporate filmmaking dream would be, for example, to make Mahabharata as a 12-part epic, which eventually grosses even more than the Avengers series. That’s where they are headed. So, clearly, the corporates seem to have the film ‘business’ covered. But, do we also envision a more expressive, social role for film?
3. WHO GETS TO MAKE FILMS?
Would the above trends bring smaller, less empowered creators from off-center cities and towns to not only create, but display and then monetize their work? Or would we once again end up with isolated nodes of wealth (like Hollywood)? How can systems — both technical and human — create such an atmosphere? Hollywood has already made this choice in favor of a predominantly finance-first model; we can either choose to follow, or reimagine.
One way to do this would be to move away from centralization. Instead, we could begin to redistribute the power to create and sell movies.
The way digital cameras enabled the online video revolution, we could slowly create similarly low-cost, ultra-efficient systems that do the same for entire filmmaking projects.
Call To Action
The talents in India today are immense, and they are looking for creative expression. They are prepared to sacrifice comfort, time, money, blood and sweat to learn, to create something they believe in. In the coming years, it will be up to us all to find a way to absorb them. If we don’t, the loss may be invisible; but it will be catastrophic nonetheless.
What do you think? Join the conversation, please. We need good ideas.