City Sunday

Filmmaking: Braving all transitions

The film industry during the 70s and 80s consisted mostly of prospect hunters. There were established production houses but more coming every day to give a shot to filmmaking. The Hindi film industry moved from Lahore to Kolkata and thence to Mumbai where it prospered, throbbed and still delivers anything between 150 to 200 films every year.

But 90 per cent of the films fails to deliver and lose the investment on regular basis! Why does this happen and why do more people still flock to the industry wanting to make films? Where do the new funds come from if most who invest here exit with losses? It is now called an industry but it is more like a casino where the stakes are always against the investor.

There are two sides to this losses and investment circle as well as two phases: the era of independent producers and the era of the corporate culture filmmaking, marketing era. The corporate kind now calls the shots. Like the West, India too followed a studio system, each having a number of actors and technicians on its muster. That era gave some great artists as well as creative minds. Most of them fell to the high-risk business of filmmaking eventually.

There were studios like Bombay Talkies, Filmistan, Filmalaya, Ranjit, Basant, Prabhat, Kohinoor, Imperial and so on. But films have had this magnetic power to draw people from all over, either to act or to be in related creative fields. Aspirations drove many youths to take a train to Mumbai. Punjabis, somehow, dominated the inflow. Big stars, big banners all had Punjab background till Amitabh Bachchan happened in the 1970s.

Getting back to independent filmmakers, they flourished following the end of the studio system. The thing about filmmaking was that it required no qualification if you had money. If not, it was a hard climb until one could make his own film. The fact that anybody could become a film producer was the main reason why over 90 per cent of films failed in any given year. The idea for most of them was to make a quick buck. No experience, no knowledge of filmmaking or content (after all, content is what makes a movie work). Some of these aspiring producers had money and the film industry always welcomed that for there was no financing available from banks or other institutions.

In the film industry, nobody cared where the money came from as long as it did. The industry ran on suspect money sources as politicians, diamond merchants, farm owners, businessmen, smugglers and, eventually, the underworld started bankrolling the films.

Content and quality was never the priority, money was. Filmmaking may not be a profitable business for most, but it ran kitchens while a film was under production. The system as it worked, a producer had to just sign a pro-note and a film processing lab guarantee and he could raise monies. The liens were only on the film’s negative, never on an individual! (A bit complicated but high-interest rates charging Shylocks always fell for it.) These lab guarantees did not mean anything if a film never saw the release! These were such days that everything as in commitment was on word of mouth. Of course, except, the promissory notes a producer signed for the financier. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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