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Au Revoir Freedom of Choice – The Bollywood Conundrum

Bollywood 2013

Hindi Cinema (Bollywood) is going to declare 2013 as a record breaking year with phenomenal box office collections. But I don’t need to tell you that. You can make that inference from the front page of Bombay Times, every time a movie has released and grossed 100 crores or more and hijacked the advertorial paper or even the primary news supplement. But that is not the only thing that filmmakers hijacked this year. They snatched from our hands one of the basic rights of consumerism – Freedom of Choice.

Jonah Hill, an American Actor, recently joked that the goal is ” to make terrible movies that do not lose that much money.” Bollywood seems to have taken it a step further. Let’s make terrible movies that make a lot of money, monopolize it and then brazenly boast about it. I will accept that I harbor extreme prejudice for movie makers who treat their audience as idiots and extort huge ticket prices. At the same time, in a country of 1.2 billion there exist people with varied opinions and preferences and there does exist, a large audience for movies I find contemptuous. I am simply asking the question- what if I do not want to watch the only movie released that weekend?

The theater-producer nexus

“Two roads diverged into the woods, I took the one less traveled by” – Robert Frost

“There is only one available road into the woods and you will only pass through it if you pay the amount I dictate to you without questions” – Bollywood

When Chennai Express and Krissh 3 were a few days away from release, there were articles reporting the theater owners decision to bring about a 20-40 % hike in the ticket rates. The reason? Because these films are expected to draw huge crowds. I expected people to read this and wait for ticket prices to normalize. I was evidently proven wrong. Have you ever heard a corporate firm openly declaring that we will hike the price of the product because there will be a surge in demand and not because the cost of the product has increased? The bigger problem is that cinema screens are hijacked across the country only for one film. 3000 screens for Chennai Express, close to 4000 screens for Krissh 3 with no room for any other movie to be released alongside. No English movie will dare open because it fears failing at recovering even the cost. The regional cinema is arm wrestled into accepting terms of the more powerful Hindi film industry. In fact, this may be the first Diwali in many years where a single movie released. I remember the battles of Om Shanti Om and Saawariya. The movie patron had a choice, he could even choose a third small movie. That choice does not exist anymore. Films are postponed, abandoned or forced to accept losses .

The media-producer nexus 

This to the last naive and ignorant person on earth – Bombay Times is NOT a newspaper. It is an advertorial feature i.e. people who feature in that paper pay for it. Your favorite celebrities pay to look good, bad, sad, happy, right and wrong. The quotes they write are not their own. It is the magic of a publicist. Three years ago, I was just like you, willing to believe that the “interview” was real and that all its content was 100% genuine and a peak into the real person. But as I learned more about public relations and observed the reporting style of the newspaper, I realized I was wrong. If you do not believe me, take out all of last one month’s Bombay Times copies and scan through the first page – it will feature an article on Krissh 3 or the Roshans. There was never so much to write about a movie. The hero is featured 15 times. His father at least 5 times. The horrendous music of the movie is mentioned with respect and admiration. Then there are the front page posters with selective reviews and 100/200/300 crore declarations. Most of the entertainment news features are PR driven. The main newspaper supplement is not even free from such influence. Times Of India is responsible for giving the most skewed and out-of-touch-with-reality reviews I have ever witnessed. My suspicion started when it gave Veer Zaara a 4 star review when everyone who saw it or reviewed it agreed that it could have done with some crisp editing. With Krissh 3, all the critics agreed that scenes were “inspired” from a host of superhero movies from the West. The movie received 4 and a half stars.

Of course you’re all thinking by now, “Dude chillout! it’s just movies! we want to go spend some family time watching inane stuff”. Well please go ahead and have that “family” time . Laugh on racist and sexist jokes. Sit with anticipation of that “family” movie soon showing you the item number which titillates you so much. And when you come out of the theater and are driving home, don’t scold your ten-year old daughter if she starts singing “Main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar. Gatka le saiyaan alcohol se”.

It is hard to believe that eleven months ago , there was a huge hue and cry about the projection of women in our films and the item numbers. An actress who I used to deeply admire – Priyanka Chopra vehemently said – “Don’t blame the movies”. No movie ever consciously tells me to treat women as mere pieces of meat. What about the sub-conscious? What about subliminal messages? We learned so much from the protests that Bollywood made more item numbers this year than the previous one. One film had three item numbers with some of the lyrics leaving nothing for imagination, along with the women’s clothing. A Bollywood song stated “Tera piccha karunga, rokneka nahi” (I will stalk/follow you, don’t stop me). Ain’t Bollywood a quick learner…

My appeal as the minority movie-goer is to not wipe out the movies I would like to watch. When a producer makes his sole film release on a Friday, it shows lack of confidence in the content of the film. What about healthy competition? Sharing screens? I am not absolving all other film industries of similar crimes. But in the West, critically acclaimed movies such as Argo, 12 years a slave go for a phased release. The film is released in limited areas and over the course of few weeks, it’s opened to the rest of the nation. This ensures equitable profits for all and more importantly a word of mouth review. Another thing which we lack, is an informed ranking system of top 10 movies. All we get, are cooked facts and figures with no distinction between gross, net or taxes. The mindset of being No 1 by being the only release has to change. Many US movies have fluctuated in their rankings on US Box Office. From 1st to 2nd and back to number one. The only priority for the producers was to retain position in the Top 10.

Another appeal is to be informed about the prices and reasons. Next time you are shelling out 500 for a ticket, please ask the attendant whether you get a large tub of popcorn free with the ticket. If he says no, then ask him to give you the division of the ticket fare, not the one printed on the ticket, but the silent one – the tax, the producer cut, the actor cut, the distributor cut, the cinema cut, the no-reason-hike cut, the reason why a ticket costs 3 times in the evening than in the morning cut. Please Ask.

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