While, in the yesteryears, it was the theatre owner who played a key role in controlling revenue, today he has been pushed into relative irrelevance by the corporatisation of B-Town and the rise of marketing. The movies, themselves, are, however, fast becoming more and more forgettable

By Gopinath Menon

Maya Nagri, the term was bequeathed to Bombay, by the film industry, a century ago.  Since then, benchmarks of success have metamorphosed in the glamour world of Mumbai. In the fifties, to the early nineties, silver and golden jubilees were duration-bound. The duration was based on occupancy of each theatre.  If the theatre owner recovered more than what he paid the distributor, he would let the movie continue for the next week. Else, would change it. So, the distributor and the theatre owner were the big control knobs and the producers and directors would play second fiddle. It was also the time, when movies rode on the big stars.

There were the big three; Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, who were called as Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati… this is when the term “matinee idol” was coined. Then came a volcano called Rajesh Khanna, who displaced everyone. Rajesh was the amalgam of Raj, Dilip and Dev.  He was the sangam of three bundles of talent, and rightly so, went on to become the greatest superstar India has ever seen.

Life was different then as it was the phase when everyone had the luxury of endless time. No one was in a hurry and films were made in 3-4 years.  The more time a Director took, he raised the expectations of the public, assuming that some miracle is likely to be unleashed.

This was the time when finance had to be generated by the producer alone. Filmmaking was considered a risky business and no organization was willing to lend money. As a result, only the talented and the passionate remained in this business. This had its merits as scripts were supreme, directors were choosy and actors were gods who created the box office and made fortunes for many. The key aspect was all in the business wanted to be respected, famous first and rich later… in that sequence.

This sequence of priorities changed in the nineties. The big banners adopted smarter technology, even smarter shortcuts and innovative formulas. A big hero meant that a new unknown heroine could be launched. This big hero was smarter than the big hero of the sixties. He had learnt from the misery and agony faced by some big stars of the past towards their end. They were adamant to be comfortable, rich and famous even after their careers as hero was over. They borrowed from Hollywood, and the Khans, Khannas and Kapoors opened successful production companies. So the mantra was to create your own banner, star in it, distribute it yourself, and most importantly, market it well.

Marketing is what has changed the DNA of Bollywood. Smart marketing brains started moving from the lucrative FMCF companies, the foreign banks, the management consultancies, etc., to the entertainment space. This was virgin territory and was ruled by “judgement and gut feel” of the second generations of big producers. This breed slowly started dying out and the management mavericks took over, and with them a new kind of monetization started evolving.

The entertainment space started getting disrupted, and with old systems changing, new rules emerged.  A sense of meticulous planning emerged as to what all can be merchandised, to monetise every second of footage. Soon the script was being modified to get a big marketeer’s product subtly into the frame. The hero was casually mentioning how his mom could be saved because of timeliness demonstrated only by Fed Express! Soon the marketing brains were dissecting all big marketing spends on television and other media to draw out how their film could be a vehicle to deliver these advertisers’ objectives to their consumers. In advertising, they say, if one brand in a category tastes success because of a new idea, there are hundreds of fence-sitters wanting to jump in.

So, the moolah started coming in from unknown quarters; the television rights saw an upsurge, the home video and cable rights, the satellite rights, and the music rights which only India as a country could boast of. Lastly, the marketing of the making of the film, the mystery of the film and the unknown stories during the making made it to the news channels. The news channels who were bleeding grabbed this new tactic with open arms. As a result they all underpriced themselves, and the big stars, much to the glee of the producer. Movies which flopped at the box office have smartly made money in music rights, or cable rights or overseas rights.

The final arrow was the high impact of the launch. High impact is over 6,000 screens, all over India. With an over 65% occupancy for the first three days, it is assured that you hit the 200 crore club within a week. Recently, Raees, a Shah Rukh starrer, went beyond the traditional Friday launch and launched two days earlier, to get a head start over Kaabil. But not for long, as Kaabil proved smarter with a stronger script, smarter editing, and a more earnest perfomance by the hero.

But the takeaway of it all is clear—instant riches do not get you respect, nor do they ensure that you become part of the folklore.  Like the thespians and  the masters of emotive storytelling of the yesteryears… Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukerjee, Raj Kapoor etc. whose films , dialogues and scenes are remembered even today.  We in this mad rush for money do not even remember which film of a superstar released two weeks ago. The corporatization of Bollywood ensures that the producers make money before the first shot of the movie is taken, but they seldom realize that it will fade into the sunset in a couple of weeks and will never be memorable. The mad rush for money has diluted the creative process involved in moviemaking. As a result what used to be a passion in the past, has become just another business. The default product of this new system is that it attracts marketing mavericks for the short term; who are using filmmaking to only write their resumes for the future.  We do not realize that we are slowly killing our unique heritage.