Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Free Advice to Bollywood - from a fan who cares.

(Anushka Shetty, looking as good as I like to imagine I look while blogging.)

So hopefully I'll never be one of those people who selfishly expects Bollywood or Indian films on the whole to conform to my personal likes, or how I think the films should develop. I'm never going to be the one berating the lack of Urdu poetry lyrics or the shortness of skirts, or say that more family-centric films are in order. I like what I like, and I like a lot of things, so I'm typically one to like anything if it's executed well enough.

However, there's some advice I would like to give.

1. Alternative financing models might not be your enemy.

This is an area where admittedly, I don't know everything about everything. However, as I understand it, it seems that a lot of Indian films finance themselves like this:

You begin with a director, who's got a story of some sort. Maybe this story comes from their own brain, or they've collaborated with somebody else to get this story. Then, they seek out stars - aiming big, but trickling down to smaller stars as the bigger stars turn down the film, or agree to do it. Once you've got the star, you're seeking sponsorship - after all, a Salman Khan film is more likely to get financiers interested than one with a newer, less successful star.

What's wrong with this model, you might ask. Technically speaking, nothing - and nobody can claim there is a guaranteed way to finance a good film, so it isn't like the quality of the film is directly linked to it's financing model. On the other hand, it does lead to certain issues. What if your film doesn't get the star you aim for? Can you scale back the budget appropriately?

It also largely limits your potential pool of talent. Since the process is not a director auditioning a cast, but the cast (or the main star) auditioning the director, the idea of casting a new face, or even giving a bigger role to somebody who's mainly done side roles, usually goes out the window to begin with. There's also the gender angle - typically the "star" in this context is thought of as male, and while there are some actresses that are as sought after as the heroes, they still remain few and far between.

Would a more open-minded casting/financing approach wield better results? There's no way to be sure. Hence my cautiously phrased advice: it might not be your enemy. The only way to be sure is to try.

2. Don't ever, ever fall into the trap of Hollywood's franchise-thinking.

There's an article on this phenomenon simply titled: The Day the Movies Died. The idea is simple: afraid of investing on a new idea in hopes that it would be made into a good box office success, movie studios in Hollywood are no longer interested on your new stories, new heroes, new ideas. Even when you're an established, big-hit churning film maker, they're not really interested.

However, if you repackage your idea and slap a label on it that people recognise, they're listening. You want to make a sci-fi film? Why don't we just rework that into a "reboot" of The Blade Runner? You want to make an action film? Why don't we have boats in it and call it Battleship, after the board game? Let's make a Monopoly movie! What else was popular? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hasn't been re-visited in a while..

The idea of franchise replacing story, the re-boots and re-makes and re-imaginings are where it's at. Is there any going back? Who knows? My point is, we don't want this to happen to other commercial cinema.

I'm okay with sequels -  I'm actually quite anticipatory of Dhoom 3 - but those have to remain the minority, not the majority. When they become the majority, you can see that whatever creativity was left is quite obviously gone. And this at a time when Hindi films were gaining a lot of very good, very interesting variety, to chuck that all away for boring re-hashings of old names (just because people recognise them), that'd be a very sad thing indeed. You can on occasion filmmakers in Bollywood play around with this idea, and tangle the promise of re-making a classic or re-imagining a famous film that people recognise (nobody has yet used the word "reboot", thank heavens), and people typically respond negatively. Liked Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? Rewatch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, then! Nobody is going bananas over a cartoon version where the characters are all dogs, for crying out loud!

So I hope that even in a world where regional remakes and sequels are gaining ground, Hindi films won't stop believing in stories. There are still many new ones to be told - and sold!


Carol said...

I was kind of innocent when it comes to thinking about money + cinema relations. I thought that good stories always won, that this was what every producer was looking for.
Now, with all those remakes being made in Bollywood, I think it's the first time that I really noticed that most of them only want a safe way to make money. Making money is not a problem at all, but it's sad that this insatiable need is preventing people of even trying to dare. Why would we need a Once Upon a Time In Mumbai 2? We could just let the story end where it did. Unfortunately, I don't think this sequel-remake fever will end so soon...

I just hope that more Band Baaja Baaraats and Kahaanis will be made.

veracious said...

Your comment made me actually think of how #1 relates to #2, Carol.. that is, the stars can have a lot of say in these things. If producers want to make a sequel but the main star refuses, obviously the film won't be the kind of sequel people expect and it won't make as much money. So in a sense the "star-lead production model" can mean more originality. Of course, not all stars are as picky as certain stars..

Since I first got the idea of this post, I've been noticing Bollywood banking more on ideas of the past and "brand" ideas. Compared to the Bollywood from around 6 years ago, there's so much more sequelizing going on. It's a worrying trend, for sure.

theBollywoodFan said...

I really like your intro paragraph to this post. There's plenty room for many, many types of movies in Bollywood today, no matter how much people try to convince us otherwise. (Although I must say you do have me thinking of the poor lyrics again :D)

Anyway, I don't know everything about everything either, but some thoughts.

1. While the financing model you note appears to be largely prevalent, I like to think there are exceptions and the better directors *do* audition casts more than the other way around. Hopefully, even the big stars today have gotten more conscious of the kinds of movies they would or wouldn't do. Your point is definitely valid and correct. I don't think there's any question the movies would get better depending on the direction these flows went.

2. I too tend to be far more accepting of sequels than of remakes, and I still can't stand the idea of a Sholay remake, let alone one that starred Amitabh Bachchan!

Still, the bottom line often dictates the need to take less risk -- as long as they can leverage previous success to continue to succeed, they'll do so. This seems to hold true for superhero comics as well, which I am equally bothered by.