Saturday, February 16, 2013

This old chestnut: SRK on Hollywood.

I was reading SRK's reflections (see that picture? Get it? I'm too clever, honestly) on the state of Hindi cinema and the discussions it brought out in people on GetFilmy's excellent post about it, and decided to make my own post, as I have a lot of thoughts on the topic. Here's a link to the Forbes article, but I wanted to give credit to GetFilmy for bringing it to my attention.

In a way, I honestly believe that these comments have more to do with where Shahrukh Khan is at, than where Indian film is at right now. His films as of late have been successes, but they haven't been the kind of successes he probably hoped they'd be, and they certainly haven't punched through as films people would love to re-visit time and time again. His name brings people to the theater, but hardly anybody is going back for a second viewing, much less a third.
But, as more people flock to cinemas, Hollywood’s finesse will eventually win them over. India may make the most movies in the world, but “With all due respect, the production values are s***. Why will my kids watch that kind of crap when Hollywood offers something slicker?”
As far as arguments go, this is not precisely the strongest. Anecdotal evidence based on your kids? Look, dude, I get it. You're a self-made guy who made their career and fortunes through Hindi films, and now you see that your kids are growing up in a different world than you, so they'll prefer different things - and this is a new discovery for you, perhaps. But you just cannot extrapolate all that to include every child in India, every adult in India or every Indian abroad.

Here's what I've learned about Indian audiences and their love for Hollywood films - people like spectacle. People everywhere like spectacle. Finnish people will go see Avatar in huge numbers, as will Americans, as will Brits, Germans, Koreans and people all over the world. Spectacle is one of those things that no other format than film can provide quite like film, so of course flashy, big budget entertainers will draw in people, just for the novelty of it all.

Like GetFilmy pointed out, Bollywood is not suffering. Content is becoming better, genres are getting more diverse, we get tons of films breaking the 100 crore mark, which used to be a fanciful dream for producers, we have new stars and old stars having the kind of success they've never enjoyed before.

Even more importantly, films aren't just entertainment - entertainment forms a part of people's lived experience, and through that, shapes identities and in some ways, a national and cultural identity. This is why DDLJ spoke to NRI's, and people still listen to HAHK songs, or quote Sholay, or whatever have you. And because Indian films are intrinsically Indian, they will never cease to have that sort of significance in some people's lives. This is not to say that if you are an Indian person who prefers American or French or Iranian films to those of your own country, you're somehow less Indian - that's not what I mean at all (after all, I'm not less Finnish for not liking Finnish films much). It's just that to some people, this part of the culture is very important.

A bad Hindi film might not entertain anybody better just because they have a cultural connection to it, but I don't think people who are as passionate about their own films as Indian audiences can be will ever just abandon it because the visual special effects aren't as flashy as something Peter Jackson or Christopher Nolan can conjure up. That's pretty simplistic thinking on Shahrukh's part. Production value is not the only thing people go see in films - it's certainly what some people look for, perhaps even to the detriment of their own enjoyment of less flashy films (be it indie, arthouse, low budget).
They spend more on pop corn, samosas and fizzy drinks than on the tickets.
Newsflash - this has been the case in the West forever. Even before the advent of illegal digital downloads and all the things driving up ticket prices in North America and Europe. This also seems to mostly look at multiplexes. People see films in other sorts of film theatres as well, don't they?

I'm not a businesswoman, so I'm not one to criticize Shahrukh's moves in the business world - it's his company, he can run it as he likes. But I also think it's shortsighted of him to just think about visual effects, flashy spectacles and all this other stuff that Hollywood will probably make better than Hindi films do, most of the time, simply because of the fact that Hollywood has been doing this stuff for aeons. Indian films should push themselves technically, for sure, and I'm all for that - Eega was a good example. But no film would be anything without actually being good - good acting, good music, good stories. To say Hollywood is going to take over is based on almost no evidence at all - in fact, Hollywood is itself in crisis because its age-old business formula is losing in the world of online streaming and targeted marketing. Bollywood is going through changes as well, but it's not failing.

I don't mean to harp on the man's personal career graph too much, but I do strongly feel that had his latest film been his Dabangg or Three Idiots, he wouldn't be saying stuff like this. Come back to us, Shahrukh - make a damn good movie that rides on both the content (a good story, solid direction, great songs) and your star power. Jab Tak Hai Jaan probably should've been just that, but wasn't. Nevermind.

Come back to us.


Raye S. said...

I just wanted to say I enjoyed reading this post; and that I agree with your thought that "it's shortsighted of him to just think about visual effects, flashy spectacles."
What has drawn me in to Indian movies is the depth to stories, often the value of family or moral character over a selfish action, and just the "visual/audio feast" of the songs. Granted that is not the case for all movies in Bollywood, but for the most part they offer more depth to the story than anything out of Hollywood. I'd rather an emotional connection to the people playing out their lives in the story before me, than be bombarded with CGI and flashy, slick editing.

veracious said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

It's also worth noting that CGI becomes dated really fast. It has to be done perfectly to stand the test of time. Even films that are only 10 years old can look dated when they include special effects that were good for the time but not anymore.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that he seems to be the victim of his own success in some ways. I was checking on Wikipedia and discovered that many of the SRK films I had always heard described as "failures" (Billu Barber, KANK, Paheli, Swades), either did "average" business or were hits overseas or actually did make money. For a straight-up flop on his resume, I couldn't see anything newer than Ashoka, which is more than a decade old at this point. He's not had the brutal dry periods that some of his contemporaries have seen, where they get strings of 5-6 flops and "average" performing movies interrupted by the occasional hit.

So, he's grown accustomed to the idea that he has pretty good judgment in choosing film projects, and so if his films aren't performing as well as they used to, it feels to him like the market is "at fault," or is changing so dramatically as to be unrecognizable. Maybe the NRIs/top 1% in India (the core of SRK's fanbase) are changing in tastes that fast, but that still leaves over a billion "ordinary" Indians for Bollywood to attempt to reach...through Hindi-language releases or releases dubbed into local languages.

That said, I think a good effects company can make itself just as useful with regard to classical Bollywood content like surreal song picturizations or lavish period settings, as it can in regard to the action/SF stuff that SRK fans often turn up their noses at. I also find SRK's pride in his effects company's work and desire to find good, eyeball-grabbing work for them commendable, although like you I don't feel like I have a strong opinion on the business side of the issue.

veracious said...

Interesting analysis!

the market is "at fault," or is changing so dramatically as to be unrecognizable.
Yep, though it's a completely false conclusion to draw, it might seem more dramatic from his point of view.

I agree that there's a market for special effects, and work related to that, both inside and outside India's borders. I hope he also gets that SFX cannot be the unique selling point, though, because in order to do that you have to really go all out (think Avatar) in terms of technological advancement. Stories have to come first, SFX can accompany and serve the story. The spectacular animation in Life of Pi wouldn't be much if the story wasn't so intriguing.