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What Bollywood can learn from Eisner's Hollywood

Mr Eisner shows us how Bollywood can put an Excel spreadsheet in front of a wide-angle lens, writes Narayanan Madhavan.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 16:51 IST

Two incidents in the past week showed a contrast that helped me measure somewhat the yawning gap between Bollywood and Hollywood. One was a meeting with Michael Eisner, the former chief executive of Walt Disney Co and a legendary manager at Paramount Pictures.

The other was a post on an internet bulletin board from an acquaintance called Ms Kapoor, who was looking to download an old Hindi film song.

Ms Kapoor first. She wanted to please her ailing mother by fetching a song deep in her memory, "Bheega, bheega, mausam aaya..." from a movie called "Bhayanak" made in 1979.

She could not find the song online and even managed to call up its music director, Usha Khanna, who had no clue either on how to buy a recording. Then she cried out for help on the net.

I did some research and found on the Web that the movie was produced by Mr AV Mohan and found a list of phone numbers that could be of help to Ms Kapoor, who still has not found her song.

Now, Mr Mohan belongs to the family that owns Chennai’s legendary AVM Studios, which is as cash rich and business savvy as they come. However, despite a profusion of websites dedicated to Indian cinema and Bollywood, the system has not found a way to sell an old song to a fan. Bollywood is certainly far from organised.

A few years ago, I had to interact with some Bollywood figures on a possible business plan, and I was told that some of them think this is a creative world where management-style logic does not work Bollywood produces films under "banners" that seem to have no institutional quality, and film-makers, technicians and actors come together to make films like projects.

Hollywood does not think like that. Mr Eisner, speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, was forthright about how creativity and business can and must mix, illustrating with an excellent sample from a movie called "Outrageous Fortune" how his team saved money by avoiding an outdoor shoot in Paris by merely altering the script to make it more humorous!

The same Mr Eisner brought down the average cost of a Paramount movie down to $8 million from the then average Hollywood cost of $12 million through such measures.

He said there was not a single movie that lost money during his reign there. Later, in Disney, he extended the company’s famous brand to reach a whole new set of avenues to maximize gains for stakeholders. And win new customers.

So, it seems, creativity and business do mix together, and our friends in Bollywood could well be excusing away their ad-hoc behaviour under the garb of being creatively messed up.

With more than 20 million people of Indian origin residing abroad, with iPods becoming ubiquitous and mobile phones getting equipped with MP3 players, one would expect more action from Bollywood than in the fights they show before a potboiler’s happy ending.

India has now its own set of pioneers who mix business and creativity rather well. Director Mani Ratnam is an MBA who shrewdly packages his marketing knowledge with his insights into the target audience.

Ronnie Screwala was long known as a theatre person before he built UTV and sold the Hungama channel to Disney. Bollywood has come a long way from the "banners" of yore to Ram Gopal Varma’s "factory" that makes films. We have companies like Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts and Pritish Nandy Communications that are listed on the stock markets.

However, there is still a long way to go before Ms Kapoor can buy her favourite music download. Mr Eisner, with his studio wisdom, shows the way in how Bollywood can put an Excel spreadsheet in front of a wide-angle lens. It is just the right time for lights, camera and action on that.