Something strange is happening in the Hindi film industry. The makers swore by creativity and fought for creative liberty. In this new era of profits being the priority, creativity has gone out of the window! And not only creativity, but also ethics and a sense of fair play have been compromised by all sectors concerned. Be it film production or exhibition.
Everyone is taking the other for granted and, as a result, the movie-going public is being short-changed. And institutions such as the Censor Board are being taken for granted.
Take for instance the trend of OTT platforms adding back the cuts imposed by the Censor Board for theatrical releases when films are streamed on OTT! In this instance, both are being taken on a ride: the CBFC, whose cuts are disregarded, and the audience, which pays hefty admission rates for cinema tickets but don’t get to watch what OTT viewers do! Is it okay by the Censor Board that the content it considered objectionable and asked to be deleted is kosher for OTT subscribers?
The kind of high admission rates the multiplexes charge are exemplified by the rates for the latest release, ‘Tiger 3’. The admission rates vary from Rs 250 to Rs 2,400. The thing is, you don’t like to watch a film alone, however big a fan you may be of a Salman Khan movie, and the catch is that you can’t afford to watch it with your family! For a family of four, it would cost a packet even if popcorn, cola and samosa are not included!
Now, there is another side of the story that is quite surprising. There have been instances of incomplete films being delivered to the cinemas for release. This is where creativitym by which every filmmaker swore by, is sacrificed and the audience is cheated.
In an earlier column, I said that cinema exhibitors were killing the film industry and its creative instincts, but by releasing incomplete movies, the producers have joined them. It’s like biting the hand that feeds you.
It makes you look back wistfully at the times when a filmmaker cared as much for appreciation for his work as he did for its commercial success. Isn’t that why various awards were endorsed by the filmmaking fraternity and jubilees were celebrated with pomp? And, mind you, those days, if an incomplete film would get released, it was because of circumstances beyond a maker’s control.
The approach now is just casual, to complete the formality of releasing a film at cinemas and then delivering it to an OTT platform from where the real money comes from. It is mandated by OTT managements that a film be released first in cinemas for public viewing before they start streaming it so that if there’s a backlash (like it happened with ‘Taandav’ or ‘Gunjan Saxena’), they don’t face the brunt of it.
There have been cases when an incomplete film had to be released or a film’s content needed to be reworked because of new circumstances. It could be that a producer had run out of resources, overstepped his budget, which made recovery impossible, and so on.
The most ironic reason, however, used to be the hero you signed up becoming hugely successful while your film is being made; you would count your blessings that your actor had become a star, but this often resulted in the actor concerned losing interest in your project.
Two issues were responsible for this. One, the star started believing that considering his new status, he was getting paid a pittance for your film (of course, there were examples of the price being reworked). And two, the actor started thinking that your project could prove to be a setback for his newly achieved stardom.
There were other cases where the real-life romance between the male and female stars soured and they no longer wished to work with each other (rather unprofessional!). The other possibility could be two male actors in your film developing ego problems.
In case of an actor becoming a star, he usually dropped all films signed during his days of struggle. They could be midway or just launched. Most such films never get completed. There were some, though, which were nearing completion and they too got stalled.
The greatest example, which can go into record books, is that of a film launched in the 1970s but finally released in 2008! I don’t recall what its title was when it was launched, but it was released as ‘Yaar Meri Zindagi’. It starred Shatrughan Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan.
In the film, one watched the stars through different phases of their lives when it finally released, though incomplete. You got to see how they aged through those years! It speaks volumes of the maker’s grit and determination that the film got released at all.
There was one more film from the same era titled ‘Santosh’. It starred Manoj Kumar in the lead, who was coming up with successive jubilee hits at that time, along with media space-grabbing Shatrughan Sinha. The film took some 14 years to release. One remembers these films because they starred big names.
When a film has popular stars, it is possible to release it, though it is not really complete as envisaged. One such film was ‘Chal Mere Bhai’ with Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan leading the cast. The producer was handicapped as Sanjay Dutt was facing a trial for the 1993 Mumbai blasts. What is more, it is always tough to match the dates of two major stars once a film’s schedules go awry!
With that kind of stars in the lead, the film sailed through, even though it was incomplete. Another film of Dutt, which was affected due to the court case, was ‘PK’!If one watches the film, you will realise that you don’t cast Sanjay Dutt in your film to not have him not appear till the climax. Dutt served a jail sentence till 2016, but the film was released in 2014. Dutt was shown being compromised in a railway station bomb blast; thereafter, his mojri / jooti (footwear) represented him in the film.
These and some more such films are instances of the makers being forced to make compromises because of extraordinary circumstances. But what is happening now, when incomplete films are being released despite them faced no such hurdles. Why would a maker do this?
Because, as things work now, filmmaking is no more about creativity. It is just another business. Makers in most cases don’t expect the multiplexes to return their investments. It will have to come from OTT, satellite rights and other sources.
Looking at how the OTT platforms work, I don’t think they vet any content from subject/story and just forward to subscribers what is delivered to them.
The fact of the matter is that OTT platforms have not had a great time with the films they have acquired and, at the same time, are sceptical about some forthcoming films they have put money on.
They also seem to believe that they have ended up paying high prices that certain films did not merit.
In this situation, the OTT platforms have the option to renege on a commitment if a film is not delivered by a stipulated date. So, what is happening now is that the biggest of makers are cutting corners, not waiting for the film they backed till completion just so that the ‘commitment’ to their OTT buyers is honoured!
Sad for OTT biz since they would rather the producer failed to keep the date!
For instance, the recent Tiger Shroff film, ‘Ganapath’, was released even though the VFX were incomplete and those who watched the film did not miss this anomaly.
The other day, a director was taken aback when the producer of his film, ‘Lady Killer’, announced its release in the media. He had yet to shoot 25 per cent of the film! Other such films that were in the news for the same reason are ‘Shastry Virudh Shastry’ and ‘Hukus Bukus’.
Do these filmmakers think that such films will find viewers even on OTT? Who are the movies made for anyway? You don’t care for your viewers and, in return, your audience will soon stop caring for what you dish out in the name of entertainment.