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Lights, camera, hold it!

It is as if huge yellow traffic lights are blinking outside movie studios across Mumbai’s suburbs, as if the hero’s punch has been frozen mid-frame, as if the screen just announced: ‘Intermission’. Neelesh Misra elaborates.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2009 22:22 IST
Neelesh Misra

It is as if huge yellow traffic lights are blinking outside movie studios across Mumbai’s suburbs, as if the hero’s punch has been frozen mid-frame, as if the screen just announced: ‘Intermission’.

Bollywood has hit the pause button as it deals with the impact of the global economic slowdown, with monies from stock markets and investors drying up.

New films are on hold, shoots suspended, green-lit projects reviewed, and contracts being feverishly renegotiated. Actors and directors are being asked to reduce fees. Advertising budgets have been decimated; satellite television earnings for films have shrunk to unrecognisable levels. Many workers are off the sets.

But here is the catch: the box office is buzzing and viewers are thronging the theatres, with almost eight hits last year in the otherwise failure-friendly business. People are still coming to watch movies.

“It has not impacted the business in revenue terms. But it is going to be tougher to get money to make films,” Amit Khanna, chairman of Reliance BIG Entertainment, told Hindustan Times.

“But there is always opportunity — once financial liquidity is eased, and real estate prices soften up a little bit, you will see demand,” Khanna says in a break between meetings at his Lokhandwala office.

Several multiplex chains — flagbearers of the new Bollywood — had signed up for new properties but are now renegotiating rentals.

That is a far cry from last year, when Bollywood was flush with money — too much, in fact.

A top executive at a major production house estimates on condition of anonymity that some Rs 2,000 crore were raised from the market and investors last year in Bollywood — for films that required only about Rs 800 crore to make.

“I have heard of a lot of production houses which have backed off or delayed projects, but nothing that I am involved in,” says leading music composer Vishal Dadlani.

“I had a three-film deal as director. Now they are not even taking my calls,” says a popular advertising industry director who had been signed up by a major production house. He declined to have his or the company’s name published.

At the tightly guarded laboratories of UFO Moviez, which converts films into the digital format and beams them to theatres all over India, “we are processing 18-19 movies a week in all languages, the same as before” says chief operating officer
(COO) Pankaj Jaisinh.

But that was before the downturn.

“Old movies which are in the pipeline are on,” he says. “Others are stuck for finances, and due to high prices paid to stars. The in-production movies will be stuck.”

In his first floor office in a house set in a warren of narrow lanes, filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, famous for his experimental film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, sees a lot of corrections in the days ahead.

“People were over-inflating the industry. You have to become more rational. So many films need not be made,” he says. “In that sense the slowdown might be good. But people will not take risks. It will now be difficult to make a Hazaaron.”